Christ Weeping Over Jerusalem
Instead of rejoicing, our Lord broke out with violent weeping and He tells us why. It is because of things He knew.
A Sermon of Maurice Roberts
Reading: Leviticus 24: 10-23
"And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes" (Luke 19, 41-42).
" He beheld the city, and wept over it" (text).
1. JESUS WEPT
2. THESE TEARS TELL US?
3. WHAT IS AHEAD FOR EVERY UNREPENTANT SINNER
This must be one of the most touching passages in the Gospels. Here we see the Lord Jesus Christ weeping over the city of Jerusalem. It is a touching thing to see anyone weeping, even a child. There is something infectious about tears. When we see a child or a young person in tears it has an effect upon us: we have a sense of fellow feeling and sympathy. However, the stronger the person who weeps the more powerful the effect is upon us. We are more affected by seeing a strong man weeping than a child. It belongs to manhood to conceal our affections and emotions to a large extent. As we grow older, we weep more in secret, less in public, than we do as children. If we were here simply looking at the case of a great man weeping, it would be touching enough. What we see in fact is none other than our Lord and Saviour Himself, Jesus Christ, and He is weeping. That must be to us a moving experience.
This word here for ‘weeping’ is a word which needs explanation. We find Christ weeping in John’s Gospel chapter 11 – that famous and familiar passage where Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was now dead and had been dead for some days, and was in his grave. The sisters, you remember, were there weeping sadly over their brother’s decease. Jesus came about four days after the event. When He saw the deep emotion of the mourners and followers we are told that "Jesus wept" (John 11, 35). It is the shortest verse in the whole Bible: those two words in the English language – Jesus wept.
I mention that because here again we see Christ weeping. What is not so clear from our English translation is the two words for weeping are different. In John’s Gospel, the word refers to ‘shedding tears’. If there are students of Greek here, it is the word ‘dakruo’: to shed tears. Silent tears: tears which well up in your eyes and overflow and course down your cheeks. Silent weeping, that is what we have in John’s Gospel chapter eleven. Here it is a different word. It is the word ‘klaio’ which means audible weeping. The weeping which so suddenly seizes you that you lose your control and you cry out aloud: weeping together with visible, audible emotion. Indeed, you could translate this verb at verse forty-one like this – "He broke out with crying – He broke out with it." It seems to have been a sudden violent passion that gripped our Lord.
Why should Christ have been so suddenly gripped in that way? This was the very last week of His earthly life and ministry. In another six days or so, He was to be crucified so this was His last visit to Jerusalem – the capital city. Here was the temple. Here was the memorial of the nations glory and her centre of worship. Here were the learned. Here were the religious, the scholars, the great and the wealthy in Jerusalem. Our Lord was approaching the city from the east side. We are told about the Mount of Olives somewhere here and He was coming from that direction.
If you cast your eyes back, we are told that He "was coming near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives" (verse 29). These places were to the east of the city. As you come to a certain brow of the hill on the Mount of Olives, as you begin to descend you come to the valley of the Kidron and so you have a magnificent view of the city. You are above it and looking down on it. The roof of the temple was covered over with gold. It was a magnificent sight. Here was the teeming population of this holy city with all its historic associations and religious importance.
Instead of rejoicing, our Lord broke out with violent weeping and He tells us why. It is because of things He knew. "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side. And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (verse 42-44). He was aware of things that were soon to happen to Jerusalem so He burst forth with this violent convulsion of weeping. It must have been a surprise to those beside Him, and there were many. There was a great crowd of His disciples following Him. We are told about them – just a few verses higher up in this passage we read – "Even now at the descent of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God?" (verse 37).
Our Lord was coming in riding upon this colt of an ass which had been borrowed for the occasion. They were throwing their clothes into the path before Him and waving palm branches. We call this the ‘triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem’. I was consulting a book which told me that this was Monday of what we call the ‘passion week of our Lord’. I can’t vouch for that but let’s assume it’s right: Monday of the last week of our Lord’s life and ministry. He was concerned to think that Jerusalem, with all its privileges, prophets and means of grace – the sacrificial system, the Bible of Old Testament, the scholars, the teachers – for all of these things they were blind to the most important events which had ever happened in all their history. What was that event? Our Lord refers to it here – He says," At least in this thy day" (text). We know what He meant by "this thy day" – it is the day when the Lord Jesus Christ entered into their midst: King of kings and Lord of lords; it was the day God had spoken of in many places of the Old Testament, preparing them for this day.
They had had hundreds and hundreds of years of preparation for this very day. All their prophets, without exception, referred to it but they were blind to the identity of Christ. They didn’t know Him. They didn’t recognise Him. Those words in the prologue of John’s Gospel are now coming true: "He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John 1, 11). They didn’t know Him. They didn’t recognise He was the promised Saviour and the promised Messiah. He saw, therefore, that in forty years time – because this was 30 AD when this was happening – that in 70 AD, the Jewish state was brought under the terrible judgement of God. The Roman armies come. He refers to it in verses forty-three and forty-four (quoted in paragraph 6) at the end of His appeal to them here. His lamentation that in another forty years time the Roman soldiers, thousands upon thousands of them, would encircle Jerusalem for the Great Siege, as we call it. There they waited for the Jews to slowly starve to death.
It was one of the most terrible, indeed, probably the most terrible event of history. Women killed and ate their own husbands through sheer hunger. They ate their own babies. They stole food out of one another’s mouths as they were at such a point of desperation. The Roman soldiers waited year after year until they knew that the people were famished and then they rushed in and slaughtered them by the thousands. Any who survived were taken violently out of the city to Rome. There they built the Coliseum and other places as slaves to the Roman Empire.
Our Lord saw this coming. "Thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side. And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee" (verse 43-44). Of course, we know that that literally happened. Our Lord was not guessing. This was not some speculative statement; it was prophetic, inspired truth, foreknowledge. Any one who would like to verify the accuracy of our Lord’s predictions need only go to Flavious Josephus’s’ famous book entitled "The Wars of the Jews" or "The Jewish War". There you will find some hundreds of pages of the exact detailed description and documentation of how Christ’s words here in this text were minutely fulfilled. The temple was ravished, destroyed; they were taken away. Our Lord wept to think this would be so.
You may say to me, "But why did all this happen to the Jews? Why did God do this and bring this judgement on them?" The answer is, because they did not know Him and they would not have Him. They did not want His teaching. They didn’t want him to be their Saviour. They were self-righteous, religious men and women. They had no desire at all for Him, so He wept audibly over the city. My dear friends, it is a very moving spectacle.
2. THESE TEARS TELL US?
Now, what is there here to teach us lessons that we need to know? What are the things to learn? In the first instance, I would like to say to you that these tears tell us exactly who Jesus Christ is. Second, to show you how these tears indicate that Christ knows what is going to happen to every one of us, even though we may be totally ignorant of what lies ahead. Third, I would like to show you that these tears show us how great is our Saviour’s love for all sinners. These three lessons I would like us to learn.
(a) WHO JESUS CHRIST IS
The first one is this. These tears of Christ, tell us who He is. "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it." He howled over it," Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes" (text). It was too late. Their time of visitation was over. God’s patience had ended. He would bless them no more. He would scatter them to the winds. He would destroy their temple, flatten their houses, carry away their persons and lay them in their streets. Rivers of blood flowed in the temple and in their streets. It was carnage upon carnage and all because they did not know that this was the Saviour of the world. They would not receive Him. They would not have Him. They didn’t believe in Him. They rejected Him. They crucified Him. They cried, "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matthew 27, 25) – a mad, foolish, reckless cry, which came terribly true. I say then that these tears tell us who He is.
Who is the Lord Jesus Christ? He is both God and man. He is God with man’s nature. He is the unique Person Who is both equal to God and yet also one with us, having taken our nature at His incarnation.
How do we see that here in His tears? We see it like this. As God, of course, He would not be able to weep. God does not weep. God does not suffer. God does not die. It is as man He weeps. The reason for the tears is the knowledge that He has, as God. No mere man, not even a brilliant man, can see into the future. Who amongst us has any idea what is going to happen forty years on from now, or even forty days, or even forty hours? You and I do not read the future. We cannot see the future but He could, He did. His eye saw forty years ahead because He is God.
We refer to that kind of knowledge of future events as foreknowledge – that is the technical term – foreknowledge. My dearly beloved friends, of course, foreknowledge is something that only the Almighty God possesses. How many people would love to be able to see into the future but they haven’t got that gift – none of them has it. Almighty God has it and here we see Him in our nature. As He viewed what was going to happen to the men, women and children; and to the city, the temple, the houses and the nation – He was so affected with compassion and pity at their foolishness and their rebelliousness that He shook with tears to think of their bad state.
Jesus Christ, I say, can foresee and foretell the future. It is a proof, one of very many proofs, that He is God. I want you to believe that, dear friends. That’s why in a congregation like this, we don’t associate with all the other religions of the world. It is a very common thing today for churches to be part of what’s called a ‘multi-faith’ religion. They have services for everybody. Muslims are welcome and Hindus come; Buddhists sit there and Jews sit here and so forth; we all join in a multi-faith worship; we all pray to god, whoever he is. We mustn’t do that for this reason: if people do not accept Christ to be God then we must have no religious fellowship with them. We mustn’t, of course, do them any harm. They are our neighbours and we treat them with love and kindness and respect but their religion we regard as false. Only that religion which believes that Jesus Christ is God Almighty, is the truth, and here He is: God incarnate, the God man, God in our nature. He is here. His knowledge tells Him what is going to happen all the way through to the end of history. What He sees touches His human heart so deeply that He sheds these tears. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," He cried (Matthew 23, 37).
You might want to say to me, "Does Christ prophesy of future events anywhere else?" I will remind you that He did. What else did our Lord prophesy about? Before His death, He gave a detailed description to His disciples as to how He would die. They would scourge Him, He said, and they would put Him on the cross; on the third day, He would rise again from the dead. These were all prophecies. You can read of them all in the Gospels, they are all clearly written there.
Then our Lord foretold the day of Pentecost. He knew, of course, when the Holy Spirit would be poured down upon the church: ten days after His ascension. He said so about the time of the transfiguration. Our Lord says," There be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9, 1). That was the day of Pentecost. They weren’t all able to be in that position. Judas Iscariot was standing there but he would be dead before the day of Pentecost, he would have hanged himself, but our Lord prophesied Pentecost.
Then our Lord makes a prophecy on the gathering of the Gentiles: the gathering of them into the church. He says this, "And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13, 29). That is a prophecy of Scotland, Holland, America, Australia and other places where He was going to stretch forth the arms of mercy and slowly gather in from the whole nation – from all the nations of the world – a people for Himself. That was a prophecy, which, of course, is abundantly fulfilled, as everybody knows.
Our Lord prophesies the scattering of the Jews. They will be scattered in all nations, all over the world, but, he says, here’s an interesting thing," This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24, 34). He surely means there that the Jew will retain his identity all through history – notwithstanding the fact that they will be cast into many nations and scattered throughout many peoples – the Jew will remain identifiable.
One of the most moving and marvellous of all our Lord’s predictions is found in Luke 21; something, which always tends to move me to tears. Listen to these words. "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21, 24). Why does that move me so much? Because, in 1948 the State of Israel was set up – something new was beginning to happen in the world. A new chapter in divine providence is beginning. You see therefore, our Lord with His divinity looked through the corridors of time and saw these things. He saw the end of the world and the Judgement Day.
My dearly beloved friends, the first lesson we are to learn from these tears is that He is the Messiah, the Saviour and the God-man. Nobody else could make such prophecies as this but only He. If He were only God then He could not shed tears. If He were only man, He would not see into the future but His divinity moved His humanity. The divine nature acted upon the human nature as the knowledge that He had in His divine mind touched His human heart and our Lord wept.
Do you believe, my friends, that Jesus Christ is God? I beg you if you don’t to readjust your thoughts about Him. Your thoughts are unworthy of Him. If you simply think that Christ is a great man, or a great teacher, or a great hero, then I say you must revise your thoughts about Him. He is all of that, of course, but He is also God, nothing less than the incarnate God. I have given you reasons for so believing.
(b) HOW GREAT IS OUR SAVIOUR’S LOVE FOR ALL SINNERS
Secondly, these tears show us that our Lord Jesus Christ loves sinners. The thing that moved our Lord was the plight of these poor people who did not believe in Him. I should say in the passing, let us note, our Lord never wept for Himself. Some people do a lot of weeping for themselves, which is not a particularly virtuous thing to do. Self-pity has no place in our Lord Jesus Christ. He knew very well what they would do to Him. He knew the scourging would come, the crown of thorns, the cross, the mockery, the jeering and the hatred. He saw it all by His divine eye, but He never wept for Himself.
There was an occasion when certain women who were on their way with him to the cross, wept for Him and wailed and smote their breasts because they saw that He was a nice man, as they thought, going to His bad and painful death. Do you remember what our Lord said? "Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children" (Luke 23, 28) and for the things that are coming upon you. What He means to teach us is that our Lord came into the world with love for the souls of men and women. He didn’t come to take pity upon Himself.
This is the mind of Christ. The Bible refers to that phrase: "The mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2, 16). The more holy and the more sanctified you and I become, the more we will have this "mind of Christ". The more like Christ we become the more we forget our own troubles and ourselves, and the more we weep for other people’s troubles. The more we see the plight of mankind, the sad state of men and women without a Saviour, the more we will be moved with concern for them.
Listen to the words of Christ, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthew 23, 37). "I would," He said, and "you would not". Their stubbornness and rebellion was such that they would not accept Him.
Even here, you notice, when our Lord was coming in to the city on this colt or ass, the crowd was shouting, "Hosanna" (Matthew 21, 9), little children were crying out "Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Luke 19, 38). The Pharisees came and they said, "Master, rebuke thy disciples" (Luke 19, 40) for the way they are speaking about you. They are exaggerating your praises, they meant. Our Lord said, "If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19, 40). It was so obvious, even to a stone, that this was God incarnate. It was obvious, even to the very bricks under their feet, that this was the Messiah. Everything proved it: His miracles, His teaching, His person, His sinlessness. They were blind and even purblind to our Lord’s identity. They wouldn’t accept, and even grudged the praise that our Lord was receiving.
Our Lord looked upon them and saw them "as sheep not having a shepherd" (Mark 6, 34). The more you and I, dear Christian friends, grow in grace and understanding of God the more we shall have this pity and compassion for sinners. We are not called upon to condemn sinners. Sinners are condemned as it is without any help from you and me. We are called upon to pity their plight, to do a little to try to help them out of their predicament. I say it shows the love of Christ to sinners, to all sinners.
One of the arguments that sinners have before they come to faith in Christ is that they are too wicked or too bad to be saved by Christ. If that is a thought that has crossed your mind – don’t believe it, it is not true! There is nobody in this life who is so wicked that Christ will not save them if they will repent and come to Him by faith. It doesn’t matter how wicked you are, it doesn’t matter how long you have been an unbeliever, if you will turn your back upon your wicked ways and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, He will welcome you. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1, 15), that is why He came. This is His mission, to save you and me and others.
I could put it like this. In the bosom of Christ, there is a deep holy instinct, a desire to save everybody, everywhere. There is that instinct within Him whereby He was activated by desire even for those that hated Him, even for the worst of men, even those He knew would never believe, yet, His overtures of compassion were extended to them. He was ready to do what they were not ready to receive.
This is something which people doubt and it is one reason why people do not believe the Gospel – one reason why they are hesitant to come. Dear friends, those of you who are not here professing Christians, I have it from the Word of God that Christ pities your soul. Christ, in love for your soul, would say to you, "Repent and believe in me and if you do I will forgive all sin and wickedness, whatever it has been. If your record be never so bad and your past never so black, I will forgive all manner of sin and uncleanness, provided you come to me."
I refer to the Banner of Truth magazine in which there is an article from Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a very Muslim country. In the 1920’s a very dear Scottish missionary went out there, Jock Purvis by name. He spent some years on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a book that he wrote about Afghanistan and the work they tried to do, is a beautiful story which I shall relate.
The man was called Ahmed Ghul. This man was a born and bred Muslim like all the rest but he had a remarkable experience: Christ revealed Himself to this man. Consequently, Ahmed Ghul came to meet this missionary, Jock Purvis. He appeared before him and told him of his experience of having met Christ, as it were. The missionary was astonished at what this man knew about Christ. A few days later, some Muslims came along and were suspicious of this convert. They offered him money and said, "Ahmed, you must turn back to the Muslim faith otherwise you will suffer. Here is the money we will give you if you turn from Christianity." Someone else reminded him that the last convert from the Muslim faith in Afghanistan had his head chopped off. Ahmed Ghul, and this is the point I come to, did something very moving – Jock Purvis tells us of it.
When he heard about the death of this last convert, Ahmed Ghul stood forward, and he drew a hand across his feet. "You can cut off my feet," he said. Then he drew a line across his knees. "You can cut off my legs," he said. He drew a line across his middle. "You can cut me in half," he said." I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I know that He is my Saviour." He had to leave the missionaries and go into the interior. They never heard of him again and they couldn’t go to visit him. We can only speculate as to what happened those many years ago.
My very dear friends, it proves Christ loves souls. If you don’t know Christ as your Saviour, you are missing the most important thing in life. You are living in this world – What for? A few more years to make money; an extension to the house, a bigger car perhaps, more comfort, more experiences – then death will sweep you down the stream as it will do everybody else. What you most need is Christ as your Saviour, to put your trust in this blessed Redeemer so that when you know Him you have the assurance that all is well with your soul. Whether you live or die, it doesn’t matter, you are going to glory to be with Christ, saved by His blood, washed in His blood, safe in Him. That is why Christ came. Had these people in Jerusalem, watching Him weeping over them, knelt down and pleaded for mercy, my friends, oceans of His grace would have washed the city of Jerusalem pure. These judgements would have been averted and the curse would have been lifted from that nation, so it is with the individual life. When we come to believe in Christ as our Saviour and give our hearts to Him, then all the wrath and curse of God is removed from us for ever.
On the other hand, if we know these things and hear them or if we don’t know these things and continue all our life in darkness without Christ, then I say, and this brings me to my third point, there cannot be anything ahead of the end of your life but terrible trouble.
3. WHAT IS AHEAD FOR EVERY UNREPENTANT SINNER
My third heading then is this. These tears shows us that Christ knows things about the sinner’s future that the sinner himself does not yet know. Isn’t that true? Our Lord is weeping over these people. He knew what was coming for them. They never guess ed, never dreamed that forty years on, the wrath of God would fall upon them, the swords of the Romans would be drenched in blood, the streets would be running with blood and filled with carcases, their temple overthrown. They never imagined or dreamed it.
My point is this. This blessed Saviour Who knows the future, knows what is ahead for every sinner. That is why, many times over in His preaching, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us what is ahead for every unrepentant sinner. First, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) – He puts it like this: there will be some people at the end of the world and they will, perhaps, have lived a decent, moral, virtuous life. They think they have never done anyone any harm but really all the time they have been building on the sand, not on the Rock of Christ, but on the sand of human righteousness: self-righteousness. He said, what is going to happen is this. The rain will descend, the winds will blow, the floods will arise and they will beat against that house. It is an illustration of your life and mine.
If our house is built upon the Rock of Christ crucified, then all is well and the house will stand in the tempest. However, on the other hand, if your life is not built on Christ, and on His teaching and finished
Free Offer of the Gospel November 13, 2020
This article is the contents of an address first given in February 2020 at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK. * * * It is one of the glories of the gospel that it is universal in scope. There is nothing narrow or limited about the good news of salvation. It is, Matt. 28:19, […]
Living in the World November 6, 2020
This article is the contents of an address first given in February 2020 at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK. * * * LIVING in the world. How are Christians to live in the world? The question can be answered in many ways. The topic is potentially vast in scope — that becomes more […]