For Your Peace
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus had just entered the city of Jerusalem to the great acclamation of her people. The people saw this as a triumphal entry. The Pharisees were so disturbed by the crowd’s response to Jesus that they urged Him to rebuke his followers. Yet Jesus, the one who received this adulation, was found to be weeping over the holy city. He wept and said, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
In the account of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, we see a whole cross-section of the things that did not make for peace. The people of Jerusalem greeted Jesus as a king; but they greeted Him as an earthly king, and Jesus did not come as an earthly king to bring earthly peace. The Pharisees rejected Jesus because they were afraid He would disturb their peace—a false, worldly peace that was based on their self-righteous outward adherence to the Law. Jesus would certainly disturb that kind of peace, for He came to bring that peace “which the world cannot give”. And then we see the buyers and sellers in the Temple court. Of all places where people should have been able to witness to God’s grace and truth, the Temple was the place; but the world had defiled it. The buyers and sellers were in a position to hear the promises made by God through Moses and the prophets; instead they took refuge there. They sold and bought sacrifices to appease the wrath of God. They thought that hiding themselves in the Temple would shield them from God’s anger; after all, surely God would not destroy His own holy place.
And so, Jesus wept. He knew what was to come. He knew God’s wrath toward unbelievers—-and more than that, He knew the means by which the justice of God’s wrath would be delivered. He said, “For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Jesus was exactly correct. At the time of the Passover in the year 70 about 1,000,000 Jews gathered in Jerusalem. During the next five months Jerusalem was totally overcome and destroyed. In fact, they played a part in their own destruction. There were three parties in the city who were jealous of each other and did not trust each other. They destroyed each others' food supplies and homes. Thus the Jews were their own worst enemies. Jerusalem was circled by three strong walls. With great effort and at great expense the Romans conquered wall after wall. Then they went after the Temple. It was burned to the ground August 10, 70 A.D. Then 900,000 Jews were killed, starved or sold as slaves. Only about 100,000 survived. God’s judgment was terrible and righteous. As we learn from the prophet Malachi, “Who can abide the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears?”
The Church is not immune to the pride and self-sufficiency that distracts from the Word of God. How easily the house of God becomes a den of thieves. How easy it is to lose sight of what it is that makes for your peace. How often do we think God’s Church couldn’t survive without our financial support? How often do we think that we do more for this congregation than this congregation does for us? What brings you to this place today? Is it to be seen? Is it to keep your name on the membership rolls? Being baptized or having your name on the rolls of a congregation is no guarantee of salvation. It’s a simple matter for a baptized child of God to deny that baptism; we do it every time we sin, every time we succumb to the Old Adam in us. We do it every time we allow our self-reliance to distract us from the preaching in the Word and the reception of God’s holy Sacraments. The Church is no refuge for the prideful or the self-righteous man. The history of Jerusalem—especially its destruction—stands as a terrible warning of how those who God has chosen might still be destroyed because of their rejection of God and His gifts. And Jesus weeps over them. Jesus weeps. He weeps because He desires the whole world to be saved. If the people of Jerusalem had only received Jesus as the Messiah He was, if only they had not rejected Him as they had rejected the prophets! If only the baptized child of God would not deny his own need for the body and blood of Jesus; if only the baptized child of God would hunger and thirst for Christ’s righteousness! Do not be deceived: the doors of the church building will not protect the self-righteous from God’s wrath.
The Church is no refuge for sinners who are comfortable in their sinfulness. But the Church is the refuge for sinners who recognize their sinfulness and repent of it, for it is in this house of prayer where we hear the Word of God spoken to us to bring us comfort and that peace which the world cannot give. It is in this place where we receive the holy Word of Absolution spoken to us, spoken by your pastor as from Christ Himself. It is in this place where the lowly, the humbled, the repentant, are raised up in the waters of Holy Baptism and made righteous with the righteousness of Christ, the white robe of righteousness that will shield you from the wrath of God. Just as a few faithful remained in the Temple for Christ to teach daily, there will always be a faithful remnant in this place whenever the Word of truth is preached in its purity. It is that which brings you here this day: the true Word of God preached to the true Children of Israel. And it will continue to be preached here, that you may know the things that make for your peace.
God is faithful. Just as He faithfully fulfilled the promise of the absolute destruction of unrepentant Jerusalem, He faithfully fulfilled the promise of sending One to crush the head of the wily serpent, Satan. Just as the promised death and resurrection of Jesus was fulfilled, so will be fulfilled the promised Day of Judgment, the day when we shall receive the promised inheritance of eternal life. As we wait for that day, the Word will continue to be faithfully preached in this house of prayer, so that you may hear it and learn it and cling to it, rather than having to rely on your own faulty self-righteousness. The Holy Supper will continue to be faithfully administered in this place, so that you may eat and drink of it and live. Here is Jesus Christ, faithfully present in His own body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin, present just as He has promised. Here is the thing that makes for your peace, both now and for all eternity. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.