What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do: The Day The King Cried
“As Jesus came near, and saw the city, He wept over it.”
There are many ways to see a city. A young person coming to the city, clutching a diploma and looking for a first job, sees it as a place of opportunity. A poet sees it as William Wordsworth saw London when he stood upon the Westminster Bridge in 1802 and proceeded to describe what he saw with these words: “Earth hath not anything to show more fair, a sight so touching in its majesty.” When a businessman looks at the city, he sees it in terms of markets, taxes, location, and transportation. The derelict coming to the city out of the shadowed world which is his, looks upon the city as a place where he might finagle a buck without some accompanying moral discourse. The social commentator sees the city in terms of statistics, crime, poverty, birth rates, death rates, demographics. But when Jesus saw the city, He wept over it.
Remember please that on that first Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem, so did thousands of others. There was a law which decreed that all Jewish people who lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem were supposed to be present in the Holy City during the week of Passover. Not only that, but pious pilgrims from all over the middle east came to be a part of the religious festivities. And when those pilgrims came to the top of the Mount of Olives and looked across at Jerusalem, no honest, faithful heart could help but pound with emotion at the spectacle of it all. But when Jesus saw the city, He wept over it.
And remember that this was a joyous occasion and a joyous procession. People were throwing their garments on the ground as gestures of honor. People were waving palm branches in their hands as gestures of celebration. They were crying out: “Hosanna! Hosanna!” which means “save us now!” This was not a solemn moment—it was a triumphant moment. Yet when Jesus saw the city, He wept over it.
And then remember that what Jesus did that day was intensely dramatic. It was profoundly evangelistic because whatever else was accomplished on Palm Sunday, Jesus was making an all-out last-ditch appeal to the people of the city of Jerusalem. He was intentional about it. He left nothing to chance. He even had a password set up with the people who were going to loan Him a donkey. (By the way, notice that the Bible refers to “the owners” of the donkey. Plural. Apparently, they were so poor that this donkey was owned by more than one person. We talk about “timeshare” on condos at the beach or in the mountains. Well, this was a “timeshare” on a donkey! We’re talking really poor here.)
But when the owners heard the password, “The Lord needs it”, they immediately relinquished the animal to Jesus’ disciples. The disciples then placed their cloaks upon the donkey and set Jesus upon it—an act of enthronement. And then the way Jesus rode that donkey into the city was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, a prophecy everybody would have known by heart, a prophecy about the way God’s Messiah would come to the people. Therefore, Jesus was deliberately, intentionally, dramatically declaring that He was the Messiah, and that since He had come to save them, they must come to Him in faith. And it plunged Him into agony that they would not or could not see Him for who and what He was.
Students of emotion tell us that people cry for one of four reasons. They cry out of their deep need. They cry because they are afraid. They cry when they are overcome with remorse. They cry out of intense pain. I would submit that Jesus wept because He was feeling intense emotional pain. The words He addressed to Jerusalem testify to the truth. He saw the people of that city lost in their own sin, not knowing what to do to find peace in their souls or in their city, and He knew that He was the answer. And so He makes this dramatic Palm Sunday appeal, calling them to come to Him in faith, but He knows they may turn away. And it hurts so badly to think about it that He cries.
“When Jesus saw the city, He wept over it.” And when we realize how intentional He was, we realize that we must be intentional as well in making our appeal to the people of this city, to bring them to Christ. That means…
We must intentionally eliminate the negatives.
We must eliminate some un-Biblical feelings. Every growing church, every church that reaches out to draw people in experiences a measure of discomfort and inconvenience. When you are really bringing your friends and your neighbors and your co-workers to church, then you can’t park in the same convenient spot where you have always parked. You can’t sit on the same pew where you have always sat—and even though it doesn’t have your name on it, you feel that it ought to. And you can’t always do the same things in the church you have always done. Other people step up to lead, to teach, to sing, to serve. It’s almost like you agree to be displaced. You have to set aside some of your own personal desires because you’re bringing all these other people into the family of Jesus Christ.
Pierce Harris always had a great crowd to preach to at his church in Atlanta. One day he was talking to a young preacher, and the young preacher asked: “Dr. Harris, tell me how is it you always have such a full house.” Pierce Harris, in his scratchy, sandpaper voice, replied: “Young man, it isn’t my preaching that fills that church. It’s the people. These people bring other people with them when they come to church and then you preach better than you knew you could
Before I agreed to come to that old downtown church, I had a serious meeting with the leaders of the congregation. I made them promise that if I came to be their preacher that each of them would bring somebody else to church each Sunday. They promised they’d do it, and they’ve done it. Good music helps. Good preaching helps. But that alone won’t do it. People bring people.”
You have to be willing to put yourself out a little bit to do that. You have to be intentional about winning the people of this city to Jesus Christ even if it costs you some comfort and convenience. But just remember how badly Jesus wanted to win the city of Jerusalem, and remember what it cost Him. It even made Him cry.
And we need to eliminate some un-Biblical myths. One myth, for example, is that God isn’t interested in numbers. Where did we ever get that idea? Certainly not from the Bible. If you read the Scriptures, you discover that God always counts people because people count. He counted the people of Israel before they left Egypt. He counted them again before they entered the Promised Land. One of the strongest stories in Scripture is the story of the Lost Sheep. The good shepherd left the 99 sheep and went after the one who was lost. But how did He know one was missing? He counted them. “96…97…98…99. One is lost. I must find him.” God is into numbers. In fact, it once was said that “God is so into numbers that He named a Book in the Bible after it!” A falsely pious preacher recently said to a friend of mine: “I don’t count the numbers of my church because God doesn’t care about numbers.” My friend said: “Oh, really? Do you take up an offering in your church?” The preacher said: “Yes, Why?” My friend asked: “Do you count it?” The preacher said: “Certainly!” My friend said: “You mean money is more important to you than people?” Eliminate the myth that God doesn’t care about numbers. The Bible says that numbers are important to God. God counts people because people count to God.
Another myth we need to eliminate is that the church is big enough. Who said so? Not God. God wants the church to grow. The Bible says that “God added to their number daily.” Show me a place in the Bible where it says that God wants the church to shrink! You can read in Colossians: “The church grows according to the will of God.” It is the will of God for the church to grow.
Not long ago, I received a letter from a woman who lives in a small town about 90 miles south of here. She told me about her daughter, who had drifted away from the Lord during her college years. After college, she moved to Orlando to get a job. However, she was floundering in her personal life. And then, by the grace of God, she turned on the T.V. and saw this church. It was enough to draw her in. So she came one Sunday, then another, then another. As her mother puts it, she got “re-converted”—she found the Lord again. The mother closed the letter with these words: “I want to thank you for your church and for what it did for my daughter.” Well, do you think we ought to be saying to a mother like that: “I’m sorry. This church is big enough. We don’t have room for anyone”? Not on your life.
There’s room for every son and daughter in the Church of Jesus Christ. God wants the church to grow. When Jesus looked out at the city of Jerusalem, He didn’t say, “I want just a few of them.” He said: “I want them all.” We must adopt the same attitude. Someone said to me the other day: “This church is so big that I can’t believe it’s so friendly.” I said: “Well, we’re big because we are friendly.” Like Jesus, we look out at the city and say: “We want them all!” So forget the myth that the church is big enough. That’s not Biblical. God wants the church to grow. Therefore,
We must intentionally accentuate the positives.
On Palm Sunday, even as His earthly life was drawing to a close, Jesus was making one last appeal to draw people in. He said: “Even today if you would come to me, you would know the things that make for peace. Even today you could be saved!” Sometimes we act like it doesn’t make any difference whether people come to Jesus or not. Well, it made a difference for Jesus. Why do you think He was crying? He wasn’t crying because He had an ego problem. He wasn’t crying because it hurt His feelings that they wouldn’t accept Him. He was crying because of what He knew they were missing. He had come to offer them life, life here and hereafter. He had come to offer them peace in their souls and peace in their city. Rejecting Him meant that they would miss out on their greatest opportunity and they would suffer the consequences for it. It made a difference whether they accepted Christ or not.
Friends, look again at that King crying: It does make a difference whether or not people of this city accept Jesus Christ. And if we can’t reach out to draw them in, it’s because we have a dry eye- and a dry eye is a blind eye. When we lose the capacity to feel deep hurt on behalf of lost sisters and brothers, then something precious has dried up within us. When we can go to church week after week without inviting a single soul to come with us to hear the Word of God read and sung and preached, then we have made a mockery of the tears of our Christ. You see, if we lose this battle, if this city of ours becomes more and more populated with people who do not know Jesus Christ, then it will not be because we didn’t have a glorious Gospel message and a triumphant saving Christ to share. It will be because we didn’t care.
Robert Murray McCheyne was one of Scotland’s greatest preachers ever. He died at age 30. His friends said that he literally burned up in his zeal for Jesus Christ, just burned up and died. But before his death, he preached at the church in Dundee, Scotland. Other preachers would make pilgrimages there to that church because they knew of McChayne’s great spiritual power. One young preacher came to the church one day and was looking around, hoping he might catch a glimpse of the great Robert Murray McCheyne. He encountered the church custodian who told him that the great preacher was not in that day. He then asked the custodian: “Can you tell me how he prepares those great sermons he preaches?” The custodian said: “I think I can. Come with me to his study.” He took him to a hidden room on the backside of the church and said: “This is his study. Go sit behind the desk in his chair.” The young preacher sat in his chair. Then the custodian said: “Now, put your elbows up on your desk and put your face in your hands.” The young preacher did as he was told. Then the custodian said: “Now, make the tears come. That’s the way he does it.” When have we cried, when have we wept for those who don’t know where to find peace, for those who stand outside the grace of Jesus Christ?
My beloved, we are in the possession of the most positive, the most powerful good news the world could ever hear. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” Do we care enough to share our Christ with our city?
Dare to put Christ at life’s center
Dare to share the Father’s love.
Dare fulfill our Lord’s commission.
Calling all to life above!