Focus on the primary things…


Sermon: Sunday, 6th November, 2022 Video
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Luke 19:41–48

As pilgrims made their way down the Mount of Olives, there was a vantage point where the whole of Jerusalem would come into view. What a stunning panorama, dominated by the magnificent temple, with its great stones glistening in the sun. Normally, a pilgrim’s heart would be full of joy at the sight. However, for Jesus the sight brought him to tears. He weeps over the city. Jesus is sobbing here. This is heart-felt lamentation. Why does he react in this way? This is a window into the heart of Jesus, a heart full of passionate pity for his fellow Jews, knowing that their rejection of the true Messiah will result in their judgment. As Jesus looks over the city, he can see what is going to happen a few decades after this point, when the city will be besieged by the powers of Rome, bringing death to many and leaving the city utterly ruined. This came about during the reign of the emperor Titus, in AD 70. Most of the Jewish nation have rejected Jesus as Messiah-King and this worst-of-all-choices will prove to be very costly indeed.

It’s right for us to slow down here, and to consider what we can learn from the Saviour’s tears. He is, after all, God come down amongst us. And as he considers those who have rejected his message and rejected God’s King, he knows that they will have to endure the sobering consequences. This is the God of love.

‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ (2 Peter 3:9)

‘Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: ‘Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:10-11)

Who is Jesus weeping for exactly? It includes those who in a few days time would falsely accuse the most innocent man who ever lived and who would torture and crucify him. Jesus weeps for them. He weeps for those who saw his miracles and heard his teaching and yet refused to believe, and refused the rightful King. ‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.’ (John 3:19-20) Jesus weeps for those who are self-righteous, proud and stubborn. Such is his love for the lost. He does not want any to perish. Aren’t you glad this is the heart of Jesus for sinners? Where would we be if this were not the case?

How can we apply this section to ourselves today? Well, if Jesus’ heart is so concerned for the lost, should not our hearts be like that too? We should never be indifferent to those who are rejecting Jesus. We should be concerned enough to share the gospel with them. Paul had this heart as he thinks about his fellow Jews. ‘Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.’ (Romans 10:1) This kind of heart led Paul to share the gospel with anyone he could, including the very guards who imprisoned him. Heart like this leads to prayer and to action.

J C Ryle: “We know but very little of true Christianity, if we do not feel a deep concern about the souls of unconverted people. A lazy indifference about the spiritual state of others, may doubtless save us much trouble. To care nothing whether our neighbours are going to heaven or hell, is no doubt the way of the world.”

Paul says of the Jews, ‘I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.’ (Romans 9:2-3)

I think most of us know our hearts don’t work properly and are different to those of Christ and Paul. But we can pray for the Lord to soften our hearts so that we will have a proper love for the lost, and a love which will cause us to pray for them, and cause us to speak as we have opportunity.

We often feel a passionate pity for those in our own families who haven’t turned to Christ yet, and this is a good thing. But it shouldn’t end there. May God give us the eyes of Jesus, that as we look over our towns and villages, and as we step out the front door and see our neighbours, may we long for them to be saved and may that longing lead us to prayer and action.

A warning about unbelief. God is not only a God of love; he is also a God of holiness and righteousness and will not be mocked by us. We need to understand that just as rejecting Jesus had consequences for the Jews back then, it will also have grave consequences for us too. We need to think about this. Jesus was with them for three years and heard again and again the invitation to shelter in him, and follow him.

In one sense, the judgment of emperor Titus in AD70 foreshadows the Day of Judgment itself, when all those who have rejected Jesus and ignored the light of the gospel and ignored the fingerprints of God in the creation around us will be brought to account. The Jews had a window of opportunity which came to an end. That is true for us today. You might hear about Jesus at Sunday School and at home, and at church and from friends, but if you persist in rejecting Jesus, your heart will harden more and more, and no more chances will be given.

‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…’ (Psalm 95:7-8)

The most serious mistake you can ever make is to reject Jesus as your Saviour and King. That’s why Isaiah pleads with us: ‘Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.’ (Isaiah 55:6-7)

What a King we have in Jesus! Truly, he is like no other. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war-horse, underlining his humility. Then our King is weeping over the city. Next, we find him in the temple, overturning the tables of the money-changers and driving out those who were selling animals there.

Last week, we saw how Jesus orchestrated events with the colt in order to fulfil the prophecy. (See Zechariah 9:9-10) This week, we see Jesus deliberately fulfilling another prophecy by cleansing the temple. This time the prophecy is found in Malachi: ‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.’ (Malachi 3:1-3)

Why does the temple need to be cleansed? What was going on there? What was supposed to be going on there? Of course, the temple was the place where people could draw near to God in prayer, and offer sacrifices for their sin. It was a spiritual place where God promised to be with his people in a special way.

At the time of the Passover, the population of Jerusalem would swell from 80,000 to 200,000 as pilgrims came from all over the country. Most pilgrims were unable to bring sacrificial animals with them and so there was need to be able to buy them locally. Also, the temple tax needed to be paid and this had to be in a particular currency, known as the temple shekel. Thus, money-changers were required. These genuine needs could have been met fairly and ought to have been located outside of the temple. However, in Jesus’ day, in is likely that the High Priest (Caiaphas) set up booths in the actual temple itself, in the court of the Gentiles. Traders here charged exorbitant prices and lined their own pockets by exploiting the pilgrims. In doing so they desecrated the temple. The court of the Gentiles was meant to be a place of prayer for them. It was a place where ‘outsiders’ could seek and meet with the living God. How could they do that when the space had become a noisy animal market. These greedy money-changers were robbing the LORD of worship and robbing people of money.

I love the following comment from D R Davis:

“We see Jesus coming as king on his way into the city [on the colt] and we see Jesus acting as king when he enters the temple. The king does not merely come but comes to his temple. What he does there assumes that he the temple is his place. We are watching the authority of Jesus in living colour.”

How the Lord is worshipped matters a great deal, and so Jesus purges the temple of all the things which pollute the Lord’s worship. Then, he restores true worship by refocussing on the primary things. What are these things? Prayer and preaching! Notice that Jesus restores worship by appealing to the Bible. ‘My house will be a house of prayer.’ (Isaiah 56:7)

What else does Jesus do? ‘Every day he was teaching at the temple… all the people hung on his words.’ (Luke 19:47) The temple was supposed to be a place of instruction, where God’s people could be changed through the preaching of the Word of God.
‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.’ (John 17:17)

‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’ (Romans 10:17)

Ultimately, Jesus is concerned about having a temple which honours his Father, and where God’s people are properly fed, and outsiders to the faith can be brought in. We must have these same concerns.

As far as I know, those who coming to Kirkcaldy Free Church aren’t being financially exploited. There are no dodgy dealings amongst the elders. We might wonder what relevance this passage has for us today. Perhaps the main application for us is to ensure that as a church family we continue to focus on the primary activities of prayer and preaching. It’s easy for secondary things to push out the primary things. And as Jesus did, we want to examine the Scriptures to ensure the all of the ingredients of worship are included in our services. Are the churches in Scotland squeezing out prayer and preaching by giving them little time? It is easy for this to happen. Our services must concentrate on honouring our heavenly Father.