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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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 www.vanpopta.ca
 
Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
 jubileechurch.ca
 
Title:The Lord's Last Sermon
Text:Luke 23:27-31 (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)
Topic:Christ's Suffering
 
Preached:2009-04-05
Added:2009-04-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Readings: Hosea 10; Zech. 12:10-14
Songs: Pss 107:1; 119:43,44; 1; Hy. 19:1,3
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

In this morning's text, we hear our Lord's last sermon. Throughout his ministry, he administered the word both privately and publicly. Sometimes he spoke one-on-one. Other times he spoke to a larger group or a crowd. This was the Lord's last public sermon before He died: "Do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children."

THE LORD ADMINISTERED THE WORD TO THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM

His sermon contained:

1. Admonition; 2. Prophecy; 3. Warning.

1. The Lord was on the way from the palace of Pontius Pilate to Golgotha. Walking through Jerusalem to the gates of the city. To be crucified outside the gates. Walking what has come to be called the Via Dolorosa. The way of sorrow.

He had been beaten, mocked and flogged. A crown of thorns had been pressed upon his head.

A large crowd of people was following him. The crowd included women who were mourning and wailing for this poor bloodied, beaten man on his way to be executed in the most horrible way. The words used to describe their mourning and wailing indicate that these ladies were making a lot of noise. They were rapidly hitting their breast bones and uttering loud, long shrieks and cries. Women in the Middle East still grieve in this way. They have maintained the practice over the millennia.

It is Dr. Luke, the author of the Third Gospel, who tells us the most about the role of women in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. It is Luke who tells about the deep thoughts of Mary when the angel told her she was going to give birth to God's own son. Luke tells us about Mary's visit with her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of Baptizer John. About the prophetess Anna at the temple. About the widow of Nain. About the Lord being anointed by the converted prostitute. About the women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna—who supported Jesus and the Twelve out of their own means. Martha and Mary of Bethany. The crippled woman whom he healed.

And now Luke (and only Luke of the gospel writers) tells us about the women weeping for the Lord on the Via Dolorosa. The tears are flowing. They are overwhelmed with sorrow and compassion for this poor man to weakened even to carry his own cross.

When we are suffering, we appreciate sympathy. If someone we love dies, we express our condolences to each other. That encourages us.

When you suffer, there is nothing like the gentle touch of a woman. Wounded soldiers who lay for months in hospitals far away from home and family will recall with thankfulness the gentle caring of a nurse. Dying soldiers lying in the devastation of a battlefield will cry out for their mothers.

Who would not appreciate the compassion of the daughters of Jerusalem? The prophet Zechariah even spoke about it. Through the prophet Zechariah, the Spirit of Jesus said: "… They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great… Zechariah makes a special mention of the weeping of the wives. Of the daughters of Jerusalem.

It seems so natural to weep for the Lord Jesus. So much suffering. Tears are the obvious response.

Over the centuries, many devotional works have been written about the passion of Jesus. There have been passion plays. There is the Oberammergau Passion Play performed every ten years since 1634 in Oberammergau, Germany. The most recent well-known passion play is Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ which hit the movie theatres a few years ago (and, no, I am not recommending it to you). Besides entertainment, these plays are meant to evoke sympathy from you—sympathy for Jesus.

Perhaps the greatest example of this genre is a book written in the early 1800s by Anne Catherine Emmerich, a nun at a convent in Germany. She claimed that God had given her extensive visions about the suffering of Jesus Christ—visions much more detailed and descriptive than what is revealed in the Bible. As a result of the visions she claimed to have received, she wrote a 330 paged book (66 chapters) that, in minute and graphic detail, recounts the Passion of the Christ, especially the last 12 hours of his life. (Incidentally, Emmerich's book, The Sorrowful Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, was Gibson's main source for his movie.)

These meditations are meant to evoke your pity for Jesus. Tears for Jesus is what this book calls for. To cry along with the daughters of Jerusalem.

The only trouble with crying along with the daughters of Jerusalem is that the Lord told them not to cry for him. He said: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children."

Why? Who would have blamed the Lord for falling into the arms of the daughters of Jerusalem? In fact medieval devotional mythology has him do exactly that. He is said to have fallen into the hands of a daughter of Jerusalem called Veronica who, tenderly and with great compassion for Jesus, wipes his brow with her handkerchief. That does not come from the Word of God. Rather, we read about the Lord turning and speaking to them. He told them not to weep for him, but to weep, instead, for themselves and their children.

Why?

2. Nowhere in the scriptures are we told to feel sorry for the Lord Jesus. Rather, we read repeatedly that the Lord Jesus has compassion for his people—for us. About the Lord we read things like: (Mat 9:36) When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Mat 14:14) When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Mat 15:32) Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." (Heb 4:15) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses….

He sympathizes with us; he does not call us to feel sorry for him. Which is what the daughters of Jerusalem were doing.

Something that strikes you when you read through the accounts of his suffering, is that it's all quite brief and factual. It tells us the facts: that he was flogged; that a crown of thorns was placed on his head; that he was spat upon and hit; that he was crucified. Very little detail is given. If we were supposed to feel sorry for Jesus, the gospel writers would have expanded upon the aspects of his suffering in gruesome detail. They did not, and so neither should we.

The Lord then made a made a two-fold prophecy that indicated that they would do better weeping for themselves and their children rather than for him.

First he said: "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!'"

The Lord spoke about an impending time when all the normal categories of blessing and curse would be reversed. In Deut. 28 the Lord God had said that if Israel obeyed the Lord he would bless them, and one of the blessings would be children. Fruitful wombs.

Deut. 28 also says that if they disobeyed the Lord he would curse them, and one of the ways he would curse them would be by closing the wombs of the mothers.

Think of Psalms 127 and 128:

Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Blessed are all who fear the LORD… …blessings and prosperity will be yours. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.

The Bible said: "Blessed are the fruitful." The Lord told the daughters of Jerusalem: The time is coming when you will say, "Blessed are the barren."

The Lord Jesus was referring to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem would be destroyed some 40 years later, in the year 70. God sent the Roman armies against Jerusalem as punishment for how Jerusalem had rejected the Christ. Rejected the gospel of salvation with which God had reached out to his old covenant people. In Luke 13:34 the Lord had said: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" They rejected the prophets; they rejected Christ. For their rejection God punished them in his wrath.

The historian Josephus wrote about what it was like. The Roman armies laid siege to Jerusalem. The suffering was great. His account is chilling. Better not to have babies than to have them in such a brutal time! Yes, at a time like that—when people who rejected Jesus Christ are suffering the covenant wrath of God—yes, blessed are the barren.

Second the Lord said: "Then '… they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"'"

The Lord is quoting a prophecy from Hosea 10:8. We read there that Israel said, "We have no king." Like their descendents would say to Pilate many years later, "We have no king (but Caesar)!", so Israel during the time of Hosea said: "We have no king." They made idols and worshipped them. Instead of the LORD God of heaven and earth who had delivered them from Egypt, they worshipped idols.

Because of their idolatry, God was going to punish them in his wrath. The prophet Hosea said that God was going to send Assyria up against them to destroy them. So terrible would the devastation be, the people of Israel would cry to the mountains, "Cover us!" and to the hills, "Fall on us!"

The Lord Jesus took that word that Hosea had first spoken to Israel (750 years earlier) and applied it to the Jerusalem of his day. Jerusalem of his day said, "What have no king. Crucify him who is called the King of the Jews. We have no king, but the Roman Caesar." Because of their rejection of Christ and the way of salvation, God was going to judge Jerusalem in his wrath by sending Rome to destroy the city. Better for a person to be childless when he falls under the terrible wrath of God for his rejection of Christ!

To follow this through, we need to refer also to the end of Rev. 6. For there this same text of Hosea 10 is quoted again. Referring to the great and final day of the Lord, we read that those who rejected Christ are going to hide in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They are going to call to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

As God devastated Israel for rejecting him as King in the time of the prophet Hosea by the hand of Assyria; as he devastated Jerusalem some 40 years after the crucifixion of Christ for rejecting Christ as King by the hand of Rome; so on the last day he will devastate the nations and people of the earth who rejected his kingship, lordship, and the gospel of salvation.

God said that he will visit the sins of the fathers upon the heads of their children. Better to be childless on the great day of judgment than a gospel-hating Christ-rejecter who sees his sins being visited upon the heads of his children.

(Not only did Christ have an admonition and prophecy in his sermon.)

3. He also had a warning.

The warning was: For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

He was referring to what was happening to him right then. He is the green tree. We are to think, here, of Psalm 1. Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

Psalm 1 describes our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the righteous man who said No to sin and who delighted in the ways of the Lord. Like a tree planted by the river, soaking up the water, green and fruitful.

You don't throw green wood into the fire. You throw dead, dry wood into the fire.

However, that's what Jerusalem was doing by crucifying the righteous Christ. They were throwing the green, fruitful wood into the fire.

Well, the question is, if the green tree is thrown into the fire, what will happen when the wood is dry?

Now the Lord is referring to Jerusalem. To those who rejected him.

If the green tree is cut down and burned, surely the dry wood will end up in the fire as well! Surely those who reject Christ will end up in the eternal fires of hell!

What is the message for us today, beloved? The message from Christ's last sermon? It's the sermon he left us with. His farewell sermon. Quite a sermon to be left with! Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed. Quite a sermon to be left with for a congregation blessed with many small children!

The Lord would say seven more things, while on the cross, but not one of them was a public ministry of the word as these words to the daughters of Jerusalem were. The seven words of the cross he spoke either to God or to an individual (the one criminal, his mother, the disciple John). After he arose from the dead he spoke with his disciples during the 40 days he spent with them before he ascended to heaven. But, again, none of that was a public ministry of the word. So, until he comes again, this is the sermon he left for us. What do we do with it? How do we apply it to ourselves?

Whenever a sermon is preached, you need to apply it to yourself. Yes, we (rightfully) expect the minister to apply the message of the sermon, but most important (when it comes to application) is that you apply it to yourself. LD 31 of the HC explains how to do that. When the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and you accept the promise of the gospel by true faith, you may know that the kingdom of heaven is open for you, and that God has really forgiven all your sins for the sake of Christ's merits. However, the unbeliever needs to know that the kingdom of heaven is closed to him, and that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rests on him as long as he does not repent. The gospel is proclaimed, and the spiritual condition of the listener (be he a believer or an unbeliever) determines the application.

What, then, is the application of Christ's last sermon for us? Do not be dead wood destined for the fire. Remain sober and watchful. We live in perilous times. Watch and pray that you not enter into temptation.

Be righteous in Christ. Along with Christ, in Christ, be like that healthy green, fruit-bearing tree of Psalm 1 who turns away from sin and embraces righteousness.

Make sure you know God through the gospel, the means of grace: through the Word of God and the sacraments.

Then you will receive your children with thanksgiving. As a believer, you will stand (and not fall) in the judgment. Receive your children and raise them to know and love the Lord. Then you and your children will not need to fear the judgment nor the fire. Rather, you and your children will have a place in the kingdom of heaven for the sake of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Yes, for the sake of Christ Jesus and because of your love for him, you may receive your babies with thanksgiving. A Christian mother may rejoice she has a child in her womb. A Christian mother may nurse her child comforted in Christ. No fear—though we live in perilous times. No need for fear, because of Christ. No fear through faith in him who underwent the judgment for us. Who was, as it were, thrown into the fire for us.

The good news of the saving work of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to you. We hear it in the proclamation of the word. We see it in the baptisms of the children. It is ours through faith and prayer.

That's enough. Enough for us and our babies. AMEN


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2009, Rev. George van Popta

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