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 happen when it is dry?”
A Jewish court and a Roman court had passed judgment on an innocent Jesus, and he was condemned to die. Jesus warns of a more severe judgment coming for the city of Jerusalem. Some of God’s judgments come after the end of life, or at the end of time, and he has warned us about those judgments to send us running back to God for his grace. Sometimes God’s judgments come in time during our lives, as Jesus is warning here. After he died and rose, God continued to reach out to this city and its people through the preaching of Jesus’ disciples. Only a tiny minority listened and believed. Within 40 years God brought the Roman armies to Jerusalem to destroy the city, its people, and the temple.
No one ever suffered spiritually like Jesus did on the cross. But it is fair to say that the physical suffering of Jerusalem’s citizen’s at the fall of city rivaled Jesus’ physical suffering on this day. The historian Josephus tells us that many in the city suffered starvation during the siege. Those desperate for food tried to break through the Roman lines surrounding the city. Most of them were caught and crucified. At one point, as many as 500 per day were being crucified. In order to relieve their own boredom during the siege, the Romans crucified many of their victims in strange and grotesque positions as a kind of human experiment in execution. These were the conditions that would lead the people of Jerusalem to wish they never had children, and beg the surrounding hills and mountains to fall on them.
It is because of the guilt of their unbelief that Jesus can say, “Weep for yourselves.” Tears for our sins, tears of repentance–those are legitimate reasons to weep. Those tears have some value. After he denied Jesus three times, Peter went out and wept bitterly. Unlike Judas, Peter was forgiven and restored. The sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet wept over them and wiped them with her hair. Unlike self-righteous Simon the Pharisee, Jesus assured her that her many sins were forgiven.
We don’t offer these tears as a payment, a trade for the forgiveness Jesus offers. You remember the line from the hymn “Rock of Ages”?
Not the labors of my hand
Can fulfill thy laws demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and thou alone.
We don’t deserve more of God’s grace by filling more cups with our tears, or spending more hours with them streaking down our faces.
But hearts that see their guilt, and repent of it, whether with tears or solemn apologies, are hearts that seek forgiveness. They are hearts God has prepared for his gift. They are hearts that will receive Jesus as Savior and his sufferings and death as the payment for their sins.
Then we may properly weep at the sight of Jesus’ suffering and dying, because the judgment he suffers is on account of our guilt and sin. Then our tears aren’t merely an emotional response to his pain. They are tears of appreciation for the love that leads him to stand in our place and pay off our debt. They are tears of thanks that he has spared us the judgment we deserved.
Then we can weep tears of joy, for he has given us a place in God’s eternal heart and home we did not deserve.