To the Least of These
God’s salvation belongs to all who receive it.
He sat silently in the last row of the small church in the center of Lima, the capital of Peru. I had seen him sneak into the building as I began my sermon on that foggy, cold Sabbath morning. It was the final Sabbath of a weeklong evangelistic series, and every ordained minister had been assigned to a church in metro Lima to help with the thousands of baptismal candidates that the local churches had prepared. I had been given the small church in one of the most dangerous areas of Lima.
Early Sabbath morning my wife, our 6-month-old daughter, and I had left the campus of the Adventist university and were on our way to downtown Lima. When we arrived around 9:00 a.m., an elder was waiting at the entrance of the church. “Don’t worry about your car, Pastor,” he had told me cheerfully. “I will watch it during the entire service.” I felt slightly worried.
Downtown Lima, like many other downtowns all over the world, was known for its violence, crime, and drug addicts. Most addicts lived on the streets—ragged, seemingly faceless people, in tattered, dirty clothes who would do anything for the next high. Many of these, too poor to afford any other drug, sniffed glue and did not have too much of a future. I wondered about the wisdom of bringing my wife and my baby daughter.
The little church worshipped heartily. No organ or piano helped with the singing, but the songs made their way to heaven.
Soon after my arrival I had met the baptismal candidates. Together with the elders we had talked about their decisions and what it meant to follow Christ and become a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We had prayed together, and at the end of my sermon, when I had invited the congregation to commit their everything to Jesus, they had stood and smiled. They were ready.
Just before we entered the baptismal pool, one of my students who had served this church for the past year as a student pastor pulled on my sleeve. “Pastor,” he whispered, “there is somebody else who wants to be baptized.” I halted for a moment and asked the local elders if they knew the individual. No one seemed to know him, and so we proceeded with the baptism, of the other candidates. “Tell him to wait for me after the service,” I mouthed to my students.
Luis sat quietly in one of the pews of the church. Almost everybody had left. Luis was one of the drug addicts of downtown Lima, but on this morning God’s Spirit somehow had reached his heart. As I listened to him and shared God’s plan of salvation with him, I could see a little light that had been turned on in his eyes. It was just a glimmer—but it was hope.
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. The disciples, overwhelmed by the excitement of the moment, throw their cloaks on a colt and put Jesus on its back (Luke 19:35). People spread their garments on the road—the air is filled with Hosannas, excitement, and shouts of blessings. Songs of praise accompany the Savior. It seems as if all of Jerusalem is out to greet the king.
As Jesus approaches a location overlooking Jerusalem and its glorious Temple, time seems to stand still. Tears wet the face of Jesus. His body rocks, His lips quiver. He can see the future of Jerusalem’s inhabitants—and it’s not a glorious one. “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42, NIV).1
Only twice we are told in Scripture that Jesus wept. He wept as He stood before the tomb of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35). Now, as He glances at the city of Jerusalem, filled with thousands of inhabitants and tens of thousands of visitors, He weeps again. Jesus’ tears anticipate the cruel future of the city. Jesus’ tears lament the stubbornness and pride and rejection of Jerusalem’s leaders and inhabitants. Jesus’ tears are for the lost and headstrong and discouraged who cannot see salvation.
Weeping for the Cities
Since 2008 more than 50 percent of the world’s population has lived in urban areas. In most developed countries that number approaches 75 percent.2 Crowds of human beings, living closely together in teeming cities, struggling to survive, often lonely and without social networks capable of communicating human warmth, and with little knowledge of the Savior of the world—Jesus is still weeping for the cities and their inhabitants.
The Gospels tell us the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in Jerusalem. The book of Acts continues the narrative of people, a city, even a world, changed because of Jesus’ sacrifice. It describes a handful of believers who were ready and willing to tell and change the world for their Master. Beginning in Jerusalem and the towns of Judea and Galilee, they go into all the world and tell those who are dejected, or lowly, or poor, or rich, or addicted, or lonely that the tears of Jesus were also meant for them, that divine compassion and boundless grace were freely available to them.
Their stories and the stories of many after them remind us that we too have been called to weep and work for the people living in the cities (or suburbs) all around us.
Another God Moment
As we drove home to our university campus so many years ago I felt both awed and disturbed. I rejoiced with Luis in his acceptance of His Savior, who spoke that morning straight to the heart of this lost, glue-sniffing, young man in the heart of Lima. Several months later, following intense Bible studies with my student and careful mentoring by the leaders of the small church, Luis too joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church and became another disciple of Jesus. At the same time, however, I felt overwhelmed by the many others who had not (yet) heard God’s invitation to a meaningful life and eternal salvation. Their faces had been etched on my heart as a constant reminder of Jesus’ tears.
Jesus weeping over Jerusalem is not only about raw emotions or prophetic insights. It represents the paradigm of how we too are called to minister to the people around us. First, we cannot reach others if we have not been reached ourselves. Second, city evangelism (or any evangelism, for that matter) requires heart work, not just funding, planning, and excellent execution. We are called to become personally involved. Finally, we come to our neighbors, friends, or the huge numbers of people that we have not yet met as saved sinners—not as saints barely touching the ground. We may not have sniffed glue or lived on the streets, but in God’s eyes we were as lost as anybody else. That’s why He continues to weep for this world.
1 Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
2 The numbers have been taken fromhttp://www.prb.org/Educators/TeachersGuides/HumanPopulation/Urbanization.aspx.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of Adventist World. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A., with his wife, Chantal, and their three daughters.