Missing The Day Of Divine Visitation
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2006 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A.
"When He [Jesus] approached, He saw the city [Jerusalem] and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank [wall] before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation’" (Luke 19:41-44).
What a tragedy it is when God visits His people and many of them miss His visitation! In the company whom Jesus addressed in the above passage were Pharisees, scribes and chief priests. They were a significant body of people who were loaded up with religious convictions and concerns, people who honestly thought they were right with God and ready for anything God sent, but how heart-rending that they did not recognize their day of visitation and they missed it!
Would it not be foolish to suppose that we are sufficiently unlike them that we are in no danger of missing our time of visitation? And how tragic it would be if you should receive the visitation but others you love and are responsible for would miss the Lord’s coming. Revivals are always divine visitations – times when God draws near to His people.
To understand the context in which the above text occurred, go to the beginning of Luke 19, and in verses 1 to 10 is our Lord’s encounter with Zaccheus. In the midst of that encounter with Zaccheus, in verse 7, there is the protest by certain leaders that Christ would associate with someone as abominable as Zaccheus and other tax collectors and sinners. In verses 11 to 27, the parable of the nobleman and his money is very relevant because that parable along with numerous other parables of our Lord was directed immediately at these persons who missed His divine visit. In verses 28 to 40, in the midst of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem came the taunting and mean-spirited statements of these religious leaders.
In verses 45 to 46, leaping over the passage we read, we have the second cleansing of the temple. How much good did the second cleansing of the temple do? It had no greater impact it appears than the first. At the first cleansing of the temple Jesus drove them out one door and they streamed in another. Isn’t it tragic that when God in His incredible mercy brings about some kind of righteous judgment like the cleansing of the temple, there are multitudes that see no significance in it, are unchanged by it and persist in their error?
At the end of chapter 19, verses 47 and 48, we read of their determination to destroy this One who had brought to them the greatest of blessings and the blessing they desperately needed but were not willing to receive. Chapter 20 opens in verses 1 to 8 with a controversy concerning Christ’s authority. Who did He think He was to do and say things like this?
Let’s examine the statements made in our text, Luke 19:41-44. In verse 41, our Lord approaches the city and weeps over it. Do you think that our Lord today could approach your city and do anything other than weep over it? Do you think He could draw near to your own church and do anything other than weep sad tears? In verse 42, the cause for the tears is clearly indicated: "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes."
That is really at the heart of the danger, that God should hide from our eyes His visitation. We need to be certain we understand why God would do such a thing. My purpose today is to help you see why our Lord made it crystal clear: you have eyes that do not see; you have ears that do not hear; you have hearts that cannot receive. In verses 43 and 44, He describes the doom before them: "For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side." This occurred literally in the year 70. They were surrounded by enemies, hemmed in on every side. They were leveled to the ground and even those mothers bearing children and those fathers, seed yet to be planted, lost! There was not one stone remaining upon another because they did not recognize their day of visitation.
Many of you have heard preachers like myself lay out as carefully as we know how the difference between remedial judgment and final judgment. Clearly we are looking here at a final judgment where all hope is gone, where there is not one possibility in the world of their repenting. They had their opportunity and they refused to bend, and so what we have in this passage is not a call to repentance but an announcement of doom. But oh, what a happy thing it is to me to say to you that we have no announcement of doom to be pronounced upon us today. We have only hope and expectation that in God’s incredible grace He will yet visit us. But I beg of you, do not miss His visit!
What Led to Missing the Visitation
What I hope to do is to trace through Matthew’s Gospel a bit of the history of what brought those religious leaders to that point where they missed their divine visitation. The problem was obvious to John the Baptist. Listen to these words from Matthew 3:7-8: "When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance.’" There is an important record in Luke 7:30: "But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John." Oh, that God might give us the spirit of discernment, and that we might learn whom we must not baptize along with those who indeed, by God’s grace, are ready for that wonderful ordinance.
Did you ever consider the Sermon on the Mount in relationship to these scribes and Pharisees, Sadducees and hypocrites? In chapter 5 of Matthew, verses 10 to 12, our Lord was describing the blessing of being persecuted, but the persecutors to whom He was making specific reference were these very men addressed in Luke 19. Verse 20 of Matthew chapter 5 reads: "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." In verses 21 to 48 of Matthew chapter 5, our Lord went through a series of statements: "You have heard it said… but I say to you …" and all of them dealing with the sayings of these Pharisees and Sadducees of their viewpoint and judgment.
Then in Matthew chapter 6, starting at verse 1, there is a series of statements where our Lord said: "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them…." This is a summary statement of the hearts of these men. They practice their righteousness to be seen of men. Is there a danger that you have been practicing righteousness before men to be seen by them? I dare think that if the records were opened wide, it would be revealed that much of the practice of righteousness of many of us is immediately related to being seen of men.
Our Lord spoke to them in 6:2-4 about alms; He spoke about prayer in verses 5-13; He spoke about forgiveness in verses 14-15; He spoke about fasting in verses 16-18; He spoke about piling up treasure in verses 19-34. He spoke about judging one another in chapter 7:1-5; He spoke about casting pearls before swine in 7:6; He talked about false prophets in 7:15-20. The bulk of the Sermon on the Mount has an immediate application to these individuals who were not prepared for their day of visitation. It is time we faced some of these issues with the kind of care that they deserve.
Move over to chapter 9:1-8 of Matthew’s Gospel, where they labeled Christ a blasphemer for granting forgiveness to a paralytic. Then in verses 10-13 of this same chapter they were offended and registered their complaint because He ate with publicans and sinners. In verse 34 of chapter 9, they claimed that Christ cast out demons by the ruler of the demons. In chapter 10:16-23, when our Lord sent His disciples out, He said to them: "I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…" And again it is clearly these same men who are the wolves concerning whom our Savior is warning His disciples.
In chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel, verses 20-24, Christ reproached their cities because they would not repent even though He had done incredible miracles in them. In 11:25 Jesus praised His Father because He hid these things from the wise and the intelligent and He revealed them to babes. There is no question who the wise and intelligent were. Maybe somehow you’ve been deluded by your brilliance. Maybe you’ve put more stock in your education and abilities than they deserve. It is often those who amount to nothing in the sight of the world who understand the things pertaining to divine visitation.
In chapter 12 of Matthew’s Gospel, verses 22-45, they blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, having already as recorded in 12:14 regularly plotted together to destroy Christ. But in that same chapter, at verse 2 they had accused His followers of unlawful conduct because they had picked grain and ate it as they were passing through. Our Lord often revealed their plight in parables, but in 13:10-17 He explained with great care what that plight was: "…while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (v. 13), and our Lord gave that as an explanation for His use of parables. They were more concerned about the traditions of the elders than the commandments of God, and our Lord addressed this in chapter 15:1-14. Jesus labeled them as hypocrites. He said, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (vv. 8-9). And in 16:1-20, they asked Him for a sign and they were told that an evil and adulterous generation asks for signs. He warned His disciples "…beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (v. 6). And our Lord on a number of occasions told His disciples that He must suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed by them, for instance 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18.
When it came time for the triumphal entry, they were full of anger, and they made awful expressions of their indignation. Our Lord directed the entire parable of the landowner against them, and for it they sought to seize Him, but they were afraid of the multitudes (21:33-46). They sought to trap Him by subtle arguments concerning poll taxes and other silly things (22:15-40). And then finally, chapters 26 and 27, they crucified the Lord of glory.
But I don’t believe the situation today is all that much different than then. It seems to me that evidence is mounting up substantially that many are jealous; that many are envious; that many grow angry with the Lord when He rebukes them through one of their servants. I don’t wonder that any number of pastors are hurting because of the abuse heaped upon them by those in their congregation who are missing their day of visitation, and all around us are men plunging into moral iniquity. Others we describe as "burned out" and they have lost their heart and their confidence in the Lord, and they, too, are missing their visitation.
Let us focus more particularly upon what our Lord reveals in Matthew chapter 23. In verses 1 to 7 our Lord provides a summary statement about these persons of whom I have been speaking: "Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses…’" (vv. 1-2). Is it possible that the position you occupy is one you grabbed, you fought for, you struggled to get to? I have observed many a situation of a man rising to prominence and all along his path are those he has knocked down and stood upon to get where he is. And it’s not just a few brutal fellows who have the capacity to behave that way. There are multitudes that have seated themselves in the seat of Moses. Give that prayerful consideration. It surely deserves it.
He then goes on to say in verse 3: "Therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them."
But ought we not to ask our hearts with great integrity, are there things I’m lining out for others to do that I do not do myself? Is there not huge danger for every preacher and teacher of laying out carefully instructions for the congregation or the class that they have no real heart to pursue themselves? It is not just scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, chief priests and elders that miss their time of visitation. There are sweet-spirited elderly ladies who are as in great danger as the vile reprobates of our society. Do you do what you instruct others to do?
In verse 4, our Lord said, "They tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger." There, too, we have to honestly examine ourselves and our conduct: are we in any way guilty of piling loads upon people that they are weary of carrying and they are wilting under the weight? And we ourselves are so disconnected with God and His purpose we don’t even use a single finger to help. But our Lord doesn’t leave it there. Notice what He says next: "…they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments…" (v. 5). Ought we not to pause and honestly ask, how much of what I appear to be and to do is because of my desire to be noticed by others? Are we not finding many around us who live more off the praises of men than the praises of God? I don’t believe anyone is automatically immune from such conduct. This type of evil is slipped into so easily.
In just a passing conversation out in the hallway, somehow the subject of hardening the heart came up, and I asked the brother, "What did God have to do to harden Pharaoh’s heart?" And the answer, "Nothing, nothing whatsoever." It is only God’s grace operating in us that keeps our hearts soft, and once we disconnect even for a brief season from our Savior, our hearts start to harden, and these atrocious acts and deeds begin to accumulate, even so much as engaging in our religious exercises to be seen of men.
Then let us notice in verse 6: "They love the place of honor at banquets…." They couldn’t conceive of taking the most obscure seat. He goes on to say in verse 6, that they love the "chief seats in the synagogues," and in verse 7, that they love "respectful greetings in the market places" and He goes so far as to say they love "being called Rabbi" by men. Where do those specific issues hit home? Must we not be thoroughly aware that to whatever degree we line up with these scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites, we are in great danger of missing our time of visitation.
Our Lord moves from those men to us. Matthew 23:8: "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers." These Pharisees loved their titles. What about you? I’m not speaking against legitimate use of legitimate terms, but ego can be involved when you can’t live with just being plainly yourself, when you require something else. In this passage we are dealing with men who love titles, and our Lord is very severely warning us to not get caught in this treacherous trap. One is your Teacher, all are your brothers. It’s the heart behind the use of titles that the Lord is concerned about, this need of acclamation and affirmation.
Look at verses 9-12: "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." Our Lord has described and pinpointed in precision these scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites, and warned us of specific areas where we must exercise the greatest care.
Jesus Pronounces Woes!
But let us move now from Christ’s summary of these men and His warnings to us to the woes that He pronounced upon them. Again, chapter 23, starting at verse 13: "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in." There are men in ministry who are literally barring the way to the kingdom of God. Partially that is done by teaching one thing and living another. No hypocrite ever helped another to find the Lord. And partly it’s done by false doctrine and partly by legalism. There are all kinds of ways in which it can be accomplished, but every one of us must carefully before the Lord ask the question: am I in any way shutting up the kingdom of God so that others cannot enter?
Verse 14: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation." I am aware of a pastor in our country who is presently engaged in a major lawsuit because he managed to manipulate a woman’s estate and he pocketed a huge sum of money himself. Our ability to sin is endless. What care we must exercise that because of our sin, we miss our time of visitation when it comes.
Verse 15: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." We are living in a season of immorality among the clergy. There isn’t a single person here that does not have the capacity to do incredible damage to those they have longed to help. I don’t believe a single pastor can dare to avoid this severe issue. We must walk with the Lord. How long does it take to find your heart hardened? I should think 24 hours is more than enough, and a week of neglect of holiness and of the Word and of prayer could set a man up for an incredibly awful fall. Just because we’re not exactly like these scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites does not mean we are not headed in their direction, and with ease could join them.
Verses 16 to 22: "Woe" says our Lord, "to you blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ You fools and blind men, which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore he who swears, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it."
I think we could summarize all of that by saying, "Nonsense!" Many a preacher is devoted to nonsense. You listen to him and you say, "What a brilliant fellow." But the sum of everything he said is nothing. It is possible to speak in such a way that huge crowds are swayed and moved, but when they analyze the sermon they discover it is just words. None of us is automatically immune. We must with the greatest diligence be certain that none of these things come upon us and we miss our day of visitation.
Verse 23: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" Let’s look at it from the standpoint of "these things you ought to have done and not to have left undone these others." What undone things remain? Some of you have vowed a large number of times to become a man or woman of prayer; it remains undone. Some of you have vowed to master the Scriptures; it remains undone. Some have vowed to focus their hearts on holiness; it remains undone. This issue touches home with every one of us, with the things we ought to have done and still ought to do and still they remain undone.
Many have acknowledged when it comes to the subject of divine visitations, that the road to revival is often a difficult road, and that’s true. Everyone whom I have watched closely who has come under a burden for revival and has kept under it has experienced extraordinary levels of pain and difficulty. These things you ought to have done, yes, but don’t leave the other things undone.
Every Christian should be under the weight of the need of revival. It should press more heavily upon us than virtually anything we can think of because revival is God in the midst of His people, and nothing is more urgent, nothing is more wonderful. I hope all of you often reflect upon those words of Psalm 73: "…the nearness of God is my good." Oh that God might draw near, not for a matter of moments or even days, but that we might know a season of divine visitation that stretches for year after year until the whole of our society is greatly changed for the good, and remarkable evangelism and reformation occur!
But look now at this next woe, verses 25 and 26: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also." Is there any possibility that there is someone who has done a lovely job of cleaning the externals and you look like a bright and shining believer, but inside the old man still reigns. All the filth and corruption of the sinner’s heart is in your heart though outside you are a very impressive person. Surely each of us must concern ourselves with this issue as our Lord lays it out.
Move to verses 27 and 28: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." There is an obvious connection between verses 25 and 26 and verses 27 and 28.
Now move to verses 29 to 31: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets." On the surface, many that I meet with profess to love deep and serious biblical preaching. But if it runs over an hour, that’s another matter, or if it touches their life and it’s crystal clear that they are the sinner who needs to repent. They claim they would never persecute a prophet of the Lord. They seem to share embarrassment over their fathers who did so, but in actual fact, they only love the prophet as long as he’s touching others and not themselves. And what about you? If indeed one of the prophets of the Old Testament were preaching here today and preaching as they always did, what would your true reaction to them be?
Many of you associate with other professed believers who have no appetite at all for the Word of God, and is not part of our task in this hour to concern ourselves with others? While we would be grieved to miss our own visitation, would we not be grieved to miss the visitation of God to those we love? Is not every one of us here as burdened for those we know and love as for ourselves, and when we call out to God for revival, is it not above all to His glory? And will not He receive the greater glory if all those we know, and millions and millions beyond them, are touched by this same divine visitation?
We must commit ourselves to do absolutely everything in our power to assure to whatever degree God makes possible, that others not miss their hour of visitation when it comes. To this end some of us need to become a lot more serious in our preaching and teaching. To this end, perhaps the majority of us, need to get a lot more serious about prayer and about cleaning up our own lives and making ready the way of the Lord.
But there is one last woe in this passage that I must call to your attention. It’s worse than a woe. Look at verses 31 to 39. Our Lord reports the consequence: "Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!"
Look at verse 32 again: "Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers." To every single entity on earth, God has granted a measure of sin. And when that measure of sin is full, the wrath of God is upon that entity to the utmost. Read again 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, where our Lord reported that the Jews who crucified Christ and worked hard to keep others from hearing the apostles’ message, had actually succeeded in filling up their measure of sin and these were then under the wrath of God to the utmost.
Most of us are not anywhere near serious enough about these matters. Say to your own heart, "God Almighty has allotted to me a measure of sin. If that measure ever fills up, I am under the wrath of God to the utmost." As I said earlier, this passage is not an appeal. This passage is a proclamation that it was too late for these to whom our Lord spoke. Their measure of sin was full. The wrath of God was upon them to the utmost, because they would not repent.
When our Lord, looking over the temple site, said, "Your house is left unto you desolate" (Luke 13:35), He meant that precisely. He left the temple in Jerusalem never to return again, although He spoke those words sometime around the year 33, and it was not until the year 70 that the temple was destroyed. In the years between His proclamation and their destruction, they carried their religion on as if God were there. Surely every one of us here today must face the possibility even for ourselves but certainly for our nation that we cannot persist forever in our path of wickedness. The happy thing, the joyful thing, the thing that thrills my heart is that the day of mercy is still ours.
Will you commit your heart to see to it that there is no possible way you could miss your day of visitation, and will you set your heart on behalf of those for whom you bear responsibility, that by God’s grace they, too, will know their time of visitation? Please take these words concerning the scribes and Pharisees and the hypocrites to heart, for these words reveal precisely why they missed their time of visitation.
Grant, O Lord, such focus in our hearts, such determination in our spirits, such all-out commitment to our dear Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, that not one of us and none for whom we are concerned will miss the season of visitation. And to the Lord Jesus Christ who has so kindly helped us through these passages of Scripture, and whose blood even now is our sole hope of cleansing, we raise our voices and our hearts in praise and adoration both now and by Your grace, forever. Amen.