✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Those of you who are approaching my age or older will remember a song from the mid-1970's called “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. It sings of a father who neglects spending time with his young son, who’s eager to be with him, in favor of other supposedly more important things. When his boy grows up and the father finally wants to spend time with him, the son has other priorities and responsibilities that keep that from happening; the tables are turned. And then the tragic realization sets in for the father, “He’d grown up just like me, My boy was just like me.” There was a time when the father could have established a close relationship with his son. But he didn’t recognize it when it counted. The chance slipped away.
Now if that’s a sad reality in a human relationship, how much more tragic is it in a person’s relationship with God, when people don’t realize the gracious chance that is being given to them in this time of the Gospel? The key saying of our Lord in today’s Gospel as He weeps over Jerusalem is this: “You did not know the time of your visitation.” They didn’t recognize the tremendous and unique thing that was happening in the days of Jesus’ ministry. They cast the opportunity aside and rejected their Savior. And so out of great sorrow and great love for them, He weeps.
Our Lord visits His people. The God who fills all of time and space comes to His people in particular times and places to deliver and redeem them. Just like when beloved family or friends come to visit from out of town, and we don’t want to miss the opportunity to be with them in the flesh, so we should be careful not to miss the time when our Lord is here for us in the flesh.
However, in our sin we sometimes become rather casual about the Lord’s visitation. We take it for granted that His coming to us in preaching and the Sacraments will always be available. “I’ve got so many other things to be doing on the weekend. Church will always be there.” Hopefully you’ve learned from the response to COVID the last two years, that’s not necessarily the case. Whether it’s because of a health crisis, or whether it’s because of our society’s growing hostility to the Church and God’s Word, with all the legal and financial and social pressures that brings, we shouldn’t assume anything. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, and that is most certainly true. But that doesn’t mean that His visitation will always continue to be the same in every place.
Let me remind you again what Martin Luther said to his countrymen about the Gospel. It’s worth repeating and re-reading. Luther said: “Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today... If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, ... gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the [Muslim] Turk. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.”
Note there that gratitude is the key thing; not taking God’s Word and the Holy Sacrament for granted but being thankful for it and treasuring it. If we would see things rightly, we would be full of joy that we get to gather like this for divine service. Remember how in the Old Testament Amos prophesied “a famine of the Word.” And Jesus Himself said in John 9, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.”
Jesus knew that the darkness was coming upon Jerusalem. Just forty years after this Gospel in 70 A.D., Jesus’ words were fulfilled. Jerusalem was attacked and laid siege by the Romans. Hundreds of thousands were horrifically killed or died from famine and plague. Tens of thousands were carried away as slaves. The city was destroyed and the temple was laid waste. All that is left of the temple today is the western wall of the temple courts, the wailing wall.
This was the judgment of God. The Romans were His instrument in executing the sentence. For Israel had rejected the Messiah in His humility and lowliness. It was their day, and they missed it. The things that made for their peace with God were hidden from their eyes by their own unbelief. The weeping of God eventually becomes the judgment of God for the self-righteous and the unrepentant. To reject His visitation in mercy is to invite His visitation in vengeance.
Let this be a clear and sobering call to repentance for us today. For what happened to the Jews in Jerusalem in the 1st century is a miniature picture of what will happen to all the unbelieving world on judgment day. Take note of where Jerusalem went wrong, and take refuge in the Lord who will keep you in safety on that Day. Be on guard against becoming more religious about politics than you are about Christ and His Word; remember that whatever the current media-driven cause is, it’s nowhere near as important as people penitently believing in Christ crucified to save sinners. Beware of relying on your own good living to bring you into God’s favor rather than Christ alone. Resist the temptation to look for God in impressive signs rather than trusting in His humble but sure words and supper. And certainly, don’t be like those who bought and sold in the temple, and try to use religion as a way of getting God to bless you financially.
Turn away from all of that, and turn to Him whose heart still weeps out of love for you, His people. Trust in Him who continues to cry out, “If you would know, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!” The wood of the cross, the stone rolled away from the empty tomb–these are the things that make for your peace. Christ Himself is your Peace. Jesus is the One who brings reconciliation between you and God by His bloody death and His triumphant victory over the grave. He is the One who gives you the peace that passes all understanding. This right now is the day of your visitation, as it is written, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” This is the moment in which Christ is coming to you in His Gospel resounding in your ears. Believe in Him; trust in what He has done; seek His righteousness.
For our Lord has truly cleansed the temple. When Jesus drove out the moneychangers in righteous anger and purified the temple as a house of prayer, that was a sign of what He was about to do at Calvary. For there on the cross Jesus Himself experienced the righteous anger of God against the world’s sin and drove it out in the temple of His own body. Jesus made Himself unclean in your place. He took all of the greed and the self-righteousness and the pollution of every sin that you’ve done or that has been done to you, and He made it His own dirty mess. By His holy sacrifice He took it away from you and cleansed it from you forever. You are safe from divine judgment. For you are in Him who took the judgment for you.
Jesus had said of His body, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Though the temple in Jerusalem remains destroyed, Jesus could not remain in the grave. He is now bodily raised in glory as the new and eternal dwelling place of God for you. Jesus’ risen body is your temple, full of holiness and cleansing and life. Since you are baptized members of the body of Christ, those things are all yours. You are the temple of Christ’s Spirit, who dwells in you through faith to live out your callings in a God-pleasing way that shows love for Him above all things and puts divine service at the center of your life.
So open your eyes; know and perceive what the Lord is doing! He is coming to visit, both today and on the Last Day. That is bad news for the unrepentant. But for all of you who believe, it is the greatest good news. This is your day; this is the time of your visitation! Don’t miss out. Here are the things that make for your peace, the body and blood of Christ, offered up for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your peace, for your rest, for your restoration to the Father. And so we say with Zechariah of old, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people” (Luke 1:68). May the Lord grant you attentive ears to hear Him, like the people at the end of the Gospel, and open eyes to perceive His visitation, so that by His grace you may dwell eternally in the new Jerusalem above.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠