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Why Does Jesus Weep? A Meditation for Palm Sunday

“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it...” (Luke 19:41).

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the original Palm Sunday, his eyes were moist with tears. We often call it the Triumphal Entry, but it could just as aptly be named the Tearful Entry.

Weeping wasn’t an unusual experience for Jesus. The book of Hebrews tells us,

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Heb. 5:7).

Frequently his Father in heaven was witness to the tears of his beloved Son. But there are only two times in the New Testament where Jesus is reported to have wept in the presence of people—once, at the graveside of his beloved friend Lazarus, with sublime brevity the Scripture says, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). And here, as he drew near to the gates of Jerusalem, he wept over the city.

Why is Jesus weeping? Why? When throngs of people are spreading their cloaks on the road and “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen,” why does Jesus weep? (Luke 19:37).

Well, it’s not because he is afraid of the Cross that is looming on the agenda of this final week of his life. And it’s not because he is frustrated or feeling like a failure. We often weep tears of fear, frustration, and failure—but not Jesus.

The tears of Jesus on Palm Sunday are tears of sovereign mercy (John Piper). He is weeping over the reluctance of his own people to approve his terms of peace. He has come into the world as the royal ambassador of the Kingdom of God, and he has offered amnesty for rebel sinners. But they, for the most part, despised and rejected the King’s Son. So he weeps over them, 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” (Luke 19:42).

Jesus weeps over the refusal of his own people to accept his invitations of grace. He foresees the ruin and devastation that will soon fall over the city and its temple, and instead of gloating over their just deserts, Jesus weeps over their blindness and hard-hearted resistance to his grace—because they did not know the time of their visitation (Luke 19:44).

Sometimes God is pleased to give special seasons and opportunities to an individual, a church, a nation. God visits you.

Jerusalem had the most powerful visitation, the mightiest miracles, the most wonderful preaching. No group of people has heard clearer calls to repentance and faith. God visited Jerusalem personally, through his Son Jesus Christ. Yet they refused to accept his gracious invitations. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11).

It may be that right now God is visiting you in a special way. The living word is coming to you with clarity and power. Suddenly you are interested in the Bible, you are coming to church, your conscience is unusually alive. God is speaking to you. Today is your day of visitation. Today there is just one step between you and your soul’s eternal salvation.

Will you recognize God’s presence in your life? Will you thank him for visiting you, speaking to you, drawing near to you? Will you open the door of your heart to Jesus and welcome him as your Savior and King?

The tears of Jesus are a tangible emblem of the Father’s heart of mercy and compassion. We hear echoes of God’s Word to the prophet Isaiah as we listen to our Savior weep: “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).

As we look out on a world that “esteems him not,” we realize that we were no different until “the arm of the Lord” was revealed in our lives. It took a miracle of sovereign mercy to open our eyes, unstop our deaf ears, and tenderize our hardened hearts to the gospel. That’s why we sing,

I was blinded by my sin, had no ears to hear your voice
Did not know your love within, had no taste for heaven’s joys
‘Till your Spirit gave me life, opened up your Word to me
Through the gospel of your Son, gave me endless hope and peace.

This Palm Sunday, let the mention of your Savior’s mercy and the memory of his tears move your heart with compassion for the multitudes in our world today who still do not know the time of their visitation. May we learn to weep with Jesus.

“My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136).

“Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1).

"I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:1-3).

Indebted to his mercy,

David Sunday