WEEPING FOR JERUSALEM
A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan Asplundh (Palm Sunday)Preached in Bryn Athyn April 12, 1992
“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it …” (Luke 19:41).
We observe what is called “Palm Sunday” as a day of jubilation, a day in which the Lord was hailed as a king as He made His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem.
Crowds of people from the city came out to meet Him and the disciples as He rode toward the gates. News of His recent miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead excited many of them. Others were convinced He was the promised Messiah, come at last to redeem Israel. Was He not approaching on the colt of a donkey in symbolic testimony of His kingship?
His disciples rejoiced on this day and praised God for all the mighty works they had seen. They cried out joyfully: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). They spread their garments on the roadway in adoration. Many in the multitudes coming from Jerusalem, caught up in the spirit of the event, cut down palm branches and strewed them in the roadway, crying out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9)
Some of the leaders of the Jews who strongly objected to what was going on called on the Lord to rebuke His disciples for stirring up the people like this, but the outcry was spontaneous and could not be muted. The Lord said to them: “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40).
Years before, certain wise men from the east had troubled the rulers in Jerusalem with their question: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” Now the Lord was riding into that city openly being proclaimed as king. His followers echoed the very words of the angels who surprised the shepherds on the night of His birth: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” they said.
In such a day of rejoicing there was a remarkable contrast. The people rejoiced. The Lord wept. His tears were not tears of joy but of grief. He saw the city and wept over it.
The Lord knew what lay ahead. He knew this celebration would be short-lived. The expectations of the people were all wrong. They wanted an earthly king, fame and fortune for their land. He had come to bear witness to the truth. He had come to bring spiritual order and peace to the minds and hearts of those who would receive Him. He had come to conquer the passions and appetites of hell that held men in bondage, not to conquer their national enemies. He foresaw what would happen not only to Himself but to Jerusalem and, more deeply, to the spirit of religion Jerusalem represented. He prophesied destruction: ” …the days will come upon you,” he warned, “when your enemies will …surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground …” (Luke 19:43). These were hard words, hard realities. The Lord wept.
The doctrine for the New Church shows that weeping is a sign of love as well as grief. The Lord wept here for His people. His infinite mercy yearned for their salvation and happiness. The Lord’s weeping was expressive of His mercy and pity, for “mercy is love grieving,” we are told (AC 5480).
There are but two times recorded in the Word that the Lord wept openly. One is here. The other was when He stood outside the tomb of Lazarus before bringing him back to life. Those who saw Him weeping there said: “See how He loved him” (John 11:36). His tears were taken as evidence of the depth of His love for Lazarus.
The Lord’s grief over Jerusalem is thought to express His compassion for that city and its people. Both times the Lord wept show grief for the loss of something loved: for Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha; for Jerusalem and its inhabitants. But there is more to these events than that. The fact is, the Lord loves the whole human race believer and gentile. He cares for all of us, and our pain and failure are the objects of His mercy.
The salvation of all is the Lord’s deepest love and His constant end in view. Lazarus and the people of Jerusalem, objects of His grief, represent all those who are ignorant of truths and all those who have falsified the truths they have. It is little wonder the Lord wept. Neither gentile nor Jew could be saved by the existing religion. The Lord’s love was assaulted by this reality. This doubt that people could be raised up to spiritual life was His grievous temptation.
We also grieve when someone we love seems to be lost or doing what invites failure or unhappiness. Doubt about what we hope for them brings us into states of grief and temptation.
It appeared to the Lord that the powers of hell could frustrate His Divine end. As He entered Jerusalem, the objective observer might say, “He has succeeded. He has gained the victory.” But what a hollow victory for the King of heaven to be hailed as nothing more than the king of the Jews. He had not come to fulfill our selfish ambitions or to cater to our greed. He came to teach us to beware of covetousness; to lay up treasures in heaven instead; not to love our neighbor and hate our enemy, but to love even the enemy and those who persecute us. “If … [only] you had known …the things that make for your peace!” He said. “But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42).
The Lord wept because so often we fail to see the things in life that make for our peace. Yet it was for this that He came on earth. It is the Lord’s truths which describe a perfect peace, a heavenly peace which the Lord wills to give us. As He said: “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace” (John 16:33). “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). The things that belong to peace which were hidden from the eyes of the leaders of the Jewish Church are those things which belong to eternal life and happiness, which are from the Lord alone; for peace, the Writings say, “means heaven and heavenly joy through conjunction with the Lord” (AE 365:9).
As the church rejected the Lord and did not acknowledge His Divinity, it could not see or appreciate those things from Him which could bring people eternal life and lasting peace. Therefore the Lord wept out of grief and pity.
On Palm Sunday the Lord wept for Jerusalem. He has since established a New Jerusalem in place of the old. As the Lord wept for Jerusalem, He warned about the coming destruction of the city. This was a prophecy of a judgment to come. The city itself was actually attacked and its temple destroyed, but the Lord’s words refer to a deeper judgment on the faith and traditions of the religion that had its center in Jerusalem. None can find refuge and peace in the truths of a new religion until the false doctrines of the old have been exposed and rejected. “They will not leave in you one stone upon another,” the Lord warned. Stones of falsity which are built up into protective walls must be cast down to reveal the evil loves that are hidden within each life.
The Lord did not weep for the fall of the city Jerusalem, which actually took place at the hands of Roman conquerors in the year 70 A.D., but for the fall and destruction of the church signified by that city. This was the “time of visitation” to which the Lord referred. The Lord did not weep for the falsities and evils of the church which He saw represented in Jerusalem but for the fact that the truths and goods of the church had been lost. “The `day of visitation’ denotes the coming of the Lord,” we are told, “and enlightenment then; but in respect to the Jewish nation, as they did not acknowledge it, it denotes the last time of the representatives of the church with them; for when Jerusalem was destroyed, the sacrifices ceased, and that nation was scattered” (AC 6588:5). Jerusalem had lost its spiritual use.
The Lord rode into Jerusalem, triumphant and yet merciful. He did not despise or reject Jerusalem, although Jerusalem despised and rejected Him; He grieved over it and had pity on its people. There is another sense in which the weeping over Jerusalem is the Lord’s mercy for you. Jerusalem signifies a religion. In an individual sense it signifies your religion or your religious state of mind. There is a Palm Sunday for you and me. Perhaps we come out to meet the Lord with joyful hosannas because we believe the Lord is on our side and will accomplish what we want, making us feel smug and self-righteous. Our enemies will fall. Our attitudes will be justified. We will be taken up to the Lord in heaven to sit at His right hand. We will be blessed. What a euphoric and gratifying feeling. Does the Lord grieve when this is the way we receive Him?
Or perhaps we are like the Pharisees who want to quiet the disciples and stop the march to the city. This represents our denial of the Lord and His truth. We don’t want our conscience pricked by His new teachings. We are satisfied with our traditional beliefs and attitudes. We dislike change. We secretly fight it and seek to silence the truths that call for it. Whether we listen to the King or not, the truths remain solid and as undeniable as the stones of the ground. “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40).
We all have states of hard-heartedness, of conceit and vainglory, for we all have evils yet to be overcome. Still, the Lord is a merciful conqueror. He does not take our souls by storm, but enters meek and lowly, riding upon the colt. His love grieves over our evils. This is not because we can bring Him harm or detract from His perfection, but because He knows, better than we know, the harm and grief we bring upon ourselves.
He knows also the peace and joy of heaven which He wills for us all. So He weeps, saying, “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” (Luke 19:42).
This is not the end of it. The Lord went on to achieve total victory over the hells, allowing the death of everything merely human in Himself, so that He might rise in splendor and great glory as our Lord and our God.
The truths once hidden from the eyes of all are now revealed. We too must come to see them, must be willing to see them and to humble ourselves before our King, spreading our garments and palms along the way He is to walk. This is subordinating the things of our own intelligence to the wisdom of the Lord. He has come riding on a donkey, the ancient symbol of royalty. Spiritually this means He comes to rule in our minds with Divine truth accommodated to rational understanding. These are the truths revealed in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem. In them, truly, the “heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Of them it can be said: “Behold, your King is coming …” (John 11:15). “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9). Amen.
Lessons: Luke 19:29-48; AC 2781:7-9
Arcana Coelestia 2781:7-9
…”Rejoice, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee. He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a young ass, the son of she-asses. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:9,10). That the Lord, when He came to Jerusalem, willed to ride upon these animals is known from the Evangelists, as in Matthew: “Jesus sent two disciples, saying unto them, `Go into the village that is over against you, and straightway ye shall find a she-ass tied, and a colt with her; loose them, and bring them unto Me.’ This was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet saying, `Tell ye the daughter of Zion, behold thy King cometh unto thee, meek, sitting upon a she-ass, and upon a colt the son of a beast of burden.’ And they brought the she-ass and the colt, and put their garments upon them, and set Him thereon” (21:1,2,4,5,7);
To “ride upon an ass” was a sign that the natural was made subordinate; and to “ride upon a colt, the son of a she-ass” was a sign that the rational was made subordinate. (That the “son of a she-ass” signified the same as a “mule” has been shown above, at the passage from Gen. 49:11.) From this their signification, and because it belonged to the highest judge and to a king to ride upon them, and at the same time that the representatives of the church might be fulfilled, it pleased the Lord to do this, as is thus described in John: “On the next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet Him, and cried, `Hosanna, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.’ And Jesus, having found a young ass, sat thereon as it is written, `Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold thy King cometh sitting on the colt of a she-ass.’ These things understood not His disciples at the first, but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things unto Him” (12:12-16; Mark 11:1-12; Luke 19:28-41).
From all this it is now evident that all and everything in the church of that period was representative of the Lord, and therefore of the celestial and spiritual things that are in His kingdom even to the she-ass and the colt of a she-ass by which the natural man as to good and truth was represented. The reason of the representation was that the natural man ought to serve the rational, and this the spiritual, this the celestial, and this the Lord; such is the order of subordination.