There are two famous occasions on which Jesus wept – in his lamentation over Jerusalem and at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus could weep for pity but his weeping also expressed anger. This was especially the case with Lazarus. He was not weeping for his departed friend, or for the sadness of Martha and Mary. He knew that Lazarus would be raised. His tears were not for human grief but because of human unbelief. “He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33).
The words mean that he was angry. Previous conversation had been about death and resurrection, yet Jesus' statement about himself had not really hit home (John 11: 25-26). “Jesus said to her (Martha), ' I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'” In his power and authority over life and death Jesus had not actually been recognized. His manner of raising Lazarus was for the benefit of friends and onlookers (John 11:41-42). “So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, 'Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me'”. Failure in recognition had deprived the people of divine favour and salvation, and it generated a plot among his enemies to kill Jesus. (V45ff).
Once again the failure in recognition came to the fore as Jesus drew near to Jerusalem – the city that rejected him. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, named as the city of peace that spurned the Prince of Peace, and once again Jesus was highly emotional. He wept says the translation. He wailed says the original. Jesus sobbed over mankind's obstinacy. Luke makes much of the divine “visitation” which is not so thematically and dramatically clear and clinched as well as it might be in some versions (Luke 1:68,78 cf Benedictus BCP 1662). The tragedy is that God in Christ had visited his people, mingled among them, and revealed his power, and they had not recognized him. “You did not recognize the time of God's coming to you” (Thou knewest not the time of thy visitation – Luke 19:44, King James version). Visitation emphasises a well-pondered and abiding presence rather than a mere appearance. There was ample time for recognition if only folk had wanted to acknowledge the divine dignity of Jesus. Prophets had described him but the people lacked the sight to descry or discern him. Optical failure in terms of mental perception meant loss of opportunity.
But now, says Jesus, it is hidden from your eyes (v42). The Saviour, and safety of the city, and perhaps eternal salvation are hidden to blind eyes. Emotion is strong in in the Saviour's summary of the future (vv43-44). Jesus is not the feeble figure some people make him out to be. Meek and mild are misunderstood characterizations. They mean that Jesus never loses himself in his moods of passion. These are controlled and well and wisely directed. Indignation in the temple is expressed for its abuses and the high rates of exchange charged to the people who sought admission to its precincts for their approach to God. The temple had become an obstruction rather than an opening to the presence of God.
Emotion serves the purpose of emphasis. Jesus' emotions reinforce divine truth and attitudes. Jesus visits us with good intent. Our attitudes elicit grace or judgment. God recoils from judgment for as long as reasonably possible (2 Peter 3: 8-9). He is forbearing. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. There is opportunity for recognition of his visitation in Jesus Christ his Son and opportunity for response. It is pride and conceit that are the blinkers to the recognition of Jesus (Matthew 11: 28 -30). It comes down to a clear distinction. We are, in our hearts, either friend or foe to Jesus.
Failure in recognition is often due to the deliberately averted eye and the perverted mind. It is a stubbornness that rejects the Lord – the king, the emperor over all things. We will not have this man to rule over us.
Deep down, whatever guises men assume, we will either cling to Jesus or secretly wish to kill him. The antipathy is as real as that. Jesus mourns over persistent human unbelief, purposeful non-recognition, and lost opportunity.
Jesus was a man of great passion – passion for the glory of God and the rescue of mankind. He stirs us to seek him with purpose and passion while opportunity lasts. His whole being throbs with a sense of urgency that he communicates to us. When the arrogant and envious Pharisees would restrain the joy of those who gladly recognized Jesus for who and what he was, and what he had come to do, Jesus replied that even inanimate objects are constrained to recognize their creator. He speaks figuratively but truly:
“When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen [aids to recognition – the apostle John calls them signs]:
'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!'
'Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples!'
'I tell you,' he replied, 'if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out'” (Luke 19: 37-40).
Crying! Jesus cried bitterly over man's refusal of mercy.
The lost will cry bitterly over wasted opportunity.
Believers will cry joyfully over recognition of their Saviour come to carry them home at death or to receive them on the day of judgment.
May our personal heart's-cry join that happy chorus.