READ : Luke 19:41-42
And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. . . .”
Luke 19:41,42 rsv
There are times when what we don’t know can hurt us. It can grieve God too. Listen to these sobering words about that. I’m reading from Luke, chapter 19, beginning at verse 41:
And when he [that is, Jesus] drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Did you notice the emphasis running through that passage? “would that you knew . . . these things are hid from your eyes . . . you did not know the time of your visitation.” Sometimes not knowing can be perilous, even tragic.
WHAT THEY DIDN’T KNOW
What was it that the people of Jerusalem didn’t know? Jesus says it was the things that make for peace. That word has a beautiful sound, both in the Hebrew language and in the Greek. In Hebrew, “peace” is shalom, a kind of total well-being. In Greek, it’s eir?n? from which we get the adjective “irenic” and the name “Irene.” Don’t you like those, shalom and eir?n?? They have the sound, the feel, of peace about them, don’t they?
Peace, as the Bible describes it, has three dimensions. For one, it’s an inner contentment, a rest of spirit, a freedom from carping cares. That’s the peace of God Paul speaks about when he says, “In nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Peace of this kind is a sort of inner harmony and wholeness.
Another dimension of peace is in our relationships with others. The apostle Paul urges us to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The writer to the Hebrews urges us to follow peace with all men. Here we’re thinking of open, positive relationships between people, where love replaces hatred, where forgiveness overcomes the spirit of vengeance, where we try to build bridges between us instead of barriers. Peace means the end of hostilities and the beginning of real friendship.
But there’s a third dimension to peace, even more profound, underlying both of the others, and that is peace with God. Because of the entrance of sin into the world, all of us are estranged from God. We’ve rebelled against His authority, broken His commandments, grieved His heart. We’ve turned away from Him. We are alienated, lost. We are a guilty people under His righteous judgment.
Peace with God, on the other hand, is the happy announcement of the gospel. In Jesus Christ, God has done something decisive to reconcile us to Himself, to bring us home. He has broken the barriers down, slain the enmity, created peace through the blood of His cross. Now for Jesus’ sake, God to us is a marvelously gracious Father. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now this is what the Jerusalem dwellers did not know, the things that make for this profound, many-faceted peace. Further, they didn’t know the time of their visitation. They didn’t recognize when God was drawing near to them. They didn’t recognize Him when He came. Visitation speaks of God coming on the human scene – for good or ill. Sometimes He comes in fearful judgment, bringing us face to face with our evils, allowing us to taste the fruit of going our own way. At other times He comes in mercy, showering kindnesses upon us, revealing His grace to us.
Those in Jerusalem were not aware of God’s approach in either way. In whatever calamities or blessings they experienced, they failed to see His hand. They didn’t grasp the fact that He was dealing with them, confronting them, calling for a response.
Why, we wonder, did they not know these things? What interfered with their capacity to recognize God’s coming to them? Was it merely innocent ignorance or was something else involved? The Bible is clear on this point: our failure to recognize the Lord in our midst always has a moral element to it. Something within us retreats from the light. Something in us doesn’t want to see. Much of our spiritual blindness is self-induced.
The apostle Paul speaks of that in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans. “For what can be known about God,” he writes, “is plain to them [to all of us], because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made, so they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened” (Rom. 1:19-21).
Do you notice the progression here? God has revealed something of Himself in the created order, enough for people to recognize the eternal power and deity of the One who has made all these things. But we haven’t responded to the light we have. We haven’t allowed what we know of God to lead us to worship and thanks or to the submission of our lives. We’ve chosen not to know. That’s why we are without excuse.
Why didn’t the residents of Jerusalem welcome God when He came in the person of His Son? They had not only the revelation of God in the created world, they had the Word of God in the Old Testament Scriptures. They were the covenant people of God. He had made Himself known to them. Surely if any people on earth should have recognized Him when He came, it would be these. But they didn’t. Somewhere along the line, they became futile in their thinking; their senseless minds became darkened.
Why do we try to banish the thought of God from our minds? It must be a matter of control. We must be afraid that if we really acknowledge Him we’ll have to give up our self-sovereignty. We’ll have to admit that He is God and we are His creatures and then yield ourselves to His lordship. And we shrink from that. We don’t want it that way. We’d rather keep our lives to ourselves, so we run from the sunshine into the shadows. And because we will not welcome the light, we gradually lose our capacity to see. There’s a line in Tennyson that says, “We must needs love the highest when we see it, not Lancelot or another.” Our sin is that we do not love the highest when we see it. We become blind because we will not see. We do not know the time of our visitation because we do not want to know.
THE WEEPING SAVIOR
Friends, if there’s anything sad in this life, anything truly heartbreaking, it’s this. When Jesus drew near and saw the city full of people who didn’t know the things that make for their peace, who didn’t know the time of their visitation, He wept over it. “Would that you knew! Oh, that you understood!” He lamented.
There’s only one other occasion recorded in the gospels at which Jesus is said to have wept. That was at the grave of Lazarus. When Jesus saw the grief of Mary and Martha and their friends, tears ran down His cheeks as well. He entered into their grief. His heart was touched at what death does to the human family.
Now His grief is over what sin does. He saw these people in Jerusalem who had received so much light, who had been blessed with such a clear and wonderful revelation of God, but He saw them shutting their eyes to it, stopping their ears, hardening their hearts. That moved Him to tears.
He was about to be rejected in that city, arrested, abused, falsely tried, condemned and crucified. But His tears were not for Himself. He wept for them. He saw the judgment that loomed over them. He knew that truth resisted always hardens the heart. He knew that “those who are often reproved but harden their hearts shall suddenly be cut off and that without remedy.” “The days will come upon you,” He said, “when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground” (Luke 19:43). He felt the woe of a doomed city, suffered with what its people would suffer.
It’s a moving spectacle to me – Jesus weeping over people who couldn’t care less, over those who would soon despise Him and deliver Him to death. And because these words come from Jesus, the One who said, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), we get a glimpse in those tears of God’s heart. How great His love is toward the very people who condemn and crucify Him!
We get a glimpse of this in the experience of Jeremiah the prophet. His was the painfully difficult calling of telling Jerusalem that judgment was near. They didn’t want to listen. They preferred the smooth words of the false prophets. However loudly the prophet cried out his message of judgment, they would not listen. Listen to Jeremiah, “My grief is beyond healing. My heart is sick within me . . . O that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 8:18;9:1). Jeremiah saw the people of Jerusalem spurning the truth, rejecting the Word of the Lord. He knew that they were storing up trouble for themselves, and that tore him up inside. Grief possessed his soul.
Listen to the tears of Jeremiah and of Jesus. Listen to the grief in the heart of God. It’s over you and me when we resist His call. He knows that where mercy is scorned, judgment comes, where truth is rejected, lies abound, where joy is pushed away, sorrow falls. What could be sadder than all that?
So we’ve looked today at the wilful ignorance of sinful people like ourselves. For we are today’s Jerusalem, friends, never forget that. This hardness of heart was not unique to the Israelites long ago. It’s a plague that has infected us all.
LEARNING TO WATCH
So we’ve seen wilful ignorance, and also the weeping Savior, Jesus Christ. What response should all that bring forth in us? It ought to make us watchful. Would you like to know the things that make for your peace, the things that can reconcile you to God, bind you together with others, fill your heart with joy and rest? Would you like to recognize the Lord when He draws near? Then don’t forget to watch.
Perhaps you’ve seen a wall hanging or a desk plaque that seemed meaningless when you first looked at it. Sketched on paper or etched in wood were a number of markings that seemed to make no sense. But as you looked long enough, and looked behind the etchings to the background, suddenly there leaped out at you the name “Jesus.” From then on, whenever you look at the figure again, you can by an act of will recover that image. It’s as though you choose to see Jesus.
We can see the Lord in nature and praise Him in the work of His hands if we go looking for Him there. We can meet the Lord in the Scriptures when we open them with a seeking, praying heart. And we can find God fully and gloriously revealed in Christ when we listen to His Word and look toward Him expectantly. Jesus said it, “If any man wills to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it comes from God or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). Set your heart to be God’s person and do His bidding and you will know. Those who look in His direction will find themselves able to see.
But knowing the time of God’s visitation means more than being on the alert for Him. It means a readiness to welcome Him. The people in Jerusalem were ready for Jesus when He came, ready with resistance and resentment, ready to reject Him and put Him to death. They didn’t know who He was. But today, even to a people in a lukewarm church in Laodicea, even to those who have been complacent and proud, Jesus comes. Sometimes in the words of Scripture, sometimes in the witness of a friend, sometimes in happenings that shake the earth, sometimes in the whisper of a still, small voice, He comes. He knocks. He still says, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). And when we open the door to Jesus, it will be shalom, ?ir?ne, God’s wonderful peace.