Midweek Lent 5 April 3&4, 2019
Text: Luke 23:26-31 Synodical series from 2003 rewrite 19:2121
Theme: The Way of Sorrows: A Place of Misplaced Tears
The city is surrounded by cemeteries. It doesn’t matter which city gate you enter or what road you take, you walk past tombs. Some of the graves are very old. There are the so-called tombs of King David, King Jehoshophat, the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, that of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, and many others. Indeed, I have a picture of myself taken years ago in which I am coming out of Lazarus’ so-called grave. Some of the graves you pass are recent; others have never been used. The owners prepared the places ahead of time where they wished to be buried.
Of all the cemeteries there was one more eerie than the rest. Here, amid graves, rose a small hill. People say the hill was skull-shaped, a death’s head grinning in a mocking way behind empty eyes. In the Bible it is called by the Hebrew name, Golgotha. The Latin name, Calvary, is often substituted for it in hymns. Both names mean “skull.” The hill was not really a skull, of course. It was only a hill. It was a place of horror, for on this hill desperate criminals were executed. Here they met the just reward of their wicked deeds. This was the place the soldiers were taking Jesus for execution.
It was a strange procession that wound through Jerusalem’s streets early Friday morning. The soldiers came first, battle sandals pounding the pavement. In their midst the condemned man stumbled along, bent low beneath the heavy wooden arm of the cross He carried. Behind followed the crowd. Some were onlookers, curious watch the trappings of an execution. Others were priests and Jewish leaders with hearts full of hate. They could hardly wait to see the condemned man draw his last breath. Behind them all were a few, very few friends, faithful to the end – Jesus’ mother, an aunt, two or three other women, and just one, only one of the twelve closest followers of Jesus who had shared the last 3 years with Him.
Jesus once said that there are many people who have eyes, but do not see (Mt.13:13). He did not mean that they were physically blind, but that they do not understand the things they see. There were plenty of eyes in Jerusalem that Friday morning. But in all that crowd, even among those closest to Him, there was not a single person, except for Jesus Himself, who understood the divine unfolding of the plan of salvation that was about to happen.
The shops were closed that day because of the Jewish festival. But a large crowd of people watched and followed. Jesus’ steps plodded uncertainly onward, struggling up and down the steep and hilly streets of old Jerusalem. The soldiers tried to keep the procession moving. Suddenly, a disturbance arose, the deep thud of something solid hitting the pavement was heard. The procession halted. The crowd pressed closer to see what happened. Jesus had fallen. In His weakened state, the cross had become too heavy for Him to bear. Christ can go no further with it. The soldiers grab a stranger from the crowd. He has just arrived in Jerusalem. At first, he resists. But resistance against Rome is futile. Amid protests the pilgrim is forced to carry the cross for Jesus. His name is Simon, from Cyrene in North Africa.
With a new bearer of Jesus’ cross, the procession surged onward. By now “a great multitude” had collected, and women were mourning for Jesus. Were these followers of Christ? Had they heard Him preach? Were some of them touched by His healing power? We don’t know. But finally, some people seemed to care about what was happening to Jesus and showed it! Till now it seemed like the whole crowd was screaming bloody murder. But here were some sympathetic mouths crying for Him. How sweet it sounded in the midst of such bitter surroundings. But their tears were misplaced. Gently, yet firmly He warned, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and your children.” Misplaced tears on this Way of Sorrows.
It’s not that their cries weren’t genuine. No, it would seem that their emotions came from the heart. They truly felt sorry for Jesus, struggling under the weight of the cross. They lamented His fate. Still, Jesus told them to stop crying for Him. It wasn’t that He rejected their display of care for Him, but that He wished to point them towards a greater concern which they had overlooked – themselves and their children. “For a time is coming,” He said, “when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” Something terrible lay in their future, something that they didn’t see at this time.
Forty years later the Roman legions of the great general Titus besieged Jerusalem. They tore the city apart and burned it to the ground. The Jewish housewives took to the hills and hid themselves in caves and cliffs. So horrible are the accounts of that which took place in Jerusalem that the people would have had a better fate if the hills had opened up to swallow them. And it happened because they rejected Jesus, God’s Son, and chose to get rid of Him.
Their tears were misplaced. Surely, Jesus was mistreated; yes, He would die; indeed, they should weep for Him. But they should not stop with weeping over Christ and how badly He was mistreated. He was the Son of God; this was the Father’s will; and the Father would take care of His beloved Son. They shouldn’t start with their weeping for Christ. Rather, they should first turn to themselves to see what they in their sin had done and how it had caused God’s eternal curse to fall upon them. Theirs was a greater cause for weeping in repentance on this Way of Sorrows.
Likewise, the Savior does not seek our compassion for Him this Lenten season. He seeks repentance. After all, it was our sins that brought Him to suffer. If they had not been red like scarlet, then it would not have taken His blood to make them white as wool. We were so fallen in our sin and our blindness to it all, that the only thing in the whole universe that could have saved us from the fires of hell was the sacrifice of the Son of God. And He gladly gave His life that all who believe in Him should not perish.
So it is that He tells us also, “Weep not for me; but weep for yourselves and your children. For if people do this when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry.” The time that Christ is among them, is the green tree, a time to grow in Him. But if, when He is present with His words of life, we reject Him, as did Jerusalem, what will happen when He is gone? If the Father did not remain silent over the rejection that His Son received at the hands of unbelieving people, will He remain silent if we reject Him too?
Does this sadden you within? Does the sight of Jesus being so mistreated horrify you? Well it might. But cry not for Jesus. Your tears would be misplaced. Jesus has no need for sympathy on His way of sorrows to the cross. And He wants no sympathy from us either. “Do not weep for me,” He says. But we need to cry tears of repentance and then in humble, joy-filled trust in Him who in love saved us, rejoice. Thank God we have a Savior. And for us such faith will stem the tide of judgment which will fall when He comes again. God grant it to us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.