Jesus’ Greatest Sorrow

February 21, 2016 – 2nd Sunday in Lent

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 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. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” -Luke 13:34,35

As Emmanuel– God in the flesh– Jesus possessed and felt every emotion common to mankind. But there was one important difference. Sometimes our emotions carry us away into sin, such as anger, passion, and so on. Not so Jesus. Because he was truly human he felt the pull and power of human emotion, yet without sin. Jesus understands and sympathizes with our emotions— with how we feel.

So what was Jesus’ greatest sorrow? Some might think that Jesus felt sorrow over having to put aside his own goals and ambitions and wants and desires in order to undertake the sacrificial life as our Savior. Some might think Jesus felt sorrow over the life of simplicity and poverty he lived. Some might think that Jesus was sorrowful because of the indescribable suffering he would experience as the Savior.

Indeed, we would be sorrowful because of such things. If God called you to sell all you have, give it to the poor, quit your job, leave your family and friends behind, and enter the vagabond life of a traveling preacher, you would be sad. If you were a person of immense power, wealth, and influence, but God instructed you not to use it so that you could better relate to the poor, homeless, blind, deaf, and neglected of society, you would be sad. If God called you while you were hardly thirty years old to suffer and die by crucifixion, you would have much sorrow.

But not Jesus. That’s not what brought him the greatest sorrow. Two times in the Gospels Jesus is said to have wept. One was when he approached Jerusalem for the very last time before his death (Luke 19). Similar to his lament in today’s Gospel, Jesus lamented the unbelief of the beloved city of his people. Looking upon Jerusalem from the vantage point of the height of Bethany outside the city, Jesus knew the destruction that awaited it in the near future. Jesus had earlier prophesied concerning the majesty of the Jerusalem temple that soon it would be so utterly destroyed that not one stone would remain upon another. The prophecy was fulfilled when the Roman legions captured Jerusalem and destroyed it in 70 AD. And it was all so unnecessary! If only Jesus’ own people had recognized who he really was. If only they had headed his warning to repent and to believe in his Gospel! But they were not willing to listen or believe. In stubborn unbelief they sealed their own doom.

The other occurrence is when Jesus wept at his friend Lazarus’ tomb (John 11). But why? We weep at the grave site of our loved ones because we have lost them to this life. But at Lazarus’ tomb Jesus knew that in a moment he was about to call Lazarus back to life and he would step forth from his tomb. Why should there be any weeping? Jesus wept when he looked around at Lazarus’ family and witnessed all the sadness, despair, tears, confusion, and hopelessness that sin had brought about. After all, death is the result of sin. So is faithlessness. In the tears falling all around Lazarus’ tomb Jesus witnessed all the misery that sin has brought upon mankind. If only they knew and understood and trusted in what he was about to do! And they had every reason to hope and trust in Jesus. They had all heard of Jesus’ miracles— some may have even witnessed some of them! Some may have seen Jesus heal the sick, and give sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf. Perhaps some were there when Jesus raised the little girl who had died, or when he brought the young man from Nain back from the dead. The crowd at Lazarus’ tomb in the hour of grief had forgotten about what Jesus had done. But Jesus would overcome all of that, not only by raising up Lazarus, but also in his own resurrection.

Jesus wept the same way over his beloved city, Jerusalem. If only they would believe and trust in what he came to do! If only they would listen to God’s Word, repent, and turn to him for forgiveness. God was willing to help! Over the long centuries, from Moses to Malachi, God had sent a succession of prophets to call his people back to him through repentance, faith, and obedience to His Word. But Israel persisted in worshiping the idols of their neighbors and persecuting, silencing, even killing the prophets God sent to them.

And now the greatest of all the prophets had come— Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Would they listen to him? For three years Jesus vividly demonstrated his grace and mercy toward sinners through his miracles of healing and blessing. Through his preaching Jesus clearly exposed what was wrong with the religious system of the day, but in his Gospel he also revealed God’s open arms toward sinners, offering full, complete forgiveness to all who repented and wanted to return to God.

Yes, God was willing to help, to forgive, to take back his prodigal people! But they were the ones who were not willing. They persisted in their error and rejected Jesus’ Gospel. They were about to orchestrate Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. And so in stubborn unbelief they were sealing their own doom. That’s why Jesus wept. That was his greatest sorrow.

And that is Jesus’ sorrow today. Like Jerusalem of Jesus’ day, countless thousands and millions have grown up in this Christian land. They have heard the Gospel. Many were brought up in a Christian Church. They went to Sunday School, they were exposed to God’s Word, to worship, to prayer. But they have not believed. They have spent their lives not dedicated to Christ, his kingdom, His Word, His worship, but to chasing after the idols and treasures of this world. In stubborn unbelief and rejection of the Gospel they seal their own fate. Over this we should also weep.

Writing to the Christians in Corinth, the Apostle Paul urged them not to “receive God’s grace in vain.” We are so favored, so blessed to have heard the Gospel and through it to have been invited to believe in Jesus and become heirs of eternal life. To set that gracious offer aside in order to chase after the treasures and priorities of the world is to have heard the Gospel in vain. God help us not to do that! May we day by day embrace the Gospel of salvation and by God’s power working in us live our lives to His glory and to the extension of His kingdom.

-Pastor K.J. Anderson