The Tenth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| August 16, 2009| Luke 19:41-48
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “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. 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.” Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'” And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.
God loved her. He pursued her. He courted her. He promised her riches beyond compare. He would give his name to her and share with her his own honor and glory. He proved his love for her again and again. He provided for her every need. He protected her from all her enemies. He had never given her reason to doubt his faithfulness to her. He had chosen her to be his holy bride and she had given her consent. The day of the wedding arrived. God, the bridegroom came to Israel, his bride. And she refused him. She rejected him. Oh, she was willing to take his name so that her children wouldn’t bear the stigma of being illegitimate. And she was quite willing to claim the honor and the glory that belonged to him. And she insisted on the riches that he promised her. But she refused him. When God came to her in the flesh, when Jesus of Nazareth preached, taught, did miracles, and showed himself to be Israel’s God, Israel said no. No, we don’t want you. No, we don’t need you. No, we won’t have you. Go away.
But, of course, he wouldn’t. So she killed him. And there it was as he was crucified between two robbers, that God’s chosen people publicly rejected him. This is why the cross is such an offensive symbol to Jews even today. (No, it’s not because of the wrong done against Jews by Christians over the centuries. Christians have done wrong to Jews and Jews have done wrong to Christians. In our day it has been the godless totalitarians, such as the Nazis and the Communists, who have committed the most heinous crimes against Christians and Jews alike.) The cross offends the Jews because it reminds them of the tears of their spurned suitor; it confronts them with the love of the God they rejected and still reject.
It is not out of any unkindness or loveless attitude toward the Jews that we Christians must confess that Jesus is their only Savior and that as long as they reject him they are rejecting God. The very idea that the Jews have a special covenant with God today, apart from faith in Christ, is blasphemous heresy. Look at Jesus crying over Jerusalem! Why were those divine tears shed? Because all of Israel’s glory symbolized by the Temple was now standing before her in the Person of Jesus Christ. The God who had loved her, stood before her to claim her as his own. And she refused him.
He had sent to her prophets who spoke God’s holy word. God didn’t send prophets to any other nation, only to his chosen people, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God had given to her the true worship and the true teaching and the promises of a land and a Savior. The culmination of every good thing God had ever promised her was the coming of Jesus Christ. He was the true Israelite. He was the promised Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. He was the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He was Israel’s God.
God did not destroy Jerusalem because she had become too sinful for him to forgive. God destroyed Jerusalem because she rejected him and in rejecting him she rejected his forgiveness. St. Paul who called himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews wrote, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners of whom I am chief.” He came to save Israel. Yet, as he entered Jerusalem he found only a short-lived acceptance. Less than a week after singing “Hosanna” Jerusalem turned against her king and persuaded Pilate to have him killed.
It was in that death that all sins of all sinners of all times were forgiven. So there is forgiveness for all people, Jew and Gentile alike. But the forgiveness is only offered in Christ. The only way to receive the forgiveness of sins is through faith in Christ. So the covenant that God today has with the Jews is the same as that which he has with everyone. It is in Jesus Christ alone that sinners – Jew or Gentile – find a loving Father and a gracious God. God honored the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by sending to them the Savior. Jesus is, as Simeon prayed and as Christians today sing, “A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” Israel has no glory apart from Christ. She has no identity apart from Christ. God has no more of a special relationship with the Jews who reject Christ than he has with any other nation, past or present who reject Christ. Those who reject Christ have no hope, no God, no forgiveness, no life.
If God did not spare his own holy people, will he spare us? God withdrew his protection from his holy city of Jerusalem. He allowed the heathen Roman General, Titus, to besiege her until she fell. Her beauty was taken away and her Temple was utterly destroyed. And why did God do this? She didn’t know the time of her visitation. She didn’t know what made for her peace. The Answer to all her prayers and hopes; the Solution to all her problems and sorrows; the Savior from all her sins and the deliverer from divine judgment stood before her. No, she said. I’ll do it my way. I’ll seek out God on my own terms. I’ll solve my own problems. I’ll find forgiveness of sins in my own religious activities. Or, I’ll just rest secure in believing that God won’t really judge me.
But he will! Yes, he will. It seems that folks run from one extreme to another when it comes to their views of God. If you look at the preaching in America in years gone by, you will find a very strong emphasis on God’s judgment. And of course, the grace of God was often minimized, if not ignored. In our day, we are at the other extreme. God is portrayed as impossibly sentimental. He wouldn’t dream of punishing anyone. Sin is always someone else’s fault, anyway. No God of love could actually judge someone and send him to hell.
The Bible, as we know, teaches both God’s judgment and his love. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Jesus standing before God’s holy city and crying over it. Those were sincere tears. Nowadays folks talk the talk, saying, “I feel your pain,” when they don’t really have the slightest idea what you feel. Jesus did indeed feel their pain. Not just in his divine omniscience whereby he knows everything, but in his actual experience as he suffered on the cross. But he suffered for them before his actual crucifixion. He suffered as he considered how they would reject him. There, as Jesus stood before his people, God’s heart was broken. God in the flesh wept. He looked ahead to his suffering for them on Calvary, the payment of his body and blood for them, and he loved them. He died for them because he loved them. He suffered hell in his crucifixion for them because he loved them. He wept because they rejected him.
This God who so loved them later destroyed them. This is a message we need to hear. Every American needs to hear it. God will do it again. He has done it throughout history. No nation can ever replace God’s ancient covenant people. It is the Church, comprised of people from every nation, that has done that. Still, many nations throughout history have been particularly blessed by God. They’ve been blessed on account of receiving the word of God in faith and permitting the pure gospel to be preached. But when any nation rejects that gospel and rejects it and rejects it, God finally must judge. And he does.
Look at all of the false churches and cults here in America and consider God’s judgment against our nation. Why does God permit the lies taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny Jesus is God and even deny that he died on the cross? Why does God permit the lies taught by the Mormons who teach that we can become gods? Why does God permit churches all over our country to reject one mystery of the faith after another, tossing out biblical standards of right and wrong and even the very gospel itself? God is judging us. God has always punished sin with more sin. So he punishes false teaching with more false teaching. You and I can’t stop it. We can only find in Jesus today the God who has visited us and who has brought us peace.
When you are suffering unjustly, when folks are out to get you, when it appears to you that life just isn’t fair and you are on the short end of things, there is only one thing to do. Repent. Repenting is the last thing we want to do when things are going against us. What we want to do is get justice. We want the bad guys to lose. We want to win. Repenting might imply that we actually deserve the trouble we are facing. But look at those people who are doing it to me! They’re the ones in the wrong. They should repent not me!
But it is only in repentance that we can ever find peace. There’s no question that ancient Israel and ancient Jerusalem were morally far superior to the godless Romans who destroyed them. And they knew it. And they trusted in it. This is why they didn’t want Jesus. What they didn’t see is that it is only in seeing Jesus that you see God. That means, it is only in repentance that we find our peace with God. It is only as we lay bare our soul to our Creator, pleading nothing good in us at all, but pleading only what Jesus has done for us, that we find any peace at all. This is why the Lord’s Supper is so important to us. Would Jesus give us to eat and to drink his precious body and blood if he did not want us to trust in his body and blood for our salvation? And if Jesus accepts us at his Altar, honoring us with this precious meal, can we even doubt that there at the Altar we have met our God? He has seen us in our sin and has invited us to receive his grace. He has seen the war in our hearts, the hatred directed against one another, and our stubborn holding on to our pride. He who cried over Jerusalem invites us to receive the peace of God that passes all understanding. Then, and only then, can we live in confidence and die in peace. Let God’s judgment come! The last hour shall not bring us loss when we are sheltered by the cross that cancelled our transgression. Amen