St. Luke 19.41-48
05 August 2018
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Jesus laments on Palm Sunday,
Because days will come upon you, when your enemies will lay siege around your walls, and will surround you, and will restrain you from every direction, and they will raze you and your children along with you to the ground, and they will not leave in place a stone upon a stone along with you, because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Lk. 19.43-44; my translation)
You did not know the time of your visitation.
In today’s usage, the words “visitation” or “visitor” imply that someone is stopping by for some purpose, but is not staying. One might visit to say hello, to check up on the one who receives the visitor, to have dinner or to celebrate some event, but no matter the purpose, soon, the visitor will be gone.
This is not quite what Jesus means when He says, “visitation.” This visitation is when one comes at the sending of someone greater to oversee the people on behalf of that greater person. The word here is “episkopes” in the original text – you hear the root of the word “episcopal” which is also used in the bible for “bishop” or “overseer”. We really mean that this is another word for “pastor.” The person who holds the office of overseer, as “visitor” implies, comes from outside of us, may or may not be here forever, and comes to oversee us on behalf of God.
I have taken stock in recent weeks of our visitations here at Immanuel, our pastors, because I wrote for and presented on two topics at a Lutheran pastor’s conference in Racine, Wisconsin, this past week: how we host vicars, and how we teach and encourage the singing of our Lutheran hymns in our congregation. The credit belongs to you and to our previous pastors – I was asked by the organizers because of the reputation of this congregation.
One thing I told the listeners about at this conference is how our congregation has been blessed with lengthy visitations by faithful pastors. Thirty-nine, thirty-eight, and thirty years are the three longest pastorates here, and none less than five years. Last week, I came across in some research the 1918 volume of The Lutheran Witness, in which was the obituary of our longest serving pastor, the Rev. Heinrich Johann Katt. Pastor Katt served here from 1879, until the day our Lord called him to his eternal rest because of cancer, on Sunday, July 28, 1918. A week ago Saturday was the 100th anniversary of Pastor Katt’s death. He was buried here in Terre Haute on the 31st of July. This reminds us pastors, and vicars, I am here but for a time, and one day, the Lord will send another. Our visitation on behalf of Christ is not forever. The time and the flock belong to Him.
Peter calls Jesus the “shepherd and overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2.25) – the pastor and visitor of your souls, you could re-say it, to whom we have returned in repentance and faith after straying like lost sheep. Peter also calls Jesus the “Chief Shepherd” – the Chief Pastor – for unlike all other overseers who are sent, Jesus’ visitation does not end. The Father has sent His Son from eternity, for an eternal reign.
Yet, Jesus chooses a strange way in which to carry out His visitation. He does so as our servant. He comes not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as the ransom for many. He comes to visit in order to suffer for me, give Himself to rescue me, die to save me and restore me, reconcile and set me free – to vanquish the dark fear and soothe the horrid anguish sinners ought to have over sin, death, and the power of the devil. Our King and Overseer and Shepherd comes to us each week, forgiveness and eternal life in hand, given through His ministry of Word and Sacrament in His Church.
But if you do not know the time of Jesus’ gracious visitation, that you are to be the eternal subject of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – there will be no peace for you, truly, now or in eternity. If you do not hear and heed His call to repent and believe the Gospel, for His Kingdom is at hand, you will find yourself surrounded by those eternal enemies of sin, death, and devil, hemmed in and under siege, with no escape, with no help or comfort from the presence of the living God, for He will not be there in that place. He will withdraw His gracious visitation and allow the consequences of sin to go forth.
The chief priests and scribes and foremost men of the people – the Sanhedrin, the religious elite of Jesus’ day in Jerusalem, who ran the Herodian Temple and the religious system built up around it – these men did not know the time of their visitation. They thought they were the overseers. They thought God had sent them to do His bidding, and had set up quite a scheme for themselves. Yet, while “My house will be a house of prayer,” says Jesus, “But you have made it a den of thieves.”
According to the Jewish historian Josephus, by the time of Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, some forty years after Jesus’ prophecy, the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem had amassed quite a loot of treasure in the Temple storerooms, precious metals, coins, jewels, expensive vestments and clothes for all the priests made of fine fabrics in expensive royal purple. The money-changers had been doing quite well in their racket for many years, turning good profits on the backs of God’s people. Josephus also records that there was a Babylonian made curtain hanging over the doors to the main Temple sanctuary, embroidered with strange images of the universe and the twelve pagan signs of the zodiac. The Roman commander Titus took it all that loot away before he burned the Temple to the ground, not one stone left upon another. All Levitical priests in the Temple were slaughtered, as well as an estimated 1.1 million people in Jerusalem, all there for the Passover. The final date of the destruction of the Temple was August 10, 70 AD.
Jesus laments the future fate of Jerusalem because false overseers, false shepherds, were ignoring the Word of God. They led many astray. They did not believe or trust that God had been visiting them through the prophets and even with His own gracious presence among them in Tabernacle and then Temple, and then finally by the Son of God taking upon Himself our human flesh in the Virgin Mary, a new Temple, not made with human hands. To not know the time of their gracious visitation from God was as the Apostle Paul says, for the Jews to be “ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” (Rom. 10.3) Rank unbelief in the true and living God and His Word has consequences.
If gangrene sets in, to save the life of the patient, the limb in which the gangrene has invaded must be cut off. The old Temple, made impure and diseased by paganism, idolatry, and a lack of faith in God’s gracious visitation for His people, had to be cut off. Jesus not only overturned and drove out the moneychangers – the first step in the Temple’s ultimate doom – but He spent the days of Holy Week before His passion continually teaching in that Temple the truth of His Word, dispelling the darkness, overturning the false preaching going on there. Many did listen, St. Luke says, and hung on Jesus’ every Word.
The cleansing of the Temple is only a small part of our Lord’s gracious visitation, a foreshadowing of a greater reality. There was not just a building in Jerusalem that had to be destroyed, but the Old Adam had to be crucified, the one who knew no sin, who became sin for us, who became the object of God’s righteous wrath for your paganism, your idolatry, your unbelief, your sin against God and neighbor – it had to be razed to the ground, dead and buried. On Good Friday, for us men and for our salvation, the temple of our Lord’s body was indeed destroyed to pay for our trespasses, so that on the third day, He could raise it to life again, that life would spring forth out of death, so that the great enemies of God’s people would stand forever defeated.
This living Lord and Overseer of souls both here and around this world for two millennia has sent the news of His gracious visitation for His people’s salvation. Having made peace with our Heavenly Father on our behalf, now He sends visitors – pastors – to proclaim His good news to you, to baptize you in His name into His death and resurrection, to absolve you of your sins in His name, to feed you with His forgiving and life-renewing Body and Blood.
Today, our Lord gives us the privilege and joy of beginning to host our congregation’s twenty-ninth vicar. We welcome Simeon with glad hearts, knowing that by God’s grace, he will one day be sent as part of our Lord’s gracious visitation of His Church to one corner of the Church somewhere, to a flock of His faithful people who know it or not right now, will need a pastor, an overseer, a visitor under orders from Christ. God grant Simeon strength, wisdom, love, and diligence in his work among us this year.
God continue to grant us love for our fellow Christians, and joy in our mission to provide a place for future visitors, future shepherds, to grow and learn this blessed vocation, and God grant us always to remember that now and forever is the time of our Lord Jesus and His visitation for us, the time of salvation, in which for 160 years He has sent to this congregation many faithful visitors, overseers, pastors. To the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to the + Chief Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, be all glory, power, and dominion, now and forever! Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +