Dear Radio Friends,
We are in the time of the year leading up to Easter that is commonly called “Lent.” During this time Christians all over the world are remembering the suffering of Jesus Christ. In today’s message, I want to talk about the proper biblical way for Christians to remember the sufferings of Jesus. We will do that by looking at Jesus’ own words in Luke 23:28.
In Luke 23 we have a record of the events surrounding the death of Jesus. Jesus is being dragged around Jerusalem in chains from the high priest to Pilate to Herod and then back to Pilate. All of these authorities have trouble finding an excuse for his execution till finally Pilate, after insisting on His innocence, nevertheless condemns Him to death and hands Him over to the Jews.
Throughout His trial, Jesus is struck on the face, spat on, mocked, and beaten, with the result that, as He is led out to Golgotha to be crucified, physically He is too weak to carry the cross. On the way to Golgotha (or Calvary) He is led by a band of unfeeling Roman soldiers, men to whom the life of another is a trifle. The proud scribes and Pharisees and priests followed too, delighted that at last Jesus is now under their power, glad that the eloquent tongue that had exposed their hypocrisy will now be silenced by death.
Then, too, there was the angry mob following, mocking, shaking their heads, crying out: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” And amongst all these there were some, a group of women identified in Luke 23:28 as the daughters of Jerusalem who were weeping or, as verse 27 puts it, they were bewailing and lamenting the soon to come death of Jesus.
Up until this time Jesus has been silent in all His suffering. These are the first words that He utters from the time of His trial before Pilate until now. He said nothing to His tormentors; He was silent as the mob cried out “Crucify Him”; He hid not His face from shame and spitting; He gave His back to those that smote Him. And through it all, He has been silent.
Now, He breaks that silence by turning to these weeping women in verse 28 and saying, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.”
Who were these women? Jesus calls them the “daughters of Jerusalem,” which indicates that they are women who have grown up and lived in the city of Jerusalem. These are not the honorable women of Galilee who were Jesus’ disciples and of whom we read later in the chapter (v. 49) that they also followed. No, these are women from Jerusalem who were not among Jesus’ regular group of disciples. His disciples were following afar off. These women are close. They can hear Jesus speak to them as He goes to the cross. Probably they crowd the sides of the road as the Roman soldiers lead Jesus out.
Of course these women knew Jesus. This is clear from the text in that they are weeping specifically for Jesus. There are two others led forth with Him to be crucified: the malefactors. These women do not weep for them, but for Jesus. We should notice that the text uses very strong language to describe their behavior. In verse 27 two words are used: bewail and lament. This repetition of idea is used for emphasis. They were not just mourning quietly. Not just shedding a few tears that could be wiped away. These women were weeping and howling, uncontrollably. The idea of the word “bewail” is that they were beating themselves. They are wailing and crying out loud. And this weeping, understand, was not just a show. No, there was a real and a genuine sympathy in this crying. They wept for Him. Jesus acknowledges this when He says, “Weep not for me.” These women knew Christ. They had heard His teaching in the temple. They had seen Him healing the multitudes of sick. Perhaps some of them were even the personal beneficiaries of His miracles. And these women have now witnessed His trial. They have heard the false witnesses accusing Him. They have become incensed at them. They have seen Pilate’s injustice in condemning Him and become even more angry. And now, this innocent man is being led off to be crucified. They can hardly believe it. He has done nothing to deserve this. And so they weep in sympathy for Him. They want Him to know that they feel for Him in His suffering, that they think this should not be happening to Him.
And Jesus turns and rebukes them for their weeping. His words are not just a gentle suggestion or reminder. He is not simply saying, “You shouldn’t worry about me, I’ll be OK.” His words are a forceful rebuke for a wrong and sinful behavior. Jesus corrects their behavior. He says, “You are doing something that you ought not be doing. It is wrong for you to weep for me. Stop doing it now and don’t do it ever again.”
Now that might at first surprise us. These women are just trying to be nice. They are just trying to let Him know that they do not agree with the injustices that are committed against Him. They are just trying to send a message to the rest of the mob and to the men of the city that what they are doing is wrong. And we might ask, how can Jesus tell them to stop what they are doing? How can He be so insensitive to their sensitivity?
The answer to this is, first, that in saying this Jesus does not condemn expressions of emotion and certainly does not condemn sympathy and weeping with and for others in their suffering. Certainly not. We read concerning Jesus Himself, when He came to the grave of Lazarus, that Jesus wept. That is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it is packed with meaning, telling us that we have a Savior who, as He is described in Hebrews, is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Emotions themselves are not bad. We all ought to be more sympathetic towards the needy.
Jesus is not condemning weeping as such. He does not just say, “Weep not.” But He rebukes their weeping because they weep for Him. “Weep not for me,” He says. “Do not weep for me, do not even cry for me, do not shed a tear for me.”
The problem with the weeping of these women is that they weep for Jesus. And they should not be doing that. The problem is that their weeping is motivated by emotions and personal disappointment. They like this man. He had done them good. And, perhaps, He could do them good again if His life were spared. He was gentle to them, gentle even now. This just did not seem right. But in this, something is missing. What is missing is that they do not understand who Jesus is and why He must suffer. This is what Jesus is saying, “Do not weep for me. Do not shed a tear for me, because as soon as you do, you have missed the significance of the cross and my suffering.” When your weeping is motivated by sympathy, by injustice, then you have missed the meaning of the cross and suffering of Christ. Jesus’ rebuke of these women must be understood in light of the suffering and the cross of Jesus Christ.
And what is the cross? It is His suffering for sin, and His suffering on behalf and in the place of His people. We could put Jesus’ word positively. This is what He is saying to these women: “When you see Me suffering for you, do not weep for Me, but weep for you, for yourself.” Why does He say that? There are two reasons.
First, because in the cross Jesus is doing exactly what He came to do. In John 10:17 Jesus tells us: “Therefore doth my Father love me.” Why? “Because I lay down my life for my sheep.” This pleases God the Father. The cross is His obedience to the Father’s will. This is why He came into the world. In John 12:27 you have that expressed as a question in Jesus’ mind. He says, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Shall I say, Father, save me from this hour? But for this cause came I unto this hour. Shall I ask God for sympathy? Am I looking for sympathy from Him? Shall I ask man for sympathy? Am I looking for sympathy in my suffering? No! No! No! I came for this.” Do not weep for Jesus in His suffering. He came to suffer.
Second, we must not weep, because in the cross Jesus is demonstrating His love for His people. You have that in John 10:11. He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” And, again, in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In His cross and suffering Jesus does not ask for or need our sympathy. The cross is not an opportunity for us to express our love to Him. The cross is the expression of His love for us, for undeserving sinners. Jesus does not want us to feel sorry for Him, but to believe on Him—to believe that He suffered for our sins; to believe the substitutionary death of the Savor. And so He says, “Weep not for me.” The cross is not a mistake. The cross is not something to weep about. Jesus chose the cross. Jesus came for the cross. Jesus prayed for the cross. Jesus’ love for us is in the cross. There is nothing to weep about with regard to Jesus’ suffering itself. And so, to the women and to us, Jesus says, “Weep not for me.”
But weep, yes, weep. Weep for yourselves and for your children. Stop weeping for Me and start weeping for yourselves and for your children.
Why is Jesus telling them to weep for themselves? In the following verses Jesus gives us the reasons. In verse 29: “Behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.” Now, why would someone say that? How can someone without children be happy and be called blessed? The barren woman desires children. You notice that Jesus is speaking of something in the future—the days are coming, He says. What days? He describes those days in verse 30 as days when men will “begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.” Why would they say this?
Here Jesus is quoting from Hosea 10:8 from the Old Testament. If you go to the Hosea you see that he is speaking there of the destruction that would come on Israel in the Old Testament through their captivity. In Hosea 10:10 God says, “It is my desire that I should chastise them.” Why will they say to the mountains “fall on us” and to the hills “cover us”? Because God will come in chastisement and in judgment against them.
Why must the women weep for themselves and for their children? The answer: Because God is going to chastise them and their children. Jesus is speaking of the soon-coming destruction of Jerusalem under the Romans. That will be a horrible time, a time when the women who were childless would be considered blessed, because it would be so painful for the mothers to watch their young children suffer; a time when the suffering would be so great that men would cry out to the hills to cover them; a time when God’s judgment would come on Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans.
That is what Jesus means in verse 31 as well. “For if they do these thing,” He says, “in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” A green tree is a good tree, one that does not deserve to be cut down or burned. A dry tree is a dead one. Jesus is saying to the Jews: “If they [that is, the Romans] will put me [the green tree] to death innocently, then think what they will do to you who are not innocent. If God will use the Romans to do this to me, then think what God will use the Romans to do to you who have not believed.”
Now, why would God do this to the Jews? This takes us back to the weeping of the women. He would bring this desolation on them because they missed the cross of Christ and its significance. God will chastise them because their tears are not tears over sin but tears of sympathy. They are tears of unfulfilled dreams, tears because everyone else is crying. And God will do it because not only did they miss the cross, but they led their children down the same path. They have missed the cross, and they will go to hell for that. This is what the text is saying. Some people will suffer the judgment of God in hell while crying for Jesus. Just because they wept at the side of the cross does not mean that they are saved. We must not remember the suffering of Christ by weeping at the thought of His physical suffering.
Today you will see this kind of celebration of Lent. There are re-enactments of the crucifixion of Christ, pictures of a bloody Jesus on a cross, movies and films that are made of the suffering of Jesus—all intended to evoke an emotional response to the suffering of Christ, to make people feel pity for the suffering Savior, to think of His suffering on the cross as a tragedy and a mistake. He is beaten—what a tragedy. He is innocently condemned—what an injustice. And now look what they are doing to Him—leading Him away to crucify Him. How awful, people will say. And they will weep and wail.
But then you have missed it. You do not understand the cross. The suffering of Jesus was much more and was much deeper than meets the human eye. The suffering that man can see was only what man could do to Jesus. And man could do none of that except Jesus Christ gave Himself up to this suffering. In His suffering at the hands of man Jesus is the sovereign Savior. He gave Himself to man only as a means to bring Himself under the full weight of the wrath of God against man’s sins. The true suffering of Christ took place during the three hours of darkness on the cross when God poured out on Him His infinite wrath against sin, and when He cried out from the agonies of hell, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” and when He expressed what hell is in the words “I thirst.” This is a suffering inexpressible, a suffering that God deliberately hid from man in the darkness of Calvary because Christ alone as the Son of God could bear it. And when we think of this as the true essence of the suffering of Christ, then we must not weep over Christ but see in it His love and our sin that made this suffering necessary. You see, the issue is not weeping. The issue is not how many tears you can shed at the side of the suffering Savior. But the issue is repentance.
That is how the cross is to be preached today, too. Jesus does not tell His disciples to get their acquaintances and neighbors together to stand around and watch His trial and crucifixion. That will not do it. But, rather, they must take the cross to the people in the preaching of the gospel. If you look at Acts 2 and Peter’s sermon there, that is what you see. Peter does not dwell on the details of Christ’s suffering. In fact, he says nothing of it except that it happened. How does he bring the message of the cross in that first Pentecost sermon? In verse 23 he says to the Jews: “Whom ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” And in verse 36, “Whom ye have crucified.” There is the punch of the cross. The power of the cross—to bring salvation to sinners. Not in the blood and gore and graphic visual display of His suffering. Not remembering His physical suffering. But this: You are guilty! And you read in Acts 2 that the audience was “pricked in their hearts” by that word and they asked, “What must we do?” And here is the answer from Peter: “Repent.” In Jesus’ words: “Weep not for me, but for yourselves.” Weep over your sins that nailed Him to the cross. I must weep because of my lust and evil thoughts; because of my covetousness and greed; because of my nasty and destructive words; because of my sinful self. That is why Jesus is suffering. Yes, there is an injustice. The injustice is this: that we are not on the cross and we deserve to be. The real issue is: Repentance. The real issue is: Preparing ourselves by weeping over our sins in repentance, preparing ourselves for the day of God’s wrath.
The cross and suffering of Jesus Christ is necessary because God is a just God, and because sin must be punished. And, unless our tears are tears of repentance over our own sin that makes necessary the suffering of Christ, we do not understand or believe in Jesus, the suffering Savior.
When we look at the suffering Savior, we must see our own sinful depravity, the justice of God, and that Christ is the One who suffered in our place. We must trust in Him.
So Jesus says, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the suffering Savior, for His willingness to go to the cross and to suffer the agonies and the torments of hell that our sins deserve. Help us to live in repentance over our sin and to trust in Him. Amen.