Please turn your attention to the first part of our Gospel lesson for today as Jesus reminds us not to miss the things that bring us peace.
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Jerusalem. The Holy City. The city whose name means “place of peace,” didn’t live up to its name very often. In our first lesson we heard the prophet Daniel praying for Jerusalem. It had been destroyed by the Babylonians because the majority of the people didn’t know the things that would bring them peace. They had them. They had the temple. They had God’s word and promises. They had the daily sacrifices that pointed them to the coming Messiah. But they chose to put their trust in idols and human alliances instead of God. So God sent the Babylonians to take all those things away. Daniel offered a prayer of confession on behalf of Israel. He prayed that Jerusalem might be given another chance, not because they deserved it, but because God had shown himself to be gracious and always faithful to his promises.
God heard the prayer of Daniel, and many other faithful believers, who prayed as Daniel did. God moved the Persian King Cyrus to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem. He even gave them money to help rebuild the temple. Later, the walls of the city were also rebuilt under Nehemiah. As the time came for the Messiah to be born, King Herod started a temple renovation project with the goal of making that second Temple rival the size and beauty of the one that Solomon had built.
Herod’s Temple and its surrounding courts were impressive and beautiful. But the most impressive thing about them was that Jesus, the Messiah, walked in them, preached in them, and even healed in them, just as God promised he would. Now, as Jesus gazed at the temple and its courts from the Mount of Olives, instead of being filled with peace, or commenting on its beauty as the disciples did, he wept.
Jesus wept because so many of the people of Jerusalem were blind to the things that would bring them true peace. The things that brought them peace were right in front of them. The sacrifices they brought to the Temple reminded them that sin is serious, so serious that an animal had to die in their place. Those sacrifices also reminded them that, although the death of an animal didn’t actually pay for their sins, it did point to the Messiah who would. Through the prayers and ceremonies of the Temple, and through the Scripture readings in the Synagogues, the people heard the gracious promises of God and how he had always been faithful to those promises. God was offering them the kind of lasting peace that comes only from the knowledge that your sins are forgiven and that you will spend eternity in the presence and glory of God.
But, many of the people of Jerusalem, especially the leaders of the people, preferred to look for a different kind of peace. The money changers in the temple sought peace and security in earthly riches. The Jewish leaders sought peace and security through political power. They thought that the way to peace was to put Jesus to death because it was better to sacrifice one person than to have the Romans sacrifice many if they thought that Jesus was leading a rebellion against them.
Jesus wept because the things that would bring them true, eternal peace, were right in front of them, yet they were blind to them. He, the promised Messiah, was right in front of them preaching and teaching in the temple courts. But the things that would bring them true peace were hidden from them because of their greed and unbelief. He wanted them to be saved. He wanted to gather them under his wings, but they refused.
It’s easy for us to sit back today and think “how could they be so foolish? How could they be so blind?” But, the truth is, we are often just like them. We often give in to the same temptations. We are often blind to the things that bring us peace that are right before our eyes.
We might think that the most peaceful thing is just sitting on the beach and listening to the waves. We were able to do that last week, and it was very peaceful. But, it doesn’t last. Sooner or later you have to fold up the umbrella and go back to reality.
We might think that having a big retirement account would bring peace. We wouldn’t have to worry much about the future because our money would never run out. But, remember what Jesus said to the man who built bigger barns and filled them. He said, “you fool.” You might be set for life, but if you are not set for eternity what good is it? Earthly treasures don’t last. Heavenly treasures, knowing that you have forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus, those treasures last for all eternity.
We might think peace is having all the kids at school so you can spend some time in peace and quiet, maybe even use the bathroom without having someone knocking at the door asking for your attention. But then the school day ends and the chaos of homework and supper and extra-curricular activities shatter the peace and quiet again.
None of these things give lasting peace. In fact, these things can even blind us to the things that do give lasting, eternal peace, if we let them.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Only he can give us true, lasting peace. Only he can give the kind of peace that passes all understanding. Only Jesus can give us peace with God.
Jesus established peace between God and us. He did it by coming into this world that has no peace, that is blinded by sin to the things that bring true peace, and doing the opposite of what we do. He always focused on the things that bring true peace. He didn’t look for peace in earthly things. He didn’t look for peace on a quiet beach or in riches. He knew that true peace is found in God’s word; in prayer, and trust in the gracious promises of God. He focused perfectly on the things that bring true peace, and he did it for us.
Jesus established peace between God and us by having the Father punish him for all the times that we have looked for peace in the wrong places; for all the times we missed the wonderful things that bring us true peace because we were blinded by greed and doubt. In Jesus, because of his life and death in our place, we have peace with God. In Jesus we have the peace of forgiveness. We have the peace that comes from having the certainty that we will be spending all eternity with him.
As you look around you and see the things that Daniel saw, the consequences of sin, pray as he did. Confess your sins and the sins of our nation. Confess that you and many others have neglected the word of God and lived contrary to his will. Admit that we deserve any trouble or disaster that comes our way, in fact, we deserve much worse. We deserve God’s eternal punishment. Plead for God’s grace and mercy for yourself and for others, not because of our own righteousness, we don’t have any. Not because we deserve it, but because of God’s promises and the grace he has shown us in Jesus.
As you look around you and see the things that Jesus saw, you too should be moved to tears. How many people don’t you know who were baptized, who came to church often, who had the things that give us true and lasting peace right in front of them, but have exchanged those things for earthly things that will never give them true and lasting peace. As your heart goes out to them, pray that God would use what they have learned through the word in the past to remove their blindness. Do whatever you can to remind them, whether they seem to be listening or not, of the only things that bring true peace, the gospel in the word and sacrament.
As, by the power of the word, you realize that nothing of this world can give you true peace; as, by God’s grace, in Jesus you have a peace that passes understanding, peace with God, the forgiveness of sins; look forward to the time when the New Jerusalem, the true place of peace will come with Jesus in the clouds of heaven. Look forward to Jerusalem the golden, the place where all the things that disrupt our peace are gone and we get to live with Jesus, the Prince of Peace, forever.