Beloved. Jesus tells us [Jn 14.9]: He who has seen Me has seen the Father. Here we come to the great mystery of the Trinity—that there is one God but yet three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Like here: Jesus distinguishes Himself from the Father; there is the “Me”, Jesus, and there is also the Father; distinct Persons. And yet there is a unity: the one who has seen Jesus has also seen the Father. Each Person is distinct from the other but yet there is only one divine essence; as the Athanasian Creed puts it: the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So if we want to know what the Father is like, we look at the Son. As we see Jesus, we see what the Father is like. If we want to know God, we have to know Jesus.
That’s why today’s Gospel is so comforting because what do we see there? As he came near, he saw the city and wept over it. This was Palm Sunday; the city was filled with joyous pilgrims in town for the Passover celebration. Instead of weeping Jesus should have happy. But as the all-knowing God, He knows that in 40 years the city would be destroyed after a rebellion against the Romans: “If you, yes you, had only known on this day the things that would bring peace to you. But now, it is hidden from your eyes. In fact, the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you, surround you, and hem you in on every side. Within your walls, they will dash you and your children to the ground. And within your walls, they will not leave one stone on top of another, because you did not recognize the time when God came to help you.” Here we see the heart of the holy Triune God exposed; we see what He thinks of us sinners. He does not take delight in our demise; He doesn’t delight when we get what we deserve for our sin. Instead, He doesn’t want the sinner to perish but that we repent of our sin[ Ez. 33.11]; He wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth [1 Ti. 2.4] and so be saved. As Jesus approaches Jerusalem that day, He looks out and sees and knows all. He sees that He will be rejected; He sees that His work will be rejected and as a result of that rejection, Jerusalem, together with its inhabitants, will be destroyed. Later on that week Jesus would again lament [Mt. 23.37]: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. As we see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem’s/ its people’s destruction, there we see the heart of God as He looks out over this world of sinners. He doesn’t look at and regard all our science and technology, all our modern advances; instead, He sees sinners on the path to hell; He sees those seemingly “good/ decent” people but who reject Him and so are firmly in the devil’s grasp. He doesn’t take delight in giving lost, sinful humanity what it deserves. He’s not chomping at the bit to hurl plagues and punishments at us. Instead, what do we see? As [Jesus] came near, he saw the city and wept over it and He who has seen Me has seen the Father.
But we also see something else with Jesus’ tears. His tears show His great sorrow over those who reject Him and His work; but because He weeps over Jerusalem, it means that there is and must be that punishment and destruction. Sin and rejection must be punished—not that He delights in it, but it must be done. And because it must be done, because it will/ must happen, Jesus in sorrow and compassion weeps. When Jesus gets into Jerusalem, He cleanses the temple: Jesus entered the temple courts and began to drive out those who were selling things there. He told them, “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of robbers’!” and by this not only foreshadows His own work of making the temple redundant as in Him all the OT sacrifices find their fulfillment, but He is also pointing forward to the destruction of the temple by the Romans as a direct result of their sin of the rejection of Jesus and His work and their misuse of the temple and its purpose before His coming.
But remember, it was about 40 years between the time of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem’s destruction and it actually happening. Those 40 years were a time of grace in which God gave people the opportunity to repent of their sin and to turn to Jesus in faith and to receive His gifts of forgiveness of sin and eternal life/ to come into the church.
Our text today is the account of the first time Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, this time by the Babylonians about 600 years before in 586 BC. The temple the Babylonians destroyed was the magnificent temple built by King Solomon. In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. For years, the Lord was threatening Jerusalem and the temple with destruction but the people would still not repent and so finally the Lord had the Babylonians come in and destroy Jerusalem and the temple.
Because the Lord is gracious and merciful, because He is long-suffering, the people mistook that for either His inability to do anything or that He was too kind to let anything like that happen to them, to Jerusalem, to the temple. And they continued on in unrepented sin, ignoring the Lord’s call through the prophets to repent. That long time that the Lord gave the Israelites to repent was a time of grace; He delayed the punishment giving them opportunity after opportunity to repent; He gave them grace upon grace, all the while warning them to repent. We read elsewhere in the OT of the destruction of Jerusalem [2 Chr 36.15,16]: The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. And then finally the Lord ends His time of grace.
The lesson here is clear: God is serious when He threatens punishment. Yes, He is gracious and merciful; yes, Jesus wept over Jerusalem but precisely because He knew that punishment/ destruction was coming. We dare never think of God as some old doting grandfatherly type who winks at our sin or thinks they are “cute”. He is serious about sin and His warnings are real. The time of grace He gives us to repent is not carte blanche to sin but precisely that: a time of grace to repent. If we fail to make use of it, we have no one to blame but ourselves. God’s warnings are precisely that—warnings; something will happen; sin will be punished. But God’s warnings are rooted in His grace—He warns us first so that we can repent. He doesn’t without warning punish and condemn us for our sin. Let us not take His warnings lightly but see them as a time of grace to examine our heart and life in light of the holy Ten Commandments, repent of that sin we find, and by the power of the Holy Spirit root that sin out of heart and life.
Our whole life now is a time of grace for repentance. Like we see in our text, that time of grace will end. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple is a picture of judgment and condemnation. As horrible as it was for those suffering it, far worse is the suffering of the souls in hell. Now, a true repentance for sin is called for. When the Lord sent in the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and the temple, the people were secure; they thought that God would never allow the temple, the visible sign of His presence, to be destroyed. They looked at it superstitiously, as a good luck charm; they did not see there the sacrifices, the liturgy and the word as pointing forward to the coming Savior; they did not see the need for repentance and faith. May we learn from this to take repentance and faith seriously! Let us never think superstitiously on our baptism, thinking that “I’m baptized; my passport to heaven is stamped.” Instead, let us use our baptism rightly each day by daily recognizing and confessing our sin, drowning our old sinful self by that daily contrition and receiving with the hand of faith once again the forgiveness of sin and eternal life God gave us at baptism. Let us recognize that now is the time of grace for us and make diligent and faithful use of God’s holy word and sacrament. And [Nebuzaradan] burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. Complete and utter devastation and suffering! This destruction of Jerusalem gives a slight inkling of the suffering of the damned in hell who are experiencing nothing but God’s wrath. But now is the time of grace for us. Now God comes to us in His holy word and sacraments offering/ giving us the forgiveness of sin and a glorious heavenly eternity. Through His word He works and strengthens faith. In the holy sacraments He comes to us and unites with us. In Holy Communion we actually receive Jesus bodily with our mouths as He feeds us His body and blood; so close/ intimate is our union with Him that He is in us and we are in Him.
Because this is a time of grace for us now, let us also remember that God is always dealing with us in grace. He wants to bring us every heavenly and spiritual blessing now and into all eternity. Even when it seems that we are in the midst of greatest testing and trial, even if the devil wants us to think that God is against us and our enemy, now is still the time of grace for us. When your conscience accuses you of sin—and rightly so—but wants you to think that all hope of heaven is gone, that it is too great to be forgiven, it isn’t! Now is the time of grace. Run to confession and hear and receive in faith the holy absolution: In the stead and by the command of Christ, I forgive you all you sin… Run to the altar and there receive in your mouth the very body that bore that sin and was cursed for it; there drink the very blood that was poured out for your forgiveness. Jesus on the cross endured the curse and punishment for our sin. In Him we are reconciled to God; we live under God’s grace. That’s what His resurrection on Easter morning showed—in Jesus we are forgiven our sin and reconciled to Him; we are His dear children and heirs of heaven. Now as we live in this time of the grace of God, even when/ especially when we think we feel the wrath of God either in conscience or in what we are suffering, let us remember it is a now a time of grace and let us run to the Lord, run to His promise, His word, His sacrament and receive grace upon grace and receive His comfort and strengthening.
Notice how our text ends with the promise of God: But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. Nebuzaradan left a handful of the poorest in the land to farm it so it would not return back to its wild state. This was a promise of God to the people that He would return them to the Promised Land after 70 years [Jer 29.10]. More than that, it was a reminder that He had not forgotten the promise He made of a Savior who would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. God is faithful to His promises to us—to forgive us our sin, to bring us to heaven one day soul and body.
As we hear of the destruction of Jerusalem in today’s Gospel and sermon text, let us remember that God is serious when He threatens punishment. But now is still a time of grace. May we make the most out of it. INJ Amen.