And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,…
(Tenth Sunday after Trinity.)
S. LUKE xix.41.
"He beheld the city, and wept over it."
The saddest sight, save one, in the history of the world is that pictured in the text -- the Son of God weeping over the city which God had chosen to put His Name there. Let us, in fancy, to-day look upon the scene on which our Saviour looked, and recall the history of that city which had lost sight of the things concerning her peace. No other city in the world, not even Rome, has such a wonderful story as Jerusalem. Looking back into the past we see the city as the stronghold of the heathen Jebusites, perched on her rocky crest, and holding out when every other fenced city had yielded to the arms of David. The Jebusites were the last old inhabitants of the land to give place to the conqueror; they trusted in the marvellous strength of their position, where "they had made their nest in a rock." They trusted in "the everlasting gates," which had never been forced by an invader; and they declared boastfully that the blind and the lame were strong enough to defend their citadel, and that David should not come in thither. But, as we know, the day came when David attacked the city, and declared that the man who first smote the Jebusites should be chief and captain, and that man was Joab. Still looking back over the past, we see David solemnly consecrating the once heathen city to the God of his Fathers. The Ark, the most sacred treasure which Israel possessed, was brought home with solemn state and loud rejoicing after its long exile. As the procession of Priests and Levites, with the king and his chief captains, wound up the steep ascent, there rose the famous shout which Israel had so often uttered in the wilderness -- "Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered. Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest, Thou and the Ark of Thy strength." And as the Ark is borne nearer to the ancient gates, which once defended the heathen Jebusite against all foes, a new cry is raised -- "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be lift up ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in." And so the Ark entered into Jerusalem, henceforth the Holy City, of which God said, "The Lord had chosen Zion, He hath desired it for His habitation." Still looking at this Jerusalem of the past, we see the same David fallen from his high estate, sore punished for his sin, weeping for the dying child of His shame, fleeing from the city before the threats of another son whom he had loved "not wisely, but too well." Then we see the buildings of the temple rising high above palace and homestead, and mark the glory, and the wisdom, and the weakness of Solomon. Later we see clouds of sin and sorrow gathering thick over Zion. Idolatrous kings have set up their heathen altars and high places. Of nearly every monarch the same dark sentence is recorded -- he did "that which was evil in the sight of the Lord." The days come when we see the Temple of God closed; no sound of Psalm, no smoke of incense within its walls. Men burn sacrifices to Baal and Ashtaroth, and the Valley of Hinnom echoes with the cries of hapless children offered to Moloch, the hideous idol of the Ammonite. We see the Ark of God cast out of the holy of holies, the name of Jehovah removed from every public document, the altars of God overthrown, and His Priests slain with the sword. Even to-day they point to the mulberry tree of Isaiah, where one of the greatest of the prophets was slain in the Valley of Kedron. Still looking back, we see the hand of the spoiler and the oppressor busy with the city which had forgotten God -- forgotten the things which concerned its peace. The ruined walls, the desecrated temple, the mournful band of exiles, all these seem to pass before us like a dream. Then for a time come brighter scenes, as Israel returns from its exile, and with joyful Psalms sings, "Let them rejoice whom the Lord hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy, and gathered them out of all lands."
Such was the Jerusalem of the past, over which the Son of God gazed and wept. What was the Jerusalem of the present, on which He looked; what of the future? It was a doomed city, because in spite of all its chances, its warnings, its opportunities, it repented not. Its Rulers and Chief Priests refused to hear the Word of God spoken by the Messiah. What the common people listened to gladly, what the fishermen of Galilee, and the sick and sorrowing rejoiced to hear, Jerusalem rejected. And so Jerusalem was doomed. Over gorgeous temple, stately palace, and quiet home alike was written Ichabod -- thy glory is departed. Already the axe was laid to the root of the tree; already the sentence had gone forth, "cut it down: why cumbereth it the ground?" Already the hand of the destroyer was upon the city; the Roman eagle glittered amid the halls of Zion, and the once glorious sceptre had departed from Judah. Over such a city Jesus wept. And what of the future? The end came soon. Quickly the Jews filled up the measure, of their sins. Little thought they, as they watched with jibe and insult the agonies of God's Son, that those streets of theirs should run red with the blood of their best and bravest. That famine, and pestilence, and treachery, and civil war should all attack them within, whilst the Roman hosts surrounded them without. Little they thought that the temple where Jesus had been presented, where He had talked with the doctors, where He had taught such wondrous lessons, should be burned by the hand of the enemy; that its altars should drip with Jewish blood; the abomination of desolation stand in the holy place, and the golden candlestick grace a victor's triumph in the streets of Rome. Little thought those cruel men, who crucified the Lord of Life, that within a while the Romans should crucify their brethren outside the walls of Jerusalem, till there was no wood left to make a cross. "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this day, the things which belong to thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes!"
Brothers, those tears of Jesus should be very precious and very terrible to us. Precious, because they teach us the sympathy, the tenderness of Christ; terrible, because they show us the awfulness of sin. What must sin be like if it made God weep! Are there no cities, no towns, among us over which Jesus might shed tears? Think of the crimes of our great busy centres of wealth and commerce; think of the fraud and falsehood which too often disgrace our trade; think of the selfish, cruel struggle for wealth, in which the weak are trampled down and ruined; think of the shameful scenes which night after night make our streets hideous, and then ask whether or not Jesus weeps. And more than this, let us bring the matter home to ourselves. Each one of us is, so to speak, a city, a temple of the living God. We have been consecrated to Him in Baptism, as was Jerusalem by the coming of the Ark. God has promised that He will dwell in us. Are we trying to keep our lives pure and holy, remembering that we are the temples of the Holy Ghost? Is God dwelling in the holy of holies of our heart, or have we cast Him out, like Israel of old, to make room for some unworthy idol? A man's god is that which he loves, admires, and trusts to most. It may be money, it may be pleasure, or fame, or beauty: these are all idols.
Brethren, who is your God? Who dwells in the secret place, the holy of holies of your heart? God's people Israel were commanded to keep the sacred fire always burning upon the altar of sacrifice. It was never to go out. It was to be fed daily with wood, and with sacrifices of a sweet-smelling savour. It is supposed that this sacred fire was kept burning for a period of eight hundred years, till the reign of the wicked king Manasseh. From his days, when the fire was suffered to go out, the nation fell lower and lower into absolute ruin. When we were baptised, the sacred fire of the Holy Spirit came down upon the altar of our hearts. Are we keeping that holy flame alight? Are we feeding it with offerings of self-sacrifice and love; offerings of a sweet-smelling savour to God? If we have allowed the sacred fire to die out of our hearts God is no longer there. Our life is like the desecrated temple of the Jews, silent, abandoned by all, except by foul things which dwell in desolate places. Oh! that our eyes were open to see our true state; to see the things concerning our peace, before the fatal day when they shall be hid for ever from our eyes!
An ancient legend tells us that the Centurion who pierced our Lord's side at the crucifixion was a soldier named Longinus, and that he was blind. When the Blood poured from the wounded side of Jesus it was sprinkled on the blind eyes of the Centurion, and he received his sight and testified, "Of a truth this was the Son of God."
May that same Precious, Redeeming Blood open our eyes to see our sin, and to know Jesus as our Saviour. Then we shall ask Him to come into the temple of our heart, as He went into the Jewish temple of old, and to cast out all those evil demons of lust, and selfishness, and pride, and envy which defile the shrine of our body. We shall ask Him to cleanse and purify the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit. We shall ask Him to break down the idols which we have set up in His Holy Place, and to overthrow the altars reared to self. We shall pray that the sacred fire may once more be kindled, and the sacrifice and oblation of our love once more offered, since "the sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise."
Brethren, if we have caused Jesus to weep over our lives, to weep over our wasted chances and neglected opportunities; if He has mourned over the city of our life, wherein we have crucified Him afresh, let us turn to Him now. Those tears tell us of His love, His mercy, His great pitifulness. Let our prayer be now -- "O be favourable and gracious unto Zion; build Thou the walls of Jerusalem. Lord, hear our prayer, and let our cry come unto Thee."
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,