Jerusalem and the Sin of Presumption

The city of Jerusalem is a central feature of Luke’s Gospel. His entire narrative is set against the background of godly Jews longing to see the “consolation of Israel” and eagerly waiting for the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25, 38). As the capital of the nation and the site of the temple, this unique city was associated with the presence of the divine Name and the place of true sacrifice; it was central to Israel’s life and hope (Deut. 12:10-11; Ps. 48; Isa. 52:7-10). It comes as no surprise, then, that Jerusalem plays an important part in the life and ministry of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The majority of Luke’s gospel is spent describing Jesus’ long journey towards Jerusalem, having “set his face” to go there (Luke 9:51) in order to accomplish everything that written about the Son of Man by the prophets. But what the prophets had foretold was that the promised Messiah would come to Jerusalem to suffer and die, having been ultimately rejected by his own people (Luke 18:31-33). Therefore, Luke’s overall description of Jerusalem is by no means optimistic.

The City that Rejected her Messiah

Jesus, in his lament over the city, identifies Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:33-34; 20:9-18). Jesus, the Great Prophet, would soon suffer and die outside of her walls like all those who had come before and prefigured him. As he approaches and sees the city, amidst shouts of praise and acclamation from his many disciples, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and pronounces its impending judgment and destruction (Luke 19:41-44). Why? Because the city of God had failed to recognize its visitation by the Son of God. The city that was anxiously awaiting her promised Messiah—David’s greater son and anointed king—did not receive him.

He then proceeds to cleanse the temple and later foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple again (Luke 19:45-46; 21:5-36). This tragic portrayal of Jerusalem is made complete when Jesus, the very salvation of God and redemption of Jerusalem, is condemned by his own and handed over to be crucified. God’s very own people, hardened by unbelief, were blind to the fulfillment of God’s promises right in their midst.

The City that Received his Mercy

Yet Luke’s Gospel does not conclude with a totally negative portrait of Jerusalem. It is presented in his final chapter as somewhat of a city of new beginnings. Not only do the resurrection appearances happen in and around the city, but Jesus declares to his disciples that the good news of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47)! And just as Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna blessed God in the temple at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, he concludes with a description of the disciples returning to Jerusalem “with great joy” and being “continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53).

This then sets the stage for the book of Acts and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus and the Scriptures had foretold, the gospel of repentance and forgiveness was first proclaimed in all of its glory in Jerusalem, where 3,000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2:37-41). This number only continued to grow as the word was preached, the Spirit was received, and the church was edified (Acts 4:4; 6:7).  And as the church was scattered by persecution from the temple leadership and also began to send missionaries, the gospel spread like wildfire from Jerusalem unto the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).

No longer was Jerusalem needed as the dwelling place of God’s presence on the earth or as the place of sacrifice and worship; Christ, by his indwelling Spirit, was present with his church throughout the world. The hour had come when God would no longer be worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth among the nations (John 4:21-24)!

The Danger of Presumption

This portrait of Jerusalem—the city that rejected her Messiah yet also received his mercy—serves as a warning against the subtle but serious sin of presumption. Paul writes extensively on this in Romans 2:1-11, 17-29, and 11:17-24. The self-righteous Jews and hypocritical temple leadership presumed that just because they were Abraham’s physical offspring, they were in God’s good graces (John 8:39). Since they were committed to the Law and upheld their religious traditions, since they had their temple and had as their capital “the city of our God”, they presumed that God was pleased with them. They presumed upon the riches of God’s kindness and patience, not knowing that his kindness was meant to lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Their hard and impenitent hearts led them to neglect the weightier matters of the law, to boast in their own righteousness, to base their worship upon trite ritual rather than true repentance, and even to reject their very own Messiah. As a result, they incurred the judgment of God (Rom. 2:5)

Paul, speaking to the Gentiles included in the people of God, uses the metaphor of an olive tree to make his point clear: “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches [i.e., Israel], neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (11:20-22). All, both Jews and Gentiles, can be guilty of this sin of presumption.

So how do we not become proud? The answer is to remember that there is a world of difference between saving faith and presumption. Saving faith wholly trusts in the kindness of God. It leads us daily to confess our sins and bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). Presumption, on the other hand, takes God’s kindness for granted and blinds us to our need for continual repentance. True, saving faith is persevering faith—a faith that boasts in the work of Christ and God’s preserving grace. Presumption hardens our hearts to the mercy, grace, and holiness of God, and leads us to hypocrisy. Therefore, let us behold the riches of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus, abide in him, and continue in his kindness!

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