The tragedy of the Jews is the tragedy of all who reject the Gospel of Christ

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Sermon for Trinity 10

+  Luke 19:41-48  +

On this day of the Church Year, the Church remembers the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and our Gospel takes us back to Jesus’ prophecy of that destruction.

As Holy Week began—the Passover week during which Jesus would be crucified—He rode into His city, into Jerusalem, on a donkey. And Jesus, knowing that the leaders of Jerusalem were seeking to kill Him and that they would accomplish it by the week’s end, viewed Jerusalem during that fateful week, not with hatred, but with deep, heart-wrenching pity. And He wept for her. If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Matthew records Him saying these words: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate.

Learn from these words the truth that is taught throughout the Bible, the sincere, genuine desire of God that Israel should not perish, but be saved, as He said through the prophet Ezekiel: Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus you say, “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?” ’ Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’

In fact, the sincere, genuine desire of God is that all people should not perish, but be saved. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Again, God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

God wants all men to be saved, but He wants to save them in only one way: through faith in His Son, whom He gave as a ransom for all. And if sinners stubbornly refuse to repent and believe in His Son, the one appointed Mediator between God and Man, then, as a result of their unbelief, God wants to bring upon them what they deserve for their sins: punishment and destruction.

Even then, He takes no pleasure in it, as Ezekiel declared. Jesus wept over the tragedy that was Jerusalem. And His apostle Paul also grieved over them, as he wrote to the Romans:  I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites.

As a result of Israel’s rejection of Christ, both at the time of His crucifixion and over the next 40 years, when the Apostles would continue to preach repentance and offer forgiveness in the name of Christ, Jesus prophesied Jerusalem’s destruction, how God would allow her enemies, the Romans, the raze her to the ground.

It was God’s will, first of all, that the Jews be converted to faith in Christ Jesus and saved from sin, death, and destruction. But they resisted His Holy Spirit too often. So it was then God’s will to wipe them out and to let them serve as a terrible example for the rest of the world, for all time, of what will happen to all people, at the end of time. There is a similar punishment—even worse, really—in store for all who reject God’s Messiah and God’s Word.

But whom did God use to destroy Jerusalem? Not His Christian people, but the pagan Romans. In the New Testament, God never once tells His holy Christian people to take up arms against anyone, to bring His punishment on any race or any nation. Instead, he used the pagan Romans to carry out His sentence.

In Charlottesville last week, there was a chant by some of the Nazi’s and white nationalists: “We won’t be replaced by the Jews!” This irrational, self-superior hatred of people because of their race is not Biblical. Look at Jesus! Listen to Paul! Do you see them participating in angry protests? Rallies? Riots? Of course not. As James writes, “The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

You know how people have twisted the Old Testament in this regard? There were some so-called Christian groups at one time who used Noah’s cursing of Canaan, the son of Ham, to promote bigotry and racism. You remember? First, they interpreted all the descendants of Ham (the Canaanites, the Egyptians, and supposedly also the Africans) to be under God’s perpetual curse, and second, they claimed that all the rest of mankind therefore has the God-given responsibility to oppress them. What great wickedness! What terrible interpretation of Scripture! Such groups were never part of the true, orthodox Christian Church, but always heterodox offshoots who went off believing and teaching their own imaginations and lies.

No, Jesus and His apostle show us the Christian attitude toward the Jews. As Paul went on in Romans, Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Now, there’s a second part to today’s Gospel, related to the first: the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem would, indeed, reject Jesus and would be destroyed by the Romans. But not yet. Some would still hear the Gospel and believe and be saved from that coming destruction. And if that was going to happen, then they had to be able to hear. Faith comes by hearing

But they couldn’t hear the Word of Christ, even at the very Temple where the LORD God was supposed to be sought and heard, because greedy, opportunistic salesmen had set up shop in the midst of the Temple.

Now, Jesus didn’t ever harm anyone, but neither was He the laid-back, always calm, always peaceful man some people imagine Him to be. What did He do when He arrived at the Temple during Holy Week and found greedy merchants selling their wares? He drove them out of the Temple. He overturned their tables and their chairs. St. John tells us He even made a whip. And He had a message for them: It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’

This was not a riot. This was not a protest. Jesus has nothing to do with the violent, self-righteous thugs who are chanting and screaming on any side of any issue, breaking the law, tearing down and vandalizing statues.

What was this, then? This was a Man coming into His own home, into His own Father’s house, and finding that thieves had broken in, torn apart His house, and started using His living room to commit yet more crimes. Jesus wasn’t just some Rabbi coming into the Temple. This house was dedicated to Him, to the LORD, to Jehovah God.

But notice why He drives out the money-changers! Not for His own honor, but for the sake of God’s people. It was to be a “house of prayer.” The single place on earth where God promised to be present, to be propitious toward sinful man, where He promised to hear prayer and be merciful to those who prayed, to accept sacrifices on His altar. The noise and the buying and the selling made it impossible for the Word of God to be taught and heard, made it impossible for people to concentrate on their prayers and on the meaning of the blood of the sacrifices and even on the Temple itself—all of it pointing to Him, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

After things quieted down, it says that He was teaching daily in the temple…all the people were very attentive to hear Him. He knew that most of the people there would reject Him in the end. But not all! Some would believe! Some would remain faithful until death! And even the rest would have a testimony from God of His love and of His offer of forgiveness and adoption through Jesus—a testimony that will later speak against them before God’s court of justice. “I came to save you, too. I gave My life for you, too. But you were not willing.”

As children of God, being remade in the image of Christ, learn from Jesus in today’s Gospel how to view the Jews who reject Jesus, and all who reject Him—with pity, not with hatred. They have been given more opportunities than they can count to be rescued from their sin and their just condemnation, but they have been unwilling. And so they are justly condemned. And God will see to their punishment in His time, in His way, and ultimately, with eternal death.

But remember, you, too, would be justly condemned, if God treated you according to your deeds. As the Psalmist writes, If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? And if you believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, you didn’t do that by your own reason or strength. You didn’t choose Him or actively “accept” Him as your Lord and Savior. His Spirit gets all the credit, while you reap all the benefit.

Most of the physical descendants of Israel will perish, by their own fault, but not all. Most of the descendants of Adam will perish, by their own fault, but not all. Even now, a remnant will be saved, by God’s grace.

With the country in turmoil yet again, with the world going crazy in another bout of mass hysteria, don’t let yourselves get dragged into it. Rejoice in being part of the remnant of grace. And just be Christians. Join Jesus in mourning over those who are perishing, who are destroying themselves, who will not see the light of Christ. But don’t get stuck in mourning-mode. There’s still work to do. There’s still a witness to offer, to your families, to your friends, to your coworkers, to your classmates. And the witness is this: Time is running out. Destruction is imminent. God is coming for a visitation, and no one is innocent, no one is safe, except in one place: hiding behind the cross of Jesus Christ. God is visiting you right now in this Gospel with grace and mercy and forgiveness, so that when He visits later, with justice and judgment, you will be found safely hidden in the hiding place God Himself has provided. Amen.

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