The Baptist Pillar © Brandon Bible Baptist Church 1992-Present www.baptistpillar.com
"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From The Baptist Magazine, 1881
"And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!—But now are they hid from thine eyes.’”—Luke 19:41, 42
Reverent criticism of the statements of the New Testament record is not a characteristic of this age. With the fearless, searching spirit of inquiry, so estimable and so useful, there is not too much of that devout feeling which becomes us when we treat of sacred matters, nor of that solemnity which should be manifest when we speak of Him whose life and death have become the greatest events of history.
This remark is not the expression of any fear that the faith reposed in the record, or in the validity of the Saviour's claims, will be weakened by the rough treatment of adverse critics. But it is made in some apologetically, and in order to remind you that we feel the importance of reverently considering such a subject as the one before us, even though our first remarks upon it may be misjudged.
So much do we value the results of bold, out-spoken comment, that we should prize it even at the cost of much proper veneration. Happily, however, it is possible to combine the two; and we are anxious not to lay ourselves open to a suspicion of irreverence, as we ask the questions which have probably arisen in the minds of skeptical thinkers; as, for example, whether this readiness to weep does not reveal an absence of manly character—whether, at such an important moment, when surrounded by an excited and admiring crowd, these tears were not "sensational"—and whether, in view of the suffering and death which Jesus knew awaited Him in Jerusalem, the weeping was not a selfish one.
If these questions be answered negatively, it may be further asked why He should weep over the rejection of Himself, which was, after all, an important element in the fulfillment of His mission—and, further, why He should weep over a reprobate people.
Let us consider these questions in the order in which we have stated them.
There is only one previous mention of our Lord having wept. That was at the grave of Lazarus—a weeping which reveals the sympathy of His human nature with the sorrow of the mourners, even when He knew that by His own word the cause of their grief would be removed, as the restored friend and brother came forth alive again. He wept compassionately with those that wept, and perhaps with a profounder thought of death as the penalty of sin, the enemy whose power He had come to break.
At that natural emotion few objectors make demur; for in the presence of Death, and amid those who sorrow over bereavement, even the stoutest hearts yield, and the love and sympathy displayed in such tears are not beneath the wisest, the noblest, and the sternest manhood. Yet such an opinion, as related to Jesus, has not always been admitted in the reverent thought of Him which men have desired to hold. In the early church there were those who wished to omit these two passages from the record, under the supposition that it was inglorious in Christ to weep, so little insight had they into the quality of truest worth His tears displayed.
Some of the bravest and greatest men mentioned in sacred and profane history have thus yielded to emotion on occasions of deep and moving interest. Abraham, Joseph, David, Nehemiah, Peter, and others are spoken of in the Bible as having wept. History speaks of Julius Caesar, Brutus, Marcellus, and Wellington as having been moved to tears.
As we reflect upon the circumstances of many of these displays of tenderness, we are constrained to acknowledge that they were proofs of truest greatness. These were not men who wept on any and every occasion, but men of strong character. We do not share the wish of the ancient Christians above referred to—that these traits of the human nature in our Lord had been hidden. We love Him for the sympathetic sorrow He showed. We feel that He was touched with feelings like our own, and was, therefore, the more fitted to be our Great High Priest.
The occasion of His approach to the city does not, at first, appear so natural for such a display of feeling. It looks more like mere sensationalism. We say this reverently in order to bring out our point. Men have often sought effect by the indulgence of emotion which might have been restrained. That it was with no such intent that Christ now wept the sequel will show. His tears were wholly out of keeping with the occasion, viewed in the light of its external appearances. Those who surrounded Him with their festive greetings and glad hosannas must have been at a loss to account for this sudden display of feeling. Its effect upon them must have been strange, though no record is left of the way in which they regarded it.
We are all to some degree conscious of the imposing majesty and beauty of a large city when, from some neighbouring height, a sudden bend in the road reveals it to us. Let it be remembered that, as Jesus then beheld it, Jerusalem was in its glory. It was not a dingy, smoke-begrimed city like those we see; but large, beautiful for situation, built in a style of the greatest magnificence—pinnacle and tower, gold and white, catching the gorgeous hues of the eastern sun—standing majestically upon the hills, which were environed by the rich luxurious valley through which Kedron flowed. For splendour and beauty it must have been no ordinary sight.
Moreover, to Him it could not have been unfamiliar. Doubtless He had gazed upon it many times, from the same spot, as it lay in outstretched magnificence below. But now He looked upon it for the last time. There are times in our history when long familiar scenes become strikingly impressive, and when they suddenly wake emotions which we wonder that we have never felt before. He was not so elated with the transient greetings and praises of the crowd as to be carried away by them. His own deeper thoughts weighed with saddening influence upon His mind.
Too fully was He occupied with the mission of His life to suffer the joy of the throng to lift Him up even with a momentary pride. And when the procession came to a halt in full view of the city—with no regard for their thoughts, but in the spontaneous expression of His own—He gave utterance to the words before us. It was the outpouring of a long pent-up sorrow over the persistent rebellion of Israel against God. It was too deep, too peculiar an emotion for the bystanders to appreciate—an emotion wholly foreign to their minds It was neither sentimental nor sensational, but was the outburst of the profound spiritual sorrow of the Man of Sorrows—irresistible—mighty in the compassion it showed—yet lost upon them, because at the time they were incapable of understanding it.
Nor was it a selfish grief. These were not the tears of a timid apprehension of the suffering that He knew lay before Him. He wept, not because He beheld the scene of His approaching trial and death—not because He foresaw that the hosanna of this band of friends would soon be exchanged for the shout of derision, and the cry of "Crucify Him!" which his enemies would raise—but because He sadly deplored the wickedness of the people, and their opposition to the Kingdom of God, and because
He foresaw what they little dreamed—how this glorious city, so majestic in its splendour, would become the scene of the most terrible devastations and sufferings, and how, in less than fifty years, its glory would have passed away, so that, of the mighty edifices which were then the national pride, not one stone would be left upon another. It was the grief of generosity, not that of selfishness.
The shame and suffering, the bitterness of His "hour," which was at hand—these were crowded out of His thoughts as matters which concerned Himself, by the compassionate sorrow with which He looked for the last time upon that " city of ten thousand memories"—that city of a proud, historic past—and felt that the turning-point in its prosperity had come, by reason of its persistent rejection of the love of God, and that ere long the eagles would be prattled together and Jerusalem would become a prey.
But why should Jesus weep over a reprobate people, especially when their conduct formed an important and, in one sense, necessary condition for the fulfillment of His own mission? It shows us how reluctantly He gives the wicked over to their fate—how, in Him, vengeance for the insults He bore gave place to merciful regrets that they "would have none of Him"—regrets at their loss of the "peace" He proffered—and not regrets at the denial of His own honour and glory. Not Himself, but the people—not His shame, but their loss—awoke His pity and drew forth His tears.
Though He knew from the beginning how cruelly they would reject Him, and though He came as the Sacrifice for sin, He could not contemplate their wilful hardness of heart, and the dreadful use of their free agency in all this, without sorrowing over the loss which they as yet knew not, and the troubles which were soon to overtake them. Though they hated Him, He loved them still, and the prospect of their sufferings and of their humiliation, even at the moment of His immediate anticipation of His own, caused Him, " when He was come near and beheld the city, to weep over it, saying, thou hadst known, even thou at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!—But now are they hid from thine eyes!"
It is a remarkable utterance, which, whilst it leaves no ground for reasonable doubt with regard to the feelings which caused Jesus to weep, presents some thoughts which are usefully susceptible of a modern application. Are not those to whom Christ is now preached, but who, whilst they hear, take no practical heed, partakers of that rejection of Him of which these Jews were guilty? What are the things which make for their peace? Repentance and faith. Repentance is not, in itself, a state of peace; it is the trouble of the heart over the sins that are past. But there is no peace without it. It does not remove condemnation; it is no expiation of guilt.
Though in all the bitterness of contrition we mourn for sin, we have not peace by contrition alone. Faith in Christ as our Saviour must be added to it. The lack of these two things—repentance and faith—makes the condition of many who hear the Gospel to-day worse than that of the Jews of old. Familiarity with the truth does not ensure the reception of it To-day there are thousands who have knowledge enough, but whose knowledge is merely educational or contemplative. They can discuss intricate questions concerning Christ and His work, but they have not that experimental knowledge of Him which constitutes the peace of the children of God.
If Jerusalem had known the things which belonged to its peace—and it might have known them—what a different history it would have had! Jesus wept as, with prophetic vision, He saw the calamities which were to befall it. His pity was uttered upon the outermost bounds of mercy. Whilst opportunity lingered, and the chances of amendment remained, the appeals of the Divine love did not sink into silence. But wilful ignorance knew not the awful destiny to which it hastened.
Even in the destruction of His enemies our Lord manifests no anticipatory pleasure. Regretfully He sees the day of mercy close upon those who will not avail themselves-of it. "If thou hadst known in this thy day…!" The sentence is incomplete. It stands as a mournful, broken ejaculation, showing that even then the lingering desire for postponement dwelt in His loving heart, and that at that last moment outraged goodness was loathe to see the wicked seal their doom. So now, in this season of grace, as the messages of the Gospel are spurned, and as sinners harden their hearts in sin, He looks tearfully upon them, and wishes that He might gather them to Himself.
After a pause, in which He struggled with His emotion, He said, "But now are they hid from thine eyes." What were hidden? Not only the salvation they might have found, but also the doom that was impending. The spiritual blindness of the impenitent hides alike the way of escape and the approach of destruction.
To-day Christ looks upon us. Unseen, He is in our midst. We do not doubt this, though we are slow to realise it. He knows whether we reciprocate or reject His love. And whilst we linger, unwilling to decide—toying with the world—setting our heart on the pleasures of life—He looks pityingly upon us, and seeks, by the constant proclamation of His grace, to woo us to Himself.
Through all our years He has watched us, and borne patiently with our ingratitude and our sin. Does He not speak to us of long-neglected privileges and of oft-spurned overtures of mercy? Still He waits to be gracious. By the pity that wept over the impenitent—by the cross which wrought salvation—He pleads with us now. Let us turn to Him. God forbid that the day of grace should be wasted, and that the fiat should have to be pronounced, "Now are these things hid from your eyes!"