Luke 23:27-32 (Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 29—Series C)
“Seeing Salvation Clearly”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 24, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 23:
27And a great multitude of the people and women followed him, who mourned and lamented him. 28And turning to them, Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For, behold! the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women and the wombs that never bore and the breasts which never nursed.’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills ‘Cover us.’ 31For if when the wood is green they do these things, what will happen when it is dry?” 32And two others, criminals, were led away with him to be executed.
When we can’t see well, we go to the eye doctor. As we look through the machines, the doctor tries different lenses to correct our vision until we can see clearly again.
When the Church is not seeing well, she goes to Good Friday. For there, we see clearly again. We see the enormity of our sin. We see the enormity of our Savior’s love. We see the Old Testament fulfilled. We see the Last Day provided for. Good Friday is the lens through which the Church looks to see everything right. We are neither nearsighted (only concerned about here and now) nor farsighted (only concerned about the end). We see past, present, and future all through the lens of Jesus’ love and forgiveness at the cross.
On this Last Sunday in the Church Year, on the doorstep of a new Church Year with the beginning of Advent next week, we go to Good Friday to see clearly. Our Gospel readings this past year have been primarily from Luke. One of the major themes of his Gospel is Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to the cross. That journey is in its final steps, literally, as Jesus is being led to the place of execution along with two criminals. Simon of Cyrene has just been compelled to carry the Lord’s cross behind Jesus. A multitude of the people and women are following the Lord, mourning and lamenting Jesus’ fate.
On His final journey to the cross, Jesus turns and speaks to the group of women. “Daughters of Jerusalem,” He calls them. They are representative of the people of Jerusalem. They are in deep sorrow over what is going to happen to Jesus. The word “mourning” indicates that they strike themselves similar to the way that the people will beat their chests after Jesus dies. Jesus speaks to these women who have already begun to reject their rejection of Jesus as the crowd cried out not long before, “Crucify, crucify him!” And His words are meant to bring them from remorse to full repentance and faith as the Lord walks the way to the cross, bears theirs sin and faithlessness, and dies for them winning their forgiveness and new life.
All of Jerusalem—yes, all Israel and all people—are guilty of rejecting the Messiah. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have all neglected His Word and His Promises. We have failed in our trust and in our love toward the Lord and in our love toward others. Good Friday clears up our vision. The Lord Jesus calls them (and us) to repentance and faith as He warns them (and us) of what will happen if lives are not changed by His grace and mercy.
On His way to the cross, Jesus focuses people’s vision by using four warnings in His call to repentance in the face of the coming judgment. The first warning: “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” God in the flesh has visited His people in the person of Jesus. He is going to the cross to win the redemption of everyone with His sacrificial death. There should be no tears for Him. Jesus is going to the goal placed before Him by the Father, and this goal will end in His resurrection from the dead, after winning forgiveness and eternal life for the world! Instead of weeping for the Rejected One, tears should rather be shed for those who will continue to reject Him and His work of salvation He accomplished at the cross and empty tomb. People’s rejection of His life-saving work will mean that they will not share in His redemption. Those who smugly laugh and mock Jesus now will weep. Those who weep tears of repentance, however, will have their mourning turned into joy.
And so you and I must weep for ourselves. We must mourn and lament our sins and our sinfulness. We must sorrow over our failures to love the Lord and to love our neighbors. The 11th century hymn, Alleluia, Song of Gladness, illustrates for us when it says, “Alleluia cannot always Be our song while here below; Alleluia, our transgressions Make us for a while for-go; For the solemn time is coming When our tears for sin must flow” (LSB 417:3). The solemn time meant in the hymn is the Season of Lent. But those who are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus know that our baptismal life is one of daily dying and rising with Him. We weep and mourn our sins. We confess them. We are raised to new life in Holy Absolution with the forgiveness of sins.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us listen to the Lord’s warning. Let us weep not for Him, but for ourselves. Let us, by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word, sorrow over our sins and our sinful condition while, at the same time, trusting in the work of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who has already restored us to the Father’s favor, blessing us with forgiveness and eternal life by grace through faith.
In Luke 23, Jesus’ second and third warnings then give specific reasons why the women should weep for themselves and not for Jesus. In the terrible days that lay ahead, their own city, Jerusalem, would be besieged by the Roman armies and destroyed in A.D. 70. Those days would be so terrible that being childless (considered a reason for shame in the Old and New Testament worlds) would actually be a blessing. Being covered by mountains and hills would be better than facing the Roman siege and the sufferings that it would bring.
But notice that Jesus does pronounce a blessing. There is a note of Gospel hope just as in the beatitude that those who weep now will then rejoice (Lk. 6:21). Where there is only death, God can give new life. Jesus, in His earthly ministry, raised the dead, changing weeping to rejoicing! According to our baptism into the family of God in Christ, the Church, we come to know that in Christ, even the barren and those who do not have blood relatives are part of the new family of God. We have died to sin and been made alive by faith in Christ Jesus. We are sisters and brothers in Christ who walk together in love and faith and service. We “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). We take up our crosses and support one another in the trials and struggles of this earthly life, looking forward to the Day of Christ’s Coming Again. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that as the family of God we are people who are “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).
You and I, sisters and brothers in the Lord, have the opportunity, along with all believers in Jesus, to strengthen each other with the Gospel. Paul writes in Colossians 3, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:15). We come together and gather around Christ’s Word and Sacrament as His children. We confess our sins and receive the forgiveness He won for us on the cross. We extend His peace to one another. We commune together at the Table of the Lord as people looking forward to the great day when we are together with the whole Church in glory at the wedding feast of the Lamb Himself.
Today, you and I have the assurance of a place at the Lord’s banqueting table because we are forgiven by His sacrifice on the cross We are covered in the blood of Lamb, which was applied to us in Baptism. You and I are now declared righteous and holy to stand before God—to live with God—forever in a new creation. God poured out His wrath against sin when Jesus died on Good Friday. Christ defeated eternal death with His own death and resurrection on Easter. We have the absolute guarantee that we are saved from sin, death, and the power of the devil. The guarantee is signed and sealed in blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.
This brings us to Jesus’ final warning as He goes to Calvary to suffer and die. It is a mysterious proverb in which He asks, “For if, when the wood is green, they do these things, what will happen when it is dry?” The time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the time of the church age—now—is the time of green wood. God is patient and merciful. He allows time for growth and the fruit of repentance. He gives His Church this time to proclaim His Law and Gospel to people in our town and community, to people all over the world. He gives the people of God the time to witness to their salvation in Christ, to share the warnings of God’s Law and the Good News of the lifesaving, life-changing death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ point is certainly this: just as the rainy season gives way to the dry, the time will come when God’s patience will expire. His fire will blaze over all the earth when the Son of God comes again in glory with all His angels to “judge both the living and the dead.” The time available for producing the fruits of repentance will be over. The wood will be dry, the fruitless vines burned. So it is best to be green and moist and fruitful wood now than dry wood then, when the fire of God’s judgment burns the unfaithful to chaff.
Good Friday allows us to see these things most clearly. For those who are baptized into Jesus’ name, who are connected with His death and resurrection, the baptismal fire of the Spirit purifies. It cleanses. It renews. You, then, have been purified, cleansed, and renewed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. You have received faith, forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal life. You are saved and have a place reserved for you at the Lord’s heavenly feast!
Perhaps we might paraphrase Jesus’ words today in this way: “Do not weep for me, the suffering, righteous Messiah upon whom God must pour his fiery wrath. Rather, weep for yourselves and for your children. This [end times] wrath will be kindled against the chaff—those who reject God’s Messiah. But those whom I will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire will be spared from the eternal flames; and though they be cut down, they too will sprout again with me to eternal life.” Be confident then in your salvation. Jesus has accomplished it for you and has gifted it to you by faith. Use this time that we are blessed to be His Church in this place to declare the patience and mercy and goodness of God to the world in Jesus, His Son. Be the mission-minded people of God you are called in your baptism to be. Let others hear and be certain of their forgiveness and eternal life also. Amen.