|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Misplaced Sympathy|
|Text||Luke ch.23 v.28 |
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"And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented Him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" (Luke 23,27-31).
"But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children" (text).
1. A picture of our Lord
2. Unbelief is blind
3. There is a Day of Judgment coming.
Now then, here in this passage of the Word of God, we see a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know the day of the week to have been Friday. It was the day of the Passover, the day on which our Lord was to be crucified. We know approximately the time of day: it was certainly earlier than nine o'clock in the morning, because at nine o'clock in the morning our Lord was nailed to the Cross. He was to be there for six hours: until midday,three hours of light; from midday until three o'clock in the afternoon,three further hours of darkness. At three or so in the afternoon, our Lord died, having finished His glorious work of saving His people.
So then, what we have here is Christ bearing His Cross, and leaving the city gate of Jerusalem, and taking that woeful and lamentable journey outside the city to the place called Calvary (or Golgotha) the place of a skull. There our Lord was crucified.
I have to remind you that our Lord had had a sleepless night. He had been in Gethsemane agonizing in prayer. But not only that, He had been subjected to six trials. Most of us realize that it is no pleasant experience to be tried in a court of any kind. But our Lord was tried no less than six times during the course of that previous evening: first by Annas, then by Caiaphas the high priest, and then by Caiaphas together with the Jewish council. We refer to those as the three ecclesiastical trials. And then He was tried by Pontius Pilate, by Herod the king, and again by Pontius Pilate. We refer to those as trials by members of the state; state trials, civil trials, or criminal trials, if you wish.
And our Lord was subjected to terrible treatment during the course of that time - so much so that He had now come to physical and mental exhaustion. How do we know that? Well, because the soldiers who were surrounding our Lord as He was coming out of the city toward the place called Calvary, they exercised their right as Romans to compel a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, coming out of the country, to carry Christ's cross. The probability is that they saw that our Lord was so exhausted that He could barely carry His cross another step. So they, as I say, exercised this right. Roman soldiers could lay the flat part of their spear on the shoulder of a civilian and they could compel him to do these unpleasant tasks. There was no alternative but to do as they were told. You couldn't argue with Roman soldiers. So, Simon of Cyrene bears His cross.
And following Him, we're told, is a large company of people. It is very clear that as people were waking up in the morning, the news was spreading like wildfire throughout Jerusalem of the impending death of Christ. For three and a half years He had swept through the nation. Sickness, as somebody well put it, was almost banished from the country. Whoever came near Christ was healed. You could almost say that death itself was almost banished from the nation. Whoever came to Him was healed of whatsoever trouble they had. So the fame of Him was everywhere. And the talk was of Him everywhere.
Now the rumour had got round the civilian population of Jerusalem. Our Lord was being taken out by the Jewish authorities (under Roman supervision) to be crucified. And amongst those who were in this huge crowd of followers to the Cross, we are told here, there was a large company of women who bewailed and lamented Him. These two words are slightly different in meaning. Bewailing means that they were smiting on their breasts physically, beating themselves in an expression of grief and sympathy. And they were wailing, in so far as their voices were lifted up in loud lamentation and, no doubt, tears streaming down their faces. They were profoundly sorry at what they saw - Jesus Christ going forth to the Cross.
However, you must understand that this does not in any way suggest that these women were believers, or Christians, or converted, or born again. They were acting under the power of sympathy and pity - which is very good as far as it went. And our Lord did not despise their compassion. But He has something to say to them that I wish to look at with you this evening at verse 28. Jesus turns round, as He was carrying His cross, or at least at the place where Simon was carrying His cross, He turns round and He addresses these women: "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children" (text).
Well now, what is the message and what is the lesson to be found here? What has all this to say to us? Well, I believe the great and overwhelmingly significant lesson from these words is this: unbelief is blind, even when it is kind. Unbelief is blind, and our Lord had to open their eyes and tell them things which they did not realize. Unbelief leads men to be sympathetic sometimes with the problems of the people of God, but it never enables them to see the real issues which are at stake. These women who were sympathizing with Christ in His sorrows, they simply saw the outward events of His life - they saw a crushed human figure. What did they see? They saw a victim, going like so many others to the cross. There had been thousands before Him, and there would be thousands after Him, and to them this was just another poor, wretched victim.
What did they not see? They did not see that this was the Eternal Son of God, going forth to bear the sins of the world. What did they see? They saw a man lacerated and scourged in the last hours of His life. What did they not see? They did not see the triumphant Son of God, about to finish His great ministry, and to die for us! and to rise in glory! and to take His seat again at the right hand of God. So, they saw something, but they did not see the meaning of the outward circumstances which were before their eyes.
Now, my dear friends, that is always how unbelief is. And you can tell unbelief from faith in this way: that when people really have faith, they're not just interested in the outward things of life. They see into the meaning of what God is doing in this world. When people have faith, they're always concerned about the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. You look through the gospels sometime at any of the cases of men and women who are converted, and what you see when people are truly converted is - they're interested in Christ, and they're concerned for their own soul. That's the very thing that these women were not able to see. They didn't know who He was in the highest sense, nor did they know what God was doing, nor did they have any concern for their own soul. And so our Lord has turn round to them as they are beating on their breasts and weeping out their eyes of sympathy, and He says to them, kindly, and yet firmly, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children" (text).
I wonder, my beloved friends here this evening, if you have ever seen the significance of the need to weep for yourself. Have you ever realized the state in which you are? Oh, maybe you're well disposed towards Christianity, quite possibly you have a benign attitude to the people of God, you have never done any harm to church-going people, you would never persecute them, you think well of Jesus Christ and of the gospel. And yet you perhaps pity Christians. You think to yourself, Oh these poor, wretched people. They have such a sad life. And what's going to be in their lives in the end? Well, if you think pityingly of the people of God it shows you have no faith. And if you've never seen the sad condition of your own soul, and your own life, you're like these women who were travelling with the crowd, going along, simply seeing the outward circumstances of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The real test of when a person has faith is this: they begin to be afraid for themselves. They begin to weep for themselves. Why? Well, because they haven't got the great things that a man or woman needs to get in order to be right with God.
So, I put the question to you again: are you any different from these women who were travelling to the Cross, at Jerusalem? Are you any different from them? Have you ever shed a tear because of your ignorance of Jesus Christ? Have you ever realized the sad condition of your own soul as a sinner in need of the grace of God ? - that you are lost in this world ? When you get faith, that's what you will begin to do.
You look at the case of the Acts of the Apostles, when the apostle Peter is preaching on the day of Pentecost. These crowds had heard Peter preaching. They began by stopping. 'What fools are these?' they said, They must be half drunk. But when Peter had finished his preaching, they turned from scoffing to prayer: What must we do? Men and brethren, what must we do? They were pierced in their hearts because they realized that they needed to be made right with God, and they had no personal knowledge of the way of salvation.
That's exactly the case with these women of Jerusalem. They were following our Lord, weeping and wailing. They were full of pity and compassion, and so far that was good. But, my friends, outward things are of no value unless we have faith. If we have no faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, all our feelings of pity are so much waste of worthless strength.
So, I say again, that unbelief is blind, even when it is kind. And that's what's wrong with the schemes for charity and philanthropy very often, not always, but very often in this world. They shed many tears for the hungry - and rightly so. They shed many tears of compassion for the needy, and the homeless, and those that need shelter, and those who have health problems of one kind or another - and, so far so good. But it is not enough to make us acceptable with God. And we need to hearken to our Lord's words where He turns to these women and says to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children" (text). And I say it again, my friends, that's where true Christianity begins - it always begins with weeping for ourselves.
Tell me, were you ever in your own bedroom, where nobody saw you, and you were sighing to God because you knew that you had never found the grace of salvation? Tell me, my friend, have you ever been on your own and you realized that you had not got the one thing necessary to qualify you for the presence of God?
It was all the more tragic in the case of these women that they had the Bible, or at least they had the Old Testament portion of it. And the same tragedy is true of people in our country today - they have the Bible, but the Bible does us no good at all until we understand it. The measure in which the Bible will do you any good is the measure in which you understand it. That's why we come to church: it's to have the Word of God opened out to us. That's the function of services and churches: it is to expound and explain the Word of God. And the purpose of it all is not simply to make us sympathetic to religion, like these women, or compassionate to the troubles of humanity, as these women were, it is to show us our need to weep for ourselves.
Now, let me go on from there and say that unbelief is also blind to the future. I say that unbelief is blind to the future. These women did not understand that Christ was soon to go to the Cross to bear away the sin of the world. They didn't see that. They didn't recognize Him in the Scriptures. They had no conception that within three days after His death our glorious Redeemer would rise triumphant from the dead and would appear for forty days on earth showing Himself alive with many infallible proofs. Nor had they the remotest idea that He would ascend to the right hand of God and sit there at the place of power and authority to rule the nations.
They were weeping. And there are some people who imagine that tears are all that we need in religion. There are some people who believe very much in tears - and there is a place for tears - and would God we saw and heard more tears and more weeping, but even tears and even weeping and sighing are not enough. We need to be brought to faith, and trust, and dependence, and reliance, on the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Himself. It is not enough to be well-disposed towards the Christian faith.
There's a very interesting passage in John's gospel chapter six. Let me remind you of it. Our Lord had been feeding the five thousand, and He'd finished this wonderful miracle. What a miracle it was: He took the loaves - one after another - five loaves and two fish and all the five thousand and more were seated on the ground. And He looked up to heaven and blessed the bread and He broke it and gave to the twelve disciples to distribute among them all. And as He broke it, it multiplied in His hand, until they were all satisfied, and they took up twelve baskets of broken pieces. And the people were staggered at the miracle! as well they might be. And how did they next react? Well, they wanted to make Jesus into a king. They wanted to make Him into an earthly king - and our Lord shrank from it, and He went away to the mountain to pray. He didn't come to receive people's earthly approval. He didn't come to make Himself popular with men. He didn't come to have human greatness that men might be well-disposed to Him. It's not enough. He came to bring us to faith! in Himself; to reliance in Himself as the God-man. He came to bring us to the point in which we trust Him for all eternity! as the only Redeemer of God's people! as the only Mediator between earth and heaven!
So you see, whenever a person comes to true faith, that faith becomes clear in this way: that they recognize Him for what He is. You take any of the accounts in the gospels where He performs a miracle of healing or something and then forgives their sins, and you watch what they do, these people who come to faith for the first time, and you'll see that they always recognize Him for who He is.
Take the blind man in John chapter nine. Our Lord sent Him to the pool of Siloam to wash and he came back seeing. And there was a conversation and all of that. Well, when the conversation was over, our Lord said to this blind man who was now healed, Do you believe in the Son of God? And the man said to Him, Who is He Lord that I may believe? And Jesus said, I am He with whom you are speaking. And he fell down, I believe Lord. And you see that in every case where people truly recognize Christ! That's the sign that they have come to faith. And until we come to that point we haven't even begun to begin, my friends, in the things of God.
Oh, these women of Jerusalem, they were coming along and they were weeping, and wailing, and smiting their breasts - but that was purely human emotion. What we always see when people are truly converted is this: they recognize Jesus Christ for who He is - God's eternal and ever blessed Son; our holy Saviour; the God-man; the One who died that we might live, Who bore our sins in His own body on the tree that we might know peace with God.
And I come back to my point which is this: When we have faith, we understand about the future. But if we're still unbelievers we don't understand what's going to happen in the future. You see what our Lord does to these women? He says to them, Weep not for Me, you daughters of Jerusalem, but weep for yourselves - why? Because, He says, the days are coming when they will say, Blessed are the barren that never bore, and so forth. What does He mean? Well, He's giving a prophecy of something which is going to happen exactly forty years from the date in which He is speaking. We know precisely the year, and we know the details of what happened forty years after our Lord's death. What was it that happened? It was this: the Roman armies came and they encircle the city of Jerusalem, where now He was speaking, and these great walls which towered up to heaven, and the massive buildings, and the Temple itself, were going to be shattered and destroyed by the Roman armies! And thousands upon thousands of poor Jewish women and men were to be taken away into slavery. Many of them would never survive the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
And our Lord saw this! He knew the future. How did He know? Well, because He is God incarnate. He was a Prophet, as well as a Priest and a king. He was telling them of future events. He was warning them of the future! And He said to them that the day will come when men and women will say, Blessed are those who never had a child, and who never gave suck to a child. What does He mean? Well, He meant that the carnage would be so terrible, the bloodshed so unspeakable! in this very city where you now are, that you would be glad not to have children who will be starving to death before your eyes, and you not able to put food in their mouths; to have babies that you can't feed because your strength is gone, and the mother has no milk for the child who is dying at her breast; when there will be no children in the house weeping their eyes out as the soldiers cutting them with savage blows before your eyes. Our Lord was saying all of this, and He was saying to them: those who have no faith do not see into the future!
It is as true today as it was in the days of our Lord. If we have no faith, we don't really believe in the future. And we don't believe in the things that the Bible says will happen in the future to all men. What will happen? Well, go back to the days of the Flood. They didn't believe, did they, in the days before the Flood, that they were going to be swept away. And take Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities of the Plain: they didn't believe, did they, that fire was going to come upon them. They didn't believe in these things - they thought it was a myth. And Jesus said, It will be the same at the end of the world as it was in the days of Noah. They were eating and drinking and so on - they won't believe in these things. They won't realize that the end will come. So it was with these women. They didn't realize how very near they would be: the terrible judgment coming upon themselves for their sin and for the rejection of Christ.
And so it is with all that have no faith. My friend, do you realize - the most solemn things about the future which are going to affect your life and mine? What are these solemn things? Well, I'm not a prophet, in the sense that I have no idea what in detail God's going to do in the future, of course not. It would be presumption to try to guess. I'm not predicting to you the end of the world next week. But I am saying that every one of us is soon going to have to leave this world. We're all passing on out of this world. And you and I are going to become ill one day, or else we'll have our accident, or something will happen to us and we'll be carried out of this world. We'll be summoned to meet our God. And then, nothing at all will matter - except only one thing. Did I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Did I have a Saviour when I left this world? Was I at peace with my Maker and my Judge when I left this world?
Well now, that's the plain, and obvious, and repeated teaching of the Word of God. Every one of us must appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ. I know there are some people who don't like all these things. I know there are some people who would far rather be sitting down singing choruses that they're happy all the day long. It's much easier to do that, but I have to preach what Jesus Christ has said, and here in all the love of His heart - there was no hatred in Christ - He was love incarnate. Here He is on His way to the Cross, full of love for mankind, just about to die for us all! and He turns to these women who were sobbing and weeping: Oh daughters, He says, daughters, daughters, I tell you, don't sob for Me, but weep for yourselves. Why? Well, because they were still unbelievers. And when people are without faith in Jesus Christ they're in the most pitiable position imaginable, and they don't realize what lies in the future. They're blind to the future.
An unbeliever is like a man in a fast motorcar, travelling toward the edge of a precipice at breakneck speed. And that's the way some young people are. They drive at a ferocious speed, and they don't realize that there is death just right in front of them. That's the condition of every non-Christian person - man, woman, and child - they're driving to eternity at break-neck speed and they're going to go over the precipice - and there's no coming back! And so our blessed Jesus tells these women, He said, I'm going to tell you now to think about the future. If you don't believe in it now, I'll tell you about the future, my dear ladies, the future means there's something coming that you ought to be aware of and prepare for: the end of the world.
Well, then He goes on from there and He uses an illustration. We shouldn't be afraid of illustrations. The Bible is full of illustrations, and this is the one that our Saviour uses. Let me give it to you, it's in verse 31: "if they do these things in a green tree, He says, What shall be done in the dry?" Now that's an illustration. He's explaining His meaning in a manner that these people can understand and take in. He says, here we've got a tree that's covered in green leaves - healthy, full of growth. And here we have a dead tree - dry, without leaves, therefore without fruit of course. This one covered in fruit and luxuriously fresh; this one dead, sterile, barren, and worthless. Now, He says, if this tree is set on fire and cut down, what's going to happen to this one?
What's He talking about? What's the illustration all about? Well, the green tree is Jesus Christ Himself, and the barren tree is the nation where He was preaching and teaching, who rejected Him - the Jewish nation. And, of course, it's symbolic of all unbelievers whoever they are, wherever they are, in any age. And He says, If the things that are now happening to Me which you can see, are happening to One who is holy and sinless, as I am, to the Son of God, as I am, to the Saviour of the world, as I am - if I, being God's Son, am going through these agonies which you see - the bearing of the Cross, and soon to be crucified on the tree of Calvary - He says, What do you think that you people are going to suffer? Now that's a very powerful argument, and the argument is good - in the case of every one who like these Jews has never been converted, never been blessed with the grace of God in their hearts, never been brought to the new birth, never been brought to realize their condition, and who Christ is and their preparation for the future.
Because, you see, here's the argument - we call it an argument from the greater to the lesser: If Jesus Christ, God's Son, who had no sin of His own, if even He was brought to the place in which the wrath and curse of God came upon Him because of our sin, where do we think unbelievers are going to be found when they answer to God for their own sins? If God did not spare Him, when He bore the sins of the world, what's going to happen to us if we die without Jesus as our Saviour? Well, there's the argument.
And if you say to me, How do I know that's His meaning, well, I'll make it still clearer. If you care to look back at verse 30, you'll see what He says, like this: "Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us, for if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" How do I know He's referring to the coming Judgement Day and the end of all things? Well, because verse 30 refers to the mountains falling on people, and the hills covering them, and that is exactly what you have in the Book of Revelation at the end of the world. I'm sure you know that tremendously dramatic picture in Revelation chapter 6 where we have a picture of the end of the world. And this is what happens: suddenly, as sinners are going about their every day work, the end of the world comes - the curtain falls on human history. And they lift up their eyes and they see Christ in heaven coming down - the great day of the wrath of God, as it's called - the Lamb of God coming down to judge the world. And as they look up there - sinners who have no Saviour and no Lord - they cry to the mountains to fall upon us and to hide us from the heavy hand of God and the face of Christ. Well, that's exactly what our Lord is quoting here.
So, my very dear friends, I must, I must confront you with this very truth: have you come to faith in this blessed Saviour? Do you know Him? Or are you just like these women in the crowd, well-disposed toward religion? Well, you say, it's a very good thing that there are churches in this country, they do a very great deal of good: they organize charitable events, they give money to the poor, no doubt they help overseas relations, and indeed they do good in other ways - they tend to restrain the evils of human nature. I'm very well-disposed, you say, towards religion. It's a very good thing; I think Bibles ought to be given to all the people in schools, and there ought to be churches, really, all throughout our country. I'm fully in favour of them, you say. Ah yes, but my friend, that's all very well, you're well-disposed towards religion, but, have you seen your own need? Have you seen your own heart? Have you realized your own condition? Weep not for Me, says Christ, weep for yourselves. That's the message He would have us begin with. If we're blind to ourselves, and our own great need of mercy, and forgiveness, from a holy God, then all our sympathy for religious things is, really, so much wasted breath - it is worthless. And our Lord reminds them, therefore, Don't weep for Me - remember, there's a future Judgement coming, and you must be prepared now for that Judgement when it comes. Sentimental affection for religious things is all very well, as far as it goes - but it will not take you to heaven.
How then are we going to conclude? Well, my friend, you must come to the point in which you realize who this Jesus of Nazareth is. You must come to see why He came into the world: it's because you and I are lost, in our sin, and in our guilt, before God. We are lost. Our condition is hopeless. Nothing can make us right with God. It doesn't matter how 'good' you are. It doesn't matter how decent you may think you can make yourself; how respectable; how virtuous; how upright - it's not good enough. All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in the sight of God. You can't blot out those blots in your copy book. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse our foul stains of guilt. We need the bleeding Saviour who came to the Cross of Calvary to change our life; to create a clean heart within us; to renew us to repentance and a right mind, that we might know ourselves for what we are - sinners who need mercy and grace, to prepare us for our eventual meeting with God.
So I invite you all, as many of you as have never come to faith in Christ, I invite you right now, as you're sitting there, to realize the truth of Jesus Christ's words to you, as to these women: Weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves. And then I invite you, having wept as you consider your guiltiness before God, I invite you, then, to rejoice, and to realize that this Jesus who came into the world to die for us, has finished His work! and He is seated in the glory of heaven, there surrounded by angels and all the hosts of heaven. He needs to die no more. There is no more suffering for Christ. He is waiting, till all His enemies are made His footstool: the devil, sin, death, all the evils of this world - He will one day trample them under foot.
And He will lift His believing people who know Him and trust in Him to sit with Him on His throne. There they will see the face of Jesus Christ in all the glory of His eternal blessedness seated in majesty at the right hand of God. They will see His face, and He will wipe away all the tears out of their eyes, and all their sorrows, and all their sighing, will flee away. And all the troubles of this life will be forgotten. And He will bring His dear children that love Him into the presence of God. And in the Judgement Day He will turn to His heavenly Father, and He will say, Oh My Father, behold I and the children whom Thou hast given Me, and He will present His children to God, and in that heavenly state they will bask in the sunshine of the eternal love of God and of Christ, forever. That's the destiny of the Christian! That's where we're going for, if we are His people! That's the journey we are taking, if we are believers!
But if we should die not believing, I have to be straight with you and say there's another destiny - it is eternal death. As somebody has terribly put it: We will live forever, in order that we might die forever. That's the destiny of the wicked. And I present you, therefore, my beloved friends, with this choice: which way will you go? Boys, and girls, and teenagers, on the threshold of life - which way will you go! That way? or that way? Older people, those with grey hairs, those for whom life's journey is getting daily shorter, those of you for whom the sands of time are sinking - are you going to be forever listening, and learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth? I pray you, don't remain among the congregation of the dead! Christ is offered to you all! There's nobody in the world living who may not come to eternal life, if only you wish to come.
"Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children." And if you weep aright, and come to faith in this bleeding, blessed, holy, glorified Son of God, then I can reassure you , you need weep no more. Oh, happy and blessed is the man, and the woman, who knows that Christ is God.
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