CHRIST AND THE CITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-23-64 12:00 p.m.
Now the theme for this year, which is the twentieth consecutive year I have conducted these services, the theme for this year is "Christ and the City": tomorrow, Christ and the City Citizen; the next day, Wednesday, Christ and the City Church; the next day, Thursday, Christ and the City of God, a sermon on heaven; and the last day, Friday, Christ Dying in the City; and the sermon today is the theme message, Christ and the City.
And remember while I am preaching if you must needs go back to work or to an assignment, we all understand. In the middle of a syllable or a sentence or two minutes before the benediction is said, whenever the time comes that you must leave, feel at liberty to do so. You will not disturb the service, least of all will you disturb me. Thank you for coming and taking out whatever moment you can for the song, for the prayer, for the reading of the Word of God. However opportunity affords, come, stay as long as you can.
In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke is described the triumphal entry of our Lord into the city of Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday, because the exalted and rejoicing and expectant people cut down palm branches, strewed them in the way, took their garments that the beast of burden upon which our Lord entered could walk, even the feet of the beast unsoiled by touching the dirt of the ground; the triumphal entry of our Lord into the city. Then the text, "And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it [Luke 19:41].
The strangest parade that a man ever saw. All of us who live in the city are accustomed to city parades, the bands that play, the floats that move, the heroes that smile and wave from an open top convertible car. But this parade, how strange and how different; He is not riding in a Roman chariot or astride a white charger like a conqueror, but He comes as the prophet Zechariah had predicted five hundred years before, meek and lowly and riding on a beast of burden [Zechariah 9:9].
And the most astonishing and the most astounding thing of all: when He comes to the brow of Olivet that overlooks the panorama of the city before Him, He pauses and eklausen, bursts into tears. I speak of His eyes that beheld the city, of the tears that fell from His eyes out of lament that He uttered from His soul. "And when He was come near, He beheld the city" [Luke 19:41].
Our trouble is we never actually come nigh it, much less really look upon it. We follow some self-chosen path to some described area. We go back and forth in a daily routine. We make ourselves strangers in the great metropolis. We never see their faces. We never hear the voices. We never notice the houses. We hide ourselves in some comfortable place, and when the wild wind blows we touch a thermostat and receive its answering flame or in the heat of the summer touch a button and the cool breezes blow. But who draws nigh and looks upon the city?
The widow, counting out the money for the rent, counting, counting, does it ever stop? With an agony that defies the approach of prayer. With a hunger that gnaws like pain, or the solitary sufferer, coming home in the evening with a broken heart, a widow whose husband is not dead, orphaned children whose fathers are still living. With a hurt and an agony and a heartache that never heals, a sorrow that is never assuaged. Or the sick, sealed with the black seal of death. No day and no night without its aching pain and its throbbing illness. Or the houses where the aged are confined, irrational, crying, hurt, neglected, forgotten, their solitude emphasized and deepened by those who fail to remember.
The statistician looks upon the city and he says it is thus and so. The financier looks upon the city and he says it is thus and so. The socialite looks upon the city and he says it is thus and so. They stay in their luxurious offices or in their downtown clubs. They touch the powerful accelerator and drive away into the green places and the beautiful pastures. And the people they leave behind curse society because they know not what else to curse.
Our Lord came nigh and beheld the city [Luke 19:41].
Let me have my church on a downtown street
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good, the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Nor hurl the cynic’s ban-
Let me have my church on a downtown street
And be a friend to man.
[Adapted from "The House by the Side of the Road," by Sam Walter Foss]
And Jesus came near and beheld the city.
I speak now of His tears, "And wept over it" [Luke 19:41]. Three times in the Word of God is it said that our Lord wept. One in Gethsemane when before God He offered prayers with strong crying and tears . . . And though a Son learned obedience by the things which He suffered, He cried in Gethsemane [Hebrews 5:7-8]. The second time the Book says that He wept was when He stood at the grave of His friend Lazarus and beheld the tears and the lamentations of Mary and Martha. It was written, the shortest verse in the Word of God, "Jesus wept" [John 11:35]. The third time that He cried is in this text. When standing on the ground of Mount of Olives and looking over the panorama of the great city, He burst into tears [Luke 19:41]. Take it anyway that you’d say it. It is one of the most moving scenes in the Bible. Take it as a picture; what could be finer in art? Take it as a sentiment; what could be finer in human pathos? But take it as a revelation of God; what could be nobler and more exalted in human love and devotion than to draw nigh a Savior who can weep over us?
Such human sympathy is indescribable. It is illimitable; it is immeasurable; it is unbelievable. Call our Lord invincible or immutable. Call Him omnipotent and omniscient. Call Him eternal and invincible. And immediately we fall into philosophical disquisitions and metaphysical inquiries and theological dissertations. But point Him out, point Him out weeping over a great city and all of us are humbled. And the unlettered, and the poor, and the crippled, and the maimed, and the halt, and the lost feel strangely constrained to draw near.
There is a Christ, I admit, of theology and of philosophy and of metaphysics, a Christ about which we divide into dispute and argument. But there is also a Christ of love and tears and understanding, and to Him we draw nigh and offer our dying souls in hope and in trust.
Which brings me to speak of His amazing self-limitation, "And Jesus our Lord God wept over the city" [Luke 19:41]. God weep? God weep? God can do nothing else, His omnipotence and almightiness exhausted?
Sir, there is no omnipotence and there is no almightiness in moral and spiritual persuasion. Almightiness and omnipotence have to do with physical phenomena, the molding of stars and the creation of infinite machinery. But when God addresses the human heart, He has divided His almighty sovereignty with the man that He made. All God can do is to plead, and the man is open to refuse.
Like a father I knew in my boyhood, I heard him plead with his son, "Oh, my son, my son," but the boy turned, an incorrigible recalcitrance to ruin and to death. This is the self limitation of the omnipotent God, to plead, but the decision is mine.
And that leads me to the third, His lament, His lament. Nothing in all literature approaches the heart cry of the Son of God over the city. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and you would not, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" [Matthew 23:37-38]. "Rejected, we will not have this man to reign over us" [Luke 19:14], they said. And that brought from the soul of Jesus that cry of disappointment, that wail of failure, that utterance of despair. Viewed within a certain period of time there was never a ministry less successful than the ministry of the Son of God. "How often but you would not!" [Matthew 23:37].
Then the solemn, solemn judgment, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" [Matthew 23:38]. There is no pride in the tone. There is no recrimination in the voice. Like the moaning of the wind, like the withering of a desert, behold, behold, your house is left unto you desolate, no longer a place of refuge and of safety and of hope.
I haven’t time to read of the prophecy. Immediately after the words of that solemn, solemn prediction, our Lord describes the destruction of the city; came in 70 AD, oh, oh, oh! [Matthew 24:2]. Whatever your theory of government, whatever your interpretation of the Bible, whatever your acceptance of any system of theology, this is the verdict of history and this is the judgment of God in the rejection of the mercies of heaven. And in the refusal of the overtures of grace, there lies nothing left but loss, and destruction, and ruin.
The child withers from the parent’s stem. The youth is cut down at the threshold of manhood. The soul is eternally lost. The city is ultimately destroyed. Oh, in these times of crisis in home, in heart, in life, in nation, in city, that there might be such a spirit of turning in peace as God could remember!
We,beseech you, as the workers of God, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
(For He saith, I have heard thee in a time acceptable, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
[2 Corinthians 6:1-2]
And Lord, if we know our hearts, we bow in humble repentance and confession and faith before Thee. Bless us, dear Lord, our families, our people, our city, our America and our weary world. And our Lord, in the Spirit of Him who intercedeth for us [Romans 8:34], may we find it in our hearts to ask God’s mercy upon His people in the earth. Oh, how indifferent, how almost contumaceous we are as we live through the pilgrimage of our life, a thousand times forgetting. But Master, take these days of remembrance and bring us back to a closeness to Thee, a fellowship, a communion, a dedication we have never known before. And we shall thank Thee for Thy presence going before, and for God’s infinite blessing. In the dear Savior’s name, who loved us and wept over us and pleads with us, amen.
CHRIST AND THE CITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. His eyes – "And when He came near He beheld the city"
A. Our difficulty
1. Never come near it
2. Not willing to look upon it
B. The statistician and the socialite
1. Poem, "The House by the Side of the Road"
II. His tears – "And wept over it"
A. Three times in Word of God it is said that our Lord wept (Matthew 26, John 11:35, Luke 19:41)
B. What amazing sympathy
III. His lament – "O Jerusalem, Jerusalemâ€¦" (Matthew 23:37-38)
A. What the city did (Luke 19:14)
B. The solemn judgment (Luke 19:43-44)
C. Now is the time to turn (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)