Text: Luke 19:41-48
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
One of the charges against our Lord Jesus that got Him in trouble with the Romans was this false story that Jesus was threatening to destroy the Temple. Our Lord’s enemies were trying desperately to get Him in trouble with the Romans so that they could execute Him, and one way to do that would be to portray Him as a revolutionary, a rabble-rousing zealot who wants to blow things up and overthrow the government: in other words, a terrorist.
In fact, when Jesus spoke about rebuilding the Temple three days after its destruction, He was referring to the Temple of His own body. But a rumor got started that Jesus was threatening to destroy the Jewish Temple as some kind of terrorist plot.
And maybe His prayer recorded in our Gospel lesson was twisted and distorted to promote this false narrative. For Jesus is prophesying not only the destruction of the Temple: “And they will not leave one stone upon another in you because you did not know the time of your visitation,” but also of “the city” – that is Jerusalem itself. For Jesus draws near and sees the city, and “weeps over it.” He laments, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For 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.”
Jesus is describing a military maneuver known as the siege. The Romans were good at sieges, in which a city is surrounded. Nothing goes in or out. And gradually, a city has to surrender because it is starving and lacking water. This process often takes years, but it is very effective.
And our Lord’s prophecy came true about forty years after He spoke this prayer. In the year 66, the Jewish zealots revolted, and the Romans laid siege to the City. In the year 70, the Romans entered Jerusalem and attacked it ruthlessly, flattening the Temple. It has never been rebuilt to this day. Not one stone stands upon another.
After reporting on this prophecy, St. Luke tells us that our Lord entered the Temple and drove off the merchants, saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’”
And so when they were groping around for some imperial crime to pin on Jesus, treason and terrorism, supported by provocative speech and actions regarding the Temple, was seen as a solution.
Ironically, our Lord did not destroy the Temple, nor Jerusalem. In fact, in His knowledge of these events yet to come, Jesus weeps for the city. He loves the city. He loves the chosen people of God. But they did not love Him, for they “did not know the time of [their] visitation.”
So what brought on this shocking destruction of Jerusalem and the toppling of the ancient treasure that was the holy Jewish Temple? One could argue that the Romans – whose bloodthirsty legions under General Titus – who was later to become Caesar – were to blame in their lust for domination and power. One could also argue that agitators and rebels among the Jews, the party of the Zealots, were responsible by their rioting. But there is a much more basic reason: sin.
For in rejecting their visitation, the Herodian kings, the Sanhedrin, the priests, the Levites, the Temple police, the Temple merchants, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, the Essenes, the scribes, the “principal men of the people” and finally, most rank and file Jews “did not know the time of [their] visitation.” Their God, their Messiah, their Savior, the living embodiment of their sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, the living bread from heaven, had come to visit them – and the vast majority of them rejected Him.
And like a terminal patient who refuses life-saving treatment, there was nothing to do but watch the people die – while all the while, the cure was in their midst, visiting them.
Thus Jesus weeps at what is to come.
Thus Jesus weeps at what is to come.
Of course, Luke doesn’t record this to give us an interesting history lesson or a classical study in military tactics. The Evangelist isn’t reporting this for the sake of giving us a sense of superiority over the Jews, nor hatred for the Romans, nor to teach us about politics, nor to encourage us to scold people that they should have listened to Jesus. No indeed. We have heard this Word of God yet again, dear friends, right here and right now, because we need to hear and to heed the Lord’s warning.
For God’s people can stumble and fall away. God’s people can become ignorant of their time of visitation. God’s people can put more faith in their leaders or their politics or their own status as God’s people than in Jesus Himself, who comes to visit us, to call us to repent, to forgive us, to make us new, and to dwell with us in Word and Sacrament.
For like our Lord’s listeners, we have many distractions. Like the first century Greco-Roman Jews, we have the circus of politics. We have theaters and sports. We have shopping malls. We have road-trips and getaways. We have money and families and jobs. We have our own reputations and self-esteem.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with these things, so long as they don’t interfere with, or eclipse, what is truly important: that we recognize the time of our visitation from our Lord Himself.
Jesus continues to visit us, dear brothers and sisters. I am not giving you a history lesson today, but the very Word of God. Jesus is not telling us what we want to hear, but telling us what we need to hear: that we are sinners in danger of hellfire, and that we are sinners for whom He gave His lifeblood at the cross. He calls us to repent and believe the Gospel, to fix our eyes upon Him. He calls to know and live out our visitation. He bids us to take and eat, and to receive the gift of eternal life, of the promise of the resurrection in a new heaven and a new earth. He invites us to this House of Prayer where He visits us, and He turns our lowly flesh into Temples of the Holy Spirit. And though our flesh will die, we will live yet again according to His promise and His baptism that He has given us as part of this “visitation” of which He speaks.
Dear friends, our Lord warns us and He invites us: to pray, to study and meditate upon His Word, to live out the forgiven baptized life, to confess our sins and receive absolution, and to receive His bodily visitation in Holy Communion.
For we do not have Romans seeking to besiege us, but we have rather the far more dangerous and cruel world, devil, and sinful nature. But Jesus has visited us, dear friends, and He is our impregnable wall and mighty fortress! He is our food and drink, our sustenance, our defense, and our life. He is our victory! And even as “Jerusalem” means the “City of Peace,” our congregation’s name “Salem” is the part of the word “Jerusalem” that means “Peace.” The peace that stands in stark contrast to warfare and destruction and rebellion and the attacks of the devil, the peace that passes all understanding, is ours, dear brothers and sisters, by Him who is the very prince of Peace, through His visitation, and by His grace, by His blood, and by His cross.
Peace be with you in this time of your visitation! Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.