Monday, April 10, 2017

The King Comes Weeping (Luke 19:28-48)

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week on the Christian Calendar, and the day that commemorates Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem for the final time during His earthly life and ministry. As Jesus came into the city, He was fulfilling a centuries old prophecy, delivered through the prophet Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech 9:9).

This day derives its name, Palm Sunday, from how the people responded to Jesus as He entered the city. The gospel writers tell us that multitudes were waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna!” This Hebrew word means, “Save us now!” And they were singing, “Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord!” But, in the midst of their rejoicing, did they notice that the King came weeping? Luke tells us that Jesus did two things as he drew near to the city: He saw it, and he wept over it. With tears in His eyes, He said to Jerusalem – the city of peace – “If you had known this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.”

I wonder, when we see our city, and when we see the major cities of the world, does the heart of Jesus break within us and cause us to weep as He did? Did you know that 3 out of every four people in North Carolina live in one of 8 major metropolitan areas? In the first decade of this century, the growth rate in these urban centers was over 22%. Our state is becoming more and more urban. Not only this, but our cities are becoming more and more diverse. Over 75% of North Carolina’s non-white population lives in these major metro areas. Our cities are becoming larger, they are becoming more diverse, and they are becoming more lost. Of the top 100 areas of highest concentrations of non-Christian people in North Carolina, 97 of them are in the cities. Across the state, there is approximately one North Carolina Baptist Church for every 1,300 people. In the cities, that figure skyrockets to one North Carolina Baptist Church for almost every 3,000 people.[1] Within our city of Greensboro, the top ten unreached people groups represent some of the most unreached peoples in the world. And the top ten geographic concentrations of lostness encompass the same zip codes that many of you call home, including one that our church facility falls in the middle of.

These statistics and demographics are not unique to Greensboro or to North Carolina. What we see happening here is a microcosm of what is happening worldwide. In 2010, for the first time in history, over half of the world’s population lived in urban centers. By the end of this century, it is estimated that 80% or more of the world’s population will live in cities, and in the United States, the figure already exceeds that. The world’s 25 largest cities by population all have populations over 10 million, and some more than double or triple that. In the United States, 29 major metro areas are less than 5% evangelical Christian. The unreached peoples of the world are rapidly becoming, not those who live on the other sides of oceans, jungles and deserts. They are the multicultural multitude that are living side-by-side in the world’s major urban centers.

Major cities are places of great need: poverty, greed, homelessness, crime, corruption, addiction, violence, and alienation. Certainly Greensboro is no exception. As soon as these doors open at the conclusion of the service, you can see all of the above. Now we must ask, are these problems caused by life in the city? No, these problems flow forth from the hearts of depraved humanity. They are expressions of human sinfulness. As bad as this news may sound, it is actually good news, for the problem of human sinfulness is the very problem that Jesus Christ came into the world to solve. D. L. Moody once said, “Waters run downhill, and the highest hills in America are the great cities. If we can stir them we shall stir the whole country.” If we can bring the good news of salvation from sin into the city, we can bring it to the whole world.

So, on this Palm Sunday, as we look at Jesus coming into the city with tears in His eyes, I want to challenge each of us to look at the city like He did: to see it, and to weep over it.

I. Consider what He saw.
As Jesus crossed the Mount of Olives and drew near toward Jerusalem, He saw everything there was to see. He saw the contrasts of the city: its beauty and ugliness, its glory and shame, its joy and sorrow, its wealth and the poverty, its righteousness and sinfulness. He saw the beautiful place of worship, and the monuments of depravity. He saw the piety of true worshippers, and the perversion of those who sought to profit off of them. These contrasts are present in every city, including our own, as a writer of a bygone century has put it, “heaped and huddled together, with nothing but a little carpentry and masonry between them.”

Not only did He see the contrasts, He saw the conditions. He saw those whose lips might be used to sing the praises of God if their mouths weren’t full of cursing. He saw those whose energies might be used for ministry if they weren’t exhausted by addiction, perversion, and wasteful existence. He saw prisoners bound for hell who might otherwise be pilgrims journeying to heaven. He saw the multitude praising Him with Hosannas on Sunday, knowing that many of them would be crying out “Crucify!” by Thursday.

I wonder, when we look at our city, and the great cities of the world today, do we see what Jesus saw? Do we see these contrasts and conditions? Do we recognize them for what they are? We see the problems, but do we recognize that they are but symptoms of a greater root issue? Society sees the symptoms and spends countless dollars and immeasurable energies trying to remedy them, without considering the underlying disease. More prisons are built, more shelters are built, more clinics are built, and more cemeteries are built. Dialogues and debates are held. Awareness is raised, and emotions are excited about it all. But there is no lasting change. That is because the symptoms are only remedied as the disease is treated. The disease is the corruption of the human heart because of sin. And the only cure for that disease is the good news of Jesus Christ.

The church of Jesus Christ must look with His eyes and see the city as He saw it, with all of its conditions and contrasts. And then we must stop waiting for others to apply their futile efforts to the problem, and begin to distribute the cure. The cure is the gospel, and it is distributed as God’s people live for Him and speak for Him to those around us, calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. There is no civic or governmental agency that can do that. Only the Church can do that. By and large, we have not yet done so, and it is because we have not seen the city as Jesus saw it.

Not only must we consider what Jesus saw, but we also must …
II. Consider what He did.

Upon seeing the city, Jesus wept over it. He did not weep as a politician longing for the votes of those in the city. He did not weep as a merchant desiring the money of the consumers. He did not weep as a sentimental patriot, longing for a return of the good ol’ days of peace and security. He wept as only He could: as a Savior who could rescue those people from their sins if only they would turn to Him. He wept not only for what that day held, but for a future day when they would face judgment because they Had not received Him. As He wept He said, “If you had known in this day … the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.”

When you look at the city around you, do you weep? Do you weep as Jesus wept? Do you weep at the fact that the streets are filled with people who live most of their lives giving no thought to God and to His grace? Do you weep at people who are hustling and hurrying through life only to find hell awaiting at its end? Do you weep at the number who drive and walk by the open doors of the church en route to psychics, cults, and other systems of false hope? Do you weep at those consumed with worry over so many needs, and whose hearts are indifferent to how Christ can meet their greatest need? Jesus wept as He saw these things, but He was not content to merely weep in despair. His tears drove Him to action.

He went first to the temple and drove out those who had made it into a den of thieves. God’s desire for that place was that it would be a house of prayer for all nations, and Jesus went to set things aright. Where would He go first in our city? Would He go to the courthouse or to city hall? Would He go to the campuses or the corporations? I believe He would go first to the churches and begin a massive overhaul. Lutheran Pastor Herman Prange who served a church in inner city Minneapolis in the early 20th Century put it this way:

If Jesus were here with his whip of scourging … He would drive out all those who teach the commandments of men in place of the oracles of God; who have forsaken the fountain of living water, and who direct men to the broken cisterns which hold no water; who feed their flock with the store of human opinion and wisdom, instead of the Bread of Life, Christ crucified, the power of God unto salvation. He would cast out men who are saints on Sunday and devils during the week. He would drive out the man who teaches in the Sunday School and swears at his clerks in his office. He would drive out the man who praises God with a loud voice as he sings from his well-bound book during divine service, and who during the week grinds the face of the poor. He would drive out the woman who comes to church to show her finery and spends the week debauching the young by setting an example of vanity. In a word – He would drive out all men and women who are simply whitewashed, without being washed clean.

As Peter says, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?” (1 Pet 4:17). Should Christ come first to condemn the world for not being more like the church, when the church has become so much like the world! In a nearby community, I regularly pass by a historic church building that has a large sign out front which says, “Help Save Our Church.” There is a website and contact information for passers-by to contact and make donations to save this church building. Can we not see how upside down this idea is? It is not the job of the world to save the church with its financial resources, but the job of the church to save the world by its spiritual resources in the gospel. How many church buildings in the cities of the world are hollow shells of their former selves? How many have become historical markers and museums of ancient history? We say, “Well the world has changed.” I don’t think it has changed nearly as much as the church has changed. We have lost the mission and passion of Jesus. We have stopped weeping over our cities and therefore we have stopped reaching out to our cities with the good news that is the world’s only hope.

Jesus wept and His tears drove Him to action, purifying the faith and practice of the religious community in the city of Jerusalem. So must we also get serious about the testimony we present to our city through our words and through our deeds. When this city looks upon the church as representatives of God’s people, my hope is that they do not weep in despair over our contrasts and conditions, but rather see that we are a house of prayer for all nations, where they might find the soul-saving remedy for their sinful condition.

Jesus did not stop with the cleansing of the temple. He continued on teaching daily in the city. This is what the city needs. It needs the presence of Christ and His word directing them to salvation. Our city needs to see His presence through us as we present a consistent witness to those within our sphere of influence on a daily basis. There are seven days in the week, and the city is bustling with activity, some good but much evil every day. We cannot undo that with one hour on Sunday. We must labor in this place daily for Christ as witnesses to His life-changing power. Like Jesus, we must be out in our city making His good news known daily!

But Jesus did not stop there. At the end of that week, He laid down His life for the souls of that city and died for their sins on the cross. And the message of the cross is the only hope for first century Jerusalem and 21st Century Greensboro. We must proclaim that message, and we must live that message, willing to endure whatever personal sacrifice is necessary for the salvation of the city’s multitudes. Then we will see lives changed. And as lives are changed this city will be changed. And as this city and others like it are changed, the world will be changed by the power of God and for the glory of God. But it will not happen unless we see the city as Jesus saw it, and weep for the city as Jesus wept for it, and allow our tears to move us to embrace His task of reaching our cities for Him.

The story is told of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. When he had sent two women out to begin a new mission in a new city, they met only frustration and failure. They sent word back to Booth after a few years saying that they were ready to just give up, because no matter what they tried, nothing seemed to be working. According to one report, their message said, “Would you kindly move us to another station? We are so tired and disheartened. We’ve tried everything … We’ve tried preaching on street corners, beating drums, passing out tracts, and nothing works. Please move us to another location.” Booth replied with a two-word telegram: “Try Tears.”

Have you tried tears? Have you seen your city and wept with Jesus over it? The Word of the Lord has promised us, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Our King came weeping. Let not our eyes be dry as we follow Him.

[1] Michael Sowers, “Why 8 Population Centers.” Btt_news%5D=273&cHash=5b9282e4c36974e86899525495782630. Accessed April 4, 2017. 

No comments: