Editor’s Note: Walter Maier’s sermon was written and delivered during World War II. The illustrations and allusions to war belong to this time period. Maier supported the war and the troops but many liberal religious leaders opposed it strenously.
“When He was come near, He beheld the city and wept over it”
Have you ever seen a strong man weep? Powerful lessons can be learned from the tears of great leaders. Who can forget King David’s moaning over the death of proud, rebellious Absalom: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my sonr Who does not feel in this haunting lament an appeal asking American fathers to find time for their children and bring them to God before they are snatched away by death and lost forever? Alexander, miscalled “the Great’ is said to have wept because he could find no more empires to conquer. After a single victory he sold 30,000 of his captives as slaves. The world was at his feet. Yet his tears show that despite money, power, position, life without God is empty and futile.
When Peter, that rough-and-ready disciple who had cursed himself and denied Jesus, saw his Savior, bound and beaten, he wept in bitter repentance. If you have rejected Christ, behold Him now, betrayed by your cowardice, suffering in yourstead, and then sob in sorrow over your sins!
Saint Paul, the fearless Apostle, who could ride Mediterranean hurricanes without a quiver of terror, tells the believers in Ephesus that for “the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears.” What a challenge to American Christians, urging them to show their zeal for the Savior, not by bakery sales, fish fries, card or dancing parties, but by such heart-deep, self-sacrificing devotion to others that tears testify to their sacred earnestness!
When Napoleon saw the remnant of the proud army which had marched through the snow and ice of a Russian winter (the whole campaign cost him a half million lives; 90,000 died on the terrifying retreat) he broke down and sobbed. Here was the confident war lord who boasted that he did not need God to conquer Europe! Find in Napoleon’s lament a proof that the Almighty can stop this conflict overnight! May it be soon, heavenly Father!
Yes, vital present-day lessons are to be learned from the tears of history’s leaders; but the strongest warning and appeal come from the tears of the mightiest Figure in all history Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior of the world. Three times the Scriptures record that Jesus wept: first, at the tomb of Lazarus, where He proved Himself a compassionate Lord, moved by the suffering of friends; and last, in the Garden of Gethsemane, where at the beginning of His never-to-be-measured agony in atoning for the world’s sins (so the Epistle to the Hebrews testifies ) He “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears! 9 Only five days before that groaning in Gethsemane, Jesus, about to enter Jerusalem, hadalso wept; for Saint Luke records in our text (chapter nineteen, verse forty-one), “When He was come near, He beheld the city and wept over it.” This is the Savior’s grief to which I call your attention as I show you His May God’s Holy Spirit bless these words and throughout the land bring sinners to their weeping Redeemer!
THEY ARE TEARS OF SORROW FOR OUR SINS
The Jerusalem of our Savior’s day was far more glorious than it is today. Even pagan writers paid their tribute to its brilliance. A Latin author calls it “one of the world’s wonders.” People were so blinded by its radiance as it reflected the Palestinian sun that they had to turn their eyes away; so Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us. Yet when our Lord, at the head of a large throng preparing to enter Jerusalem, stopped on Mount Olivet’s heights to look toward the majestic city, there was no awe or admiration in His gaze. Instead, He stood silent. His lips quivered; His eyes filled; tears coursed down His cheeks.
Why was Jesus, about to hold His victorious entry into Jerusalem, in the moment of His greatest earthly triumph, so moved by the sight of His country’s capital? To find the answer, let us stand in spirit with Him on the crest of Olivet to see what He beheld in the panorama before Him. Perhaps He was at a point where His first glance would single out the Temple, a magnificent structure, on which architects and laborers had toiled for fifty years and were still not finished a colossal sanctuary of white and red marble, gilded roofs, dazzling courts, stately pillars, nine gates covered with gold and silver altogether an imposing monument to God. Yet that grandeur left Jesus untouched, for He was inexpressibly saddened by the hollow mockery, shocking insincerity, cold formality, to be found in that house of the Highest. With His mind’s eye He could see the money changers, the sellers of the sacrificial animals, and others who piled up profits in the name of religion. He remembered the multitudes who bought doves or lambs, the wealthy who purchased steers or bullocks and thought that by such offerings they could be cleansed from their sins even though their hearts were far from God and they refused to repent. He could almost hear the loud chanting of the Pharisees, who threw their shoulders back, raised their heads high in their self-esteem, and intoned, “God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican!” Because the Savior saw masses ruined, in spite of this outward worship, cursed because of their hypocrisy, His eyes were wet with tears.
If Jesus were with us today, He would undoubtedly weep over America’s spiritual life. We have congregations that count their real estate and resources in millions, some of them in tens of millions! Yet that alone means nothing to Christ. The United States likewise is crowded with churches which forget the divine com-mand, “Thou shall love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind” and which, instead of this inner, heart-centered, soul-deep worship of God, permit head and lip worship to creep in, formalism and ceremonies to receive far too much attention. The plain preaching of the Gospel, without which no man can be redeemed, is pushed into the background. Ask the average American: “How do you expect to be saved? What is your hope of heaven?” and you will find first that many of our countrymen do not want to be saved, since they think they do not need to be; and you will also learn that of those who believe in the hereafter, the majority actually like to think themselves so good, so much better than others, that God will welcome them with open arms when they ought to understand that without the Lord Jesus they are lost forever; that their hearts are filled with greed, lust, hatred, their lives marked with secret and disguised sin. Because millions in this nation, founded by Christian pioneers, blessed above all other people on earth through religious freedom, have forgotten their God, neglected their privileges, spurned their blessings, rejected their Savior, we can find Him on Olivet, grief-gripped not only for Jerusalem’s Temple, but for churches in the United States that are more concerned about money raising than soul-winning, more intent on gaining popular applause than divine approval. As we hear Christ repeat His warning, “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth and honoreth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me” may God give us the spiritual insight required to understand that, if America is to come closer to the Almighty, this rededication must start in the churches; that the groups called Christian must receive a transfusion of firm, unquestioning, self-denying trust. To stop the tears of Christ, we must go back to the Bible, back to the blessed Savior, back to the blood of His atonement, back to justification by faith, and faith alone.
From Olivet the Savior could likewise see the palace of Caiaphas, the high priest He wore the sacred robes and the breastplate inscribed, “Holiness to the Lord.” He occupied the highest position in Old Testament worship. He alone could enter the Holy of Holies on the solemn Day of Atonement. Yet that high priest, who should have been closest to God, was an unbeliever, a murderer at heart, a sworn enemy of Jesus, and long ago he had begun to plot the crucifixion. He was surrounded by many Sadducees, who openly attacked Scripture, denied the hope of the resurrection, claimed that life was ruled by chance, that death ended everything. These men, politicians, perjurers, bold unbelievers in priestly apparel, were responsible for their country’s downfall. It was true, then, as now, that When nations are to perish in their sins, ‘Tis in the Church the leprosy begins.
Would not the same Savior who broke into sobs over the treachery of these priestly traitors raise His voice in lament if He were with us today to behold the unbelief in the ranks of the American clergy? The war has not yet brought a real revival of true Christian faith in America. Modernists, deniers of the free and final atonement by the Lord Jesus, are still in control of many congregations and of some denominations, Twentieth-century Sadducees sit securely in high places, Pulpit politicians, who heedlessly step over the line separating Church and State, are on the increase. For political reasons, ministers of the Gospel, in direct contradiction to Christ’s Spirit, have decried the sending of food to Europe’s starving children. The number of those who teach and preach that Jesus, God’s Son and Mary’s, our Lord and Savior, our Ransom and Redeemer, our Atonement and Reconciliation to the Father, is the only but heaven-blessed Hope for every sinner, does not increase with rapid strides. Yet, because an unbelieving, Christ-debasing, Bible-ridiculing clergy can bring disaster on the nation, the appeal in this crisis to every servant of God must be: “Preach the Word!” “Call . . . sinners to repentance! Proclaim the Gospel with all its comforting and sustaining love! Believing American homes must help in safeguarding the Savior’s truth. A national magazine presents a survey, taken among “a faithfully balanced cross section of high school students,” which reveals that almost half of the young people do not attend church regularly. Is there any connection between this startling fact and the FBI report which showed an increase last year of more than 55 per cent in the arrests of girls under twenty-one? Ask yourself pointedly, ‘Would Jesus weep over conditions in my home?” If you know that He would, implore Him to enter your household now and bring your entire family to His unfailing grace!
Prominent on Jerusalem’s skyline were the palaces of the governing officials, imposing structures with high towers: the castle of King Herod, the residence of Pontius Pilate, the other government buildings; and Jesus could detect the corruption, deceit, iniquity, practiced with- in their pretentious walls. He wept as He contrasted with the hideous doom soon to break over the city the happy, blessed days its people might have enjoyed, had God-fearing, honest men conducted public affairs. While we ought to thank the Almighty daily for the marvelous benediction He has given us in a free, representative government, no one should be blind to the fact that graft, bribery, corruption, have sometimes flourished in the high government places; that public officials, judges, federal officers, have at times been convicted of dishonesty. The fault for much of this is on your shoulders, Christians of America, You have not prayed hard enough for your country. You have not worked zealously enough. You have refused to vote and spurned every opportunity to run for office.
Again, as the Savior’s eyes scanned Jerusalem, they would have alighted on its cultural quarters, the residences of its intellectuals, the scribes, the teachers of the people, those too proud to accept the lowly Christ, perverted minds which used their God-given talents to blaspheme the Lord. His tears were shed for them, and today they would fall, too, for the American intelligentsia that can only sneer at Jesus. Most of you churchgoers have absolutely no idea of the shocking depths to which their scurrilous insults can descend. Listen to these lines, spawned by hell itself, entitled, “Good-by, Christ!”:
You did all right in your day, I reckon
But that day’s gone now.
They ghosted you up a swell story, too.
Called it the Bible –
But it’s dead now.
Christ Jesus Lord God Jehovah;
Beat it on away from here now.
Make way for a new guy with no religion at all
A real guy named
Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker Me
I thought long and prayerfully before deciding to read these lines publicly; but most of you must be stirred into action. Remember, these are the words not of an amateur writer but of a man who won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature, the Guggenheim Award for Creative Literary Work, and the Rosenwald Fellowship!
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because He knew the appalling price it would pay for rebelling against God. He predicts, “Thine enemies . . . shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children with thee, and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation,” The disaster Jesus foresaw came within less than fifty years, when in the siege and capture of the city, which makes some of the massacres in this World War seem small, 1,1.00,000 men perished and 97,000 people (the children and grandchildren of those to whom the Savior spoke) were led away captive, and so many of the citizens sold into servitude that no one would buy any more slaves. It was a shocking devastation; yet incomparably worse was the eternal destruction of souls which could have been saved through faith in Christ.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked,” is the warning America should read in Jerusalem’s ruins. If up to this time you have insolently risen up against your Redeemer, turned your back on His arms nailed to the cross but stretched wide in invitation to welcome you, then, with all the life-and-death earnestness of this warning, I tell you that on Olivet Jesus was weeping for you, shedding divine tears because, if you continue to reject His ransom for your sin, you must pay in eternity for every unforgiven wrong, every unremoved transgression! Look at the Christ of sorrows once more! He weeps for you, knowing the peace, pardon, hope, and happiness you have lost without Him; the heavenly home, the seeing Him face to face in the blessed eternity you have spurned, the pain and horror of hell which you, sin-blinded, have chosen. Is your heart stone, that you are not moved by your sorrowing Savior, the Lord of heaven and earth, the God of all might, mourning over your preciously bought but carelessly lost soul? It was too late for masses in Jerusalem to repent and return to God. But, thanks to the Savior’s marvelous mercy, it is not too late for you to throw off your stubborn resistance to Jesus and fall on your knees in contrite sorrow over your sins. You unbelieving husbands, unfaithful wives, ungrateful children, you blasphemers and scoffers; you, the self-satisfied and self-righteous; you who are sending your souls to hell by living in sin, helping destroy the morals and the faith of others there is still time for you to kneel before the compassionate Christ and say: ‘What a fool I have been to reject my soul’s salvation! Now I have found You at last, my all-forgiving Redeemer. You do not need to weep any more for me! O Jesus, dry your tears! Wash me! Cleanse me! Purify me through faith!” When you come to the Lord of limitless love with that faith, His face, once stained with tears, will be wreathed in heavenly happiness. The lips which once pronounced the woe over Jerusalem will tell you, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out’
There is time for every one of you, but not so much time that you dare continue to postpone and delay accepting grace. “Now is the day of salvation.’ You may not be with us next Sunday to hear another appeal for return to your heavenly Father. A week ago, while speaking to the men in tie United States Naval Air Station at Lambert Field, Saint Louis, I warned the cadets against the “speed and suddenness with which adversity may overtake us in these darkened days of war,” and
I asked them, in these very words, “Who knows what message of sorrow may come into our homes before this day draws to its close?” A few hours later two of those young fliers met sudden death in the first air collision at the training station. So quickly and unexpectedly, by God’s inscrutable will, was the truth of that warning proved! Some of you may never have another opportunity to hear that Christ loved you despite your sins, died on the cross as your Substitute. Now, while heaven is still open for you, while Jesus pleads with you, while the Spirit urges you, wherever you are, accept Him!
Say, “He is mine, and I am His for time and eternity!” The nation needs men and women with that trust. The first line of America’s defense is faith in the Savior. The strongest weapon against enemies from within and without is the power of God through Christ To have the promise of that strength, millions in America must repent. They must return to God. They must acclaim their crucified Lord of love!
THEY ARE TEARS OF DIVINE LOVE AND SYMPATHY
Besides the stern warning we must find in Christ’s tears heavenly comfort, the consolation we need particularly during times of war and upheaval. The Savior sees our afflictions and is deeply moved by our sorrows. The Redeemer is not like the sleeping Buddha in one of China’s famous temples, a monstrous figure lying on his side with closed eyes, slumbering on, indifferent to his people’s woes. Jesus is not like the Modernists’ god, a vague, indefinite force, so far removed that He is not concerned with this world. Our precious Lord is not so majestic and omnipotent that He does not stoop or stop to help us. By the miracle of His mercy, none can be too lowly, unnoticed, poor, for His gracious interest. On the journey to Jerusalem, when He was so weighted by His suffering that even the disciples dared not disturb Him, He stopped to heal a blind beggar, enter the home of a despised publican, instruct His disciples, weep over Jerusalem.
The newspapers tell us that King George, ruler of the British Empire, daily goes to work for a few hours in a defense factory. What a remarkable example of service, when a monarch allies himself with his workers! But can you imagine any ruler going to Germany and offering his life for his enemies? The Savior did much more when He, in the words of Saint Paul, “took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Because He lived as a true man, save for sin, among men stained with sin, no one else in the world knows human needs as personally as Christ. No affliction with which you may be tormented was foreign to Him. Every hard, bitter road along which you drag yourself He has trodden. Whatever your path of grief, you are always following in the footsteps of the agonized Redeemer, and in comparison with the suffering He endured, yours, even in its worst and crushing torture, is only trivial. Are you poor? Jesus felt the pangs of poverty. He had not “where to lay His head.” Are you overworked and worn out? Jesus can feel for you, because He was often at the point of exhaustion, overweary in fulfilling His ministry of love. Do you parents whose only sons have been called to the colors complain that you are lonely and forsaken? Are some of you men and women in the service depressed by grim loneliness?
Think of your Lord suffering in the Garden, alone in His heartbreaking agony! Picture Him on the cross, forsaken by God and man, and realize that He knows more deeply than you the pangs of lingering loneliness! Are you maliciously attacked and slandered? Recall the false witnesses, the perjurers, the paid spies, who sought to destroy Christ, and believe that His heart beats in sympathy for you! Are you ministers loyal to the Redeemer, suffering the disfavor of the higher-ups in your church organization? You need not explain this persecution to Christ He knows from His own bleeding experience what it means to be cursed and condemned by the highest religious authorities. Are you sick, an invalid of many years, gripped by increasing pain? You can have unfailing consolation in Jesus, who knows anguish inestimably greater than the worst you can stand; for in His own body He bore “our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Are you at death’s door? Has the doctor said that your days are not only numbered, but that soon perhaps within a week, even before nightfall they will be over? Then during these last moments of your earthly suffering I tell you in the name of our blessed Redeemer who died at Calvary and whose body was laid into the grave that He knows more definitely what death means than anyone can ever explain. The tears which Christ wept at Jerusalem are a proof of His sympathizing love in every grief you must endure, any pressing burden you must carry. When life seems too hard, when you feel too depressed to face another day, think of the tears flowing down your Savior’s cheeks; believe with all your heart that He was suffering in tender devotion to you and then sing:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear:
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
These tears, however, are also evidence of the Redeemer’s divine yearning to help and deliver you. You have not only a weeping Christ, but a bleeding Christ, a dying Christ, a crucified Christ. Human tears often mean little; some people can cry for the slightest cause; but Jesus proved His sacred earnestness when in the highest and holiest example of self-sacrifice He, the mighty and majestic God, bowed His head into death’s death at Calvary. My fellow sinners and fellow redeemed, behold Him suspended between earth and heaven; and as you see those tears of love give way to the suffering of love, ask God’s Spirit for the repentant faith by which you proclaim: This Christ of nail-crushed hands and feet, the Christ of wounded brow and riven side, the Christ of bleeding back and buffeted face, the Christ of anguish and thirst, the Christ of derision and Godforsakenness is my loving, compassionate, all-merciful Savior!
When we thus discover the sympathy in His tears, we have Heaven’s own assurance that we need not weep endlessly and disconsolately over the sins and sorrows crowded into our lives. Then we have the inner conviction that because Jesus loves us with this tear-filled devotion, He will not only forgive us, but He will help us meet adversity, triumph over temptation, find strength in weakness, and turn the gloom of affliction into inner glory, the storms and turbulence of life into the calm and quiet of assured faith. The years before us may test us severely. Despite the cruel promises that America is on the threshold of a postwar period filled with prosperity and advantage such as our people have never known, we must not lose sight of the decisive fact that war has always burdened the succeeding generations and that, the wider the conflict, the heavier the sufferings in the aftermath. This is the most destructive struggle in all history. The price we must pay for it will be higher than for any previous conflict. We may witness terrifying upheavals in our own country. Our own liberties may be drastically restricted. Men with un-American and un- christian principles may seize control of this land, but whatever comes and believers of all denominations, children and parents in every believing household, should daily be on their knees, asking God to avert these tragedies! we will find comfort, sympathy, guidance, when we think of the Savior’s tears and His blood drops at Golgotha. With this vision constantly before our eyes, we shall be prepared for hardship or, what may prove far more difficult, the ease and warmth of luxury and artificial prosperity.
You can see, then, that Jesus, weeping in warning and wondrous love, is the Savior for whom our sin-racked age cries with special pleading. The Christ who could mourn for His enemies should be the Example and the Power for America today. It took Madame Chiang Kai-shek, whose husband is generalissimo of a heathen nation, to remind us that in the Savior’s spirit we must be ready to forgive our foes. I ask all real, confessing Christians throughout the land to pray regularly and repeatedly not only for victory and a quick end to this war, if it be God’s will, but with the same determination to intercede for the people of Germany, Italy, and Japan, pleading especially that the cause of His Son’s kingdom may be advanced among them, that they may learn to know and cherish the memory of Jesus, weeping for the men who would soon condemn Him to the cross. Is not this the Redeemer whom with all our resources and energies we must bring to the ends of the earth, also through the challenging, penetrating means of the radio?
Our only hope is in Him. Human methods to save the world from itself are doomed to defeat, if they banish Christ Some time ago Count Alfred D. Pierre Court left $2,000,000 to his native city, Rouen, France, for the express purpose of propagating giants. He wanted to raise a physically superior race that could lift humanity out of its woes. The trustees of his fund searched all over the world to secure men and women of large stature and unusual strength. The effort failed. The only people who can ever help mankind are the spiritual giants, the reborn children of God, whose love mirrors the devotion of that weeping Savior. Therefore listen closely as the Lenten invitation resounds, “Behold, we go up -to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles, to mock and to scourge and to crucify Him; and the third day He shall rise again’! That Lenten call comes in a crisis such as this nation has never seen, and in a personal appeal to everyone of you, telling you now that for your soul it is either Christ or chaos, either heaven or hell, either life everlasting or death never-ending. As you see the tears of sorrow and sympathy stream down the Savior’s face for you, will you, can you, dare you turn away from the only Redeemer you can ever have and say, “These tears mean nothing to me*? God forbid! May you rather feel the tears of deep repentance and joyful faith well into your eyes as you, a weeping sinner, come to the weeping Redeemer for pardon, purity, and peace! The holy angels will swell the anthems of heavenly praise if now in your innermost heart you accept God’s Son. Rededicate yourself to Him! The Savior’s tears for you will give way to gladness. My beloved, preciously redeemed, will you not make the compassionate Christ your own now and forever? Our heavenly Father grant above all else that in this moment thousands of you may say with inner conviction, “God helping me, I will!” Amen.