Jesus came with peace, forgiveness, and healing for the people of God. He did not come to destroy but to save. This was proclaimed by the angels at his birth, as they sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace, good will toward men.” He was the great Peacemaker. The Man who came to deliver the goods of heaven to them. The Prophets foretold him. Moses wrote about him. Even the Psalms testify of his coming.
And many received his gifts of peace and healing gladly. Many did come to him and find rest. Many believed that He was the Son of God, and welcomed his Words of peace into their hearts. But it wasn’t who you’d expect. It was the people who were far off from God. People like the Samaritan leper, who returned to give thanks to Christ. People like the Canaanite woman, who clung to him in faith even when it seemed as though he was rejecting her. People like the Roman soldier, who trusted the word of Christ to accomplish what it said.
These all entered the kingdom by God’s grace, through faith in Christ. They looked to Jesus and found peace with God. Oh, there were some Jews who believed in Him. Matthew, the tax collector, Peter and James and John and several other Jewish men became his disciples. But the majority of his people—people who ought to have known better!—despised him and rejected him. John says: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” Rightly did Isaiah say of Him: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
This is why he weeps for Jerusalem. Yes, Jesus weeps. He cries great, Godly tears for the people. He weeps like every parent whose son or daughter has gone astray. He weeps like a husband whose bride has thrown herself into the arms of other lovers. His heart is heavy, as he looks at his beloved city, once holy Jerusalem. He weeps because she has rejected her savior, because she did not know the things that made for peace. And he weeps because he knows what is coming upon them as a result.
Jesus knew that in a short time, Jerusalem as he and his disciples knew it would be no more. “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 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
These words of Christ came to fulfillment less than 40 years after his death and resurrection. In the year 70 AD, Jerusalem was besieged and sacked by Rome. Everything that Jesus described happened. Men, women, and children were struck down. The temple was leveled and burned to the ground. One Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus was an eye-witness of this destruction, and wrote about it at length. In one excerpt from his account, you can get a sense of the bloodshed and destruction that took place:
As the legions charged in, neither persuasion nor threat could check their impetuosity: passion alone was in command. Crowded together around the entrances many were trampled by their friends, many fell among the still hot and smoking ruins of the colonnades and died as miserably as the defeated. As they neared the Sanctuary they pretended not even to hear Caesar’s commands and urged the men in front to throw in more firebrands. The partisans were no longer in a position to help; everywhere was slaughter and flight. Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom.
This was God’s answer to the rejection of His Son. It is why Jesus weeps for Jerusalem. And it also serves as a sobering example and warning to all generations of what the Lord will do in the end to those who do not believe in His Son.
The question before us today is, Do we know the things that make for peace? Do we recognize the time of our visitation? God sends His peace to His Church today. He sends you a man to deliver the goods of heaven to you. He opens wide his Fatherly hand, and delivers to you the peace, mercy, and healing of heaven in water, bread, and wine. He speaks tenderly to you in His holy Word. He bids you come to him, all who labor and are heavy-laden, that you might find rest. He invites you to receive the completed salvation of the Lord.
Christ the Lord visits you in these things. He sends His Spirit to call you by the Gospel, to enlighten you with His gifts, to sanctify and keep you in the One true Faith. And blessed are those who receive it in faith! Blessed are those who know the time of their visitation, who know the things that make for peace. Blessed are the Mary’s among you, who pay close attention to His Word. Blessed are the Zacchaeus’ among you, who gladly receive Jesus into their homes, and bear fruits of repentance. God be praised for all of you Mary Magdalene’s, whose demons have been cast out, and whose lives have been created anew by the Holy Spirit. God be praised for all of you Simeon’s, devout souls that wait for the consolation of Israel.
Blessed are you, for you have not rejected His peace. You gladly hear and learn His Word. You call upon His name in prayer and praise, for you rejoice in His salvation. You love much, for you have been forgiven much. You do great works because God has done great works for you and in you. On the day of His return, our Lord will say to you: “You were faithful unto death. Now receive the crown of life.”
But woe to those who reject this Man of Peace. Woe to those who are Christians in name only, who hear his word but do not take it to heart; who are more devoted to the things of this earth, to their hobbies, or even to their families than they are to the Word of Christ and His peace. Woe to those who embitter the lives of Christ’s messengers, who resist the Holy Spirit. What came upon Jerusalem will come also to your door, and you will not be able to escape it. That was just a microcosm, a small glimpse of the destruction to come when our risen and ascended Lord returns in Judgment.
Many of those who were involved in the death of Christ later repented when Peter preached to them. They repented and they were forgiven, receiving the gift of Holy Baptism. Imagine that—people were forgiven and reconciled who were responsible for putting their Savior to death. If there is forgiveness for that, then what is there that cannot be forgiven?
Indeed, Christ wants you to bring all of your sins to him, to confess them, so that he may declare you righteous and forgiven in His sight. The only unforgivable sin is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is to say, hardening your heart toward the Spirit of God. This we all must guard ourselves against, so that we do not end up like those poor souls in Jerusalem. But how might we do this? How can we be sure that we will not fall away, or that our hearts will not become hardened against Christ?
Take an example from the second part of our text today. “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” Christ cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem, as he prepared to cleanse the world of sin by shedding His precious blood. And, as we know, that Temple no longer stands.
But Christ has made a temple out of your hearts for the Holy Spirit. He has set you apart to offer spiritual sacrifices until His coming. So, then, let those temples not be crowded with many gods. Let them be places of continuous prayer and devotion to the Lord. Let them be continually cleansed by the Lord Jesus through His Word and Spirit. May they be repentant hearts, humble hearts, united by faith to the One whose own body was torn down in death and raised again on the third day. God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.