Sermon preached on Luke 19:28-48 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/17/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“He Saw the City and Wept Over It”
Today is the day commonly known as Palm Sunday in the Christian church. To be sure, this is not an official holiday instituted by Scripture. There’s no call by God to annually celebrate this event. And yet it’s been the tradition of much of the church to do so, and I like to take opportunities such as this to remind ourselves of some of the key moments in redemptive history. Palm Sunday, as we read, was that Sunday before Jesus’ death when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. When people proclaimed his coming. They praised his coming, singing songs about it! They laid down palm branches before him as he road in. In many ways, it was glorious. That’s why Palm Sunday is also called the Triumphal Entry. And so I’d like to think about the triumph of this entry to start today. But ultimately what I want us to focus in on today is what happens afterwards. Jesus weeps. He starts crying. As Jesus drew near to the city, he cried. That’s a striking contrast. You get a king’s welcome into the city, and you start crying. But these are not tears of joy. They are tears of mourning and sadness. His heart is broken for Jerusalem. Well, how does the triumph of this entry relate to these tears? And what do these tears represent? In other words, why is he crying? That will be our focus today as we study this passage.
Let’s begin first by considering the triumph of this entry. Think first of the big picture. Jesus is entering a city. Not just any city. We never hear of this kind of kingly procession given when he entered in the city of Nazareth, or Bethany or anywhere else. But this was Jerusalem! It was the capital of Israel, though so much more. It was the holy city. The place where God had chosen to place his name among Israel. This was the place where God placed his temple among the people. This is where Mount Zion was, with the temple upon it. This is where his holy presence particularly dwelt in the Promised Land. And it was also the home of the king, at least in the days of old, when Israel had a king. That’s where King David sat. That’s where they expected the Promised Messiah to sit as king. As Jesus road into Jerusalem that day, that’s exactly how he was coming. He was coming as the Messiah into this holy city. And he would go straight to the temple.
You see, this is what the prophets of old predicted. They told of the day that the Messiah would come to his people; the day he would ride into Mount Zion and enter into the temple of the living God. This is the triumph of Palm Sunday. The advent of the Messiah had arrived. King Jesus had arrived. In verse 44, Jesus mentions a visitation. That’s what this was. The triumphal entry represented a messianic visitation. It was the Messiah visiting the people. More so, it was actually God visiting the people. God in the person of Jesus had arrived that day in Jerusalem. This is the triumph of Palm Sunday.
Zechariah 9:9 is one of those prophecies. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” Notice the language of Jerusalem and Zion in that prophecy. This was the promised place of Christ’s visitation. This was the place he’d ride into a donkey. Jesus was self aware of the prophecy being fulfilled that day. That’s why he arranged to have this colt brought to him. He knew he was fulfilling the prophecy. This was a prophecy that said the king would come to Jerusalem. It says this king would bring salvation. Do you see the triumph of this prophecy? Jesus rode in as king that day and they proclaimed him as such.
We see their praises in verse 38. Part of that verse is quoting Psalm 118. This was a song used at the Passover pilgrimage. A song of pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. Here we see that the people rightly understood this psalm. They recognized in it a prediction of the Messiah coming to the temple. They were right. Verse 38 also echoes something earlier from Luke’s gospel. Luke recorded for us how at Jesus’ birth the angels declared peace on earth and glory in the highest. Now the people echo that in reverse. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest. Jesus birth was the beginning of his advent into this world. Now that advent becomes all the more focused as he prepares his final ascent into Jerusalem. Here, Jesus will save a people from their sins. Here it will be glory to God in the highest. Here it will mean peace in both heaven and earth. Peace in Christ. Freedom in Christ. Victory in Christ. Victory over sin and death and satan. How? By Christ going to the cross. That’s the ultimate triumph represented by Palm Sunday. That Jesus would be the promised savior, but he would become that by giving up his life on the cross. He’d die in the place of wayward sinners, in the place of you and me. He’d do that so that all who call upon him in faith could be saved. Saved from these ultimate enemies: sin, and death, and Satan. That’s the triumph of Palm Sunday.
The people rightly identify this when they welcome him into Jerusalem. They said the right things that Palm Sunday. They do the right things on that Palm Sunday. We know they did because of verses 39-40. Some of the Pharisees disliked the people praising Jesus like that. They told Jesus to rebuke the people. But Jesus said that if they were silent, then even the stones would cry out. No, what the people said and did was right. All that was said of Jesus that day by the masses was accurate. Jesus’ affirms their words here. They were correct. Jesus was the promised king riding into Jerusalem to bring salvation.
And yet Jesus starts crying. He weeps. If the people were saying the right things that day, why then the tears? You know if you go to a party thrown in your honor, you usually don’t start crying during it. You usually rejoice. You party. You celebrate. Not Jesus. He breaks down in tears. In John 11:35, we see Jesus weeping there too. There he wept for a single individual. He wept for his friend Lazarus who had died. But here, he weeps not for a single individual. Here, he weeps for a city. Verse 41. He saw the city, and wept over it. He weeps over holy Jerusalem.
The masses might have said the right things there, but Jesus says they were actually confused. Their words were right, but their minds misunderstood the very words they spoke. Their hearts interpreted those words incorrectly. For their hearts wanted something other than what was really being offered by God. Verse 42 is the damning statement by Jesus. If you had only known. If you only understood. If you had only known the things that make for peace. It says, “especially in that day!” On that day when they said all the right things, but they missed it. They didn’t understand the very words they sang. They had something different in their heart. They desired something different than what Jesus had come to offer. Jesus says their misunderstanding could be put in terms of peace.
Peace. That’s what they really needed. They knew it. We noticed how they declared the coming of peace in verse 38. The prophecies of old promised this. They predicted the day the Messiah would come and bring peace. But, the people didn’t get it. They knew they needed peace. They wanted peace. But they had a different peace in mind. If only the people understood the kind of peace they needed. If only they understood how this peace was to be received. This is why Jesus wept. They missed the real significance of his coming. They misunderstood his ministry. They would ultimately reject him and the peace he offered. And it would have disastrous consequences for them. Even eternal consequences. This is why Jesus wept.
This passage doesn’t explicitly tell us in what way they misunderstood this peace. Yet, certainly the larger context does show us. Certainly Luke and all four of the gospels paint the picture very clearly. The people at that time had different ideas as for what made for peace. They didn’t all agree. A very popular notion is what’s represented by the Zealots at that time. The Zealots were Israelites who hated the fact that the Romans occupied their country. Of course, most Israelites hated this, but the Zealots were willing to do something about it. They were the underground resistance movement among the Jews. They tried to incite their Jewish brothers to take back their country by force. They saw peace through the sword. And so the peace they wanted was a political peace. A civil peace. They wanted peace from war with the nations. They wanted peace that would come by military victory. They wanted the Messiah to come and lead them in this effort against the Romans. But that was not the peace Christ had come to bring. Military battle against the Romans would not make for the peace Jesus came to bring.
Another popular concept of peace was promoted by the Pharisees. They were an interesting breed. They didn’t like the Romans at all. But they also didn’t like to stir the waters either. They were, it seems, content to live among them, occupied, at least for then. Their focus on finding peace, was through their outward law keeping. They spent their time trying to keep every jot and tittle of the law of God. They also had a bunch of extra man-made laws on top of God’s laws. They looked to keep all those too. They thought this made them right with God. They thought this gave them peace with God. The Pharisees had one thing going for them. They recognized that the peace that they really needed was not a political peace. They recognized they needed peace with God. That they needed a right relationship with God. And yet they too did not know the things that make for peace. Jesus criticized them sharply. Jesus showed them that their law keeping was far from perfect. Yet, Jesus said that’s the standard God sets, if you want to go that route – perfection, Matthew 5:48. If you have peace with God, you’d need nothing less than 100% perfect obedience every day of your life to maintain that peace. This obedience would have to be both external and internal. That’s something the Pharisees especially struggled with according to Jesus. They often appeared externally very godly. But Jesus repeatedly showed how their hearts were far from God. They focused on outward appearances and forgot that God sees the heart; heart’s that are depraved. Hearts that aren’t at peace with God. Hearts that are diseased with sin. Hearts that can’t perfectly keep God’s laws. Hearts that are not really at peace with God, but so desperately need that peace. And so the Pharisees didn’t get it right either.
One other example among Israel might be the tax collectors and the people like them. There were some that thought peace could come through the world. Don’t resist the Romans, they must have thought – join them! Give up your spiritual heritage and join with the unbelieving world. Become like them. Befriend them. Join with them in oppressing others. Of course, Jews who became like this, were hated by the rest of the Jews. A Jewish tax collector was the least liked among Jewish society. But they must have done this because they were okay with that. They found better privilege and blessing with their new Roman friends. They sacrificed their morals to find peace with the world. This too was not the way of real peace.
In Jesus’ ministry, we see he converted people from each of these groups. Simon, one the 12 disciples had been a Zealot. Paul, of course, was a Pharisee. Matthew, one of the 12, was a tax collector. Jesus helped each of them find true peace. You see, the peace Jesus offered, wasn’t what any of these groups thought. Jesus lamented their desire for a false peace. The peace Jesus brought was peace with God. That’s the peace we all need. Sin alienates us from God. Sin puts us at odds with God, so we deserve his just wrath. Sin makes us allies with Satan and enemies to God. The peace Jesus offers is freedom this sin and reconciliation with God. Peace in heaven and earth because we’ve found peace with God. And what would make for this peace? First, Jesus’ death on the cross. Because, Jesus paid the penalty of our sin on the cross; in our place. Then, we receive this peace through faith. Jesus accomplished salvation on the cross. That’s what we celebrate at Easter time. We receive this salvation by faith in him. By trusting that he is our savior in this way: in that he saves us from our sins and makes us right with God. True peace comes by repenting of our sins, and turn to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Words and actions alone won’t cut it. We can even say all the right things about Jesus, and do all the right actions toward Jesus. But our hearts have to understand what peace he offers us, and trust our lives to that salvation in faith.
That’s the peace Jesus came into Jerusalem to bring. It was the peace that so many in that city missed. As it says in verse 42, it was hidden from their eyes. God obviously chose to let them remain in their sins. The point is clear – so many in Jerusalem didn’t see the real peace that Jesus offered. God allowed them to miss the gospel of peace that was right in front of their eyes. But how many still do this today? How many people hear the gospel and miss it? People can hear the gospel and dismiss it because it’s not what they think they need from a “religion.” Well, they are wrong. Others can hear the gospel and think they are embracing it, but actually have some completely wrong notion about Jesus and the gospel. So many heralded Jesus at the triumphal entry and just a few days later the people of Jerusalem were saying, “crucify him.” Back then people could falsely embrace Jesus. People today too can embrace a version of Jesus that’s not actually the biblical Jesus. We want to receive and know the real Jesus. We want to receive and know the real peace he gives us.
It’s Jesus’ tears that show us how important this is. It is of utmost importance to correctly understand Jesus and the peace he offers. Verses 43-44 are a prediction of judgment upon Jerusalem because of this. Because they missed the peace Jesus brought, they were facing judgment. Let’s read this prophecy of judgment again. Verse 43, “For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” This prophecy came to pass in 70 AD when the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem. The Romans were crushing a Jewish rebellion and demolished the city and temple.
The Jewish historian Josephus chronicled how devastating this was. First the Romans sieged the city, then they utterly destroyed it. Josephus records that the emperor virtually ordered the entire city to razed to the ground. Josephus records how both children and old people, laity and priests, were all massacred. In other words, even non-Christian history records how Jesus’ prediction came to pass exactly as he described.
This was divine judgment. Jesus’ says this is because they missed him. They missed the true peace they offered. How ironic that those who wanted peace from the Romans, found divine destruction through the hands of the Romans. But you see, the people failed to realize that they were actually God’s enemies. By rejecting the peace Christ offered, they were under condemnation. This wasn’t the first time God had destroyed Jerusalem. He had used the Babylonians to do it before. There it was a punishment for the peoples’ rejection of God. Here, God had come to them in the person of Jesus, and they rejected him. God again destroyed the city of Jerusalem. He then began to offer this peace not just to Jews, but to all the nations. That all could find the true peace in Jesus Christ.
And so why did they face this judgment? They ultimately rejected Jesus. Yes, many from that city verbally acknowledged him on that Palm Sunday. Yet, just later that week the city would be condemning him – “Crucify him!” They’d stop praising him. Their praises of Jesus would go silent. But what did Jesus say would happen? He said in verse 40 that the stones would cry out, if they were silent. Well, isn’t that what ultimately happened? The stones did cry out in 70 AD. Jesus said in verse 44 that not one stone would be left upon another. That’s what happened when the Romans destroyed them. Each of those overturned stones had a message to say that day. They were being overturned because the people stopped praising Jesus. Because the city had rejected him and his gospel. They faced divine judgment. Missing the Christ had disastrous consequences. As Jesus looked ahead to that judgment that would come upon them, he wept. This judgment on Jerusalem is but a picture ahead of time of the final judgment. It is but a picture of what will happen to any who do not trust in Christ on the day his return.
My friends, the message from this passage is so very clear. We need the real Jesus. We need the real gospel. If you have an unbiblical idea of who Jesus is, then you have missed the real Jesus. If you have the wrong idea of the kind of peace he was bringing, then you have missed the real gospel. This leads to disaster. To terrible judgment.
It’d be easy to sit here today and just assume you’ve got it right. You might say, well, I’ve grown up in the church. I’ve been called one of God’s people all my life. I go to church every week. I pray and read the Bible. This can’t apply to me. Well, I hope and pray that is the case. But notice with me one little phrase in verse 42. “Even you.” “Even you.” Jesus is talking to the city – even you, he says. It’d be understandable if some pagan city rejected Jesus. Remember Jonah’s ministry to evil Ninevah – we could have understood if they rejected God’s Word. But Jerusalem? The Holy City? Mount Zion? Where God’s temple was? Where his priests served? Even if they did reject God, would he really wipe out his holy city? Well, yes, he did. And so for Jesus to say, “even you,” it expresses a bit of shock. It’s unexpected to think that these Jews in Jerusalem would have missed the Messiah. The one they were supposedly waiting for. The city that had so many prophecies about what God would do in Zion when the Messiah came. “Even you,” expresses the almost unbelievable scandal of Jerusalem missing the Messiah! They didn’t know what made for true peace. They missed Jesus.
Well, my point then is that if those back then who grew up in the church could miss the real Jesus, certainly that could happen today. I don’t mean to try to be scaring anyone. I don’t mean to take away from the wonderful refuge we have in the visible church on earth. My point is simply to remind us that we can’t trust in simply being born into the church. We can’t trust in simply going to church, or doing the things we do in the church. These are amazing things, no doubt. But we need to trust in Jesus. We need to know the true Jesus and the true gospel.
My point is that some of us have had great places of privilege growing up. We’ve grown up in the church. We’ve had positive Christian influences in our lives. We’ve experienced blessing after blessing by God in your life. Yet, how easy it is to be blind to all these things and the truth of the gospel. How easy it is to be swayed by the attractions of the world. How easy it would be to listen to the world’s false views about who Jesus really is, or what kind of peace you really need in your life. Don’t miss the real Jesus!
Some of you may have missed the real Jesus up to this point in your life. Others may be visiting here today and have maybe never heard about Jesus at all. The good news is that no one has to leave this way today. Today we have announced the peace that Jesus brings. See today who Jesus is. See today this glorious gospel. Acknowledge your sins. Turn from them unto Christ. Call upon him as your Lord and Savior. Ask him to enter your heart. Ask him to forgive you of your sins. Ask him to begin to lead your life.
You see my friends, realize something important today. Jesus wept over wayward sinners. He’s the one who mourns over God’s judgment on sinners. But, he also is the one ready to wipe away every tear from your eyes. Jesus calls to you to come unto him and find life. He will give you peace. He will set you free. Recognize Jesus’ heart for the lost. Come to him and be comforted. Have him wipe away all your tears. He will do it.
And so, for us who have known this true peace: this is what we proclaim to others. This is the peace we live out. This is the peace we celebrate in our worship. We don’t come into the faith with this peace, and then make church about something else. What we do at church is all about this true peace we have in Jesus.
This first visit to Jerusalem, so many missed Jesus. But there is a second visitation of Jesus. He told us he is coming back. The book of Revelation says that when he does, he will bring with him a New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven. His holy city will one day be restored. That will be when he comes and brings us into eternity. Then our tears and sorrows will be turned into inexpressible joy. On that day, the triumph of this entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, will pale in comparison to that triumphal entry in the New Jerusalem. That day we march together with Christ to spend eternity with him in the heavenly Mount Zion. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2010 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.