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“As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’” (Luke 23:26-28)
Eleven years ago, Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ hit movie theaters. Many movies have been made about the life and death of Jesus, but Passion undoubtedly contained the most intense and visceral depiction of Jesus’ suffering and death. Many moviegoers – perhaps even you – were moved to tears as they watched the violent and unjust suffering of the innocent Son of God. But imagine for a moment if Jesus, up on the screen, turned to face the audience in the theater and said, “Do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves.”
This is essentially what Jesus did in Luke 23:26-28. Luke tells us that a large number of people were weeping and wailing over the unjust suffering of this would-be Messiah. But Jesus, in great pain and on his way to his death, turns to them and tells them to weep not for him but for themselves and for their children. What could Jesus have possibly meant by saying those words to his devoted followers?
To answer that question, I want you to first consider these words by Charles Spurgeon, a 19th century British pastor who is considered one of the greatest preachers of all time. They are not simple to understand, but they are profound, so read them carefully:
You need not weep because Christ died one-tenth so much as because your sins rendered it necessary that He should die. You need not weep over the crucifixion, but weep over your transgression, for your sins nailed the Redeemer to the accursed tree. To weep over a dying Saviour is to lament the remedy; it were wiser to bewail the disease. To weep over the dying Saviour is to wet the surgeon's knife with tears; it were better to bewail the spreading polyps which that knife must cut away. To weep over the Lord Jesus as He goes to the cross is to weep over that which is the subject of the highest joy that ever heaven and earth have known; your tears are scarcely needed there; they are unnatural, but a deeper wisdom will make you brush them all away and chant with joy His victory over death and the grave. If we must continue our sad emotions, let us lament that we should have broken the law which He thus painfully vindicated; let us mourn that we should have incurred the penalty which He even to the death was made to endure ... O brethren and sisters, this is the reason why we souls weep: because we have broken the divine law and rendered it impossible that we should be saved except Jesus Christ should die.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Are you starting to understand why Jesus said, “Weep not for me; weep for yourselves”? Yes, it was terribly sad that Jesus died such an unjust death, just as it was sad when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, when a young woman in the prime of her life dies suddenly, and when any number of good people suffer for things they do not deserve. But if that’s all Jesus’ death was – a sad ending to the life of a good man that should rally us to want to live like him and honor him – then in the end he is not so different than other good men and women who died unjustly. When Jesus says, “Weep not for me; weep for yourselves,” he is telling those women that his death is not just an unjust atrocity, but something that was necessary in order to deal with a far greater horror.
You see, ultimately, it was not the Romans or the Jews who nailed Jesus to the cross. It was those women, weeping by the side of the road. It was his disciples, running and hiding as Jesus was brought to the cross. It was the audience in the movie theater, watching The Passion of the Christ. It was you. And it was me. Jesus Christ carried the cross to Golgotha and allowed himself to be crucified there because the ones he so deeply loved were lost in their sin, separated from God, headed for eternal damnation, and there was no other way to rescue them than for the Son of God to carry that cross and die a sacrificial death in their place.
Do not weep for the man on the cross. Weep for yourself, for it is your sin, your self-centeredness, your rebellion that made it necessary for Jesus to die. You are responsible; you are guilty. The blood is on your hands.
And as you lay there weeping, look up, beloved, for the Holy One whom you have offended, the God-man who you are responsible for crucifying, is carrying the cross willingly out of His love for you. He is headed for Golgotha, where He will experience His Father forsaking Him, turning His back on Him as the sins of the world are visited upon Him, as He experiences Hell for you. As Jesus hangs there, arms outstretched, nailed to the cross, hear Him say to you, “This is how deeply I love you. To the very depth of your self-centered, rebellious, doubting, stubborn heart, I love you enough to die for you.”
Do not weep for Him, for He willingly chose this death out of love for you. Weep for yourself, that your sin made His death necessary. And then let His majestic love wash you, cleanse you, save you, transform you, and raise you to new life.
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