Selected highlights from this sermon.
When Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we can see three snapshots about Him in the text: His humility, His tears, and His pronouncement.
Jesus—King of kings and Lord of lords—could have come on a magnificent horse, but He came riding a donkey. He wept over Jerusalem and then predicted its destruction.
And as we examine the text, Pastor Lutzer explains there is one regret that many will suffer for eternity—but he also explains how to avoid that regret.
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I think it was John Greenleaf Whittier who said, “Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.’”
Today we are going to be talking about regret, and when we think of regret it really falls into two categories. First of all there’s temporal regret – things that we do in life that we wish we had done differently, but they do not necessarily constitute such issues that will cause regret for all of eternity.
One day I remember buying a sports coat. I didn’t even like it in the store, much less when I got home. I don’t think I ever wore it. Eventually when we boxed clothes up, as we do from time to time and give them away, I just gave it away. But that’s a very small regret, isn’t it? Some of you regret the person whom you married. Some of you are living with the effects of an addiction. Did you read that story about a week ago about a woman who gambled fourteen million dollars and lost it all? I think she won thirteen million. She gambled all of that back and then she stole money from her in-laws to make it nearly fourteen million dollars. Imagine her today. Jail time is estimated between ten and twelve years. Imagine her sitting in a jail cell knowing that at one time she had fourteen million dollars. How she could have lived on that! But now she must live with regret.
Well, I’m speaking about those kinds of regrets, and there’s going to be hope for her at the end of this message, but I’m also talking about eternal regrets. I’m speaking about some of you (may it not be true but it’s certainly possible) living in an eternity of regret. Yes, the saddest words of tongue and pen are simply these. It might have been.
Our story, of course, is the triumphal entry of Jesus, and because it’s in virtually all the Gospels, we could turn to it anywhere, but I’ve chosen Luke’s account of it in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Now when Jesus is coming over the Mount of Olives, what was the purpose of the triumphal entry? Sometimes we get the impression that the crowd that came just simply came spontaneously out of nowhere. This actually was a very planned event. When Jesus told his disciples to go and untie a mother donkey and her colt I think that was arranged ahead of time, and Jesus Christ’s coming was already known. The Bible says in the Gospel of John that there were those who came and they were there for the event because they had become acquainted with Lazarus and the story of him being raised, and so there was that group. The disciples were there but as the procession came down the Mount of Olives there were more and more people until it became quite a crowd.
What was Jesus trying to do in the triumphal entry? If I might put it very plainly, he was trying to get himself crucified because he was coming to Jerusalem to die. And he knew that because of the resentment against him for him to come down the Mount of Olives riding a donkey was like taking a match and throwing it into a can of kerosene. And so Jesus really is precipitating the events that will lead to his death.
Well, as we open the account you’ll notice that Jesus asked his disciples to find that donkey, and actually there were two animals as the other accounts show us, and he says in Luke 19:30-41, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ And they said, ‘The Lord has need of it.’ And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—-already on the way down the Mount of Olives—-the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’” Wow!
I just want you to notice three snapshots of Jesus today. First of all, notice the humility of Jesus. He comes to Jerusalem on a donkey and not on a horse. He will eventually come on a horse the book of Revelation says because kings who came on horses meant that they were coming for war and for battle.
We think today of donkeys being somewhat stupid animals, but that’s not the way they were regarded in those days. This was a noble beast. There was a custom that said that when a king is coming in peace he rides on a donkey. When he is coming for war he rides on a horse, so Jesus here is coming on a donkey, but it signifies his humility. He is, after all, king of kings and Lord of lords, and he’s coming this way because the prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 9:9 predicted the coming of Jesus (the coming of Messiah) on a donkey. And so Jesus is coming down the Mount of Olives and obviously in that situation there are many people who are gathering who are giving him praise. Sometimes it is said that those who praised him as he came down the Mount of Olives are the same who crucified him later. I don’t think that’s true. This is a different multitude. As I mentioned, his disciples are among them; those who admired his miracles are there; the larger crowd of people gather together as Jesus comes down the Mount of Olives and they are giving him praise.
Now there were people who were disappointed in Jesus. When they said hosanna, it meant save now and that word and that expression probably refers to the fact that they expected Jesus to be the king who would throw off the yoke of Rome, the occupation of the Roman Empire and all of the Roman soldiers, and give Jerusalem and the area that we call Israel today its freedom. Jesus didn’t do that at all, so maybe when they were shouting, “Save now,” they meant really, “Become our king. You have the miracles. You have the credentials. Take over,” but Jesus was not about to take over. That was to come much later.
So we see here the humility of Jesus as he comes down the mountain and they take palm branches and he walks on them. This is called the green carpet treatment, and Jesus comes down the Mount of Olives. But we see also the tears of Jesus. Here’s a passage that should touch our hearts. By the way, in verse 39 isn’t it interesting when some of the crowd said, “Rebuke your disciples,” he said, “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out”? To me that is the irresistible purpose of God. Jesus will get praise, and if you and I don’t praise him, even the stones are going to praise him as King of kings and Lord of lords.
But now we come to the tears of Jesus. You’ll notice it says in Luke 19:41-44, “When he 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. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’”
The tears of Jesus! He weeps over Jerusalem. Because we believe in the divinity of Jesus we sometimes forget that he was fully man. He had the same tear ducts that you and I do. Is it ever right to cry? Of course, it’s right to cry. Jesus Christ cried at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus Christ cried in this situation. As he looked over the city we see the compassion of Jesus. His heart wants to engulf them.
In Matthew 23:37, speaking of the same event, he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”
We see here the compassion and the heart of Jesus. What is he crying over? Is he crying over the Temple that is going to be destroyed that we’ll refer to in a moment? No, that’s not what he’s crying over. He’s crying over the people in it. Did you notice the text that I read? It says in verse 44 that Jerusalem will be torn down to the ground and you and your children within you. Jesus is weeping over the children that are going to be destroyed in that great devastation and he’s thinking of future generations. He’s seeing the pain that the people are going to go through and there he stands and he weeps over the city.
I find it very interesting that the disciples were giving him praise. The text says right here that they were rejoicing and singing hosannas. Now if you and I had been Jesus we’d have been absorbed in accepting all of that praise and we’d have thought this is a great day for me; at least I have some supporters. Jesus was not impressed with that, however right and deserving it was. Jesus was seeing something else. He was seeing a city that was about to be destroyed. He was seeing the children in it.
As you and I look over the city of Chicago today what do we see? We can weep over the poverty of the city. Do you realize that there are children who undoubtedly live in squalor today? There are those who don’t know how to pay their rent. There are those who are being evicted for one reason or another. Does that ever touch our hearts with compassion as we look over the city? We can weep over the racism, over the sin of the city. We can weep over its corruption, and by that I don’t only mean the political structures. I’m talking about crime in the city. Who knows what happened in Chicago last night that will never make the news? Who knows the children that possibly have been abused? Is it possible for us to live in a city with such great need without any hearts that are broken, hearts that cannot weep over its needs?
I’ll never forget looking down the street maybe a mile or two south of here many years ago and seeing a man who was drunk. He was hardly able to stand up and he had beside him a little girl that I took to be his daughter who was maybe six years old. And she was trying to walk with him and I could see the terror in her eyes, and my heart was broken. I didn’t think that there was anything that I could do. After all that was his daughter, but I’ve thought of that little girl, and I’ve thought of her often. She represents thousands of little girls in the city of Chicago and thousands of little boys who do not have the stability of a home, who know nothing of the warmth and the acceptance of human love.
Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem and his heart was so moved that he had compassion for the city, and the book of Hebrews tells us that we have a high priest who can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He sees your need today. He sees your aches, your pain, your loneliness, and Jesus knows what you are going through. He’s a compassionate savior.
So we see the tears of Jesus, but then we also see the pronouncement of Jesus, and this is where it starts to get chilling. It really does. You’ll notice Jesus said, “The days will come when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side, and tear you down to the ground.” Wow! The prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem!
Those of us who have been to Jerusalem just recently remember standing on the Mount of Olives and being able to survey the entire city which looks very different from the way it looked in Jesus Christ’s time. When Jesus was standing there, there was a temple that was prominent. It was there for others to see.
Here’s what happened. The First Temple Period is the temple period of Solomon. He’s the one who built the grand temple, but that temple was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., though it had served the people for several centuries. Then you have the return of the people under Zerubbabel and a small temple is built, but then Herod came along and said to himself, “I’m going to build you a new one,” and so we call it the Second Temple Period, though technically you might say it’s the third. But he tears the temple of Zerubbabel down while he builds the Jews the most massive structure that existed in the then-known world. Now you can’t see the temple today, but when you are in Jerusalem you can actually see a model of Herod’s temple to give you an idea of what it looked like. It was adorned with gold and beauty. It was a temple that had colonnades. It had courts. It had places for people to meet. It was a massive structure, begun back in perhaps about 20 B.C. It was used for several decades and Jesus is now on the Mount of Olives saying, “The time is going to come when not one stone will be left upon another.” According to Josephus they actually believed that in these stones there was gold, and so when the Romans came in 70 A.D. they dismantled it and they destroyed that temple. And today, as you know, standing in the temple area is the Dome of the Rock, reminding us of the fact that no temple exists today. And Jesus Christ’s prediction was fulfilled.
I will not go into the details of Titus surrounding the city of Jerusalem and how it was captured in 70 A.D. because there are some things that should not be said in mixed company. It was that bad, but let me give you one idea of how the people suffered. It was said by Josephus and others that evidently the people were so hungry that parents actually ate their dead children. And if anybody went out of the city to try to get food or water many of them ended up being crucified on the Mount of Olives. It was absolutely horrid and Jesus Christ’s prediction here was fulfilled.
You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, how does this all tie together? Why should our lives be changed because you’ve told us this story?” Let me give you three lessons that I hope will touch you and me in such a way that our lives will be changed.
First of all, number one, the greater the opportunity, the greater the judgment! You might look at this and you might say, “Now isn’t this overkill? Sure, they rejected Jesus, but to have the temple destroyed and there’s been no temple in that area for 2000 years (though many of us believe that the time is going to come when a temple will be built), isn’t that overdoing the judgment?” My friends, they had Jesus in their midst. If you look at Jesus and the fulfillment of prophecy and the miracles that he did, the Jews of that era should have looked at him and said, “This is our Messiah.” He was there with them and yet they turned away.
You know, I think that Pilate, who had his ear to the ground, understood human nature. The Bible says that Pilate knew that it was for envy that they delivered Jesus to him. Jesus made the other leaders look bad because, after all, they couldn’t do the miracles that he could do. They couldn’t have the crowds that he had, and they deeply resented it. And in their chosen blindness they said no to Jesus and this is the fulfillment of their judgment. This is finally the ultimate regret, an eternal regret, on the part of those who never did believe on him as Messiah.
I know that this is a hard message, but when we think about regret I always think of Judas. I have preached on Judas. You know here’s a man who again represents those who had an incredible opportunity and then turned away from it, and he went his own way. Judas was with Jesus three years. He saw the miracles. He was there when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. He was there when Jesus stilled the storm. He was there when Jesus fed the multitudes, and yet in his heart refused to accept Jesus as his own Lord and Savior. What a tragedy! What is it that kept Judas from doing that? We don’t know all of the facts as to what Judas was thinking, but we do know this. We know that Judas did have a love for money because you remember the high priests were able to pay him 30 pieces of silver if only he was willing to betray Jesus Christ. And there are some people who will actually say no to Jesus because money in their minds is so much more important and it consumes them.
When Rebecca and I were at the passion play, one of the highlights of it was really the story of Judas and the soliloquy that the actor gave playing the part of Judas. It tore our souls. We were left weeping as we heard it given. Let me simply read a little bit of what was said at the passion play as Judas might have said it.
“Where can I go to hide my shame, to cast off the agony? No place is dark enough. No sea is deep enough. Earth, open up and devour me. I can be no more. Where is there another man on whom such guilt rests? I am a contemptible traitor. How kind he has been toward me. How gently he comforted me when dark dejection oppressed my soul. I’m not a disciple any longer. I’m hated everywhere, despised everywhere with this blazing fire in my gut. Everyone curses me. Still there is one whose face I wish I could see again, to whom I wish I could cling. Woe to me, for I am his murderer. Cursed hour in which my mother gave birth to me. Here I will bring an end to my accursed life. Come you serpent, come. Clothe yourself around my throat and strangle this traitor.” Wow! The greater the opportunity, the greater the judgment!
Now you and I don’t live during the time of Jesus. We didn’t live then. We are not Judases in the presence of Christ, but could I just reach out my hand and heart to you today and say that some of you are here who have never trusted Christ as Savior, and you have the opportunity, and you can buy a Bible and you can hear the Gospel preached in many churches in the city of Chicago, and here you are today. You are listening. Are you going to turn away from Christ or are you going to turn toward him? Remember this. The greater the opportunity, the greater the judgment!
As I was meditating on this text there is another lesson, and that is that the tears of God and the judgment of God exist side by side. Let me tell you why that’s significant. The tears of God (and this is, after all, God in the flesh weeping) and the judgment of God exist side by side as seen here in the light of Jesus. He weeps and then he pronounces judgment.
There’s been a book written that has caused a great stir in the evangelical world. You may or may not have heard of it, but the Internet was abuzz with it just a couple of weeks ago. It’s entitled, “Love Wins,” and the reason that it has garnered so much publicity, including the most recent Time Magazine cover story, is because a pastor who is rather well known and who has always been classified as an evangelical wrote this book to really show that love cancels hell. That’s the bottom line.
My friend, love wins, but justice also wins, and I’m sorry but when you accept the Bible you have to accept the good parts about grace and then you have to accept the other parts about judgment and even hell. The same Jesus who weeps over sinners is the same Jesus who pronounces judgment upon them when they do not respond. It’s frightening but it is true and I see both in the life of Jesus.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, where’s the hope?” You’re waiting for hope, aren’t you? Yes, I am bringing hope now and that is this, that even in the midst of this darkness, even in the midst of the judgment that was pronounced upon this city, and ultimately upon the whole country, despite the destruction on Jerusalem that came, in the midst of all of that you had many individuals who were believing on Christ, who were trusting him, who may have had many regrets in their lifetime, but they had no permanent regrets because they trusted Christ as Savior. And if you know him your regrets need not go on forever.
You know the Bible says that among those who crucified Jesus there were those who believed and were saved. As you know, throughout the history of the Christian church there has been a great deal of persecution of the Jews. In fact, when Rebecca and I were in Berlin last summer we went through an entire museum dedicated to Jewish persecution and it was awful to behold but true because what the Christians said is the Jews killed Jesus, therefore because they killed Jesus we have a right to persecute them. We have a right to do all that we possibly can to marginalize them. It’s terrible.
I want to say this. The Jews were involved in the crucifixion of Jesus to be sure, but we as a Christian church should not tag them as being responsible for the death of Christ, as if they were solely responsible. You have the Romans who were responsible. You also have us. We are responsible, and God is responsible, because God set forth Christ to redeem us. So it’s a complex question, but this is what I want to say. Even if we were to say that the Jews are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, it would not follow that we should not associate with them, be kind to them, and so forth. Why? It is because the crucifixion of Jesus was not an unforgivable sin. God’s grace and God’s mercy extended to some of those people.
You know from what it says in the Gospel of Mark I take it that the centurion was the man who was responsible for the crucifixion in terms of the execution. The Bible says that when the centurion saw that Jesus died, and he saw the darkness, he said, “Truly, this is the Son of God.” Wow! I expect to see that centurion in heaven.
When Peter was preaching on the Day of Pentecost he was preaching to people, many of whom, were involved in the death of Jesus. He said, “God, who set forth Jesus by his predetermined plan whom you crucified,” and then he preached and three thousand people are converted as they came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Many of the people who were involved in the crucifixion of Jesus are saved individuals today. And then it says in the book of Acts that as the Gospel was going out from Jerusalem many of the priests believed and obeyed the Gospel. So I’m here to tell you today that no matter what your past has been, no matter what regret you have brought to this meeting today, I’ll tell you that God is adequate to forgive you and to cleanse you and to make you one of his own no matter what your past is because his grace is really that great.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I’ve piled up a mountain of sin.” Ah, but God piles up a mountain of grace that is bigger. (applause) That’s why where sin abounds grace abounds much more, and there were people who took advantage of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection who are saved today though involved in these events.
Well you say, “Pastor Lutzer, after Judas did that terrible deed, then he took the money and threw it down.” Isn’t that interesting? He was interested in silver? They gave it to him and he should have been happy. Ah no. Guilt drove him to despair. What if at that time Judas had run to Jesus? Would Jesus have forgiven him? The answer is of course Jesus would have. Now theologically we may question whether or not he was capable of doing all that, but in the end if he had done it Jesus would have received him because Jesus died for sinners.
I love to tell the story about Martin Luther and Spolatin who was a man who actually was in charge of the library there in Wittenberg. One day Spolatin came to Luther and said, “You know I committed a sin and I can’t get peace in my conscience. There’s just no way.” Apparently Spolatin gave somebody bad advice and it turned out really badly. Maybe it was something very awful that may have even resulted in a death. Who knows? But the way in which Luther dealt with it is interesting. He didn’t say what most of us would say, “Spolatin, chill. Don’t get so worried. We’ve all done things like this. Your conscience is too sensitive.” That’s not what Luther said. Instead of minimizing the sin Luther magnified grace. I don’t have his letter in front of me, but I’ll quote you a paraphrase. Luther said, “Spolatin, you’ve sinned. Ah, come over and join us because we are hardboiled sinners. If you want to know what a sinner is you come and join our company, and you have to get used to the idea that Jesus didn’t die for just childish nominal sins. Oh no, Spolatin, he died for damnable iniquities.”
And today I hold out to you a Savior who can save you and forgive damnable iniquities. (applause) What a tragedy to not take advantage of it, to not know the day of your visitation. I thought to myself that I sure wish that I could phone that woman who lost fourteen million dollars gambling, who is being taken away from her children, who is being put in jail, I’m sure, for having done that and for having lost all the money that she earned (the thirteen million) and then stealing another half million from her in-laws. Is there hope for that woman in jail? Does God still have a purpose for her who has blown it so badly and so foolishly? The answer is yes because Jesus died for damnable iniquities. (applause)
And that’s why I urge you to come to Christ. Oh yes, there is judgment indeed, and our nation may be under judgment, but you can believe. You can be an exception to this. You have lots of temporal regrets, but you don’t have to have eternal regret because Jesus came as a Savior.
There was a man in England by the name of William Cowper. One day I even bought a book of his poetry because I liked his poetry. William Cowper knew John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace, and he struggled with all kinds of depression. I don’t want you to think less of him but he did try to commit suicide four times, possibly because he was sexually abused as a boy. There are hints in his biography that that happened, but one time when he was trying to convince himself to commit suicide and he tried, he felt so terrible when it didn’t work out that he said, “I am worse than Judas for I have denied my Savior.” Wow! And yet it is that man, with those regrets, who was redeemed and he wrote some of the loveliest words that you and I could ever possibly sing.
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
I love the stanza that says:
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
In Jesus we have a Savior. The triumphal entry in many ways is depressing because of its judgments, but if you look at the whole picture there is hope for those who desire to believe.
So what keeps you from Jesus today? Why don’t you believe on him and be saved? And for those of you who are Christians, give Jesus your mess. He will forgive you, and if you give him the broken pieces, he’ll even do something with your mess because that’s the kind of a Savior we have today.
In a moment we are going to be singing and as we sing we are going to have prayer partners up here because nothing else matters to us here at Moody Church as much as your personal walk with God. If we can help you, if you want somebody to pray for you, they will be up here, but first of all, let us pray and then we shall sing.
Our Father, we want to thank you for the tears of Jesus. We thank you that when he pronounces judgment it is not cold-hearted, indifferent, hard, calloused, and vindictive. It is a judgment that is tempered with his tears and his compassion, and for that, Father, we thank you. We pray, Father, for all those who brought their sins here today on their consciences, on their minds, on their hearts, people wondering how they can possibly see their way clear in the days ahead. We ask today, Lord, that you will magnify the wonder of grace and the tears of Jesus in the hearts of those who come to you who are broken-hearted. And may we affirm that indeed if we come to that fountain we can be cleansed. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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