Text: Luke 19:41-48
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
The last place anyone would have wanted to be on this month exactly nineteen hundred and forty years ago was Jerusalem. For in August of 70 AD, the mighty Roman military machine completed a cruel siege and destroyed the City of Jerusalem. And the worst cut of all was that the Temple, the Holy Temple, the place where sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of sin, where Jesus Himself taught, and there Jacob saw the vision of angels ascending and descending into heaven – was destroyed.
For the Roman occupiers “set up a barricade around” the city, surrounded it and hemmed it in “one every side.” They tore the buildings “down to the ground,” and indeed regarding the magnificent Temple, they did not “leave one stone upon another.”
The cruelties of the siege and the subsequent invasion are beyond belief. The historical account of the people of Jerusalem – including atrocities upon women and children – are the stuff of nightmares.
But what is even worse is the cause of this devastation. For Jesus specifically uses the word “because.” In this case, the Lord actually answers the question “why?” Why? “Because, says our Blessed Lord, “you did not did not know the time of your visitation.”
The destruction of the Holy City and of the Temple was a divine judgment of the people for their rebellion. Because they did not know the visitation of their very God, Pagans, who worshiped many false gods, would come and dissemble the Temple built to serve the one true God.
And what is even sadder is that this judgment could have been averted. For Jesus warned Jerusalem in a sermon given nineteen hundred and eighty years ago – exactly 40 years before the Romans indeed built a barricade, hemmed in the helpless people, and toppled every holy Temple stone to the ground – just as our Lord prophetically warned.
This judgment could have been avoided had the people heeded the Lord’s Word. For Jesus called the buyers and sellers in the Temple courtyard to repentance for turning the “house of prayer” into a “den of robbers.” And instead of humbly bowing their heads before the altar, acknowledging their guilt, and praying “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities,” the “chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him.”
And their lack of repentance led our Lord to weep.
Our Old Adam always resists the divine call to repentance. He always seeks to avoid the great truth that we are saved by grace alone, by mercy alone, by the sacrificial blood of the Lamb alone. We are saved as a gift, and part of that gift is that God loves us enough to call us to repent, to give us the opportunity to confess, and the ability to hear those words which are truly more valuable than all the gold and silver that ever graced the temple walls: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
But our Old Adam seeks to be forgiven by means of our own deeds: be they our own prayers, our own fasts, our own almsgiving, our own works that we claim are good, or our own delusion that we keep the commandments. Our Lord called the Pharisees to repentance for putting their faith in their works. Our Old Adam also looks to ourselves in the form of who we are, as if we are saved because of our nationality, our race, our political affiliation, or because we have somehow chosen the “right” church body to join. Our Lord called Abraham’s children to repentance for putting their trust in who they were, reminding them that God can turn stones into children of Abraham.
Dear friends, we are not saved because we come to church, pray, give money, or do good deeds. Nor are we saved because we are Lutheran, or because we belong to the Missouri Synod. Nor are we saved for any other reason other than this: God has visited us – literally, God has “overseen” us, God has come to us and become our “bishop,” God shepherds us pastorally and He Himself leads us to the still waters of baptism, to the green pastures of the Lord’s Supper.
Any time we are tempted to take credit for anything, to express pride in anything of our own doing, to see ourselves as worthy of anything other than eternal damnation – we need to repent.
And the good news is that our loving Father calls us to do just that. And what’s more, His Son shed His blood on the cross to pay the debt we can never pay. Moreover, the Holy Spirit calls us and draws us to know the time of our visitation – so that even our conversion to the faith and confession of the pure Gospel is nothing to brag about.
For our boast is in Christ alone, by the cross alone, through grace alone!
And even though the Temple would be destroyed in 70 AD, the Lord Jesus gave the people of Jerusalem 40 years to repent. The Lord weeps and laments at their hardness of heart; He takes no joy in their stubbornness nor does He rejoice in His own vindication. And even amid the devil’s work through the leaders of Judea to try to murder Jesus and silence God’s prophetic voice among the people, there were still those in Jerusalem who heard the Word, took it to heart, were converted, were drawn to repentance, and were given life and salvation – even as there are to this very day.
These were the people St. Luke describes as “hanging on His Words.” This is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used. St. Luke literally says that the people were “hanging from” Jesus, which St. Jerome translates into Latin using a word that means both to be “in suspense” as well as to “be suspended from.” It is as though the people were pierced by the Lord’s Words and pinned down, held captive to the Word of God. His very universe-creating Word was binding them in suspense, keeping them from falling.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord calls us to repent. Our Lord weeps over us and gives us everything out of love, even to the point of His being pinned down, suspended, and hanging from the cross – all so that we might be saved. Jesus surrounds us with His love and mercy by means of His Word. He allows us to “hang on” to His Word for dear life, life that has no end.
We know that the Lord has visited us, and even that knowing is itself a gift. We are saved by grace alone, not by works (but rather in spite of our works), and not by who we are (but rather in spite of who we are). For though because of our sins we deserve to be besieged by our enemies and be left without one stone on top of another, our Lord, in His mercy, has instead chosen to build us into the Temple of the Church, comprised of “living stones,” that are “being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
For wherever people hang on the Word of God, there is a new and greater Temple, one against which not even the gates of Hell shall prevail. For this Temple, this Holy Temple, the place where sacraments are received for the forgiveness of sin, where Jesus Himself teaches, and where angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven laud and magnify God’s glorious name, that New and Greater Temple will endure unto eternity. Thanks be to God. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.