Today’s collect revealed a great truth about our God: He shows His power, not by destroying, not by being filled with rage—no matter how righteous it may be—but He shows His almighty power by showing mercy and pity. Today’s Gospel is a prime example of this. What is recorded for us reveals Jesus’ mind at the outset of Holy Week. Today’s Gospel is what Jesus said and thought as He rode into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. He wasn’t concerned about Himself. He didn’t lament what that week held. He lamented that the people of Jerusalem didn’t want what was about to happen. They not just rejected but vehemently opposed the one thing that would give them peace. Not the temporary peace of those days of David so long ago, but the true peace, the peace of sin forgiven and eternity with God.
So, Jesus weeps. He knows what will happen to Jerusalem as a result of their constant disdain for God. Jesus says, “For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you, and close you in on every side, and level you and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another.” And, forty years later, that comes true. In the year 70, at the Feast of Passover, Rome finally destroys Jerusalem. When you hear that, don’t soften the image. Think of the most horrific thing you can, and then make it ten times worse. That was Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem. The historian Josephus records all the graphic details. He said approximately 3 million people had come to Jerusalem for the Passover when the Roman army surrounded the city. They blocked any supplies from entering. So, soon there was no food. Starving, people resorted to eating leather, rocks, dung, and eventually one another. And if anyone tried to escape the city, the Romans crucified them. At one point they were crucifying nearly 500 people per day. By the time they figured few were left, they entered Jerusalem to kill the rest of the inhabitants. One soldier would kill, the other would set fire. But they were killing so many people that their blood was putting out the fire. Those who somehow managed to escape this were sold into slavery or were sent as gifts to other Roman cities to be used for entertainment in the arenas by being destroyed by wild animals. At the end, Titus, the general who oversaw all this who would later become Roman Emperor, declared that God was truly on his side and had given him such a grand victory.
Jerusalem rejected the Prophets. In Matthew’s retelling of this account Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Every time someone tried to bring Israel to repentance, they were destroyed. Which of the Prophets were not martyred?! So God sends His Son, at long last the promised Messiah, and they executed Him. Anyone who came with the cry to repentance was silenced by death.
What then, does this destruction of Jerusalem mean for us, people nearly 2,000 years removed from it? It means we have to take seriously that call to repentance. Sin is deadly serious. Hell is nothing to treat lightly. If you thought those excerpts from Josephus a minute ago were horrific, imagine enduring that for eternity in hell! Sin, rejecting God and His will for your life, is no small thing.
It also means we cannot rest on our laurels. We must not say “I’m saved. Jesus died for me, so what does it matter if I steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, and go after other gods? I can do whatever I want. God is okay with it because of Jesus. He’ll forgive me in the end, so who cares what I do between now and death? As Jeremiah said, “Do not trust in these deceptive words!” The Jews would go on sinning and simply dismiss it with “The temple of the Lord!” In other words, they thought that as long as the Temple stood, God was there, and they could go on doing whatever they wanted to. In reality, they were jeopardizing their salvation because they were gladly and constantly giving themselves over to other gods because sin was so much more appealing. So, do not rest on your status as “saved.” You can lose your salvation. Every willful giving into sin and temptation, every time you knowingly turn your back on God, grieves the Holy Spirit.
Repent. Heed those words of God through Jeremiah: “Amend your ways and your deeds…do not go after other gods to your own harm.” Repentance is the fastest way to peace, the only way to avoid eternity in hell. Not because it’s something you do, because you could never do enough, but because it’s throwing yourself completely on that mercy and pity of God. It’s the confession, “God, in Your righteousness You should destroy me both body and soul in hell. But for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter suffering and death of Your beloved Son Jesus Christ, be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.” And in a display of His almighty power, God does not destroy you. Rather, He withholds His wrath from you. That’s power. Power isn’t using all of your might to give someone what they deserve. Power is mercy, the withholding of the punishment deserved.
But we can rest in God’s mercy precisely because He did not withhold the punishment deserved. Rather, He poured it all out on Jesus Christ. The sinless Son of God took your place. He endured all of God’s wrath and endured death and complete God-forsakenness for you. Because of His gracious visitation, because of His coming in the flesh to bear your sin and be your Savior, you have peace. And those things that make for your peace—the Word of absolution, the faith-giving Word of Holy Scripture, the very Body and Blood of Jesus in the Supper—all come to you today and every Lord’s Day.
Jesus Christ gives to you true peace, the peace of sin forgiven and eternity with God. He spares you that punishment like Jerusalem endured. He drives out your sin, drives out your death and destruction, and gives you complete peace. And He also promises you the Jerusalem above. Because of His death and resurrection you await the new heaven and the new earth, where you will be with all of those who have gone before, who now enjoy their heavenly rest. There true peace will be yours. No sin will torment you. No demon can threaten you. No punishment come upon you. All because of Jesus. All because of His gracious visitation to you. All because of His almighty power declared in showing you mercy and pity. Because of that, you have been made a partaker of heavenly treasure.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.