- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

The following are excerpts of a sermon given recently at the Falls Church by the Rev. John W. Yates:

I was sitting at a traffic light the other day, and I saw a man crossing the street who reminded me of my former Little League baseball coach. He didn’t say much, but he had a tender heart, and I always treasured the kind words of affirmation he had for me. I was fortunate to have men befriend me and believe in me during my formative years. But one of the things that I did not learn was how a man should handle his tears. And I suppose that’s one of the reasons that I have always paid careful attention to this story today about Jesus: the perfect man openly weeping over the city of Jerusalem.

All through life here on earth we are caught between the two poles — joy and sadness, celebration and sorrow, expectation and fear. There is so much in life that is ugly and painful. And it’s impossible to escape it. None of us can escape these radically different emotions, so often pulling at our hearts at the same time. No one experienced that emotional tug of war to such a degree as Jesus — a wrenching sense of knowing the bad and hating the evil that was to come, while knowing how glorious and good things could be.

During Lent, we’ve been looking at this Jesus from different viewpoints: His authority, His power, His temptation, His teaching, His wonderful appeal. This morning I want to look at the tears of Jesus, because there we find the heart of God. There are three occasions that I’ve been able to find described in the New Testament where the Son of God was moved to tears. First, He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Then He wept on Palm Sunday, overlooking the city. And finally, He wept that last night as He was praying in Gethsemane awaiting His arrest and execution.

In John 11, Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. The minute He saw Mary so terribly distraught, He burst into tears, extremely moved. Perhaps He wept in sympathy for the people He loved. Perhaps He was angry at the power of death. Perhaps it saddened Him that no one really grasped the power of eternal life. Jesus was not some impassive person immune to pain. This tells us something about God that is so dear, so surprising that it’s hard for us to grasp: God shares with us in our deepest sufferings.

Next, Jesus wept as He contemplated His own coming death, the most unimaginably painful death of all, because in it, He became our substitute, taking upon Himself all the punishment deserved by the human race. It was Thursday night in the Garden of Gethsemane, described in Mark 14: 32-36, where He wept and prayed, “Father, if there’s any way, let this cup pass.” He was God’s own Son, and yet He was willing to make our sins His own. He knows all about the sense of shame and discouragement and hopelessness that we feel when we realize how wretchedly we have behaved and how we have hurt other people. I’ve hurt my children, my wife, my friends, my parents; I’ve been so ashamed so many times. And yet Jesus died for it all.

So He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, and lastly, five days earlier, Jesus wept over the city as described in Luke 19. People whom God has called to be His own people had rejected Him, His ways, and finally His own Son. And the terrible judgment that Jesus foretold, which was to fall upon the city, didn’t issue forth from a stern, cold and unloving God, but from the God who loves and wants the very best for us, and who weeps when we turn away. There is a strong sense here of “if only.” There are times when the if only’s of life just come sweeping over us, aren’t there? And when they do, sometimes we break down; we can’t help it. If only I hadn’t said those terrible words. If only I had listened. If only, if only, oh God. But what Jesus teaches us is that when we are thinking this way, “God, if only …” He’s telling us not to get stuck there. Don’t focus on what might have been, but rather keep following Christ and He will lead you into God’s good future.

“Jesus wept.” First, He wept because He loved His friends; tears of a friend. Secondly, Jesus wept because He saw what was coming that could’ve been avoided; tears of a father or mother. And finally, Jesus wept because in His humanness He was afraid, but instead in His tears He prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done, Father.” See, these are the tears of a Savior. Do you see how significant the tears of Jesus are? Jesus weeps for you. He is saying, “God can bring you to a whole new, better place, dear one. God can be trusted.” Don’t be afraid. We worship a God who knows us, loves us, weeps for us, weeps with us, and is with us always.

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