HE SHED THOSE TEARS FOR THEE!

 

My slow working through the Good News according to Luke over the past eight months has been fascinating. A week ago I was busy with 19:28ff…

  • It’s a coronation journey, not on a warhorse but a donkey. The crowds, so impressed with his miracles and teaching, greet him with shouting and singing: ‘Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!’ At last the Messiah had intervened to defeat their oppressors and be enthroned in Jerusalem.
  • The unpopular temple clergy rebuked Jesus for not challenging the riff-raff praise-singers. Jesus in turn rebukes the leaders for totally missing the point: if they didn’t praise him the stones along the road would! (v. 40)
  • Jesus heads to Jerusalem not with sword but palm branch.

 

Free stock photo of black-and-white, art, vintage, statue

 

Getting to the point: 19:41, ‘as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.’ In this instance ‘weep’ doesn’t refer merely to tears welling up in eyes and rolling down cheeks (cf. Jn. 11:35) but to a heaving of the bosom, the sob and cry of a soul in anguish. Note the startling contrast: the ecstatic laughing and shouting of the crowds and Jesus’ gut-wrenching sobs. [it wasn’t the only time Jesus had wept over Jerusalem: Mt. 23:37, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate’] Why Jesus’ broken-hearted sobs??

  • God’s chosen and beloved Israel, after millennia of God’s covenant love out-poured, again just didn’t get it! They didn’t grasp the Father’s way of peace for them and all mankind: 19:41ff, “‘How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.'” In short, they preferred the sword to the Cross. My goodness, nothing has changed – two thousand years later witness N. American politics, the conflicts in the Middle East and in my own continent! Have we forgotten how Jesus disarmed his disciples and us in the garden? (Lk. 22:47ff). **
  • His people didn’t realize that it was too late. They had had countless opportunities to accept God’s free offer of salvation in Christ. Jesus affirms that before long their enemies would encircle Jerusalem and crush one and all, including children (horrors! cf. Mt. 27:24-25). We know what happened in 70 AD.

Dr. J. Norval Geldenhuys writes thus of Jesus’ tears [Benjamin Beddome, publ. 1787],

‘The Son of God in tears,

The wondering angels see.

Be thou astonished, O my soul,

He shed these tears for thee.’

A few years ago my wife and I toured the Holy Land. My personal highlights were tracing Jesus’ footsteps in beautiful Galilee, and then the heaviness of the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane below. I recalled Jesus’ prayer from the gut: Lk. 22:44f, “‘Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine’… He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood…” I paused on my own for a while, surveying the tomb stones and ancient olive trees below, and thanked my Saviour for doing all this for me… for all mankind (cf. Jn. 3:16ff), but also for me! Later, in the beautiful sanctuary in the valley, one of our tour members sang from a pew in crystal-clear soprano voice, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ I wept grateful tears.

The lessons of Jesus’ weeping for us are many, I select a few:

  1. It’s a call to rediscover Jesus himself. Thank God, masses are re-discovering the authentic Jesus, not the popular plastic pulpit one.
  2. It’s a call to rediscover repentance. Stanza 1 and 3 of Beddome’s hymn say, (1) ‘Did  Christ o’er sinners weep, And shall our cheeks be dry? Let floods of penitential grief Burst forth from every eye.’ (2) ‘He wept that we might weep; Each sin demands a tear; In heaven alone no sin is found, And there’s no weeping there.’ In the 1980’s I heard American evangelist Sammy Tippet relate the Good News coming to Romania in a new way – soon Romanian Christians were nicknamed ‘the repenters.’ When last did you hear the word ‘repent’ from a pulpit? [‘repentance’ means a radical change of mind resulting in a radical change of character. As my College professor would say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!’]
  3. It’s a call to rediscover the good news of the kingdom. I won’t expand but note Jesus’ definition in Lk. 4:18-19. Also Frank Viola’s latest book, Insurgence, hugely challenging to the Church in North America and beyond (my copy arrived today).
  4. It’s a call to rediscover evangelism (Mt. 28:16ff). We tend to beat ourselves up concerning the need to witness – our beginning point should be God’s love for us in Christ. ‘Confidence in evangelism begins in the love of God’ [Dr. Jerry Root, Wheaton College. Dr. Root suggests from student interviews that our greatest fear of witness is ‘what will others think of me?’ (a kind of idolatry?)] Blame it on an older man’s sentimentality perhaps, but I recall our young men’s evangelistic outreaches in our city and the words of an old chorus (publ. 1917) (before my time!), ‘Lord crucified, give me a heart like Thine! Teach me to love the dying souls of men, And keep keep my heart in closest touch with Thee, And give me love, pure Calvary love, to bring the lost to Thee.’ Such witness, anchored in God’s love, becomes natural and spontaneous.
  5. It’s a call to rediscover The Cruciform Church (cf. Leonard Allen). Recently I was shocked anew by Jesus’ words to his would-be followers: Lk. 14:25ff, “‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate (by comparison) his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.'” As there was for Jesus a Jerusalem and Calvary, so there is for each of us. A quote from English evangelist-philanthropist George Muller (1805-1898) says it all, ‘There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Muller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will, died to this world, it’s approval or censure, died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends, and since then I have studied to show my self approved unto God.’ Have you been to the Cross, dear friend? (praise God the Cross leads to abundant life!) How many church groups and leaders have been there? [In 19:45ff we read of Jesus turning the temple upside down/right side up. NB: he did this at the commencement and conclusion of his ministry (Jn. 2:13ff; Lk. 19:45ff), he’s doing it again today. Cf. Mal. 2:17-3:5]

And when it all seems just too idealistic and too hard today, let me recall ‘He shed those tears for thee…’ What a calling, honour and grace is ours!

Free stock photo of agriculture, farm, horizon, fields

“Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. He healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is great but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest, ask him to send more workers into his fields.'”

 [Mt. 9:35-38]

** Maybe we can learn from the Chinese Christian woman who invited her would-be burglars inside, prepared a meal for them and saw them off at the door as friends. As Brian Zahnd has said, at least let’s ask God what we should do in a similar situation.

 

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PRAYER: FROM PLACES OF PAIN (PART 2)

Sorry We're Closed but Still Awesome Tag

 

‘Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.’

(Jesus to the Church in Laodicea)***

 

We move on to Part 2 of Prayer: from Places of Pain, doing so from an unexpected perspective perhaps, viz. the Revelation of John, 3:14-22 and especially v. 20 (quoted above from the NLT). [It may help, if you haven’t already done so, to quickly scan Part 1 to pick up the thread]

The exalted Lord Jesus is addressing the churches of Asia Minor, from a place of incomparable pain, viz his rejection as Messiah by Israel, his beloved covenant people. For him it meant terrible sufferings here on earth, culminating in his atoning death on Golgotha’s Cross, as Saviour of Israel and all nations. It’s important we start here.

The aged apostle John, Christ’s spokesman in this instance, also speaks from a place of pain. He is in exile on the lonely Aegean Island of Patmos for preaching the Good News of the kingdom. He addresses seven local churches in Asia Minor, including the one in Laodicea, a prosperous city known for its banks, medical school and textile industry.

The local church is also under pain, especially those members loyal to Christ and all he stood for. The governing Romans enforced emperor-worship, leading to Nero’s terrible oppression of Christians (or Domitian’s, depending on the dating of the Revelation).

Christ, and his servant John, weep over a church community being sterilized by creeping materialism and complacency.

  • In their relationship with ‘the Amen and Lord of all,’ these believers had drifted into spiritual ‘lukewarmness,’ to such an extent that the exalted Lord is about to ‘spit (lit. ‘vomit’) them out of his mouth!’ (v. 14-16/NIV). Maybe John had the nearby hot medicinal springs in mind as a familiar metaphor to the Laodiceans…
  • Sadly, the church imagined themselves to be ‘rich,’ not recognizing their spiritual wretchedness, poverty and nudity – hence John’s counsel to buy from Christ lasting riches and clean dress (v. 17-19). Remember Laodicea was known for its clothing industry…
  • Worst of all, the church imagined they had spiritual insight when in fact they were ‘blind,’ needing the Spirit’s eye salve to make them see once more. As noted earlier, Laodicea was famous for its medicines and ointments, but these ‘blind believers’ needed more than that. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the total anomaly of ‘blind Christians and churches!’ ‘Christ have mercy!’

light-of-the-world-william-holman-hunt

[Painting by William Holman Hunt]

Part of Christ’s rebuke and discipline of the Laodiceans includes a call to earnestness of heart and penitent prayer. [I recently re-read the story of the godly John Wesley, 18th century awakening leader and founder of Methodism. I was once more impressed by his earnestness in everything, especially the disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, godliness and the reaching of the lost. What’s become of his tribe?]

Believe it or not, Rev. 3:20 speaks to the very essence of prayer [sadly much evangelicalism has restricted this verse to leading individuals to Christ]: ‘Here I am! (Christ is never far away) I (the Amen/faithful and true Witness/Ruler of creation) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’ (NIV). We know the significance of meals in the Orient:  they signified covenant, fellowship, friendship, celebration and joy! [Please bear in mind that Rev. 3:20 is addressing not only individual Jesus-followers but in the main local churches] I’m sure most of us have seen Holman Hunt’s famous picture of Jesus at the door, noting there is no door handle on the outside. I.o.w. we have to open that door into our hearts and local assemblies. How many people and churches are busy with worship and prayer and service and entertainment of members when all the time Jesus, the head of the Church, is himself shut out! If the cap fits, let’s at least wear it and repent…

Many years ago during my formal theological training I came across a little paperback simply entitled Prayer, penned by Prof. Ole Hallesby (1879-1961). He was an evangelical Norwegian Lutheran theologian with a heart for God. I have read and re-read it – I am ever grateful to him for opening my eyes to the essence of Rev. 3:20. Here are selected snippets from this little gem (chap. 1):

  • ‘To pray is to let Jesus come into our hearts… It is Jesus who moves us to pray… Our prayers are always the result of Jesus’ knocking at our hearts’ door.’ cf. Is. 65:24/NLT (Judgment & Final Salvation), ‘I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!’
  • ‘From time immemorial, prayer has been spoken of as the breath of the soul… The air which our body requires envelops us on every hand. The air itself seeks to enter our bodies and, for this reason, exerts pressure upon us. It is well known that it is more difficult to hold one’s breath than it is to breathe. We need but to exercise our organs of respiration, and air will enter forthwith into our lungs and perform its life-giving function to the entire body… Prayer is the breath of the soul, the organ by which we receive Christ into our parched and withered hearts… All he needs is access… He enters wherever He is not denied admittance.’
  • Jesus wants so badly to sup’ with us. In biblical language the common meal is symbolical of intimate and joyous fellowship.’ While meditating and teaching recently on Rev. 3:20, together with Jn. 1:1-5, Jn. 6:35, 6:53ff and 1 Jn. 1, it seemed to me that Jesus came to give us ‘three inter-related l’s’ (I’m not being trite here): LIFE, LIGHT & LUNCH!
  • ‘To pray is nothing more than to let Jesus into our needs… To pray is to let Jesus glorify His name in the midst of our needs.’
  • ‘The results of prayer… are not dependent upon the powers of the one who prays.’ [My comment: this in a time when believers are badgered into believing that their prayers are ‘not answered’ because of ‘insufficient faith,’ etc. What did Jesus say about the size of faith??]
  • Jesus ‘knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. That is why he designed prayer in such a way that the most impotent can make use of it. For to pray is to open the door to Jesus, and that requires no strength; it is only a question of our wills.’

I trust the above opens some doors (pun intended) to you and me in the vital matter of prayer, especially when praying from places of pain! May I suggest you make a note of some of these points made by Hallesby for further meditation?

 

[*** I’m not sure what we picture when talking about a/the ‘church?’ A building, perhaps with a cross or steeple, clergy leading in one form or another, pews all facing the stage where ‘things happen’? (BTW, that only became the norm when the Church was institutionalised and professionalised by Emperor Constantine in the early 300’s AD) One thing is for sure, the ‘church in Laodicea’ probably consisted of a relatively small group(s) of repentant and baptized believers, relating to Jesus 24/7 and meeting in ordinary homes. They included rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, young and old. Essentially they gave themselves to community and gossiping the Kingdom. ‘All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper) and to prayer… And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2:42, 47b/NLT) [Hence my blog theme, Conversations About Jesus & Community] The good news is that today such ‘organic, simple church’ has been/is happening around the world!