As Jesus was headed to crucifixion, as Luke tells the story, He crosses the path of women who are weeping because of what is happening to Him. Jesus then turns to speak to them as He passes by. For the modern street evangelist, this is a very interesting moment. Jesus is going to say something to these women about the meaning of His death as some of His final words before the cross. Will Jesus warn these women of the danger of Hell? Will Jesus explain His atoning sacrifice? Will Jesus exhort these women to “repent and believe”? How will Jesus take advantage of this opportunity for some final words to an interested audience?
“Daughters of Jerusalem”, He says, “don’t cry for me. Cry for yourselves instead! Cry for your children! Listen: the time is coming when you will say, “A blessing on the barren! A blessing on wombs that never bore children, and breasts that never nursed them! At that time people will start to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us’! Yes: if this is what they do with the green tree, what will happen to the dry one?” Luke 23:28-30 If this wasn’t Jesus speaking, I think that many of us would be inclined to think that this really was a missed opportunity. Why didn’t Jesus use His last breaths to present “a simple Gospel message”? Why didn’t Jesus say, “I am going to pay the penalty for your sin”? Or “I am making a way for you to go to heaven”? Instead, Jesus warns these women about the soon coming destruction of Jerusalem. It is “earthly” advice. It is practical, socio-historic-specific advice. It isn’t a formula that we can copy and paste to our own socio-historical context. It seems like somebody, either Luke or Jesus, really missed an opportunity. The other possibility is that we have not understood what is really happening, not just in this conversation between Jesus and these “daughters of Jerusalem”, but in Luke’s Gospel and explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ death.
For what it is worth, I think it is highly likely that this conversation did not take place while Jesus was heaving a cross up to Golgotha. It is hard to imagine the Romans allowing Jesus to slow the pace to have this relatively lengthy dialogue with passers by. We know for a fact that Luke and all the Gospel writers arranged their material to present their Gospels in particular ways. They were not simply reciting a linear play by play broadcast of events that happened. Luke inserts this story here as a means of explaining what the cross was all about. This is what Luke wants us to see: Jesus, as the representative Messiah of the entire nation, is taking on the fate of the nation. Israel had been courting disaster by provoking Rome and participating in armed revolt. The end of that story is crucifixion for thousands of Jews. As Jesus goes to the cross, He is taking on Himself the punishment that was going to fall on all of Israel. We have already seen (Luke 23:18-25) that while Jesus is crucified as though He were a brigand, the real brigand, Barabbas, is released in Jesus’ place. This is atonement. The innocent is killed in the place of the guilty. The only questions that remain are: what will Barabbas do with his new freedom? And what will God do about the death of the innocent Jesus? On the way to the cross, Jesus continued to warn Israel, including these “daughters of Jerusalem,” that they needed to repent of their own way of doing the Kingdom. Their violent revolutionary dream which, if successful, would merely flip the roles of oppressor and oppressed. It would not bring about the new creation for which Jesus longed and which the prophets predicted. If Israel wanted to avoid the same fate He was experiencing, they had to repent of that vision of the Kingdom. “Listen,” Jesus said to them, “I am a green tree. I am not a revolutionary brigand and they know it. Yet, look what they are doing to me. Imagine what they will do to your sons who start revolutions and kill Roman soldiers. They will do worse to them. They are like dry twigs before this fire.” (My paraphrase and commentary on Luke 23:27-31). To emphasize this last point, Luke immediately presents us with the two brigands who are crucified alongside Jesus (Luke 23:33). This is the fate of unrepentant Israel. That is why Jesus pleads with these women to consider their own fate more than to weep over His. At the time that Luke wrote his gospel, (possibly in the early 60s A.D.) this warning was plausibly still very relevant to the immediate predicament of the nation of Israel. This whole interaction with the “daughters of Jerusalem” shows us just how personal Jesus is when He interacts with us. Jesus didn’t offer these woman a timeless theory of atonement or a formula for how someone can find assurance of a better afterlife. Jesus offered these women a way out of their current predicament by bearing the brokenness of that predicament on His own shoulders. Jesus didn’t give a theory of atonement, because He was embodying it. He wasn’t telling them about love, He was loving them. Jesus didn’t threaten these women with hell for their unbelief. Rather, Jesus was rescuing these woman from hell they and their sons were already courting by going through hell Himself. He wanted them to escape the coming wrath by giving up their ill-fated revolutionary dream.
So, in this last minute evangelistic opportunity, did Jesus warm these women about the punishment of hell? Yes, He did.Though, Jesus’ warning was not a post-Mortem judgment but a this-worldly Roman created reality. Did Jesus call these women to repentance? Yes, He did. Did Jesus explain the meaning of his death? This is less straightforward but still the answer is “yes.” Jesus was embodying atonement and thereby offering a way out of the impending doom for these daughters of Jerusalem. Barabbas has gone free and Jesus urges these women that they should follow Barabbas into his new-found freedom and not be caught up in brigandry revolutions anymore. Is this an explanation of how to get to heaven? No. But it is an explanation of how heaven is coming to earth. As Jesus trudges up the hill to Calvary, Luke wants us to understand that He is ascending to His throne where there will be seated “one on His right and one on His left in glory.” This is what it looks like when the rule of Heaven comes to earth. When God takes charge of the world, He doesn’t rule through intimidation and threats but with humble servitude. What Jesus says to the daughters of Jerusalem is not a blueprint of what should be said when doing street evangelism today. But it is an interaction that should cause us to reflect on the meaning of the cross so that we can accurately communicate that meaning and purpose to those we meet on the street today. And to this extent, the call will always be the same: If you want to save your life, you must lose it. And if you want the life that Jesus gives, you must take up your cross and follow Him. The other side of the cross is the renewing, reanimating power of the Holy Spirit. The other side of losing your life is having it raised from the dead by God Himself. We don’t know what Barabbas did with his new found freedom (Did he become a disciple of Jesus or did he return to his brigandry ways?). But we do know what God has done with Jesus. God vindicated Jesus by raising Him from the dead. This is God’s stamp of approval on the Jesus Revolution. This is God’s vindication of the royal claims of Jesus. This is God’s manifestation of life-giving, earth-redeeming, human-restoring power to save. Every person on every street needs to know about it. #Goodfriday #Evangelism