A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on April 17, 2011.
Father, we ask your forgiveness for times when we are shaped more by the values of this age than we are by the values of your kingdom. Forgive us when we are blind to the ways that we serve the world before we serve your Son or instead of serving your Son. Open our eyes and our hearts today to see ourselves as we are. If we have participated in the hate and the prejudice which divides nations or people, forgive us and make us instruments of peace. If we have shared in envy or coveted the lives of others, forgive us and show us the blessings which are already ours and make us thankful. If we have been greedy or fearful and withheld generosity from others or our offerings from you, give us both compassion and faith that we might learn to give. If we have been indifferent or apathetic to the plight of others or to the cause of justice, we pray today that you would trouble our hearts until we care enough to do something. If we possess pride that causes us to trust in ourselves alone or to think that we should be uniquely blessed in this life, then we ask that you would humble us until we see our need or until we see the blessings that are already ours. Grant to us today the heart of Christ whose only desire was obedience to your will. Grant us the vision of his kingdom that we might seek it first, last, and always for there shall be our peace and our everlasting joy. In his name we pray. Amen.
Why would you want to trust an insane culture instead of the saints and their Master?
–Peter Kreeft in Christianity for Modern Pagans
The last hours of Jesus’ life are recorded for us by the Gospels. They take some moments and tell the story in incredible detail. It is almost as if they have stretched the moments to allow us time to hear every nuance, every word that is exchanged, to see every turn of the head, to make sure that no detail gets by. It is as if it were a film that they have moved into slow motion, and it is taking longer to tell the story than it might have actually taken to happen. They want to make sure that we see it all.
The Gospel writers intersperse in those moments where they seem to expand time and seem to take it into slow motion and insert other sections where it is as if they want to compress the time. They want it to pass as fast as possible. What might have taken ten minutes is told in six or seven words. It is a little like taking the fast-forward on your remote control and speeding the recording through a certain section. Typically, the sections where they move us along and don’t stop to give us a lot of detail would be the type of moments that we might fast-forward if we were watching a recording at home. These are the moments of the most gruesome part of Jesus’ last hours. It is as if we are watching a movie and there is just simply too much gruesomeness, too much death, and we think, I just can’t watch this, and we hit the fast-forward so we can get past that part and watch the rest.
The portions that they expand and seem to move into slow motion are the times where Jesus is interacting with people. Three times Pilate goes out and tries to talk to the crowd. He says, “I don’t find any guilt in him. What do you want me to do?” and the crowd yells, “Crucify him.” He goes back in and talks to Jesus. He sends Jesus to Herod. Maybe he can pass the buck and give Jesus to Herod and Herod will make the decision, but Herod does not want to do it so he sends him back to Pilate. We are seeing every moment of this. We are hearing what everybody has to say.
Then in other moments, like the whipping and the flogging, the Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and John just say, “and after they had flogged him” or “after they had scourged him,” whatever the translation uses. Luke skips it altogether. It is as if instead of fast-forwarding past the moment, he just edits it out. It is too much of a humiliation, it is too much a moment of pain and torture for the one we call Master and Lord and it is as if he is thinking, I am not going to subject them to this. I am just going to cut that part out and we will move right on past it.
Then the other moment is the moment of crucifixion. When Mel Gibson made his movie The Passion of the Christ, these are moments that are in slow motion. These are the moments where everything is stretched out and elongated. We see every lick and blow. We see every pounding of the nail. But in the Gospels, they say, “and there they crucified him, with one thief on the left and another thief on the right.” Then the details start to pick back again as the soldiers interact and the people start mocking. It seems the Gospel writers have put on fast-forward and have skipped right on by those moments that are too gruesome to watch and too painful to endure.
In the passage from Luke 23, there are moments in between the flogging (that is omitted by Luke but that we read in the other Gospels) and the moment of crucifixion, there is a walking along the way. We read about Simon who has come in from the country. Maybe he has come in for the Passover or to buy supplies. There, as Jesus stumbles, the cross is put upon Simon and he is forced to bear the weight of the cross to Golgotha.
In Luke, when Jesus turns to say something, it is a moment of emphasis. Very often, Jesus is turning to look at someone and then offers something we all need to hear. Only Luke tells us about this moment where Jesus turns and says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and your children.” It is quickly paced along, and then all of a sudden, Jesus tells a proverb and he quotes Hosea. He tells another proverb and we get all of these details about what he is saying to the women who have followed along and are weeping. They are just so intense with emotional pain from seeing what Jesus is enduring.
What does this say? “The time will come when those who bear no children will be called ‘blessed.’” The time will come when people without children will be considered the lucky ones. In our culture, we probably all know married couples who would like to have a child and cannot. We know the struggles that sometimes they go through—infertility consultations, fertility treatments, etc. in the effort to have a child. In Jesus’ time, if you could multiply that several times, not only was it a desire that was not carried to its fruition in a person’s life, but it was also considered a curse. It was almost always thought to be the woman’s fault. They did not have the modern science and medicine to be able to know that there are different reasons why a couple would not have a child. The woman was considered barren. How many times do we read in scripture that a woman was considered barren?
In the land and age where it was a curse to be childless, Jesus said, “The day is coming when they will say, ‘Lucky are those who have no children.’” He goes on to say, “This is what happens when the wood is green….This is what will happen when the wood is dry.” What is Jesus saying to those women and to us?
We all know that green wood is wood, even if it has been cut, that still has life in it. If you break a branch, you will see green on the inside of the bark. It is wood that is living and fresh. Dry wood is dead and tender. Green wood will not burn but dry wood is ready to burst into flames. This statement that Jesus makes is interpreted a couple of different ways, but one way is that he is prophesying about what is going to happen to Jerusalem. He is saying, “If I who come in peace and come bringing life am treated this way, what will happen when the day comes when there is really insurrection and rebellion against Rome? If this is the way they treat the green wood, what is going to happen when fire brands and hot heads rule the day in Jerusalem?”
Of course, we have the benefit of history to know that only 40 years later, there was rebellion and Rome came and laid siege to Jerusalem. You can be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that people who were trapped in that city against the siege, if they had children, regretted the day that they did. Now they not only had to worry about themselves but they had to worry about the suffering of their children. They not only had to worry about what was going to happen to them when the Romans came into the city but they had to worry about what would happen to their sons and daughters. If this is what happens to the innocent, what happens to the guilty? If this is what happens when Jesus comes in the name of peace, what happens when people really do come and rise up against Rome as he was accused of doing?
Yet at another level, it is not just about history and what is going to happen when your sons and daughters rise up in rebellion against Rome, but it is also a word about the character of Jesus. If this is what happens to the saints and the innocent, what about the sinner? What about those who are truly guilty? If this is what happens to the person who comes in the name of the kingdom of God and who comes in the name of peace, what happens to the person who lives in the name of the craziness of this world? What happens to those who do things that are so opposite of what God wants for us? If this is what happens when the wood is green, what will happen when the wood is dry?
I mentioned couples in our own time that are childless. Many people wish to have children and there are some who choose not to. Why do people choose not to have children? Sometimes it is economic. They feel they cannot afford a child. Sometimes it is health. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have a child, but there are health problems, for one reason or another, that cause a couple to decide not to have a child—either they fear for the child or they fear for the mother.
A lot of times when people choose not to have children, you will hear them say, “Who would want to raise a child in a world like this?” Somebody will have a child and you will hear a friend, neighbor, or someone who knows about the birth of a child in that family say, “Boy, I would not want to be bringing a child into this world.” Blessed are those who never had a child because look at this world. With all the economic reasons, war, stress between peoples and threat of terrorism, tsunamis, and nuclear meltdowns, I would not want to bring a child into a world like this.
Do you see what Jesus is saying? The day will come when people will say, Blessed are those who have no children because if this is what happens to the sinless think about what life is like for those who are indeed in their sins. Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me. Weep not for me even though my yoke is easy and my burden is light, even though I am the Prince of Peace, the Water of Life, the Bread of Life, and the Good Shepherd.
Weep for yourselves for having chosen the values of an insane world, for having never challenged the sin that is at work in the world, and having been a part of the world where things are so dire.
Weep for yourselves. It would be better off not to have children than to accept a world where God’s good gift of sex is taken and abused in so many different ways. It is used to sell everything that could possibly be sold on television or the internet.
Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves who choose to live in a world where envy is just a part of life. We all want what everybody else has and we never understand how that is destroying our lives.
Don’t weep for me, weep for yourselves when you live in a world where people accept hate and retaliation as the way that everybody ought to live.
Don’t weep for me, weep for yourselves when people live in a world where there is so much pride that no one can ever say they are wrong. Weep for yourselves where there is so much pride that people will not even accept the very idea of sin and recognize their need for God.
This is one of those slow-motion moments where the Gospel writer has stretched out what Jesus is saying. He is reminding us that this is one more opportunity where Jesus can get across his message of repentance. He never uses the word, but it is the implied message here. It is one more opportunity to say, “Don’t weep for me, but weep for people who choose to live in a world that would crucify the Messiah.”
What would we do to challenge it? Do we turn off MTV? Do we prohibit the violence of the video games? Do we limit ourselves in the things that we want to do as adults, knowing that our children are watching us? We think, Well, it doesn’t matter. I want to do this. Do we really challenge the world that we decry?
I don’t know about you, but I am about tired of Lent. We have been doing this for six weeks. Every week, it is a message about Jesus coming toward Jerusalem. It is a message about our sin. It is a message about Jesus dying on the cross. In some way, we are probably all thinking, O, no. This is it. Thank goodness next week is Easter. Get over this. I am just tired of all of this. But again, we fail to understand what a gift repentance really is. Jesus is not condemning the women who are following him. He is brokenhearted for them. “Don’t weep for me. Weep for yourselves.” If this is what happens to the sinless, weep for what happens to people who are satisfied living in a world of sin. He is saying it is one more opportunity to turn from your sins and move toward God.
Do we really believe that we are sinners? Now, we are all in church so we all have to say so. But if we really get down to the core of it, we usually think we are good folks. We have good manners or whatever else it may be that we think makes us good Christian people. But we really don’t have that strong sense that there is anything in us that we need to turn from. Look at the lives of the people across the ages that we have considered saints, the lives of the people who have been invested in the acts of Christ in the world—Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, the great British preacher Charles Spurgeon , the amazing Christian philosophers Pascal and Kierkegaard , John Bunyan who wrote the wonderful Christian classic of Christian devotion, or St. John of the Cross. If they have one characteristic in common, it would be this: They all had a heavy sense of personal sin. They knew about the envy, the lust, the greed, the pride, the hate, and it was their utmost desire in life to turn from that and to turn back to God and be healed. Repentance for them was not an act of beating themselves with whips or taking everything out of their lives and making themselves miserable. It was an honest assessment of their own hearts. It was an honest and realistic appraisal of their own soul to recognize that they need Christ, and there is nothing they can do about their own sin.
Jesus is on the way to the cross. The shock of the moment is when he turns to them, after he has suffered the whipping and they are getting ready to pierce his hands and feet with nails, and says, “Don’t weep for me. Weep for yourselves.”
That should be a powerful message to us of just how much we need to turn from what we live among, in, accept, and never challenge what we have in our own hearts, and how much we need to turn to God. If this is more worthy of weeping for than what happened to Jesus in those last hours, then how much do we need Christ?
Weep not for Jesus, weep not for the horrors of that Good Friday, but weep for ourselves. There is one more opportunity to repent, and once again, we turn a blind eye or a cold heart to the invitation of God to the only peace that is really ours.
Weep not for ourselves. Weep for those who would miss the message and the opportunity to repent, yet again.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.