Tenth Sunday After Trinity
August 9th/10th, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
Anticipation. Excitement. Joy. Fear. Like a bride waiting that final few moments before walking down the aisle to meet her groom, like a groom waiting for the music to start signaling the beginning of the ceremony, like a group of high school seniors who are all dressed in cap and gown waiting to hear those first few bars of “Pomp and Circumstance,” like a child all dressed and ready for the first day of school, waiting for mom to start the car. Anticipation. Excitement. Joy. Fear.
Certainly these emotions, and likely many more, were swirling away within the hearts and minds of Jesus’s followers. Not just the 12, but all those who had been following Jesus, watching him do miraculous signs and wonders, giving sight to blind Bartimaeus, calling Lazarus forth from the grave, giving reason after reason after reason for these people to believe that he was indeed the Messiah promised by God, the one who deliver Israel back to her days of glory. Yet, for a frustrating three years, every time someone asked Jesus about this, he changed the subject. He told the people he healed not to spread the word about what he had done. He didn’t want people to look at him and see a mighty magician who could lead Israel into battle against Rome. He deflected the talk of royalty and messiahship.
But not today. Anticipation. Excitement. Joy. Fear. For this same Jesus who had spent years deflecting talk of being Messiah was now suddenly acting like one. He who had walked everywhere for three years had sent two of his disciples to fetch him a colt that had never been ridden. That’s a royal privilege, not to mention what it means for the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah entering Jerusalem on a donkey. He who had hidden from the crowds when they wanted to make him King was now letting them place their cloaks on the road while he rode toward Jerusalem. He who had told so many people not to speak of the miraculous healing they had received from his hand now allowed the crowds around him to shout out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” In fact, when the Pharisees told Jesus to silence the roar of the crowd, Jesus defended the shouts, telling the Pharisees that if the people would stop crying out then the stones themselves would start. Yes, this Jesus was finally beginning to act like he was indeed the promised Messiah.
And so you can picture the scene. On the journey from Bethany and Bethphage, excitement builds. With each step closer to Jerusalem, the tension grows. As they climb the back side of the Mount of Olives, the energy in the group climbs too. You can feel the anticipation in the air. It is bubbling furiously under the surface, so furiously that when they reach the crest of the hill, as they round the bend and finally catch their first sight of Jerusalem, the Holy City, the crowd can no longer contain itself. As the Temple glistens in the evening sun, the crowd cries out in joy that the Messiah has come to rescue the people of God. And in the midst of the shouts of victory echoing around him, in the midst of the joy and anticipation that are flooding through Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside at the prospect that this Jesus might now in fact be coming to reclaim the City of God, in this moment that held such great joy and anticipation for so many, Jesus weeps:
And when [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Jesus wept. I’m pretty sure that the only other time we know of Jesus shedding tears is just a few days earlier at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus. Here, on Palm Sunday, Jesus is again in tears as he enters Jerusalem. Why tears? Why sadness on such a joyous occasion? Because, in his own words, the people of God did not know the things that actually make for peace. And their ignorance and stubbornness would come back to bite them in the end.
Their focus was in the wrong place. Their expectation was of the wrong thing. They set their sights too low. Had they been listening to what Jesus was teaching instead of being blinded by the desires of their own hearts, they might have seen more than the raw power of God. Luke makes it clear in the verses leading up to today’s reading that the people were honoring and praising Jesus during his triumphal entry not because they believed his words, but because of the mighty works they had seen. That’s what brings Jesus to tears – he knows that despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding his arrival to Jerusalem, these people did not yet believe what he was saying. They were not looking for a savior from their sin. They had missed his message, and he knew where that would get them. And he wept.
The Apostle Paul is writing of the same reality in today’s Epistle reading from Romans 9 and 10. Hear his words again:
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Paul’s desire and prayer is that the Jews, the people to whom God had entrusted his holy Word, the people to whom God had continually sent his prophets, would begin to listen to that word and those prophets. That they would see Jesus as the Messiah that he truly is, not one sent for earthly gain but one sent to deliver the world from sin, death, and the devil himself. The Gentiles listened. They were not born into a culture that encouraged them to pursue God’s righteousness, they were born pagans. They didn’t know the first thing about the true God or his Messiah. But when they heard the message, they believed. Not so the Jews. The Jews had God’s Word, but turned it into a ladder to heaven, works of the Law that must be climbed rung after rung until you reach God’s side. Rather than building their faith on the firm stone foundation of Christ’s sacrifice in our place, they continued right past him in their efforts to save themselves by fulling God’s Law for themselves. But as they ran past the stone they stumbled. They fell. It would be impossible not to, For Christ is the end of the law as a means of righteousness to everyone who believes.
Jesus saw their fall coming, so he wept. He saw that they would reject his sacrifice, so he wept. He knew that even though he was riding into Jerusalem to save these people, they would refuse to be saved by him. So he wept.
I wonder if Jesus is weeping over us?
As the Church of God today, we are the new Jerusalem, the place where God dwells in his Word and Sacraments. Like the Israelites of old, we Christians today are the ones who have been entrusted with the Word of God. But are we listening to what it says? Do we recognize Jesus for the Messiah he is, or do we treat him simply as the Messiah we would like him to be?
It is undeniable that there are crowds of people today who are filled with joy, excitement, and anticipation about Jesus. But like the crowds who marched with Jesus toward Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday shouting praises for the mighty works he had done, are we simply excited because we want a Jesus that we can parade through the streets of Washington while we fix America’s problems? Are we blinded by God’s majestic power like the crowd on Palm Sunday? Do we only want Jesus who will flex his omnipotent muscle and make an example out of abortion providers who dismember the unborn for profit? Do we only want a Jesus who will call down the fury of the cosmos on all those who would shut down a pizza joint or run a bakery out of business over gay weddings? Are we only interested in a Jesus who punishes other people’s sins and makes sure that the bad guys of this world get what’s coming to them? If so, then like the crowd of joyful people who marched with Jesus to Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, we have not known the things that lead to peace. They remain hidden from our eyes. If all we know of Jesus is that we can’t wait to see him judge someone else, then he is weeping over us too.
For Jesus did not come to earth in order to save Jerusalem from the Romans. He did not come into the world to judge the sins of anyone. He came to be judged in our place. He came to be the savior. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. While it is absolutely necessary for us to speak the truth to our sinful world, we must remember first and foremost that Jesus is our savior. He died for my sin, because I am by nature sinful and unclean, because I have sinned by the wicked things I’ve done and the good that I’ve left undone. The message of Jesus is first and foremost about how he has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me. Each of us must embrace that reality. Each of us must confess our personal sin, our own need for a savior. For that is the savior we have.
When we treat Jesus as a loaded weapon designed for the destruction of our enemies, we have missed the point, and he weeps over us too. Jesus used his power that first Holy Week not to judge sinners, but to take our judgment upon himself. He used his divinity to bear the burden that is ours, to suffer in our place, to die in our place, and to rise to life again promising us that we too will rise in him on the last day. That is what the power of God is for, not the destruction of Jerusalem, but the destruction of the chains and shackles of sin that bind our consciences. Rather than being so obsessed with the sins of others that we cannot see our own, let us confess the depths of our own fallen nature, and rejoice in the one who rode through the streets of Jerusalem to the cross for us, so that when the last day comes, the only tears Jesus sheds for us will be tears of joy as he welcomes us into his Father’s house.
 Luke 19:37
 John 3:17