Luke: Weep for Yourselves

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on October 23, 2011

Luke 23:26-31

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The Lord’s Day Morning

October 23, 2011

“Weep for Yourselves”

Luke 23:26-31

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke 23.
We’ll be looking at verses 26 to 31.
Luke has us following along the way with Christ on the way to the cross.
As you look at this passage together, I’d like you to see two things in
particular. In verse 26, Luke tells
us about Simon who bears the cross for Jesus.
It’s an irony, isn’t it — Jesus is about to bear the sins of the world on
His shoulders but He’s unable to bear the cross that He’s carrying and so the
Romans conscript a stander by, a passerby, to carry that cross for Him, behind
Him, on the way to Golgotha. And
Luke wants us to see something of the price, the pain of the suffering, that
Christ is bearing and will bear for us in that scene.

And then in verses 27 to 31, Luke wants us to see a sermon that Jesus preached.
He not only wants us to see the price of Jesus’ pain and suffering, he
wants us to see the preaching of Jesus because the crowd there, that’s following
Him on the way out to the hill outside of the city, many of them are mourning
and weeping and He pauses to speak a word to them.
It’s a prophetic word. It
sounds like a prophet of old, one of the Old Testament prophets speaking to
God’s people, and it’s a powerful message.

And at the very end of that preaching in verse 31, I want you to see the proverb
that Jesus speaks. In the midst of
that preaching there’s a dark, almost inscrutable proverb that Jesus utters
that’s very important for us to ponder and to understand in some measure.
I want to give attention to those things as we read God’s Word.
Let’s pray before we read it.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word.
It is a word that is meant for life.
By it, we live because we do not live by bread alone but by every word that
proceeds from Your mouth. It is a
word of salvation. It is a word that
points us to the only Savior and the only way of salvation in the cross of
Christ. Grant us spiritual ears to
hear, hearts that are receptive and understanding of Your Word, and grant us
faith to believe it. In Jesus’ name,
amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it:

“And as they led Him
away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and
laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.
And there followed Him a great multitude of the people and of women who
were mourning and lamenting for Him.
But turning to them Jesus said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but
weep for yourselves and for your children.
For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the
barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’
Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the
hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do
these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Luke continues in this passage to focus us on the cross.
Even as we are making our way to the cross, he is focusing our attention
on Jesus and certain aspects of His person and His ministry.
And the first thing he draws attention to here is the price that Jesus is
already paying in His pain and suffering on our behalf.
And he does it by telling us of this moment when Jesus cannot go on,
literally can no longer carry the beam that is on His back on which He is going
to be crucified and He stumbles. And
so the Roman soldiers conscript Simon and call him into service to carry Jesus’
cross. Luke wants us to understand
something of the burden that Jesus is bearing on behalf of us, the price that He
is paying. And it’s interesting that
the physical toll is obvious. It was
normal for Romans to scourge those who were going to be crucified and Jesus had
been cruelly treated by the Romans and apparently above normal measure.
He had also been mistreated by the Herodian guards and others that night
and had been up all night long and under tremendous duress in the days
preceding. You remember He had sweat
as drops of blood in the garden, He had been betrayed by one of His disciples,
He had had one of His dearest friends in the world, Peter, deny Him not once,
not twice, but three times, all of the disciples had deserted Him at this point,
and all the while He knows that He is going to be bearing the sins of the world.

And I want to suggest to you that the gospels emphasize to you not just the
physical suffering that He’s going through but the spiritual burdens that He is
bearing, for He alone understands how great that weight will be.
Our catechism says that on the cross He would “feel and bear the weight
of the wrath of God” and none of us here can really understand that.
Did you hear the men in the choir during the anthem sing these words —
“He died in darkest hurt upon the tree”?
It’s a hurt so dark we can’t even look into it.
J. Gresham Machen’s favorite hymn was, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away”
written by the great British hymnist, Cecil Francis Alexander.
You remember what she says in one of the stanzas of that hymn?
“We may not know, we cannot tell, what pain He had to bear.”
And that is so true; we really can’t. We can’t know how deep the pain
was, how heavy the burden was. It’s
beyond our comprehension. And Luke
is drawing our attention to that even in the physical weakness of Jesus on the
way to the cross.


God has Gospel purposes even in hard providences

But you know, even in that scene we see something of how God has Gospel purposes
even in hard providences because this man who is coming in from the country,
presumably meeting them at the gate as they’re going out of the city, is a man
named Simon of Cyrene. Now Cyrene,
you may find interesting, is what in what is called modern day Libya, and there
was a Jewish community. And there
were enough Cyrenian Jews coming to Jerusalem that Luke will tell us in the book
of Acts that there was actually a Cyrenian Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem.
And this Simon, Luke does not tell us he was a believer when he met
Jesus, but Mark tells us — and you remember, Luke knows Mark — Mark tells us in
Mark 15:21, as he’s telling this story, he pauses and he says to the Christians
that are hearing the gospel of Mark read — “And you know who Simon of Cyrene is.
He’s Alexander and Rufus’ father.”
In other words, Mark is indicating to the early Christians that Simon is
a father of fellow believers who they know.
And if it’s the same Rufus in Romans 16:13, Paul explicitly sends
greetings to Rufus and to one who he calls Rufus’ mother he says he calls her,
“his mother and mine,” meaning perhaps that Rufus’ mother had been a spiritual
mother to him; she had ministered to him in some significant way and so he sends
greetings to Rufus.

What we learn then is that even in this hard providence, God is using this
providence for Gospel purposes in the life of Simon’s family.
Sons come to faith in Christ; perhaps Simon comes to faith in Christ even
hearing Jesus’ preaching in this passage.
Perhaps his wife comes to faith in Christ, the one mentioned in Romans
16. God is using these hard
providences for Gospel purposes, and my friends, that needs to be a banner over
us. When dark, hard providences are
pressing down on us the hardest, our response ought to be, “The Lord must be
getting ready to do something big,” because He uses hard providences for Gospel
purposes in the lives of His people and we see it here.

But Luke’s desire is to draw our attention to the price that Jesus is bearing,
not just the physical but the spiritual burden of Jesus’ cross-bearing on our
behalf. And he’s wanting us to
contemplate that. That would be
something that we would truthfully contemplate and we’d never ever exhaust it
because we’ll never ever see to the bottom of it, what He did for us.
We sang about it. We said,
when we were singing, “And Can It Be” that angels can’t even understand it, and
if angels can’t understand it then we’ve got a long time to think about it,
don’t we?

JESUS IS THINKING OF OTHERS AND PREACHING

THE GOSPEL TO THE VERY END

But secondly, Luke draws our attention to Jesus’ preaching and you see this
especially in verses 27 to 30. As
Jesus is going, there is a crowd following Him and among that crowd are women
who are mourning. Now by the way,
this is yet another one of these testimonies to me that this story is true
because, first of all, Luke is the only one of the Gospel writers that tells us
about this. Second, by the time that
Luke’s gospel was written and circulated, there was already significant conflict
between Jews and Messianic followers of Jesus Christ and the temptation would
have been, of course, to do what? To
paint everyone in Jerusalem as unsympathetic to Jesus.
But here we find an entire multitude sympathetic with Jesus as He’s being
taken off to the cross, in fact, women mourning and lamenting.
Now this is not uncommon. You
can imagine the scene — as Jewish people were carried out to Golgotha to be
crucified by Romans, pious, Jewish women would lament the oppressors carrying
off their own people to be crucified on that horrible instrument of defamation —
the cross. And so this is what these
women were doing.

Very often, women would follow those who were being crucified and they would
actually take sponges with
anesthetics in them to deaden
their pain while they were on the cross.
And there’s apparently a multitude of women following Jesus doing this
very thing. And Jesus pauses and
says, “Don’t weep for Me. Don’t weep
for Me; weep for yourselves!” He
begins to preach to them and He begins to preach to them a message of
repentance. “Daughters of Jerusalem,
do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and your children, for behold, there
are days coming when they’re going to say, ‘Blessed are those who were unable to
have children! Blessed are those who
have never nursed! Blessed are those
who have never ever had to come into this world and face the things that we’re
facing now because they’re going to live in times where they call the mountains
to fall on them and the hills to cover them up things are going to be so bad.’”
You understand that within forty years of Jesus speaking these words, the
Romans would brutally sack Jerusalem and He’s warning the inhabitants of
Jerusalem at that very moment, “There is a vicious assault coming upon you, the
likes of which you cannot even comprehend and it’s going to be God’s judgment
against you because you have rejected Him and you’ve rejected His Messiah.
And it is coming, so don’t weep for Me; weep for yourselves!”

And now you say, “That doesn’t sound like a message that’s the Gospel message, a
message of grace.” But it’s a
message of repentance, isn’t it? And
it sounds just like Jonah’s message.
You remember when Jonah was sent to Nineveh?
“Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed!”
That was a Gospel message.
That was a message of grace. Why?
Because Jonah was holding up the certain judgment of God against sin and
saying, “Unless you flee to God in repentance, you will be judged!”
And Jesus is doing the same in this passage. He’s calling these crowds,
He’s calling these women to repentance.
It’s amazing, isn’t it? Jesus
is on the way to die, so weak that He cannot even carry the cross, and He’s
thinking of others as He’s preaching the Gospel to the very end.
That’s just like Jesus, isn’t it?

JESUS REMINDS US OF THE AWFUL REALITY OF IMPENDING,

DESERVED JUDGEMENT

But then there’s that strange proverb.
Did you scratch your head when you read that verse this week or when you
heard it read this morning? What in
the world are You talking about, Jesus?
What do You mean, “If they do these things when the wood is green, what
will happen when it is dry?” What in
the world does that mean? The
allusion makes sense enough. Even
when we burn wood today, we prefer to burn wood that’s been dried out, that’s
not green anymore; the moisture is gone.
It burns better when it dries.
You burn the dry wood first.
Now if you run out of dry wood, you might resort to some wood that is fresher,
greener, less apt to burn. But
still, with that explanation, what does that mean?
That if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen
when it is dry. Jesus is telling
them a proverb and the proverb is designed to remind them of the awful,
impending, deserved reality of the judgment.

So is Jesus saying here, “If they would do this to Me, someone who is not a
revolutionary against the Romans’ cause, how much more do you think they are
going to do to those who do revolt against Rome in forty years?”
Or is He saying, “If I experience this kind of judgment now, when the
judgment that is coming in less than forty years is not yet right, how much
worse do you think that judgment is going to be?”
Or is He saying something deeper?
If He’s saying, “Don’t think that God’s judgment is not coming because
look at who is being judged now.
Don’t think that you’re going to escape judgment because judgment isn’t coming
because look who is being judged now.
I’m being judged now. The
Messiah is being judged.” Did you
hear what Josh read as he was reading James 4?
Did you hear what James called God in the midst of James 4?
“The One who is able to save and to destroy.”
And Jesus is saying, “There is a judgment coming and what I am going to
experience on the cross is proof that there is a judgment coming.
Don’t think that there is not a judgment coming.
It is coming.”

You know if you don’t think the judgment is coming, you’re going to have to take
that up with Jesus because He does.
And He’s saying as a Pastor, who loves His people, “Don’t think you’re going to
escape from the judgment because it isn’t going to happen.
You’re going to have to escape from the judgment in some other way, and
the only way to escape from that judgment is in Me.
You look to Me; you have faith in Me, because I am going to the cross to
be destroyed by judgment. And the
only way that you will be spared that destruction is if you are in Me.”
Again those words that the men just sang in the anthem, “He died in
darkest hurt upon the tree to offer up the worlds of light that live inside the
Trinity.” And Jesus is saying, “That
judgment is certain and what is happening to Me is proof of it and the only
refuge from that judgment is in Me.”

You know, sometimes we think, “That just couldn’t be.
Surely there’s not going to be a judgment; surely there’s not going to be
a day of reckoning.” And Jesus is
speaking right into that doubt right here and He’s saying, “Oh yes there is, and
My going to the cross is the proof of it.
Do you think that if the Father would have spared anyone judgment it
would have been His Son?” But He’s
saying that because He wants us to flee from the wrath and destruction that we
deserve by faith to Him so that we might experience the worlds of light that
live inside the Trinity.

Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, our Savior amazes us.
Physically spent and bearing the sins of the world, He’s still thinking
about our souls. And He thinks about
our souls far more than we think about our souls.
Lord, do not let us trust in some vain hope that there will be no
accounting, that there will be no judgment, and that sin will not be punished.
Do not let us hope in some vain hope but in the only hope that matters —
Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who loves our souls.
This we ask in His name, amen.

Do you know how to respond to that message?
If you don’t have the words, if you don’t know how to say it, number 509
will give you the words. “Jesus,
Lover of My Soul” — let’s sing it.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus the
Christ. Amen.

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