Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Tears for a city

Jerusalem City from the Bible

Jerusalem, City from the Bible
By Peter van der Sluijs (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times have I wanted to put my arms round all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! (Matthew 23: 37)

The lament over Jerusalem is part of the story of Palm Sunday, incomplete without another verse that shows how much Jesus cared for the holy city: When he came to the city, he caught sight of it and wept over it. (LUKE 19: 41). Jerusalem was a big disappointment to Jesus. He accuses her of constant attempts to reject and even kill the messengers God sent. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I longed to put my arms round you and you spurned me over and again!” It is not difficult to sense the pathos of it. Now it was his turn to be the target of her folly, her cruel intent. The major part of our Lord’s ministry was conducted in Galilee. Except in Nazareth, his home village, he was welcome in Galilee. The little we know of his ministry in Jerusalem tells another story. His time there is marked by a distinctively different tone and tempo. The Pharisees could be relied upon to create trouble, as part of a cunning and fierce opposition, and people were turning their backs on him. One might have expected something different in Jerusalem – the nerve centre of religious and political life. Here was built the most splendid temple to the glory of God. Here the religious elite gathered at their holy place to worship HIm. For the Judean, Jerusalem breathed a holy air. Alas, it was not to be. “O Jerusalem, how often I have longed put my arms around you – and you would not let me!” Words that tell how much Jesus loved Jerusalem, and also how deep was his disappointment.

Jesus suffered no delusions – he warned the disciples that the visit on which they had embarked would lead to suffering and death: something the disciples refused to believe, “Lord this will never happen to you!” Riding into the city on the back of a donkey challenged his opponents on their understanding of his God-given authority. This deliberate act challenged them one final time to turn around and to make their own the message which God had entrusted to Jesus, to welcome Him instead of rallying to be rid of Him. Trouble lay ahead and Jesus knew it! If the disciples had a problem (it will not happen to you) and they were his friends, what chance was there of his enemies rising to a more friendly reception? O Jerusalem, how often I have wanted to hug you and you turned away – words which tell how much Jesus loved that great city and how much it hurt to have his numerous overtures rejected, especially when much of the opposition was instigated and led by the religious, the Pharisees, who ought to have been on his side.

Some people turn on the tears as easily as they turn on the tap for water: some weep for nothing and cannot help themselves. Some weep and the onlooker may scarcely notice the quiet, gentle trickle on the cheek. I remember a friend of my parents coming to our home one evening in considerable distress with a letter received from her fiancé saying their engagement was off. Just like that – totally out of the blue! She loved him, and to say she was upset is an understatement. Although I was young at the time I have never forgotten the tears of a women jilted. As she wept the tears of unrequited love, the bed shook and her whole body trembled uncontrollably. When Jesus wept for Jerusalem it was not like turning on the tap, not a sign of emotional weakness, nor was it a whimper of self-pity. The word for weep in the story of Palm Sunday is a very strong word, one that is used for the heaving of the bosom, the sob and cry of a soul in agony – symptom of a broken heart!

When he came to the city, he caught sight of it and wept over it.

The fullness of time

English: Jerusalem, Dome of the rock, in the b...

English: Jerusalem, Dome of the rock, in the background the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Deutsch: Jerusalem, Felsendom, im Hintergrund die Grabeskirche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never been to the Holy Land on holiday or pilgrimage. For some strange reason, there has been no ambition on my part to visit the land on which Christianity was born or to walk where Jesus walked. Am I a peculiar brand of Jesus follower? Am I deprived at all? Is my discipleship impaired by not having visited the sites and places that are part of the Jesus story? Has it made the slightest difference that Nazareth, Bethlehem, Calvary and Jerusalem, recognised as the cradle of the Christian faith, have never featured in my travelogue? Questions I cannot answer for myself, others must do that. One site I probably would have visited, had I ventured to such exotic places, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Legend has it that there is one spot there which is actually the centre of the world. If this is fact, and not legend, it must occupy a large and significant chapter in the history of Christianity. The centre of the world – there could be no better place for the launching of a world religion. No better place and no better time!

St Paul in his letter to the Church in Galatia writes, “When the fullness of time came God sent forth His Son” (RV). It is interesting to take a look at how some other New Testament writers begin the verse – it adds to the picture.

  • When the right time finally came (GNB)
  • When the appointed time came (REB)
  • When the time arrived that was set by God (The Message).

“The fullness of time” – that is to say, it was when world conditions were exactly ripe for it that God’s supreme revelation of himself came. It was when all the factors were absolutely right – social, economic, moral, religious – that the early Christians heard “The glad tidings of great joy to all mankind, to whom is born a Saviour – Christ the Lord.” Shakespeare says “There is a tide in the affairs of men.” The Christian can cap that and say there is a tide in the affairs of God, when all is done, waiting, getting ready for the prophets’ dream to come true. When that tide reaches the flood, God will act in a new way and the sound of a new name will be heard, the name of Jesus. The Bible of this God tells us that He had done His homework and got it right. Jesus came to the world at the exact time in history where all the conditions signalled “now is the hour.” Someone describes it as the one psychological moment.

When Jesus came, it was the fullness of time politically. Caesar’s legacy must credit the Emperor with the nigh impossible task of establishing the unification of the world: he did it! And alongside it the world benefitted from the Roman Peace. Jesus came to our planet when the Roman Peace held the world together; the barriers were down, the frontiers open; the Roman Empire described as one big friendly neighbourhood. An achievement, so far, still beyond the capabilities of the United Nations and European Union. Another factor that contributed to the unity of the world and the fullness of time was the roads. From one end of the Empire to the other was the great highway that made it possible to travel across the land easily and swiftly. The movement of the military, the logistics of trade, the spread of the Gospel, each benefitted from the vision, the ambition, the skills of the Romans. For six years I lived within the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall and marvelled at the expertise of Roman engineering. Then there was the fact of a common language, a great blessing to the missionaries who travelled along those roads. Unlike those who went out from this country to save souls and win them for Christ, the early evangelists in Roman times did not have to learn a new language. Everywhere the people were bilingual and knew Greek. No need to labour the point!

Furthermore, it was the fullness of time economically and morally. I make no comment, merely draw attention to the fact that in their own way they had a part in preparing the way for the birth of Jesus. My final point – when Jesus first came, it was the right time religiously. The old gods had had their day and were either dead or dying. To fill the gap, two expedients were tried. On the one hand they imported a whole plethora of deities, principally from the East, many of them a bit of a joke. They failed! The next bit of farce was the elevation of Caesar himself to be god and every citizen required to worship him. Give him his due, he saw to it that it was not too difficult to fulfil that requisite; a small pinch of incense annually might do the trick. It also failed! The emperor-god had nothing to say to a man or woman with a broken heart.

“When everything was done that could be done, the hungry hearts of women and men, were hungry still!” But there was an intense and exciting expectation that God was about to do something better, something new; hope was alive and reasonably well. Indeed, they were approaching a time when God was to send his only Son into the world, that the world through Him might be saved. When John the Baptist came folk were hopefully asking, “Is this the Messiah now?” No! But he helped to clear the way for their prayers to be answered, their hope to mature, their dream to come true: the Redeemer came. So, we can sing with Charles Wesley:

Our God contracted to a span; Incomprehensively made man.