The Tears of Jesus :: Enrique Simonet, “He Wept Over It”

Enrique Simonet, Flevit super illam; oil on canvas; 1892.

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41)

There are several places in the Scripture where we encounter Jesus weeping. Probably the most memorable is when Jesus approaches the tomb of His friend, Lazarus, where John the Gospel writer records a most simple, striking sentence: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). We may also call to mind Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest and crucifixion. While engaged in deep, strained prayer, Luke tells us Jesus was “exhausted from sorrow” (Luke 23:45). But before the sorrow of His exhaustion before the Cross, we find Jesus weeping before He enters Jerusalem with great acclaim. Why did Jesus weep over Jerusalem at this point? Luke tells us Jesus’ tears are followed with His words about the impending destruction of Jerusalem and its people, a destruction that necessarily flows from people forsaking God and the peace He offers (19:42-44). In Matthew’s parallel account we hear Jesus’ words: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus weeps over the annihilation of God’s city and destruction of people who could have experienced God’s peace and care. Instead, they turn away from God to pursue their own ends. Jesus weeps over people and places fleeing God’s presence and goodness.

In Flevit super illam (“He wept over it” or “Then He wept”), Enrique Simonet offers a strikingly large painting, 10 feet by 18 feet, that vividly invites us into this awesome moment. Simonet traveled to Palestine in order to study the place and culture before painting this scene. As we look at this painting, we may feel we are right there with Jesus and His followers gathered on the crest of the Mount of Olives before the triumphal entry. We join them in gazing at Jesus, whose tears fall while His hands are outstretched in care and love over Jerusalem and all its people. The sky is dark, and Jesus almost seems to be in shadows while the light of either a sinking moon or a rising sun (art critics still debate this) blazes through the darkness to light up the city. The followers fix their eyes on Jesus, while Jesus’ eyes are fixed on Jerusalem and a wayward humanity. His response flows in tears. Before this painting we join Jesus in weeping over the world and lost humanity.

The Chaos of Joy: Remembering Jesus’ Triumphal Entry

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

Your presence breaks over the hills like a rising sun.
Zechariah’s words echo through the atmosphere,
mingled with the rustle of feet and whisper
of palm branches laid down before You. Then
the first voice rings out, “Hosanna!”, and then
another replies, “Blessed is he who comes in the Name
of the Lord!” Then more voices resound, “Hosanna!”
The journey from the Mount of Olives to the gates
of Jerusalem assumes the momentum of an avalanche
as the crowd grows to a commotion of
great celebration. “He is here,” they seem to say.
“The One who we have waited for all our lives.”

The Living Parables of Jesus: Jesus’ non-verbal teaching in Matthew 21

If you want to write a good story, one of the golden rules is “Show, don’t tell.”

“Show, don’t tell” means that you don’t tell your read a situation is scary. Instead, you help the reader enter into the terror by describing it. “The darkness descended at night and an eerie stillness surrounded the trailer park. As he walked toward his destination, a prickly feeling crept up his neck that something bad was about to happen.” You don’t tell the reader everyone was joyful at the party. No, instead you open the joy to them. “As she entered the room and everyone shouted, ‘Happy birthday!’ she felt as if her heart would burst. All those people she loved finally in one room. She could hardly believe it was real.”

When good writers “show” instead of “telling” they create doorways by which the reader can enter the experience of the story. They create “ways in” by which the reader can live inside the world the writer has created. 

“Show, don’t tell” becomes a doorway into a new reality.

Jesus does that too. When Jesus enters Jerusalem at Passover, He steps away from verbal teaching and into enacted teaching. He dramatically serves up lived parables to create doorways for His hearers to enter a new reality they can live within. Jesus invited them, and us, to respond to Him through His showing, not telling.

With Jerusalem swelling from its normal 30,000 inhabitants to nearly 180,000 during Passover, Jesus rides a donkey from the Mount of Olives into the city. His actions call to mind the words of the prophet Zechariah as He takes this route in this way into the city. As Jesus draws near to the Temple precincts, He enters the court and turns over the tables of the money changes and the benches of those selling doves. Jesus conjures up in His viewers’ imagination the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees in 164 BC after the desecration of it by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. There is a new cleansing and rededication needed. Shortly thereafter, Jesus curses a dense but fruitless fig tree while walking from Bethany to Jerusalem. More than just Jesus being “hangry,” He is pointing out the apparent life within the established religion, but the lack of fruit that is there.

In Jerusalem, right there in the Temple, Jesus is displaying that not only is He a prophet but, even more, He is the Messiah. His surprising actions – turning over the tables, casting out the cursing the fig tree – all serve as doorways – “ways in” – to the reality that He has come to bring the fullness of God’s kingdom to earth. He shows, not just tells, that there is something new happening in Him.

[This is an excerpt of my message, “The Withering of the Old Ways.”]

Unlikely King

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we began a new preaching series entitled “Scandalous Jesus,” that parallels our journey of Lent. This week, I turned our attention to two episodes that set up the entire series and Jesus’ time in Jerusalem. The first was Jesus’ third prediction of His coming suffering in Jerusalem (Matthew 20:17-19) and the second relates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11). I explore these texts and also reflect on how we can see them in a fresh way once again.

This message is from the ninth part of our longer journey through the Gospel of Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” “Stories of the Kingdom,” “Who Do You Say I Am?“, “‘Tis the Reason,” and “Jesus Said What?!

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.

“Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death.’” (Matthew 20:17-18)

Jesus’ Shocking Predictions of Messianic Suffering

First prediction (Matthew 16:21) – in Caesarea Philippi

Second prediction (Matthew 17:22-23) – in Galilee on the way to Jerusalem

Third prediction (Matthew 20:17-19) – nearing Jerusalem

The Shocking Promise of Suffering and Hope of Resurrection (20:18-19)

Handed over – entrusted – betrayed; hints at the role of Judas

Condemned to death by the chief priests and teachers of the law

Mocked, flogged, and crucified by the Gentiles

Raised to life on the third day 

The Shocking Entry to Jerusalem (21:1-11)

Mount of Olives and the end of the age (Zechariah 14)

The contrast of Galilee and Jerusalem

The Messianic King arrives meekly, bringing true peace (Zechariah 9:9-10)

The secret is revealed and the crowd acclaims Jesus

The moment of confrontation has come

Seeing Jesus with Fresh Eyes

The Biblical journey

The Lenten community journey

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Matthew 20:18-19 or 21:9
  • Draw, ink, or paint Matthew 21:1-11 as a basis for prayer. Take time to talk with God as you depict the scene in your own way. What is God speaking to you through this account of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem? 
  • Consider listening to the Bible Project podcast on Matthew 21, “Jesus, Prophet and Provocateur”

Enrique Simonet, He Wept Over It

Enrique Simonet, Flevit super illam; oil on canvas; 1892.

On Fridays, I post a work of art that has caught my interest. Since January, these posts are themed around the Minor Prophets, with occasional extras, such as this one about Jesus looking over Jerusalem before the triumphal entry.

Previous posts in this series: