Tears protect and nourish the surface of our eyes. They wash away debris and form the emotional construct for liquid language. But why would Jesus cry over a city?
In the Old Testament we do not find God weeping over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But in the New Testament Jesus stops and cries over Jerusalem. Why?
Looking over the city one day, Jesus expressed Himself through liquid language. As He wept He moaned: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44).
Had Jesus become overwhelmed by His humanity? Did He have doubts about the plan of salvation? Had He become fearful of His persecution or foretold cruel death? Why would He cry when He saw Jerusalem? Ellen White’s answers to these questions provide good evidence about why the city remains a critical epicenter for kingdom building.
Jesus’ Passion was just ahead, but His tears were not in anticipation of His own suffering. After describing the tragic events that soon awaited Him, Ellen White wrote: “Yet it was not because of these reminders of His cruel death that the Redeemer wept and groaned in anguish of spirit. His was no selfish sorrow. The thought of His own agony did not intimidate that noble, self-sacrificing soul.”1 What was it then that so broke His heart about the city? “It was the sight of Jerusalem that pierced the heart of Jesus—Jerusalem. . . . He saw what she was in her guilt of rejecting her Redeemer, and what she might have been had she accepted Him who alone could heal her wound. He had come to save her; how could He give her up?”2
How can we, looking at Jesus, give up on the ministry in our cities worldwide? The cityis impregnated and highly saturated with fear, anxiety, crime, lawlessness, greed, envy, and selfishness. The driving force for many city dwellers is little more than mere survival. And the contours of our ministry suggest themselves as we recognize the areas of the city’s need: How, for example, can we reach those individuals with our health message if they do not have access to a supermarket that sells fresh produce? How can we reach the mother who has buried three sons who all died from violence before the age of 25? What hope do we offer to the alcoholic or drug abuser who finds refuge in substances for the short-term perceived “joy” they offer? Many factors contribute to these problems. But as we focus our work on meeting the needs of people in the cities, God will guide us with solutions.
Already He has asked us, “Why are not memorials for Me established in the cities?”3 He has told us: “The work in the cities is the essential work for this time.”4 In the ministry of Jesus we see a clear pattern. He first demonstrated love with reassurance, met core needs, then offered an invitation to follow Him.
In a world in which social media has risen to a supreme platform of communication, we are left with a generation of people who are becoming more and more detached from the human experience. It may have become harder to cry for the city, if we no longer know how to express our emotions other than through emojis, those small digital images used to express ideas, emotions, in electronic communication. Can we still look to Jerusalem and cry?
Jerusalem in this context becomes a paradigm for all cities. Cities are where population concentrations occur; where major businesses are set up; cities offer access to fine arts, cuisine, and culture. At the same time, experience shows what great potential cities possess for our becoming spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially lost in their traffic. There is great need for workers dedicated to providing light to those who may be thus lost in the darkness of cities’ confusion. Hence Ellen White’s further counsel: “Throughout the world, messengers of mercy are needed. There is a call for Christian families to go into communities that are in darkness and error, to go to foreign fields, to become acquainted with the needs of their fellow men, and to work for the cause of the Master.”5
The Bible contains more than 800 references to the word city. This is not a coincidence, but a biblical mandate that gospel work in the cities cannot be ignored or simply left for “others” to do. We dream of the New Jerusalem, the City of David, or heaven, and long for the day we have no fear. However, our work in the city has not ended. Millions still have not heard.
Jesus cried over His Jerusalem. Where is your Jerusalem? It may be that counsel from days long gone applies to you as you wonder at times how you ever ended up there, and what you’re supposed to do in the city: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).
Ivan Leigh Warden, a retired associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, is interim pastor of the Capitol Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in the city of Washington, D.C.