Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Jesus wept

On Sunday our series in Luke at CCC finally reached Jerusalem, as we tackled 19:11-48.  I was struck again, as I have been before, by the way Jesus reacts as he comes over the hill and the holy city comes in sight: he bursts into tears.  Jerusalem, the city literally named after peace, has not chosen peace; the city which looked forward to the coming of the Messianic King has not recognised him or accepted him.  So Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

In Luke's Gospel this is the second lament over Jerusalem.  The first occurs in 13:31-35, and is if anything even more startling.  Jesus grieves over the city which kills the prophets and stones those sent to it as divine messengers.  And then he expresses his own frustration: "How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not."  It seems clear that when Jesus expresses his frustrated desire here he is referring not to anything that has happened in his earthly ministry, but to his actions as the eternal Word of God, the one who sent those prophets.  In other words, this is a concise summary of the Old Testament: the Word of God repeatedly reached out to rebellious Jerusalem to save and gather in, but Jerusalem was having none of it.

Just two observations:

Firstly, however we state our doctrine of the sovereignty of God, we are on dangerous ground if we rule out the idea that sin in some sense thwarts or turns aside the will of God.  Some strong statements of the doctrine of God's sovereignty - a doctrine, by the way, which I love and will happily defend and proclaim - make it sound like God stands symmetrically behind good and evil, behind the gracious turning of the penitent and the grievous hardening of the sinner.  I  don't think that is compatible with what Jesus reveals of God here.  I think we need to be willing to hold in tension that God will work his purposes out, and that God's will is in some sense frustrated.  Again, that God is sovereign means that ultimately this also is not symmetrical; he will triumph, will have his people, will work out all his good pleasure.  But it's a denial of revelation to rush to that point, or to allow it to undo the tension.  (I wonder whether the desire to reset the gospel as a system and not a narrative, which ends up effectively stripping it of eschatological force and forward momentum, might not lie behind this somewhere.)

Second, Jesus reveals God.  We can never say this too much.  If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.  If you want to know the heart of God, look at the tear-stained face of Jesus.  If we cannot read the character of God from the character of Jesus, then I do not believe we can know it at all.  That Christ weeps over Jerusalem - and he doesn't weep for himself, despite knowing what it coming, but he weeps over the city that has always rejected him and will finally hand him over for crucifixion - that Christ Jesus weeps over this city is a revelation of his love, and his love is the very love of God.


  1. This and Paul's tears for his unsaved Jewish brothers does make me think that certain theological ideas derive more from system than narrative, as you say. For example, I've seen some take the doctrine of predestined election (which I hold to) and jump from there to limited atonement to the idea that God only has hatred for the non-elect. Which such passages as the one you mention would seem to problematise.

    Missionally, I do wonder if such logical but unscriptural development tends to put a dampener on caring all that much about those outside the church, as theology's task becomes to define ever further just how limited the atonement or God's love was and is, resulting in a pretty inward-focused, scholastic culture. I may be off track, but that might be part of the problem at the centre you recently discussed.

    1. Exactly. It has to be said that many people have been limited atonement people and yet committed to mission, but I confess I tend (nowadays; I moved some distance on this one) to see that as a happy inconsistency. Essentially, it seems to me that a lot of our theology wants to abstract our idea of God and his works from God's actual revelation. This seems a bad idea to me.

    2. It's where Amyraut and Baxter had the better of Owen, who seems to be the post-Reformation theologian of choice for most in such circles. But A and B were much better at not Aristotelianising Scriptures 'logical problems' away...

    3. p.s. I meant to say that by missional problems, I wasn't only referring to evangelism. For all the major problems they may have with other aspects of their theology and gospel, churches that frequently preach about the global poor are at least concerned with the vampiric nature of our society on others (e.g. James 5) and how the church should respond, even if they end up rather nebulous and wrong-headed about that response. In my limited experience I've wondered if the inward-focus of theology in other churches that I've mentioned leads to barely mentioning these fundamental facts of modern life, if at all. It can be as simple as what leaders spend their time reading and thinking about and therefore see as most important to talk about. But then the systems that support that reading and thinking go unexamined - a fatal position if Amos is anything to go by.