A Holy Lament

Trinity 10
Luke 19:41-48
August 5, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

When He came near and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If today you only knew — yes, you — the way to peace! But now it’s hidden so that you can’t see it. The time will come for you when your enemies will put up ramparts against you and surround you and press against you from every side. They’ll dash you and your children to the ground and not leave one stone on another in you, because you didn’t know the time your help came to you.”

Jesus went into the temple and proceeded to drive out the men who were selling things there. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house should be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’ ”

Every day He was teaching in the temple. The ruling priests, the Bible scholars, and the leaders of the people were trying to kill Him, but they couldn’t find a way to do it, because the people were all eager to hear Him.

In the name of + Jesus.

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The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, Jesus wept. You might know that from Bible trivia games, but did you know that the context of Jesus weeping was the death of His friend Lazarus? And that this was not the only time that the Bible reports Jesus crying? Today’s Gospel is a story of Jesus weeping, not over a friend, but over a city. Jerusalem, to be specific. The city of kings, the city of the temple, the city of God.

This was Jesus’ last approach to Jerusalem. An angry elite awaited Him, who would stir up the crowds into a murderous rage and conspire to have Jesus executed. Three days later He would rise, but He wouldn’t go back to Jerusalem. This was it for Him. And He saw something that made Him break down and cry.

When He came near and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If today you only knew — yes, you — the way to peace! But now it’s hidden so that you can’t see it. The time will come for you when your enemies will put up ramparts against you and surround you and press against you from every side. They’ll dash you and your children to the ground and not leave one stone on another in you, because you didn’t know the time your help came to you.”

Why the lament? Much of pop Christianity thrives on keeping you in a perpetual state of happiness. If you are sad, or anxious, or trepidatious, then you’re not believing hard enough. As if faith was something you had control over! Like a volume knob on your radio! But here, Jesus isn’t lacking faith. It is precisely His faith that leads Him to lament. And he’s not alone. Read through the Psalms. There’s 150 of them, and some of those 150 are serious laments. And our prophet today, Jeremiah, is known as the Weeping Prophet. He also wrote a book of the Bible titled—wait for it—Lamentations.

That’s not to say that there is no such thing as a wicked lament, or a lament of despair because a person has lost faith. But holy people can offer holy laments. Like Jesus over Jerusalem. In fact, Jesus is the model for holy lamentation, as well as its answer.

Jerusalem was a powerful and cosmopolitan city, and the temple in its center was one of the ancient marvels of beauty and architecture. It was the location of God’s activity on earth. But long before Jesus set His first foot inside the temple, God’s glory had left. The temple had been destroyed and rebuilt, desecrated and rededicated. But on every occasion, it was because God’s people had forsaken proper worship, introduced their own customs, and refocused worship on the efforts of the people rather than on God’s gracious activity. Once again, the temple was filled with robbers, who sold the sacrifices of God to earn a wage. They had turned the free gift into an object that was for sale.

So Jesus knew it wouldn’t be long before this whole thing came crashing down. It didn’t take a prophet to see that. But what Jesus did predict was the nature and the complete desolation of this next fall of the temple. Children dashed to the ground, every stone toppled. History records the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., about 40 years after Jesus uttered His prediction. The historian Josephus gives a detailed report of all of the events surrounding Jerusalem’s destruction. Let’s say that Jesus is actually putting the horror of that time lightly. The siege of Jerusalem drove people to such hunger that they did revolting things. The account is long, but here’s how it ends:

Now at the time that the mighty, renowne, and holy city of Jerusalem was destroyed, 4,034 years had been numbered from the beginning of the world, and 823 years from the founding of the city of Rome, and forty since Christ’s suffering. And thus Jerusalem, the most renowned city in all the east, was brought to a miserable and piteous end. (Walther’s Hymnal, p. 386, translation by Matthew Carver).

The lament that Jesus utters is because Jerusalem is on the path of strife, enmity, and, finally, destruction. It hadn’t quite arrived, but the seeds were sown. We can see the same thing today, can we not? There is no corner of the world, no corner of the Church, where sin and its effects cannot be felt. But when we approach Jerusalem, either from the perspective of an earthly city, or of the church, we are faced with a crisis. A decision. We can either jump into the fray and join in the battle, or we can lament. There was a little-known group in Jerusalem called the Zealots. One of Jesus’ disciples was Simon the Zealot. These guys were angry with the Romans, and incited a rebellion 4 years before the destruction of Jerusalem. They thought they were fighting for God, even putting together a group of Jewish ninjas called the Sicarii, responsible for assassinating Romans and their sympathizers. It was their revolt, according to Josephus, that brought the hammer down from the Roman Empire.

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Now, it might seem that Jesus is going that way. Immediately following His lament, Luke reports Him going into the temple and driving out the sellers. It looks like a rebellion, but Jesus indicates that it’s for a different purpose altogether. “My house should be a house of prayer,” said He. And, Every day He was teaching in the temple. The cleansing of the temple wasn’t about inciting a rebellion, or meeting violence with violence. It wasn’t about evening the scales of justice and making things right. It was about setting the stage for the way of peace. And that was by prayer and God’s Word.

Contrast the cleansing of the temple with Peter’s bearing arms a few days later. When the mob comes to arrest Jesus, Peter pulls his sword and cuts Malchus’s ear off. But Jesus returns the sword to its sheath and Malchus’s ear to his head. This is not peace, but a sword.

Jesus’ lament outside of Jerusalem also shows us something else about a holy lament, which separates it from wicked or despairing laments. Even under His tears, there is joy. The book of Hebrews presents it like this: For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, thinking nothing of its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.

Jesus’ lament was that Jerusalem was on the path to destruction, but His joy was that He was blazing the way of peace. That path, though, goes directly through the cross.

It was, in fact, the third day after enduring the cross that Jesus appeared before His disciples and delivered His peace. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. That is the path of peace. It goes through the pierced hands of Jesus. This is the joy that answers lamentation—the forgiveness of sins.

“If today you only knew — yes, you — the way to peace!” says Jesus. If only you knew the way of the cross. If only you knew the way of forgiveness. Then you would avoid this tragic destruction. These words were first said over Jerusalem, but they are also uttered over you today. If you only knew—Jesus makes it known. He shows His hands and side. He breathes His Spirit. He sends absolvers. He gives His body and sheds His blood. He washes in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.

So Jesus answers His own lament by going to the cross, and by bringing the cross to sinners. Jesus answers with peace. His is a holy lament, because

A Holy Lament Seeks the Cross, Where Lasting Peace Can Be Found

In the name of + Jesus.