Only twice in Scripture do we see Jesus cry. The first time, He weeps with Mary over the death of her brother, Lazarus (found exclusively in John 11). The second time, He weeps over the city of Jerusalem. I wrote extensively about the first occasion in my Bible study. We will consider the second occasion today, as part of Holy Week and the coming of Easter.
Jesus parades toward Jerusalem on a donkey, riding along a road covered with palm fronds and people’s clothes. At some point—and only Luke records this—He begins to cry. Was he still riding down the road on the donkey? Or had they taken a break in which he looked over the city from atop a hill? I don’t know.
Jesus cried for His people,
the Chosen People of God.
If it were me, I would have wept in anticipation of the pain, trials, abandonment, and death coming in the next five days, but Jesus’ heart is not for Himself (as usual). He cried for the people of Jerusalem—His people, the Chosen People of God. Why did the sight of this familiar city make Him cry? I believe there are at least three reasons. Let’s consider them.
Because He foresaw the consequences of their unbelief.
This is the obvious one. Speaking as if all the people could hear Him, Jesus said that destruction would come because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you (v. 44). The natural consequence of unbelief is destruction, both then and now.
Because it had to be this way.
The people were, in a sense, sacrificed much like Pharaoh. Exodus 9:12 (and five other times) says The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Without that hardening, God would not have gotten the glory or renown that resulted from the Hebrews’ escape.
There had been plenty of time for the people of Jerusalem to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and many had believed (John 12:42). But that time was now past. Jesus said, “It is hidden from your eyes” (v. 42). Their destiny was sealed. Only in this way could God’s plan be fulfilled and, backward as it seems, His glory increased even beyond that of the Exodus.
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” –John 12:39-40
Perhaps a less-than-comparable example will help. I took my firstborn to get her first round of shots. (No judgment, please, if you’re anti-vaccinations.) She was tiny. The needles looked so big—like they could pierce all the way through her chubby little thighs. She cried even before the first shot. I started crying, too. Did I stop the nurse? Did I scoop my baby up and run away to protect her from the awful, cruel needles? I wanted to, but no. I knew the pain was necessary and short-lived. She took the shots; we both cried, then it was over. In a similar but much more profound way, Jesus knew that Jerusalem had to go through this. He could still cry for them like I cried for my child.
What if I had refused to allow the nurse to hurt my child with that needle? More importantly, what if the majority of Jews had believed? What if they had shouted for Barabbas rather than Jesus? What if He hadn’t been crucified? Better for first-century Jewish people…much worse for us.
Because He knew how history would write His story.
In all four gospels, the crucifixion stories portray the masses of Jerusalem as blood-thirsty, gullible bad guys. Even when Pilate seeks a compromise, they shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:13-25).
“How could they be so foolish,” we think, “as to kill the One who loved and healed them?” We tell people, “Don’t be like the Jews, who didn’t recognize the Christ when He walked among them.” When Jesus looked toward Jerusalem that Sunday afternoon, He knew our present-day thoughts, and yet He continued on His course. When the author of Hebrews wrote that He endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2), could it not also mean that He hated the shame that beset Jerusalem that day?
Jesus didn’t love the people of Jerusalem
any less on the day they hung him as a
criminal than on the day they hailed
him as a king.
Jesus loved His people. He didn’t want them to be destroyed or decried throughout history. He submitted to this because it was the only way, but He didn’t stop caring. He didn’t turn off His emotions. He cried because compassion and sovereignty mixed so perfectly within Him.
Could there be other reasons Jesus wept over Jerusalem? What do you think…or better yet, what do you see in Scripture? Feel free to comment below.
Author’s Note: I was inspired to write this post by Desiring God’s Holy Week devotional, Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy, available for free. John Piper used the phrase “merciful sovereignty” to describe Jesus’ attitude in these verses.