We’re in the season of Advent and today we conclude our series on Luke. We began with Jesus sending the twelve to proclaim the Kingdom of God in chapter 9 and we end with Jesus entering Jerusalem with the twelve and a whole multitude of disciples. People shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” So, if you’re keeping track, that means I’m also preaching the traditional passage from Palm Sunday two weeks before Christmas. Ah, ICF. Who set up this schedule? Oh, that’s right. I did.
So this is the moment: Jesus enters in great triumph, the child born into poverty, the rabbi without approved rabbinical training, the man we’ve seen miraculously feed multitudes, receive and love the vilest sinners, and turn upside down the accepted view of God. The man comes to God’s chosen people, and declares that God chooses everyone who will receive his forgiveness: every leper, every tax collector, every woman and man. Everyone.
And hooray, it’s a parade! People are pulling off their cloaks and throwing them onto the ground, where this Jesus rides by on a colt, and they are shouting, they’re praising God joyfully with loud voices for all the deeds of power they’ve seen. “Blessed is the king!” Jesus sent the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and now the multitude of disciples have identified Jesus as their king! The King who comes in the name of the Lord! Shalom! Shalom in heaven! Glory in the highest heaven!
Not everyone loves this parade. Some of the Pharisees run up to Jesus and demand, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” We are an occupied country; the Romans have an Emperor and shouting about “our King” is going to get people killed! And as we’ve seen over the past 10 chapters, the Pharisees really despise Jesus because he challenges their deepest beliefs: God favors the holy, God blesses those he favors materially and punishes sinners materially and physically, and holiness means following the letter of the law and expanding the law, where necessary, to make certain that all the laws are kept precisely. Jesus says, “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.”
Do you have the picture? A vast crowd of people who adore Jesus, who have experienced his love and witnessed his miracles, singing and dancing and worshiping God and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand, right now! And you know what? They’re right! They might have some inaccurate hopes, like that Jesus is about to lead an uprising and, with God’s power, conquer the conquerors, drive off the Romans, and reestablish the autonomy of the Jewish people in their home. Heck, maybe this is even bigger; maybe this is the Great Victory of God, when all sinners are called to account and Righteousness will rule forever and ever. The prophets have promised that day. Maybe it’s here. But they know this is the king and God’s kingdom is coming.
Adoring disciples, despising religious experts, prophet/king/messiah on a colt entering the capital city, God’s chosen city. What happens next?
Pretend for a moment that you don’t know what comes next. What would you expect? Any thoughts?
Jesus cries. That’s what happens next.
Amidst this jubilation, the external evidence of Jesus’ ministry succeeding, where most of us would be tempted to take a little pride in this adulation, or at least feel gratified that the people are finally, finally getting it, Jesus breaks down and weeps.
Feel the discord for a moment. This isn’t what would happen in our movies. This is likely not how we would respond in our ministries. Who is this man, what do we learn about God in this moment?
This verb, eklaasen, means “wept aloud.” Jesus broke down, during the parade. He says, “If you—you!—had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.” The repetition emphasizes his grief, how tragic that you, you have become blind! Because Jesus knows exactly what this triumph is and is not. He can see ahead to what will happen to Jerusalem, not only in the next few days, when they beat and whip and crucify him, but in the future, in AD 70 when Jerusalem will be completely wiped out and the Temple destroyed.
Jesus tells in Luke 15 of a father who casts aside his dignity and embraces a son who betrayed and deserted him. I believe that provides our central image of God our father. If Jesus is the full revelation of God, as Colossians teaches us, then I trust Jesus’ stories of how God feels about sinners. By that I mean, how God feels about me. And you. I mean, I’m making an assumption here, but…you and me.
The crying God. When we talk about Jesus as a man of sorrows, the true expression of his sorrow is over people’s pain, people’s suffering, people’s sin. This is not an angry God. This is not a deity who can’t wait to mete out some punishment. He grieves over people who will not respond to his love.
“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
I’m not big on predestination. This is why. If the Jews in Jerusalem had the choice to recognize the things that make for peace, if they could have responded to Jesus and recognized their visitation from God, then this is a tragedy. Jesus weeps aloud, he breaks down and sobs over the loss of these precious people he loves, he created, and will die for. If they have free will, then they could have recognized their visitation from God.
If they couldn’t, if they were always predestined to be blind and hardened to Jesus and his love for them, then the tears seem very different to me. Jesus talks here and throughout the Gospels as if people have the choice to follow or reject him, and I believe he is the full revelation of God for us. But understand that as my perspective; there are certainly others. Weigh the Scriptures for yourself.
Jersusalem, the people of Jersusalem, had a chance to recognize the things that make for peace, the things that could have brought them into shalom with their God and their neighbors. But now these things are hidden from their eyes. In chapter 21, Jesus will go into serious detail about the coming destruction of the temple, the fall of Jerusalem, and, at an unrevealed time, his return in power and glory. The tragedy will end in triumph and glory and redemption, but that is truly the long view, the very wide angle shot when God will wipe away every tear and we will know no more death or suffering or anguish.
Today we are in Advent. Today we are in a season of waiting on the coming of the Prince of Peace. He has come, of course, and we have made December 25th our day to celebrate that arrival. (We don’t really know his birthday exactly, but he has grace for us.) We celebrate the season of Advent as a time to prepare our hearts to receive God’s coming, his incarnation in Jesus whom we call Christ, Messiah, Prince of Peace, Savior, Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God. We sing about how Jesus will be born in a manger, shepherds and astrologers—sorry, “wise men”—will witness his coming, angels will sing in angelic choirs, and we’ll go tell it on mountains and over the hills and everywhere that Jesus Christ is born.
We are singing about our visitation from God.
As I read it, this passage asks two questions of us in our Advent season.
Do we recognize the things that make for peace?
Do we recognize the time of our visitation from God?
This passage really does bring us full circle. When we started in Luke 9, the shocking part of that passage when Jesus sends his new disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom of God is his instruction for when people don’t receive them. Do you remember what Jesus says to do?
Wipe the dust off of their feet as a testimony against the people who would not welcome them, who would not respond to the news that the Kingdom of God has come near.
Here are the things that make for peace, and if ever there was a time when you could say, “Yeah, but Mike, what about you?” it’s now. But don’t. Hear them for yourselves.
The conflict between Jesus and his beloved city, Jerusalem, is caused by their refusal to accept Jesus as he is, not who they want him to be, or who they project him to be, or whom it would work better for them if he were.
The problem with legalism is not simply that we can’t do a good enough job to earn our salvation. The real problem with legalism is that we are trying to please a God who isn’t there, we are making up a God (which is called “idolatry,” by the way) and trying to appease him.
Jesus loves sinners. While they’re sinners. Jesus loves sinners while they’re sinners. The Bible never says, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” I defy you to find those words for me. Jesus doesn’t make a point of communicating how he hates people’s sins. He loves people, and they respond to his love and start to want to change because of his love. In every interaction Jesus has with reputed sinners, he shows his love and acceptance of them. He eats and drinks with them. He hangs out with them. He stops and holds up everything so he can talk with them, touch them, heal them.
The people who put Jesus to death did not want God to accept sinners. I know that sounds strong, but it’s true. Jesus’ kindness and openness to the “bad people” convinced them that he must be ungodly, too. Jesus cast demons out of people and they accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus warned them that the love of money would ruin their relationship with God and they laughed and sneered at him. Jesus called them on their hypocrisy, trying to follow every tiny detail of the law that they made up while their hearts were ugly inside, and they committed themselves to destroying him.
If I have a choice between seeing myself and my hypocrisy and attacking the one who points it out, the way of peace is to open my eyes and see, no matter how ugly my heart really is. Denial won’t change an ugly heart, but it will cause me to miss the time of God’s visitation in my life. I have truthtellers in my life, some of whom are nearly relentless in helping me to see myself. I’m so grateful for them. They help me to see.
Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt, not a stallion, not a war horse. Jesus enters the world in a barn and his mother Mary lays him in a feeding trough. The way of Jesus is the way of humility. Jesus tells his disciples over and over, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. If you want to be great, become a servant.
The way of peace, the way to recognize the visitation of God, is to see the God who is, not the God whom you expect or prefer. God is a servant who calls us to serve. Jesus loves us sacrificially and commands us to love one another the same way. We’re not called to conquer, except conquering people’s hearts through God’s love, the same way God conquered our hearts.
Of all that Jesus says here, I am most frightened by the latter part, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” At some point, what we could see before becomes hidden from us. They had a chance to recognize the things that make for peace, but now…those same things that make for peace are hidden from their eyes. The things are still there, Jesus is still present, his love is still present, but something in their choices has blinded them.
I connect this with Luke 16, the story Jesus tells of Lazarus and a hoarding rich man who shows no compassion for Lazarus. In the story, Lazarus begs Abraham to send someone to his brothers, because “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” If you won’t listen to God’s truth when it’s presented to you, you reach a point when even miracles can no longer convince you…and of course Jesus is foreshadowing that even his resurrection will not open some eyes. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus calls this “hardness of heart.”
So how do we keep from becoming blind? How do we make certain that we don’t miss God’s visitation when it happens? Right now, in Advent, how do we prepare for God’s entering into our world, into our lives, into our hearts again?
We don’t work harder to see better. We don’t do eye exercises.
We ask God to show us how we have made him in our image, or in an image that suits us better than the Jesus we’ve studied in Luke. We ask him to show us where we have substituted idols for the Incarnate God and called them by his name. We beg him to reveal to us where we have let our politics influence our obedience to the Gospel instead of always having the Gospel of God’s love and redemption dictate our political activity.
I have a dear friend who calls me on it whenever I suggest asking God, because he doesn’t feel like he hears from God much. This is for him, for you if you feel that way, and for all of us: ask God, then listen. Listen to people. Listen to Christmas music. Listen to your children, or other people’s children. Listen to the truth-tellers in your life. Listen to the grace-givers in your life who are better at speaking love to you than you are. Listen to God’s Word. Listen to the Gospel of Luke. Jesus weeps aloud when he enters Jerusalem because he has come to his beloved, he has become a man and emptied himself so that his beloved can hear his voice and see his actions and know that God has come to them. God isn’t playing hide and seek with us, he isn’t playing hard to get or waiting for us to ask him in just the right way before he will answer. We are celebrating the season in which we remember that God revealed himself, God emptied himself of glory so that we could see him, touch him, speak to him, hear him, in the humility of human form.
I have a belief, deep in the deepest part of my heart, that God will correct us when we are wrong, and not only will he correct us, we will know it. Very rarely have I had someone talk to me about some sin that I didn’t already know about. Of course, there can be endless levels of denial and self-deception. But I knew. When I asked Jesus to forgive my sins and come have his spirit dwell in my heart, he did. We are celebrating a baptism today, my family is truly celebrating, and this is a symbolic acting out of what God does in us—we die when we go down into the water, he resurrects us when we come back up. He makes us alive with him and he lives in us. We know when we’re wrong. Admitting it? Different story.
But this is our chance. This is the time of our visitation from God. Today. Now. The thing you’ve been putting off? The thing you really know God is saying, even though you aren’t admitting it to anyone else because then you’d have to do something… Now. God is rich in mercy and his grace is greater than we can imagine, and this is the season he comes to us.
For Jerusalem, there was a moment when they could have recognized the things that made for peace, and there was a moment when they could see them no longer. For the villages, there was a moment when they could welcome the disciples in and see and hear about God’s Kingdom, and a moment when the disciples would brush the dust off their feet.
And for us, God is visiting now.