Luke 23:28-31 “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 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 they do when it is dry?”
It is too easy for our earthly circumstances mask our true spiritual condition. We equate success and prosperity with God’s approval of our lives. If I am healthy and gainfully employed, happily married and respected in my community, then everything must be okay between me and the Almighty. This is why so few are interested in a Jesus who forgives my sin and takes me to heaven. If I have already found heaven on earth, why do I need a heaven to come? If I have already been so blessed, why should I think I have been doing anything wrong? Even we begin to lose our sense of how desperately we need what Jesus wants to give. The grip of our faith begins to loosen. We begin to replace the security of a Savior’s grace and love with worldly comfort.
But if worldly success equals divine security, why did the beggar Lazarus go to heaven and the rich man go to hell in Jesus’ parable? Why did Jesus tell the rich and religious Pharisees that the prostitutes were getting into heaven ahead of them? Why did Jesus tell these women of Jerusalem that they needed to weep for themselves rather than the condemned man stumbling to his death in front of them?
A terrible death was waiting where Jesus was going, it is true. Crucifixion was a cruel, cruel way to die. The deeper hell he would suffer on the cross was hidden from the onlookers who watched him make his way through the streets.
But a new life awaited Jesus just three days away. A place of power at the right hand of God in heaven would follow less than a month and a half after that.
God’s judgment would not be so kind to those who cried at the sight of Jesus, but never put their faith in him. Jesus doesn’t go into graphic detail about the horrors of that judgment, but his description of its effects upon the heart and mind are just as effective.
For Jewish women of that time– who prized children and viewed childlessness as the greatest possible curse–to wish their children never existed suggests a terror beyond description. My own son’s cancer made it unmistakably clear for me how painful it is for parents to see their children suffer. To see your children suffer where there is no kind Savior, no hope, and no escape hurts to think about.
But if no tears of repentance followed their tears of sentimental sympathy, this was the only fate awaiting these women of Jerusalem and the unbelieving generation they would raise. “For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Do you get Jesus’ picture? Jesus was the green tree, a tree full of life. He shouldn’t be cut down. He was not fit for the fires of judgment. He was the innocent and holy Son of God, a man of perfect love and unquestionable goodness. If Jesus suffered this kind of treatment now, what could possibly be in store for those so spiritually dry and dead that they were perfect candidates for judgment?
Do you see what Jesus’ words are trying to do? They may sound severe, but they are not the words of a bitter man lashing out in pain and anger. They are not his desire for these people who cry, but do little to help. He is not a man so wrapped up in his own misery that he can’t appreciate the sympathy of others.
These are the words of a Savior who isn’t seeking our tears. He wants to spare us the misery he is about to suffer. The beatings and whippings exhausted him. The cross filled him with dread. But Jesus is always the Good Shepherd seeking straying sheep. It is not vengeful anger, but a breaking heart that moves him to make a final plea: “Repent! Trust in me! Escape the judgment I am going to bear for you on the cross!” If we must shed tears, let them be tears of sorrow for our sins, so that he can replace them with tears of relief in forgiveness and tears of joy in heaven.