April 2, 2023
The Bible is clear: if anyone rejects Christ’s invitation for salvation, destruction is their end. This was powerfully demonstrated when Jesus, knowing the devastation that awaited Jerusalem, wept over the wayward city. Preaching on this often overlooked scene from the Passion Week narrative, Alistair Begg reminds us that Jesus still is grieved when sinners refuse His mercy and leave themselves without hope, peace, joy, or forgiveness. Will we weep with Him—and then carry the amazing news of His love to the world?
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, I pray now that as the evening shadows begin to form and as we come to the end of this day, that as we turn our gaze to your Word and to your Son, that you will accomplish the purposes that you have for your Word in this evening. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, what I want to do this evening, actually, is to correct an imbalance in my own attempts at over the years teaching on the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. I can’t say how many times we have looked at these passages, but I think this is the very first time that I’ve ever given actual attention to these few verses, 41 to verse 44.
I’m probably not alone in this. I would think that most people, when they consider Palm Sunday, their focus is largely on the earlier part of the reading—the entry, the children. And if you think about the way in which many congregations choose to make sure that that is embedded in the consciousness of the people, it is to these things that they will give attention—and with justification, surely, in order to remind the children and to teach them and to remind us of something of what was happening there.
Luke actually, in the second half of this chapter, gives us three scenes. You know, Jesus is represented in the Scriptures as fulfilling the picture of the Prophet and of the Priest and of the King. And in the opening part of this, 28–40, we see Jesus as the King riding into Jerusalem. In the cleansing of the temple, which is the closing section, to which we won’t look, we see Jesus as the Priest coming to the temple and cleansing it. And in the section to which we turn now, we see Jesus as the Prophet coming to address the city. And he addresses the city in a manner that surely must have caught his disciples off guard.
The journey to Jerusalem actually has had a beginning for some time. If you go all the way back and you just work your way back through the Gospel of Luke, you will eventually come to 9:51, where we read, “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” So this has been, if you like, going on for some time, and we are now arriving at the point where he will enter Jerusalem for the last time in his earthly pilgrimage.
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He had told his disciples in the course of time the things that awaited him when he got there. He actually said to them, “I want these words to sink into your ears.” I’m quoting, actually, from earlier again in Luke’s Gospel. He looks at them, and he must have known how easy it was for him to say things to them and for them to miss them, mistake them, ignore them, or forget them. That ought to be a great encouragement to each of us when we think about our attempt to read and pay attention to the Bible. “Let these things,” he said, “sink into your ears: I am going to be delivered into the hands of sinful men.” And then Luke tells us, “But they did not understand.”
And so we, I think, can fairly assume that in the triumphal part that precedes our little section, that his disciples would have been caught up in the expectation and in the enthusiasm that marked the gathered crowd. It transcended ages, and it transcended gender, and it was a great expression of all kinds of things. Many of the people, if we’d interviewed them, would have told us one thing. Someone would have told us something else. And the disciples themselves would have been a mixture of faith and wonder.
And now we’re told that in the course of time, as the procession makes its way down through the Mount of Olives… If you have been to the Middle East, if you have been to Jerusalem, then you will have this picture fairly clearly in your mind. There is a point where you go down, and then you begin to come back up. And when you begin to come back up, from that vantage point you can see the city of Jerusalem spread out before you, and you can see the temple itself in all of its magnificence. In the sunshine, the roof is just emblazoned with a kind of wonder—at least as it was. And in the middle of all of that, Jesus now comes.
Jesus, of course, knew when he looked at the temple as it was then that there was a curtain inside that temple. He also knew that within a matter of days, that curtain in that temple would be torn from top to bottom. Probably, he was the only one who had any notion of that in all of the exuberance of the crowd. “And [so] the end is near, and [now] I face the final curtain.” This is exactly what’s happening.
Of course, the triumph that yet awaits us in a week’s time is for us to consider. And we are familiar up until this point with Jesus withdrawing from people. He met them, he cared for them, he ministered to them, but he went away from them. He withdrew from them. He often went out into the wilderness. He frequently told people that he had healed to tell nobody about him, because he did not want the thing getting out of hand and with wrong understandings of what was going on.
But now, in this situation, everything has radically changed, hasn’t it? Now what he’s doing he’s doing in a way that has never characterized the previous three years of his life. Now he purposefully rides into Jerusalem. He takes this donkey. He understands exactly what is happening: that he is fulfilling the prophetic word. He is fulfilling prophesy. He is declaring himself the Messiah. And as a result, he has stirred the crowds to joyful acclamation. “Blessed is he,” they said, “who comes in the name of the Lord!”—so much so that some of the Pharisees, we’re told, were themselves annoyed about this, and they gave instructions to Jesus to rebuke his disciples, to which he replies enigmatically, “If the people were silenced, the very stones would pick up the chorus of praise.”
And with all of that, the stage is set for this lament. That’s why I say that the way in which he responds to this would have caught his own disciples off guard. Because the contrast between the noise, the exuberance, the excitement, the expectation, the cries of the people, the contrast between that and what now happens couldn’t actually be any more marked.
“And when he drew near…” Incidentally, the way in which Luke wonderfully sort of slows the pace of everything down is in this “drawing near.” Back up in : “When he drew near to Bethphage,” and when he drew near. And now, “when he drew near and [he] saw the city, he wept over it.” “He wept over it.” In other words, he exercises his prophetic ministry in the way that Jeremiah exercised the ministry. You remember Jeremiah, in chapter 9, he says, “Oh that my head were filled with waters, that my eyes were a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night.” That’s what Jesus is essentially doing here. And that’s why I say to you, it’s very easy to set this aside. Because this is a significant—a very significant—part. This is actually the significant part of what is really taking place here. And so we need to understand it.
Now, we don’t have a lot of times in the Bible where we read of Jesus weeping. In fact, if this was class, I would ask you to give me the other ones. And someone would immediately say, “Well, he wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus”—John chapter 11. That would be good. Someone else said, “Well, he is described as weeping in Hebrews and in chapter 5,” which presumably is an expression of what took place but is not actually recorded as weeping in the garden of Gethsemane.
And I want to pause and acknowledge here something that is very, very important: any lingering notions that you may have in mind or your friends may have in mind about Jesus being less than human—about Jesus as if he were something not really a really real person, as if he were really a phantom, as if he was a lot of God and a little bit of humanity—that is banished by a careful reading of the Bible. Because in the Scriptures we realize that he is there in the totality of his humanity and in the totality of his divinity. And in the early years of the church, those battles were fought. They had to make sure that people did not have him as diminished in his deity nor that he was diminished in his humanity. And that’s where the Westminster Confession is very helpful. And I want just to read chapter 8 and section 2, not because you’re going to remember it but because you might remember that I read it:
The Son of God, the second person [of] the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the God[hood] and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.
In fact, Jesus is the only truly human person. Because everybody else has been dehumanized by sin. If we want to know what humanity is actually like, it is in Christ. If we want to know what God is like, it is in Christ. And so here he is, and he views the city—the city that he had sung about as a boy in the congregation, in the synagogue, when the people of God gathered, and he would sing, “This is the city of our God, the joy of all the earth, the city of the great King.” We used to sing it in the ’60s: on “mount Zion, on the [side] of the north, the city of the great King.” That’s why I said what I said earlier, because I used to sing that and say, “I haven’t a clue what this is, this something about ‘on Mount Zion on the side of the north.’ What north? What south? What city? What?” So… You say, “well, I’m glad you sorted it out, but I wish you could have made it clearer to us.” But that’s a different story altogether.
Jesus, who sang of the city, now looks at the city, and he weeps over it. Now, why does he weep? Because he sees it not as it is, but he sees it as it is about to be. In his mind’s eye, he looks at it. He looks on the scene that has unfolded, and he sees it besieged. He sees it in the way that it had happened before. Because when we go back into the Prophets, we realize the story when Nebuchadnezzar came and the city was destroyed. It had happened before, and Jesus looks at it, and he says, “It’s going to happen again.”
When it happened, recorded for us in Jeremiah, the same pieces of the puzzle are in play. Read Jeremiah 6, and you will read that God exercises his judgment because the people did not listen, because the word of God was scorned, and because the stuff that was taking place would make a sailor blush, and nobody ever blushed. They were unashamed in it all. And God came in judgment, and the exile is the story there for us. Jesus, in the awareness of all of this, looks at it now, and his tears—his tears—are because he knows that the people have turned their backs on God. That is why he cries. It grieves the Lord Jesus. It grieves him to tears.
Incidentally, the word for “tears” here is not like “boo-hoo.” No. The response of Jesus would have been audible. It would have been visible. It would have been unmistakable. His disciples would have said, “What is wrong, Jesus?” He would have said, “No! No! No!” That’s what’s happening. God stands in the earth and looks to the people, and he weeps. He weeps for the lost opportunity. That’s what the text tells us. When he cries out, he says… Incidentally, I don’t know whether he said this in such a way that people could hear him or whether this is a soliloquy. Does he say it in a way that only somebody very close could hear? “Would that you, even you…” See that?
Incidentally, “you” comes ten times in the space of four verses. “You, you, you, you, even you.” “You of all people.” That’s what he’s saying. “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But … they are hidden from your eyes.” “Even at the eleventh hour,” he says, “you don’t know what your peace depends upon.” There are none so blind as those who will not see. And their ignorance, you see, is culpable.
This passage should make us immediately say, “But isn’t there another place where Jesus responds similarly?”—which, of course, there is. And in Luke’s Gospel it’s in chapter 13. You remember that picture too. Similarly, he looks on the city, and he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” You remember he tells the parable: that they sent the people, and they hated him, and they stoned him, and eventually he sent the son, who was the owner, and they destroyed him too. “O [you], the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken.”
Now, what is expressed in this? And I just decided I would try and figure the logic for myself, or the line that runs through it, just in three words. Basically, you have invitation, rejection, and destruction. Those are not three points that I’m going to elaborate on, except to say that when a nation or a person persists in rejecting God, the end is inevitable. The end is inevitable. Because what Jesus said would happen—what he said would happen: “The days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you.” What he’s doing is he… It’s no surprise that he weeps, is it? What Jesus said would happen happened in AD 70, when the authorities, the power of Rome, was able to come in and actually do what is described here. Within forty years of these moments, within a generation, it would take place.
It made me think—I was just thinking about it this evening before I came down the stairs—of the moment that’s recorded in Mark’s Gospel, after the widow’s offering, where Jesus has been teaching them who put the most in and so on. “And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’” This is why he wept. This is why he wept.
In fact, when I think about that, I wonder whether the stones—when he says the stones would cry out, that he didn’t simply mean they would cry out in the immediacy by way of praise, picking up the song, but within a generation the stones would cry out. People would walk amongst the rubble, and the wind would blow through them, and they would cry out, “We rejected him. We rejected him. We were destroyed.”
Think about it. Jesus came to them first of all, didn’t he? Of all the nations on the earth, he came to them. He came to offer them redemption and everlasting salvation. They knew that. They also knew because they had had his presence with them for a period of three years. And when in listening to him they were able, because of all that they knew of the Old Testament, to realize how he was reaching back to what had been prophesied and making it clear to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear that it pointed to him, they had his life and his ministry.
But three years of refusal of his words and of his works had blinded them to the opportunity that was before them. He was present among them. Some of them were intrigued by the idea. Some of them were hoping for a political solution, looking for a Jesus that would fit their agenda, fulfill their dreams. But not this. The sympathetic ones at the beginning turn their backs on him in the end. His was not a kingdom of the world. That wasn’t his plan. He visited for the purpose of saving them, blessing them into eternity. But they were hostile. They were obdurate in their unbelief. And they blinded themselves to the salvation that he came to offer.
Think of him as he moves among them. “Come to me,” he says. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden. I look at you. I see you.” Remember, it says that when he saw the people, he was moved with compassion, because he saw them as sheep without a shepherd. “How often would I have gathered you the way a hen gathers her chicks?” The way, again, just from the words of the hymn writer: “O spread thy [h]overing wings around [while] all our wanderings cease.” That’s the picture there from the Old Testament: that you see the bird—especially ospreys or eagles—if you see them in their natural habitat with the little ones underneath them, and the storm comes, and the hailstones come, and they spread their wings, and underneath they are protected. He says, “That’s what I came to do. That’s why I called you as I did. But you wouldn’t come.”
But it’s not so far removed, is it, from the task of the Sunday-by-Sunday preacher? Think about the benefits that people enjoy, not just in our context, but let’s just talk about the benefits that we enjoy living in a free country with access to the preaching of the gospel. And think about how many people here, routinely, many of them have been brought up under the sound of the gospel, even since childhood—they have gone to the youth group; they know it all; they have heard it all; but now they no longer hear. Now it’s not that they’re confused, except that they may be confused on this level: that they’re assuming that the sense of settled peace to which they have come in sitting unbelieving under the invitations of the gospel—they have confused spiritual death with spiritual peace. They have settled down to the mediocre level of routine listening without hearing and looking without seeing.
That is why from the pulpit we say with regularity, “Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.” I guarantee you there will be some who could say, “You know, I remember even ten years ago, seventeen years ago, I remember I used to listen, and it disturbed me, and it used to annoy me, and sometimes it convicted me, and often it challenged me. But it doesn’t do it anymore. It just doesn’t do it anymore. It’s like water on a tin roof: there’s no penetration.”
Those to whom Jesus spoke were given every reason to welcome him, but they refused his call. They blinded themselves. And this is why on the first day of the passion, Jesus broke down in tears. Jesus is grieved when sinners reject his invitation and leave themselves with no hope, no peace, no joy, no forgiveness.
Well, I have maybe three minutes, and so I want to do a PS. Because that is somewhat gloomy. It’s sobering, in a proper way. But you say to yourself, “Now we need to set what we have just seen and heard and thought about in relationship to the fact that this was day one of the Passion Week, and we still have Good Friday before us, and we still have the day of resurrection, and we have the triumph of Jesus, and we have the fact that the disciples that didn’t get it on the way in certainly got it on the way out.” And so we would expect, then, that when they began to preach, something of this would register in their preaching. I don’t want you to turn to this, but I just want to read to you from Peter’s sermon as he speaks in Solomon’s Portico. His portico is still there. This is AD 30.
“And now, brothers [and sisters],” he says,
I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, [the Messiah,] Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. [Saying] Moses … “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet.”
So here we’ve got Peter, and he’s picking up the evangelistic zeal of Jesus. Because, you see, the mission of Jesus and the mission of the church is the same mission. Part one is Jesus. Part two is the church going out to do it.
And when you read on in the Acts, you find the same thing. I found this wonderfully encouraging and tremendously challenging. By the time you get to Acts 13:26—listen to this: “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham…” You get this? “He came to his own. His own received him not. But to as many as received him he gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in his name.” And now Peter says, “I have got to make sure that when I preach, I make this clear—that the voice of God sounds out and that the hand of God reaches out to bring to himself these very folks.”
Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him [or] understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as … it is [also] written in the second Psalm.
And now Peter stands there and says the same thing: “Come! Come!” And by the time Paul writes Romans, he says, “Oh, I would be accursed if it were only that my people might come to receive that which Christ as Messiah came to bring.”
Part of our problem, part of my problem is that I’m okay with Jesus weeping. But it’s all gone so “okay” now that we don’t weep. Who will weep? Who will weep for the lost children of Israel if not those who have been, in an amazing fashion, untimely grafted into that very branch? What an amazing thing! No wonder he wept.
Our gracious God, we thank you for this day. We thank you for your Word. We thank you for your Son. We thank you for the enabling work of the Holy Spirit. We pray, Lord, that your work in each of our hearts and lives would be such that our knees have been bent to you, that our hands have reached out to you in welcome, offering nothing but the sin for which we so desperately need to be forgiven. Lord, I pray for any within the sound of my voice who have just grown so cold and disinterested yet, despite, keeping pretenses up, that in your great mercy, that you will break down the walls of indifference or fearfulness or whatever it might be. We pray that you will bring us safely and in the power of the Holy Spirit to acknowledge again the wonder of your redeeming love.
So, may grace, mercy, and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, tonight and forevermore. Amen.
 Luke 9:44 (paraphrased).
 Luke 9:44 (paraphrased).
 Luke 9:45 (ESV).
 See Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45.
 Paul Anka, “My Way” (1969).
 Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; John 12:13 (ESV). See also Luke 19:38.
 Luke 19:40 (paraphrased).
 Jeremiah 9:1 (paraphrased).
 See John 11:35.
 See Hebrews 5:7.
 Psalm 48:1–2 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 48:2 (KJV).
 See Matthew 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12.
 Luke 13:34–35 (ESV).
 Mark 13:1–2 (ESV).
 See John 18:36.
 Matthew 11:28 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 9:36.
 Philip Doddridge, “O God of Bethel, by Whose Hand” (1737).
 See Psalm 95:7–8; Hebrews 3:7–8, 15; 4:7.
 Acts 3:17–22 (ESV).
 John 1:11–12 (paraphrased).
 Acts 13:26–33 (ESV).
 Romans 9:3 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.