The Lord's Day Morning
October 23, 2011
“Weep for Yourselves”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke 23. We’ll be looking at verses 26 to 31. Luke has us following along the way with Christ on the way to the cross. As you look at this passage together, I'd like you to see two things in particular. In verse 26, Luke tells us about Simon who bears the cross for Jesus. It's an irony, isn't it — Jesus is about to bear the sins of the world on His shoulders but He's unable to bear the cross that He's carrying and so the Romans conscript a stander by, a passerby, to carry that cross for Him, behind Him, on the way to Golgotha. And Luke wants us to see something of the price, the pain of the suffering, that Christ is bearing and will bear for us in that scene.
And then in verses 27 to 31, Luke wants us to see a sermon that Jesus preached. He not only wants us to see the price of Jesus’ pain and suffering, he wants us to see the preaching of Jesus because the crowd there, that's following Him on the way out to the hill outside of the city, many of them are mourning and weeping and He pauses to speak a word to them. It's a prophetic word. It sounds like a prophet of old, one of the Old Testament prophets speaking to God's people, and it's a powerful message.
And at the very end of that preaching in verse 31, I want you to see the proverb that Jesus speaks. In the midst of that preaching there's a dark, almost inscrutable proverb that Jesus utters that's very important for us to ponder and to understand in some measure. I want to give attention to those things as we read God's Word. Let's pray before we read it.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word. It is a word that is meant for life. By it, we live because we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth. It is a word of salvation. It is a word that points us to the only Savior and the only way of salvation in the cross of Christ. Grant us spiritual ears to hear, hearts that are receptive and understanding of Your Word, and grant us faith to believe it. In Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“And as they led Him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed Him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for Him. But turning to them Jesus said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Luke continues in this passage to focus us on the cross. Even as we are making our way to the cross, he is focusing our attention on Jesus and certain aspects of His person and His ministry. And the first thing he draws attention to here is the price that Jesus is already paying in His pain and suffering on our behalf. And he does it by telling us of this moment when Jesus cannot go on, literally can no longer carry the beam that is on His back on which He is going to be crucified and He stumbles. And so the Roman soldiers conscript Simon and call him into service to carry Jesus’ cross. Luke wants us to understand something of the burden that Jesus is bearing on behalf of us, the price that He is paying. And it's interesting that the physical toll is obvious. It was normal for Romans to scourge those who were going to be crucified and Jesus had been cruelly treated by the Romans and apparently above normal measure. He had also been mistreated by the Herodian guards and others that night and had been up all night long and under tremendous duress in the days preceding. You remember He had sweat as drops of blood in the garden, He had been betrayed by one of His disciples, He had had one of His dearest friends in the world, Peter, deny Him not once, not twice, but three times, all of the disciples had deserted Him at this point, and all the while He knows that He is going to be bearing the sins of the world.
And I want to suggest to you that the gospels emphasize to you not just the physical suffering that He's going through but the spiritual burdens that He is bearing, for He alone understands how great that weight will be. Our catechism says that on the cross He would “feel and bear the weight of the wrath of God” and none of us here can really understand that. Did you hear the men in the choir during the anthem sing these words — “He died in darkest hurt upon the tree”? It's a hurt so dark we can't even look into it. J. Gresham Machen's favorite hymn was, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” written by the great British hymnist, Cecil Francis Alexander. You remember what she says in one of the stanzas of that hymn? “We may not know, we cannot tell, what pain He had to bear.” And that is so true; we really can't. We can't know how deep the pain was, how heavy the burden was. It's beyond our comprehension. And Luke is drawing our attention to that even in the physical weakness of Jesus on the way to the cross.
God has Gospel purposes even in hard providences
But you know, even in that scene we see something of how God has Gospel purposes even in hard providences because this man who is coming in from the country, presumably meeting them at the gate as they’re going out of the city, is a man named Simon of Cyrene. Now Cyrene, you may find interesting, is what in what is called modern day Libya, and there was a Jewish community. And there were enough Cyrenian Jews coming to Jerusalem that Luke will tell us in the book of Acts that there was actually a Cyrenian Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem. And this Simon, Luke does not tell us he was a believer when he met Jesus, but Mark tells us — and you remember, Luke knows Mark — Mark tells us in Mark 15:21, as he's telling this story, he pauses and he says to the Christians that are hearing the gospel of Mark read — “And you know who Simon of Cyrene is. He's Alexander and Rufus’ father.” In other words, Mark is indicating to the early Christians that Simon is a father of fellow believers who they know. And if it's the same Rufus in Romans 16:13, Paul explicitly sends greetings to Rufus and to one who he calls Rufus’ mother he says he calls her, “his mother and mine,” meaning perhaps that Rufus’ mother had been a spiritual mother to him; she had ministered to him in some significant way and so he sends greetings to Rufus.
What we learn then is that even in this hard providence, God is using this providence for Gospel purposes in the life of Simon's family. Sons come to faith in Christ; perhaps Simon comes to faith in Christ even hearing Jesus’ preaching in this passage. Perhaps his wife comes to faith in Christ, the one mentioned in Romans 16. God is using these hard providences for Gospel purposes, and my friends, that needs to be a banner over us. When dark, hard providences are pressing down on us the hardest, our response ought to be, “The Lord must be getting ready to do something big,” because He uses hard providences for Gospel purposes in the lives of His people and we see it here.
But Luke's desire is to draw our attention to the price that Jesus is bearing, not just the physical but the spiritual burden of Jesus’ cross-bearing on our behalf. And he's wanting us to contemplate that. That would be something that we would truthfully contemplate and we’d never ever exhaust it because we’ll never ever see to the bottom of it, what He did for us. We sang about it. We said, when we were singing, “And Can It Be” that angels can't even understand it, and if angels can't understand it then we've got a long time to think about it, don't we?
JESUS IS THINKING OF OTHERS AND PREACHING
THE GOSPEL TO THE VERY END
But secondly, Luke draws our attention to Jesus’ preaching and you see this especially in verses 27 to 30. As Jesus is going, there is a crowd following Him and among that crowd are women who are mourning. Now by the way, this is yet another one of these testimonies to me that this story is true because, first of all, Luke is the only one of the Gospel writers that tells us about this. Second, by the time that Luke's gospel was written and circulated, there was already significant conflict between Jews and Messianic followers of Jesus Christ and the temptation would have been, of course, to do what? To paint everyone in Jerusalem as unsympathetic to Jesus. But here we find an entire multitude sympathetic with Jesus as He's being taken off to the cross, in fact, women mourning and lamenting. Now this is not uncommon. You can imagine the scene — as Jewish people were carried out to Golgotha to be crucified by Romans, pious, Jewish women would lament the oppressors carrying off their own people to be crucified on that horrible instrument of defamation — the cross. And so this is what these women were doing.
Very often, women would follow those who were being crucified and they would actually take sponges with anesthetics in them to deaden their pain while they were on the cross. And there's apparently a multitude of women following Jesus doing this very thing. And Jesus pauses and says, “Don't weep for Me. Don't weep for Me; weep for yourselves!” He begins to preach to them and He begins to preach to them a message of repentance. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and your children, for behold, there are days coming when they’re going to say, ‘Blessed are those who were unable to have children! Blessed are those who have never nursed! Blessed are those who have never ever had to come into this world and face the things that we're facing now because they’re going to live in times where they call the mountains to fall on them and the hills to cover them up things are going to be so bad.’” You understand that within forty years of Jesus speaking these words, the Romans would brutally sack Jerusalem and He's warning the inhabitants of Jerusalem at that very moment, “There is a vicious assault coming upon you, the likes of which you cannot even comprehend and it's going to be God's judgment against you because you have rejected Him and you've rejected His Messiah. And it is coming, so don't weep for Me; weep for yourselves!”
And now you say, “That doesn't sound like a message that's the Gospel message, a message of grace.” But it's a message of repentance, isn't it? And it sounds just like Jonah's message. You remember when Jonah was sent to Nineveh? “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” That was a Gospel message. That was a message of grace. Why? Because Jonah was holding up the certain judgment of God against sin and saying, “Unless you flee to God in repentance, you will be judged!” And Jesus is doing the same in this passage. He's calling these crowds, He's calling these women to repentance. It's amazing, isn't it? Jesus is on the way to die, so weak that He cannot even carry the cross, and He's thinking of others as He's preaching the Gospel to the very end. That's just like Jesus, isn't it?
JESUS REMINDS US OF THE AWFUL REALITY OF IMPENDING,
But then there's that strange proverb. Did you scratch your head when you read that verse this week or when you heard it read this morning? What in the world are You talking about, Jesus? What do You mean, “If they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” What in the world does that mean? The allusion makes sense enough. Even when we burn wood today, we prefer to burn wood that's been dried out, that's not green anymore; the moisture is gone. It burns better when it dries. You burn the dry wood first. Now if you run out of dry wood, you might resort to some wood that is fresher, greener, less apt to burn. But still, with that explanation, what does that mean? That if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry. Jesus is telling them a proverb and the proverb is designed to remind them of the awful, impending, deserved reality of the judgment.
So is Jesus saying here, “If they would do this to Me, someone who is not a revolutionary against the Romans’ cause, how much more do you think they are going to do to those who do revolt against Rome in forty years?” Or is He saying, “If I experience this kind of judgment now, when the judgment that is coming in less than forty years is not yet right, how much worse do you think that judgment is going to be?” Or is He saying something deeper? If He's saying, “Don't think that God's judgment is not coming because look at who is being judged now. Don't think that you’re going to escape judgment because judgment isn't coming because look who is being judged now. I'm being judged now. The Messiah is being judged.” Did you hear what Josh read as he was reading James 4? Did you hear what James called God in the midst of James 4? “The One who is able to save and to destroy.” And Jesus is saying, “There is a judgment coming and what I am going to experience on the cross is proof that there is a judgment coming. Don't think that there is not a judgment coming. It is coming.”
You know if you don't think the judgment is coming, you’re going to have to take that up with Jesus because He does. And He's saying as a Pastor, who loves His people, “Don't think you’re going to escape from the judgment because it isn't going to happen. You’re going to have to escape from the judgment in some other way, and the only way to escape from that judgment is in Me. You look to Me; you have faith in Me, because I am going to the cross to be destroyed by judgment. And the only way that you will be spared that destruction is if you are in Me.” Again those words that the men just sang in the anthem, “He died in darkest hurt upon the tree to offer up the worlds of light that live inside the Trinity.” And Jesus is saying, “That judgment is certain and what is happening to Me is proof of it and the only refuge from that judgment is in Me.”
You know, sometimes we think, “That just couldn't be. Surely there's not going to be a judgment; surely there's not going to be a day of reckoning.” And Jesus is speaking right into that doubt right here and He's saying, “Oh yes there is, and My going to the cross is the proof of it. Do you think that if the Father would have spared anyone judgment it would have been His Son?” But He's saying that because He wants us to flee from the wrath and destruction that we deserve by faith to Him so that we might experience the worlds of light that live inside the Trinity.
Our Lord and our God, our Savior amazes us. Physically spent and bearing the sins of the world, He's still thinking about our souls. And He thinks about our souls far more than we think about our souls. Lord, do not let us trust in some vain hope that there will be no accounting, that there will be no judgment, and that sin will not be punished. Do not let us hope in some vain hope but in the only hope that matters — Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who loves our souls. This we ask in His name, amen.
Do you know how to respond to that message? If you don't have the words, if you don't know how to say it, number 509 will give you the words. “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” — let's sing it.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.