Not all the broken hearted can cry.
Over the years I’ve been a GP, there have been a number of patients who have come to me because, despite their sadness, they feel unable to cry. On such occasions I have tried, and largely succeeded, in resisting the urge to recommend that they watch ‘Lassie Come Home’! This is not because of my doubting the film effectiveness in the treatment of Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye syndrome), but rather down to the fact that if my attempt at humour were to produce the wry smile desired, my patient would only be left even more incapable of producing the tears they were hoping for!
Unlike my emotionally disadvantaged patients however, crying is something that comes all too easily to me these days. Maybe it’s because the optimism of youth has given way to the realism of middle age that I feel the inherent sadness of this ‘vale of tears’ more keenly now, or perhaps it’s just that, as the years roll by, I’m becoming a sentimental old fool. Either way it seems to me that Abraham Lincoln was on to something when he said,
‘In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and to the young it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it.’
Leaving aside the reasons for my sometimes melancholic mood, what is undeniable is that there is a lot of sadness about. And irrespective of its cause, be it the consequence of global events of more local circumstances, the sadness is always felt at a personal level. And so, even for those whose own lives are devoid of difficulty there remains the sadness of those we love, those whose broken hearts break ours. What, I wonder, is to become of them?
But what has all this got to do with Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Well simply this – despite it being a day on which many took to the streets in jubilant celebration, Jesus, the one who was described by the prophet Isaiah as ‘a man of sorrows’ [Isaiah 53:3], saw fit to weep.
‘And when [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’ [Luke 19:41-42]
So what was going on – why was Jesus weeping whilst so many were celebrating his arrival as the long expected Messiah. From the verse from Luke’s Gospel, the answer is surely tied up in the fact that those who were witnessing his arrival were somehow blind to what was really going on. And this was just as much the case for those who were welcoming him with joy as it was for the religious types who were there demanding that Jesus rebuke his followers for hailing him as their King.
To take that latter group first, it is perhaps easy to see what they were missing, namely that Jesus ‘Truly…was the son of God’, just as the centurion recognised him to be when, five days later, he watched him die, nailed to a cross. And their failure to recognise him was all the more tragic given how Jesus had fulfilled the many Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah, prophecies which, since they were their nation’s spiritual leaders, they should have been familiar, including the one they were now witnessing coming to pass, Jesus’ humble arrival in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, just as was foretold by Zechariah. [Zechariah 9:9].
But what of the excited crowd who greeted Jesus with shouts of ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’? What were they missing? Well simply the nature of his kingship. They were expecting Jesus to lead them to victory over the Romans who at the time were occupying their city. But Jesus was not that kind of king for on that first Palm Sunday, like the many Passover lambs who would also have been arriving and would soon be slaughtered, Jesus entered Jerusalem as the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world. Yes he was on the way to the throne but it was a heavenly throne to which he was headed, and the route he would have to take was via the cross where, having been ‘despised and rejected by men’, he would be ‘pierced for our transgressions’ and ‘crushed for our iniquities’. Just as Isaiah had predicted centuries previously, having carried our sorrows and bourn our griefs, Jesus’ chastisement would be the means by which he brought us peace. [Isaiah 53:3-5].
But the cheering masses were blind to the fact that it was by way of a display of apparent weakness that peace with God would be won. And so Jesus wept. Despite these being the very people who had, and would reject him, despite them being the ones that would bay for his blood as they shouted ‘Crucify, crucify him’ [Luke 23:21], and would then undertake to drive the cruel nails through his hands and feet, Jesus weeps for them. That the sovereign king of creation should weep such tender hearted tears of mercy for those who wished him dead is simply astonishing, revealing Jesus to be a king like no other, one who, even in the final moments before his death, prayed for his executioners with the words, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ [Luke 23:24].
I for one am glad that God is as tender hearted as he is almighty – it gives me confidence that, as well as being mighty to save, [Zephaniah 3:17], he is one who will not break a bruised reed or quench a faintly burning wick [Isaiah 42:3]. For as one who is desperately weak and oh so in need of rescue, that is exactly what I need him to be. Not for nothing have some likened him to those pictures we sometimes see of heavily armed soldiers carrying a tiny baby from the the wreckage of a collapsed building in some war torn part of the world. For that is what he’s like – only infinitely more so.
Of course Palm Sunday wasn’t the only time Jesus shed a tear. John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, tells us that ‘Jesus wept’ at the graveside of his friend Lazarus, thereby making it plain, not only that Jesus really was ‘acquainted with grief’ but also that our tears are appropriate in such circumstances – even if we believe, as Jesus surely himself knew, given how he was about to raise the dead man back to life, that the reasons for our sadness will not last forever.
What then becomes of the broken hearted? Is their only comfort to be found in seeing Jesus as a miserable messiah who knew what it was to be unhappy too? Not at all! Jesus is serious about our joy and will do whatever it takes to bring us to his Father, the infinitely happy God ‘in whose presence there is fullness of joy’ and at whose right hand there are ‘pleasures forevermore’ [Psalm 16:11] That’s why Jesus went to the cross, to reconcile us to God by paying there the penalty for all our sin. Enduring the cross rather than enjoying it, Jesus suffered there ‘for the joy that was set before him’ [Hebrews 12:2]. Weeping may indeed tarry for the night but, irrespective of how long or dark that night might be, we can, because of Jesus death and subsequent resurrection, be assured that joy will come in the morning [Psalm 30:5]. As such our very real sorrow of today needn’t stop us from simultaneously rejoicing in the anticipated joy of tomorrow. Though sorrowful, we can be always rejoicing. [2 Corinthians 6:10]
Which brings me to an incident recorded for us in Luke Chapter 8. On Palm Sunday Jesus wept whilst all around him were rejoicing, but here we read of those who, though appropriately sad, were told by Jesus not to weep. Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, had come to Jesus because his 12 year old daughter was close to death. He implored Jesus to come to his house hoping no doubt that Jesus would perform another of his miracles and restore the girl to health. But having been delayed on the way, news comes that the child has died. When he finally arrives Jesus enters the house with Jairus, the child’s mother and three of his disciples. Everyone is weeping and mourning and it’s then that Jesus tells them not to weep, claiming that, despite evidence to the contrary, the girl is not dead but only sleeping.
Jesus’ words seem laughable and not a little insensitive given the circumstances – but he says them nonetheless. Had we been there we might have been tempted to suggest to Jesus that now might be a good time to ‘weep with those who weep’, something the Bible itself commends. [Romans 12:15]. Had we done so, perhaps Jesus would have reminded us of the words he’d previously said to Jairus when first he heard that his daughter had died: ‘Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well’.
But what exactly was Jesus asking Jairus to believe? Was Jesus advocating a view that is not infrequently heard today that if you somehow muster up sufficient belief in something you want to happen, that thing will magically materialise? I don’t think so. Rather I think Jesus was urging Jairus to believe something that was, and is, objectively true – that Jesus is God made man, that he is the one who has authority over death, the one who, having declared himself to be ‘the resurrection and the life’ [John 11:25], proved the truth of his claim by raising Lazarus from the dead. Faith in such a one as Jesus is well placed, as is clear from what happened next. Jesus took the girl by the hand and called to her saying ‘Child, arise’. And as he did so, her spirit returned and she got up at once’
And what was true for Jairus is, I believe, true for us. We, too, need not fear, confident that, if we believe in Jesus, all will ultimately be well. This is not to suggest that those with faith in Christ can expect a life of health, wealth and prosperity. Far from it, problems will undoubtedly remain and for those who are persecuted for what they believe, their faith may make their life even harder. Even so, trusting in Jesus does guarantee that even on the darkest of days and in the most desperate of situations there is hope, a certain hope, that God will keep his promise to one day wipe away every tear from our eyes and see to it that, as well as death then being a thing of the past, there will be neither mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. [Revelation 21:4].
What, therefore, becomes of the broken hearted?
‘The LORD heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds’ [Psalm 147:3].
And that is a hope in which we who believe can all rejoice – even if, for now, the tears still flow.
To read ‘Why do bad things happen to good people? Sorrowful yet always rejoicing in Good Friday’, click here.
To read ‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things? Rejoicing though temporarily sorrowful on Easter Day’, click here.
To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.
To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here
To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here
To read ‘T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’, click here
To read ‘Real Power’, click here
To read ‘Foolishness – Law and Gospel’, click here
To read ‘The Promise Keeper’, click here
To read ‘The Rainbow’s End’, click here
To read ‘True Love?’, click here
To read “Hope comes from believing the promises of God”, click here
To read, ‘But this I know’, click here
To read ‘I’ll miss this when I’m gone – extended theological version’, click here
To read ‘On being confronted by the law’, click here
To read ‘The “Already” and the “Not Yet”’, click here
To read ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac – Law or Gospel?’, click here
To read ‘Rest Assured’, click here
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