Text: Luke 19:41-48
During Holy Week, while Jesus was teaching in the temple, He told a parable about a man who planted a vineyard and rented it out to tenants. When the time for fruit came, the man sent his servants to the tenants, but they beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again, the owner sent servants; this time, more than the first. The tenants did the same thing. Finally, the owner of the vineyard decided to send his son – figuring that they would respect him. However, the tenants devised a plan to kill the son and keep the vineyard for themselves. Then, they carried out their plan – kicking the son out of the vineyard and killing him. The parable ends with the master finally returning. He destroys those tenants and gives the vineyard to others. This parable illustrates what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel text today.
The Gospel text captures our Lord weeping over the city of Jerusalem as He drew near to it for the last time. For three years, He preached and taught and performed miracles. He urged the people emphatically, and often with tears, to repent and believe in the Gospel. But they would not. And now, as our Lord says, Jerusalem would be destroyed as a judgment of God against them. I said last week that we’d have one more hard Sunday before it lightens up again, and here we are. Our Lord punished Jerusalem for its refusal to recognize the time of its visitation. Yet, in mercy, He extends that time unto us.
Let us hear, again, the words of our Lord. St. Luke writes,
When Jesus 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…They will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”Luke 19:41-42, English Standard Version
These are difficult words for us to hear, and they must have been difficult for our Lord, as evidenced by His tears. But to help us to understand why our Lord is weeping, we should look further at these words in verse 44, “You did not know the time of your visitation.” By “visitation,” our Lord speaks about what we normally call His Incarnation – the time, continuing now, where the eternal Son of God bears our same human flesh.
The Incarnation is what was promised throughout the prophets. Through the prophet Nathan, God promised David that one of his sons would sit on the throne forever. Through the prophet Isaiah, God promised a suffering Servant who would bear the sins of the people on the cross and thereby make reconciliation. The Incarnation was promised by many prophets, and God Himself spoke it to Adam and Eve in the Garden – that their offspring would crush the devil. These promises were fulfilled in Christ’s ministry. The promised time of refreshment and healing came through His ministry to the blind, lame, outcast, and poor. Jesus came not only with miracles, but also with the Words of Eternal Life. He came to do “the things that make for peace,” by dying for the sins of the world and rising again. The time of visitation Jesus speaks of is His Incarnation, His ministry, His death and resurrection.
Many in Israel would have none of this, however. They heard Jesus’ Words, witnessed His miracles, and they rejected them. They refused to believe. Even in the temple, we heard in the Gospel, “The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him.” (v. 47) The people of Jerusalem were the ones in the parable who killed the master’s servants and son. Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem saying, “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 were not willing.” (Lk. 13:34)
Because of this, the people’s refusal to repent and believe the day of their visitation, God’s wrath would no longer be restrained. In the Gospel, our Lord foretold – with striking precision – what did happen to Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Because Israel did not recognize the day of their visitation nor the things that make for peace, ramparts and barricades were set against Jerusalem. Enemies surrounded it on every side and tore it down to the ground, and many perished as punishment for their unbelief.
Shortly after John the Baptist was born, his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to sing, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old.” (Lk. 1:68-70) With these words, the Holy Spirit teaches that the Incarnation and ministry of Christ is the time so long promised through the prophets. In the Incarnation, God Himself visited and redeemed His people by the shedding of His own blood. Because Jerusalem failed to recognize and believe this, it was punished with destruction. In the Parable of the Tenants, though, it says that after the master of the vineyard punished the evil tenants, he brought new ones in. Guess who that is talking about.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2) Jersualem fell because it failed to recognize its day. Yet, the Lord, out of mercy and grace, has extended that day to others, even us. Now is the time of our visitation. Now is the time where the Lord comes to us with healing in His wings. Now is the time that He dwells among us. Now is the time, because these are the things Jesus does through His Means of Grace. First, through His Word, the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts. Apart from Him, the Scriptures remain a closed book, but by the Spirit our hearts of stone are turned to flesh and we comforted when we hear Christ’s Word.
Today, Christ sends faithful pastors into all the world. Through these men, we hear the forgiveness of Christ. When the called minister stands before us and says, “In the stead and by the command,” it is truly Christ who stands before us and forgives. When the pastor places his hand our heads, it is not his hand, but our Lord’s. When we receive the bread and wine, it is not only bread and wine, but the true body and blood of Christ. When we receive the Sacrament, we receive Christ and all His blessings.
Now is the time, now is the day of our visitation. Now is the time in which our Lord makes clear the things that make for peace – not our works, but His. We give all thanks and praise to God for bringing us to know and believe in this day. Yet, soon, the night will come. Soon the time for work will cease and our Lord will return. The same thing that happened to Jerusalem physically, which you can read about in the historian Josephus, will happen spiritually to those who refuse to recognize the day of visitation. Our Lord is righteous, and He will punish those who refuse His grace. Or, rather, He will allow those who desire to live apart from His grace to do so eternally in hell.
I said that this would be a difficult reading, and so it is. We must confess that, the things which our Lord foretold would happen to Jerusalem, are the things we have deserved by our sinful nature. Our Lord, in His kindness, however, looks past our sins. For, in fact, He took them into Himself on the cross. By His grace, He extends the time of visitation to this very moment, in this very place, to this very people. He comes to us now, not in wrath, but with the words of forgiveness and peace which we have heard. Let us, therefore, give thanks that we have been caused to know and believe that this is the time of visitation and the day of our salvation. Let us pray that the Lord would cause this news to take hold of more and more, so that His wedding hall would be filled. And, let us pray, finally, that we would be faithful tenants of the Lord’s vineyard, laboring in love and bearing fruit when He calls.