Tears are like a window to the heart. They show our deepest emotions. In Luke 19:41 we find the second occasion of Jesus weeping, this time over the city of Jerusalem. Why?
I want to paint two pictures. The first is found in Luke 19:28-38.
Jesus is approaching Jerusalem for the last time. It’s a sunny afternoon. Jesus rides on a donkey, at the centre of a great crowd. People from Bethany have accompanied him, shouting excitedly. They have watched him raise Lazarus from the dead. News has spread to Jerusalem, and people have thronged out of the city to see him, to sing his praises. Palm branches are being waved, people are throwing their cloaks down on the ground for the donkey to walk on. Slowly the donkey makes its way through the crowd. There is a majesty about the moment – like a royal procession. See the colours of the robes, the flashes of the afternoon sun, the vibrant green of the palm branches. Hear the excited, delirious, triumphant shouts of the welcoming crowd. Smiling, happy faces, full of hope and life and joy.
As he moves through this great crowd of welcoming people he comes to the brow of the Mount of Olives, and he has a magnificent view of the city. He is above it and looking down on it. The roof of the temple, covered over with gold, reflects the afternoon sun. It was a magnificent sight. He sees, not only the crowds behind, beside and in front of him, but also the great sprawling city of Jerusalem with all its teaming multitudes. It is a city rich in history, rich in culture, and above all rich beyond measure in the knowledge of God. And he can see all this and hear the roar of the crowd, and he loves this place, and all its people.
But as the Son of God looks, he can also see the future. It is a different scene. (He describes it briefly in v43,44, and the early historian Josephus confirms these events in much greater detail, here and here.)
In his mind’s eye he looks out over the majestic city, the same city. It is 40 years later. It is surrounded by Roman soldiers digging siege trenches, and stripping the land bare of trees to build their siege towers and great battering rams. He sees the Roman soldiers setting up fortifications circling the city to prevent any provisions getting through. The siege lasts for 9 months.
All hope of escaping is cut off for the Jews. Jesus sees the famine slowly taking hold. People die by whole houses and families; the upper rooms are full of starving, dying women and children, and the lanes of the city are full of the dead bodies of the elderly. He sees the countless thousands starve slowly to death.
He sees their bodies flung over the walls into the valley by their fellow citizens while the Romans watched. He sees the Roman general Titus doing his rounds along those valleys, seeing them full of dead bodies, and raising his hands to Heaven, calling God to witness that this was not his doing. He sees inside the city where the famine is so bad that people steal food out of one another's mouths. Women kill and eat their own babies.
He sees the Romans finally breaking into the city. He sees the slaughter of countless thousands. He sees the temple set on fire. He sees slaughter in the temple courts. No mercy is given. He sees Jerusalem ablaze, he sees the soldiers toppling the temple walls, he sees the city he loved razed. He sees the people that are currently greeting him so warmly, their corpses lying scattered throughout the city for the wild animals to scavenge.
And as he sees Jerusalem in front of him in mid afternoon glory, and as he sees in his minds eye the horror that it will become, he weeps. This is not quiet subdued weeping. The word describes bitter weeping, loud sobbing. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.”
Now that you have those pictures in your head, we’ll be able to answer the question, “Why did Jesus weep?”
He wept because of the great opportunity that they had lost
v42 “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace.”
He was their only hope, but he knew that, despite all their religious show, they would want nothing to do with him. They could have had eternal peace with God. But they would reject it. And Jesus weeps for them as they lose their only opportunity.
Many today are doing the same thing. They have a great opportunity. They have been brought up in a country where the Bible, God’s word, is freely available, but they are living in danger of missing out. Are you rejecting the opportunity and choosing to die without Christ? If so Jesus weeps because of this.
He weeps not just because they were losing a great opportunity, but also because it was an opportunity for a great peace, a great bliss. He says to them, “What joys you might have had!” The delights of pardoned sin, the bliss of eternal safety, the joy of communion with God, the rapture of fellowship with Christ Jesus, the heavenly expectation of infinite glory, all might have been yours; but you have put them away from you.
See Jesus’ heart for the lost. Here is no cold heart, instead a heart moved by compassion. What sort of heart for the lost do we have?
He wept because of the destiny they faced
Jesus saw the future. In Luke 19:43-44 he predicts the awful events of AD70. Our Lord saw this coming; a city in flames, bodies heaped high, the rotting stench of carcases mixed with the bitter reek of smoke. Our Lord wept to think this would be so. Few events, if any, exceeded the horror of the siege of Jerusalem. But it is nothing compared to Hell. And Jesus wept here because he saw what happens when people reject God. Jesus sees the unspeakable horror and he weeps.
Here we see the judge weeping over the sentence he knows he has to deliver. It gives Jesus no joy to speak of judgement. But the doom must be pronounced. God’s justice and holiness demand it. But tears fall amid the thunders. It is no small matter to be sent to Hell. It grieves the very heart of Jesus himself.
Even though they were set against him, so awful was what they faced, so awful was the destiny they had chosen that he wept , he sobbed, his cryings were there to be heard.
If you are not a believer, Jesus sees what is in store for you and he weeps. You too need to weep, to come and seek forgiveness for all the years of rejecting him. As Christians does Hell bother us - it is real - and the thought of people being their should trouble us.
He wept because he loves sinners
Jesus knew that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going to execute him in a few days. Yet he wept for them. Jesus has a vast compassionate love which extends to every man, woman, boy, girl, backslider, atheist, everyone.
Surely this shows us the very heart of God - a God who is rich in mercy and love towards sinners. Friend if you haven’t put your trust in Jesus, let this encourage you. If you have any hesitation, look at these tears.
But do not count these tears as softness. Do not think that he will excuse your sin. He wept because he saw that there was no way that sin would be excused. Jesus’ love is balanced by his justice. In his love he has provided a way of escape. In his justice he will judge anyone who rejects it.