SSeveral years ago the Lonely Planet Guide cited Wolverhampton as the fifth worst city in the world seeing off competition from places like Detroit and Calcutta. Ok so Wolverhampton may not be on many “must-see-before-I-die lists”, but out of darkness cometh light!! There’s always a degree of civic pride in every city. I wonder what a 1st century travel guide would have said about Jerusalem?
This was the holy city that did not recognise its salvation and caused Christ to weep about it. This was the city that killed God’s prophets. This was the city in which the glorious Temple had been built as a place for God to live forever. This was the city that the unstoppable Alexander the Great rode into. This is the city that is divided today, at the crossroads of three major religions. Whatever happened to Salem – the place on the hill, the place of peace?
How many people who judge Wolverhampton have actually been here? There’s good and bad in every place on earth. 2,500 years ago when the returning Jewish exiles were attempting to rebuild Jerusalem, their opponents sent a letter warning the king of Persia of “this rebellious and evil city” (Ez.4:12). Its reputation back then preceded it.
The prophet Zechariah predicted that at the end of the age, “all the nations of the earth will gather against Jerusalem” (12:3). Maybe this prophecy is being recalled by Jesus who through His tears says, “Before long your enemies will crush you into the ground…they will not leave a single stone in place.” (Lk.19:44). The Messiah is pronouncing judgment on the city. He’s been there before and knows all its past history of hypocritical worship and sacrifice.
This was David’s Royal City. Solomon’s temple had symbolized the presence of God. It had a powerful religious appeal. “Zion”, as it was called, should have been the most beautiful place in the world. To Alexander, and other marauding armies, it was a convenient pit stop – but to an Israelite it was good to be going there to celebrate the Passover, to give thanks to the Lord in His Holy City. Yet, Jerusalem didn’t have a harmonious reputation: “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace”, remarks Jesus who knew what lay in store for it. (Lk.19:42).
Here He is on the trail teeming with devout Jews making their annual pilgrimage to a place of distortion and pollution. Sacrifices were being offered with unclean hearts. Motices were wrong. There were the money changers racketeering in the temple’s courtyards. There were merchants trading all sorts in its sacred precincts. The Shekinah Glory of the Lord had once filled this place. Not now. No wonder it made Jesus cry. He knew this was the last journey He would make. Yet what better place for the Lamb of God to sacrifice His life for the sins of Jerusalem and the entire world?
It’s because of this rejection of Jesus as Messiah that He pronounced judgment. Some forty years later, in 70AD Jerusalem, as God had pre-ordained, was utterly destroyed by the Romans. Today, it’s just another 21st century city described in the Lonely Planet Guide, as “a dazzling mixture of past and present, and a contested hotbed for the world’s monotheistic faiths.”
But this is not our Jerusalem where the children of God will be gathered like a hen looks after her brood. No. The Jerusalem of the Middle East isn’t the city we have in our minds. It’s a city you will not find on Google Earth or in any atlas, but one that you can read about in the NT. A city whose foundations are eternal and a place with a good reputation for its ruler is the Lord God, the King of righteousness.
This New Jerusalem is where Christ ascended to prepare a place for us. We can’t see its golden buildings and gates of pearl with earth bound eyes, but God in His goodness, through the Word and Holy Communion – the bread and vine of heaven – can bring us – the Church – to its threshold. Reading the Bible allows us to stand at the gates. To peer through and receive a foretaste of what’s inside. As I often say at funerals, heaven is mentioned over 500 times, isn’t it obvious, then, that God is trying to tell us something?
There was only one road into old Jerusalem when Alexander arrived. There was only one path of ascent to the Temple when Jesus went to overturn the tables of the den of thieves. However one-day people will come to the New Jerusalem from every direction. For it has 12 gates – open day and night – for there is peace inside its walls. But to get through the gates is to go through Jesus Christ. Many are invited, but few will actually be allowed in! Are you properly preparing yourself for the next life in this life? For this new city has:-
• No place for agnostics – however good they are.
• No place for those who think they can get there on their own terms.
• No place for those who mock Jesus.
The Lord knows the fate of every city: London, Paris, New York, and Wolverhampton. He also knows the fate of every individual living in every city, town and village. And He does not celebrate the destruction of those who reject Him, but He weeps for them and prays for them. Here Jesus stands as a king who in less than a week will be crucified by those He came to save. The crowds shouted their Hosannas but Jerusalem did not really know the king had come because, as Paul says, the people had “suppressed the truth by their wickedness” (Rom.1:18).
Jerusalem along with the Solomon’s temple was first destroyed thousands of years ago and the Ark of the Covenant disappeared. Indiana Jones never found it by the way because it’s already in heaven (John the apostle saw it in his vision in Revelation ch.11, vs.19) – but the priests who served in the subsequent second temple saw no cloud of the glorious presence of the Lord anymore. That’s how it was for centuries until the arrival of the long promised Messiah whose death and resurrection would bring about, through the Holy Spirit, a new temple inside each and every one of God’s people (1 Cor.6:19).
Some saw and heard Jesus and believed. But many more were ready to nail Him to a cross to forget Him forever. That’s the warning to us. Jesus weeps for the hardness of our hearts and reminds us today that we too must listen to His call for repentance because we are not guaranteed another chance. Don’t let grace pass you by, for your time could be up before you know it – “because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.” (Lk.19:44).
All I need now do is let the blessed Word speak for itself and leave all this with you. So be it. Love in the Messiah.