As Terri and I have the wonderful grandparently — yes I just invented a word — joy of spending time with our two precious grandchildren. We get to watch them grow, and as I witness their expressions, what dawns on me over and over is the wonder of discovery they experience. I’m talking about those first-moment expressions and the sheer joy they exude when their eyes sparkle and their minds realize what certain things mean.
Seeing things afresh and anew is what I desire to experience this year as I journey toward the Holiest of Christian celebrations. I do believe that this year is different, and I think I know why. You see, each year there is a joyful spirit of expectation as we journey forward toward Holy week and Easter Sunday, but this year is different. I am sure it is because this Easter season for me will be the first since my trip to the Holy Land last fall. I can still remember the smells, the noises and the atmosphere that surrounded my being as I walked the streets of Jerusalem, as I prayed at the western wall, and as we spent hours on temple mount. It was from my perspective standing at the Hulda Gates looking eastward that I could look directly at the Mount of Olives where Jesus, on the day of his triumphal entry, would have cleared the top of the mount and gazed upon the very setting where I was standing. I thought of what he actually looked upon that day.
William Barclay masterfully encapsulates the moment of what Jesus would have seen when Jerusalem came into view on the day of the triumphal entry. “It was the Passover time, and Jerusalem and the whole surrounding neighborhood was crowded with pilgrims. Thirty years later, a Roman governor was to take a census of the lambs slain in Jerusalem for the Passover and find that the number was not far off a quarter of a million. It was the Passover regulation that there must be a party of a minimum of 10 for each lamb, which means that at that Passover time, more than two and a half million people had crowded their way into Jerusalem. The law was that every adult male Jew who lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem must come to the Passover; but not only the Jews of Palestine, Jews from every corner of the world made their way to the greatest of their national festivals. Jesus could not have chosen a more dramatic moment; it was into a city surging with people keyed up with religious expectations that he came.”
A clear image of what Jesus saw that day we glean from history. But what was he thinking? For that, we turn to the scriptures and the writings of Luke. As he came around the Mount of Olives where you turn and the city comes into view, we read, “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’” I sense from those words that he was thinking, “If only you had listened to my words, If only you had recognized this moment in time, If only you had recognized me.”
In his writings, Alfred Edershiem shares, “Luke records that Jesus ‘wept over’ the city of Jerusalem as He warned the multitude gathered around that the rebellious city was going to be encompassed by its enemies and completely destroyed. Here, the word translated ‘wept’ means ‘to weep audibly, to cry as a child.’ He was prophesying of Israel’s destruction by the Roman army in A.D. 70.” Each time I am in Israel and spend time at the temple, I see the stones. I’ve touched them. They are still there where Roman General Titus ordered his troops to topple the very temple Jesus gazed upon that day.
Lord, this Easter, may I with fresh eyes gaze upon these moments in scripture differently than ever before.
I have many times referred to this passage as the saddest words in the Bible, and I still believe them to be so. They sadden us as we consider three things which Jesus points out took place, things that the people of Jerusalem and we could miss about Him. First, I notice that Jesus refers to His peace. Peace is not just the absence of war, but it is an inner confidence that the very soul of man is in right relationship with His creator God. Secondly, I believe the sadness comes from the fact that they missed his warning of what was to come. Thirdly, and most importantly, they missed His presence. He was there, and they didn’t even know it.
Don’t miss a thing this Easter season.
Tim Throckmorton is the former executive pastor for Plymouth Heights Church of the Nazarene in Franklin Furnace, Ohio, and Portsmouth First Church of the Nazarene. He is currently senior pastor at Crossroads Church in Circleville, Ohio.