Forgive our misplaced sorrow!
Can you picture the crowd that Jesus saw as he hung on that cross? Imagine all the faces he saw. Some had faces that were shouting at him. He saw others that were laughing at him. Perhaps there were some that were grimacing at the horrors of what they were witnessing. And in all those faces Jesus saw, there were far too few who were sympathetic. In fact, you could probably count them on one hand: Mary, Mary Magdalene, John the disciple, and the penitent criminal on the cross.
Since our first mid-week Lent service we have been looking at six different groups of Jesus’ enemies. And you would be right in thinking that were would be no trouble in finding six different groups of his enemies. So why, of all people, are we looking tonight at the few people who actually felt sorry for Jesus? Why a sermon that is centralized on the women who actually wept for Jesus?
Don’t worry; we haven’t suddenly placed these women among the enemies of Jesus. And yet, they are still part of the people who needed the forgiveness that Jesus earned on the cross. Their sorrow for him was sweet and admirable, even more so when their sorrow is compared with the mobs shouting for Christ’s crucifixion hours earlier!
But the man for whom they were crying had told them they were crying for the wrong reasons. Yes, their tears were real and their genuine was honest – but Jesus was telling them that there were other tears to be shed. There are times that we too might cry the wrong tears; it is then that we must take to heart what our Savior said to the women of Jerusalem. It is then we must pray: Forgive our misplaced sorrow! For we often ignore true sorrow over our sins; Father, make us truly repentant.
1. Let’s be careful not to jump to false conclusions regarding these women. It’s not as if they were showing fake sentiment. They truly felt sorry. The sight of Jesus hanging on the cross, dying, brought tears to their eyes. And that sorrow ran deep. Our text tells us that they mourned and wailed for Jesus. These women used the gestures of the East to display their sorrow. They beat their chests and threw their arms up in despair. They cried out loud in misery as Jesus passed by them on his way to Calvary.
But Jesus acknowledged their weeping in an unexpected way. Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. (v. 28) You see, God did not want this type of sorrow; Jesus was not looking for a sympathetic sorrow, but rather a repentant sorrow from the people of Jerusalem.
Jesus foresaw the destruction to come upon the city that finally and irrevocably rejected its God. He quoted the ancient prophet, speaking of terror and despair that would sweep over the people of Jerusalem. For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then "'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" 'For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (vv. 29-31)
The green tree that was mentioned was Jesus – he himself is the picture of spiritual health and vigor – he alone was the one the Lord God was well pleased with. Contrary to that green tree was Israel, the dry tree, who was lifeless in her spirit. Instead of clinging to God who could give them life, the nation of Israel denied their God and clung to a form of religious piety. And if Christ, that green tree and the Perfect One, suffered in the way he did while in this dark world, what should the sinful people of Jerusalem have expected?
Their rejection of the Messiah had horrible consequences for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. We heard about some of those consequences a few weeks ago. Not even 40 years later, Rome would overrun Jerusalem. The legions of the general Titus would burn the temple to the ground and ransack its gold, sometimes prying stones apart just to reach its gold. An eyewitness account of that siege and Jerusalem’s destruction might as well have been taken from the scariest of horror stories. Surely there were those living in Jerusalem that wished they could have just been swallowed up by the earth!
But the consequences of rejecting the Messiah wouldn’t stop there. There would not just be physical consequences, but even worse eternal consequences! These inhabitants of Jerusalem were given opportunity after opportunity to repent and believe in Christ. He had walked among them for three years, teaching and preached daily and performing miracles. But despite Jesus’ three year ministry, this nation of Israel, for the most part, rejected their Savior and screamed for his blood. And what excuses might they try to come up with as they see the one they crucified descending from the clouds? What might they try to say in order to escape the torments and eternal flames of hell?
Had you been at the foot of the cross that Good Friday – or better yet, if you’ve seen the Passion of the Christ – and had no pity for Jesus as he went through all that torments, you might be made of stone. Images of Christ’s torments, suffering, and beatings naturally bring sorrow to human beings. But again, this sorrow is not the sorrow that the Lord wishes. He wants a different and deeper sorrow from us – a godly, repentant sorrow.
Just as he told the women that Good Friday, so also our Lord tells us this evening: I do not desire your sympathy, but your repentance. It was our sins that brought him down that road of suffering in the first place. Because our sins were as scarlet, it took the blood of Christ to make us white as snow. How often do we give that fact the amount of though we ought to? Take a moment and consider your sins. Because we were so bad, so sinful, the only thing that would rescue us from the everlasting flames of hell was the sacrifice of God’s own Son.
It is a true and godly sorrow that God seeks from us – not sympathy for his Son but repentance for our sins. He desires that we say with the psalmist: Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge (Ps 51:4). The Scriptures have condemned all people as sinners and for failing to perfectly keep God’s commandments. The Scriptures speak against you and I, and God desires that we own up to our imperfection.
How many of us would readily jump up out of our pews to admit our sin? Repentance isn’t easy, not to mention that it’s not one of our favorite things. We’d rather take what seems to be an easier road. We would rather try to belittle our sins, as if they were not that serious a matter. We would rather point to the greater sins of others as if we were hiding behind them. Or maybe we’d rather distract ourselves from our own guilt by immersing ourselves further in the pleasures of the world. We’d rather try to convince ourselves that on the great scale of spiritual justice our “good deeds” outweigh those things we have done wrong.
I hope those options sounded foolish to you. None of them are what the Lord calls for. Just as Jesus told the women Weep for yourselves, so he says to us this evening: “Repent of your sins; don’t hide from them, don’t ignore them, and don’t make them less serious than they really are. Instead, confess them, and turn to me for a full and free pardon.” That is the only path to forgiveness, the path our Savior puts us on. It is the path we ask to be led on when we pray: Father, make us truly repentant!
2. Consider again the cost of our sins. Is it even possible for us to take our sins lightly when we see how much they cost our Savior? As we look again at Christ dying on the cross, we are reminded that it is because of our sins that he had to give up his life.
For us to be unrepentant would be an insult to Christ. He paid a great price for us and for our salvation. It was a price we could never dream of paying, yet Jesus paid that cost out of selfless love for us. And he asks us to confess our sins to him. Don’t try to excuse them or rationalize them. Just confess that you too are one of the sinners whose transgressions were great. With such a confession we honor him who took all our sins upon himself and paid for them with his suffering and death.
And the second part of Christian repentance must then also follow. We trust in the Lomb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The reason for Christ’s sacrifice was not that we feel guilty, but that we might be made guiltless in God’s sight. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him, John writes in his Gospel (Jn 3:17). Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
We are saved by faith in this promise, for that faith lays hold of the forgiveness won for us by Jesus. Faith grasps that forgiveness and makes it our own. This is what is promised to us in God’s Word, and we know that Word is truth. As we place our trust solely on the shoulders of Christ we once again honor him in this way.
And the life that follows is one full of the fruits of repentance. Among these fruits are the acts of obedience to God and our love for him and our fellow people. These fruits show that we no longer are slaves to sin but desire to be servants of God. Our faith is not some lifeless object inside ourselves but rather it is a living and active thing. It shines in our lives as brightly as the sun on a cloudless day!
Do not weep for me, Christ told the women of Jerusalem, weep for yourselves. May we always take these words to our own hearts, but in the right way! Let us pray to our Father in heaven that he might fill our hearts with truly repentant sorrow over our sins so that we might honor Christ’s death for us all the more. Pray that we might trust in him with all our hearts, thus showing true esteem for our Savior. And pray that we may always bring forth lives filled with the fruits of repentance and thus prove to all people our love for the Lord Jesus Christ who loved us first. Let this be our prayer: “Lord, let this holy season of Lent bring the right kind of tears to our eyes, the tears that lead to eternal life in your Son. Amen”