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Visitation of Judgement or Peace? (St. Luke 19:41-48)

Tenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Luke 19.41-48

25 August 2019

Seminarian Andrew Keller, Vicar

+ In the Name of Jesus +

What do you think of when you hear the noun, ‘visitation?’ Perhaps you think of someone coming to see you. For the college kids, maybe you think of the hours that you can visit friends in their dorms. Perhaps you think of visiting the family and body of a loved one who has died. However, visitation’s definition is much different in the context of the gospel reading. It is an important word in Luke’s gospel for the incarnation of Jesus. Here, the Messiah looks at the Holy City of Jerusalem, and weeps, knowing that his visitation would not bring her peace, but destruction because of her rejection. For Jesus’ visitation brings peace to the faithful, but judgement to the unbelievers.

Upon his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus does not look at the city as a holy city, but as a place of unbelief. He weeps over the city, crying out, “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, surround you, 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.” This is not Jerusalem the Golden, as the hymn sings. This is Jerusalem the unclean, the wicked, the dead. Jesus’ emotion is of deep anguish. She does not know the things that make for peace.

Instead, she has turned the house of the Lord into den of robbers. Life in Jerusalem revolved around the temple. It was built to be a house of prayer and worship. Sacrifices were offered there as commanded in the Torah, whether it was for purification, atonement, or thanksgiving. For all the sacrifices, the sufficient offering was needed to sacrifice to God. Most of the sacrifices demanded an animal be slaughtered, which the temple would sell for a price. The money changers were there to exchange Roman coins for temple coins. With all the animals on hand, there was plenty of filth, whether it was in the animal holdings, the leftover feed, or the blood from the sacrifices. Yet, these were not why the temple needed cleansing. The merchants would inflate the exchange rate. In fact, the historian Josephus recorded that when the Romans overtook the temple, “They also burnt down the treasury-chambers, in which was an immense quantity of money, and an immense number of garments, and other precious goods.” Perhaps other elicit trading and selling was taking place. In John 2, we are told Jesus took cords and made a whip to drive out these people from the temple. He says in our Gospel today, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” They were not living according to God’s word. They acted in self-interest and greed. Instead of being a house of worship, the temple was a place where the people of God were being deceived. Jesus’ visitation and cleansing of the temple was a first step towards God’s execution of judgment on the wicked of the city, which would lead to its eventual destruction.

In the previous chapter, many praised Jesus upon his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Their cries echo the song of the angels to the shepherds on Christmas night. Jesus is recognized as that which makes for peace between earth and heaven, reconciling them with God. The Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews, disbelieved. Their eyes were shut and ears closed. They wanted Jesus to rebuke the crowd’s and the disciple’s confession. Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry.” Stones, in this verse is used as a euphemism for Gentiles, the lowest of the low, the outcasts. Jesus’ words bring to mind John the Baptizer’s words in Luke 3:7-9, which says, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now, the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The Pharisees were proud of their lineage, of the temple, of their stature. The Messiah they were looking for was a divine warrior, who would free them from their enemies and lead a reign of Jewish nationalism on earth. Instead, they got a man riding on a donkey, with a message to bring the Gentiles into the covenant. John stated that sons of Abraham could be made out of these outcasts. Jesus said the Gentiles would praise the Lord before the Pharisees. Indeed this is the case, for upon his visitation in the Triumphal Entry, the crowds shouted the Lord’s praise, while the leaders of the Jews sought to destroy him. Jerusalem and her religious elite took solace, not in the words of Christ, but in the temple, where God was once seated. They did not look at the true temple, but at an empty building. Jesus’ words were fulfilled, when the Romans destroyed the temple and razed the city. They did not recognize the time of their visitation, when Christ was in their midst, offering the things that made for peace, and they were liable to judgment.

Do you look for the things that make for peace elsewhere? Do you look to money, fame, and possessions for comfort? Do you go to celebrities and politicians for advice rather than holding to the word of God? How often do you look for Jesus apart from where he has promised to be? Do not be like the Pharisees, whose eyes were blinded to the things that make for peace. Rather, be like the crowds, shouting, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Do not despise preaching and his word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.

Yet God’s visitation is not always in judgment, but to those who are faithful, it brings peace. Jesus’ visitation was foretold by Zechariah in Luke 1, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David…and later…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” God Himself was in their midst in the fleshly temple of Jesus’ body. In the time of the temple, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, where he would burn incense, sprinkle blood on the seat of atonement, and offer prayers. Then he would give the blessing to the people. Now, we no longer need a priest to offer sacrifices for us because Christ himself has given his blood, that we might receive forgiveness of sins.  His visitation shone light onto those who sat in darkness, which includes stones, the Gentiles, and all oppressed by sin. He opened to all people the way of peace. St. Mark’s Gospel says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” No longer would they have to sacrifice at the temple, for Jesus freely gave peace from heaven. He willingly died on the cross that all who believe in him shall not perish, but live eternally.

Jesus rendered the temple obsolete in his incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection. His visitation on the cross gives you the things that make for peace. No longer do you need to make sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, for you have received it in Christ’s blood shed for you.  No longer do you need a high priest, for Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice for your sins. At his death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. No longer are you separated from God, but He has invited you himself to pray ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’ God comes to you, not in Jerusalem, but in his church, where you hear his Word and receive the sacraments. In Baptism, you are made an heir of Christ’s death, having the Old Adam daily drowned, and a new man arise to live before God in righteousness and innocence forever. You receive his true body and true blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins each Sunday. You receive the forgiveness of sins from the pastor as from God himself. His word is truth, it is life, and it is peace. His visitation is ongoing, giving you the things that make for peace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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