The Brood Who Would Not Repent
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The text for today is our Gospel, Luke 13:31-35, which has already been read.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When your enemies act like your friends, watch out! You know things are getting dangerous when that happens. The Pharisees are Jesus’ enemies. And now all of a sudden they act like His best friends. Taking an interest in His safety and well-being. “Get away from here,” they warn. “Herod wants to kill you.”
These Pharisees sound so helpful. Are they different from the Pharisees who have been opposing Jesus every step of the way? The ones that Jesus called hypocrites because they trumpeted their zealous keeping of religious traditions, all the while failing to love and trust God alone, and neglecting to show mercy to their neighbor in need? Have they seen the light and turned a new leaf?
No, they’re the same Pharisees whom Jesus spoke His woes against. The ones who bristled at Jesus’ criticism, then “began to press Him hard and to provoke Him to speak about many things, lying in wait for Him, to catch Him in something He might say.” It seems they might have invented (or at least, perfected) what we call “gotcha politics” today. Try to catch your opponent with a slip of the tongue and then hammer him with it repeatedly until he loses credibility and support.
These are the same Pharisees about whom Jesus warned the people: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:2). Not averse to hiding their diabolical intentions behind masks of piety, it’s more likely the Pharisees were trying to deceive Jesus into abandoning His journey to Jerusalem, not so He would be safe, but for their own sake. The Pharisees realize that any man who wants to be a leader of the Jews must establish Himself in Jerusalem. Any ploy that could keep Him away from Jerusalem will surely foil His plans.
No, these Pharisees are not being helpful. They’ve already rejected Jesus and His purpose. In fact, they’ve allied themselves with Herod and his people. Talk about politics making for strange bedfellows! They’ve been longtime, bitter enemies. Still, St. Mark tells us that early in Jesus’ ministry “the Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against [Jesus], how to destroy Him” (3:6).
Yes, this is a ruse. But that is not to say that Jesus does not face some very real threats—only they come from the Pharisees themselves, not Herod. Herod is more amused and intrigued by Jesus. The Pharisees are scared witless. St. Luke tells us in chapter 6 that after Jesus restored the withered hand of a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees “were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (v. 11).
What’s more—Jesus already knows all of this. The Pharisees aren’t fooling Him one bit. In fact, Jesus knows very well not only what could happen to Him, but what will happen to Him. But He seems incredibly unconcerned. What’s the worst thing that could happen to Him? He dies? That’s what He came to do—to die for the sins of the world, to lay down His life and take it up again. In fact, Jesus has been stating it clearly to His disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). Jesus knows full well what’s in store for Him, where He is going, what He is about to do.
Nevertheless, Jesus will go to Jerusalem. The Prophet who was “honored” with a parade out of Nazareth, and brought for a close up view of their town’s cliff, could have passed through this crowd, too. The Valiant One who battled and bested the evil one in the wilderness has nothing to fear from the likes of Herod. So He says to the Pharisees: “Go and tell that old fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’”
There’s an unspoken sentence after this that I think we can safely plug in: “And no one is going to stop Me.” That’s the comfort of this text. Jesus is in complete control of His destiny. He’s not living by the seat of His pants, outwitting His opponents for one more day like the Roadrunner with Wile E. Coyote. He’s going to keep going about His ministry until it’s time for Him to go to the cross. No matter how much Herod wants Him dead, the Son of God is going to stay alive for as long as He wills. No matter how much the Pharisees want Him out of the way, He’s going to keep going about His Father’s plan of salvation.
If the plan is to preach and heal today and tomorrow, He’s going to preach and heal today and tomorrow. If it’s His will to finish His course on the third day, He’s going to finish His course on the third day. He can’t be stopped from saving you. Jesus will cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day He will finish His course.
The “third day.” That’s an interesting phrase for Jesus to use. Outside of this passage and a reference to a wedding and a shipwreck, “the third day” is only used in the New Testament to refer to Jesus’ resurrection. So let this be a reminder, too, of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. On the first day, He dies willingly for your sin, and nobody can keep Him from redeeming you. On the next day, He descends into hell to proclaim His victory, and not even the devil can keep Him from doing so or from leaving again. And on the third day? He rises again from the dead. Not even death can stop Him!
Jesus knows His mission. His course is set. He will die and rise in Jerusalem. No one could deflect Him. Not the devil in the wilderness. Not the devil that comes as His friend in the form of the Pharisees. Not His own well-intended, but devil-inspired disciples. Jesus follows the Father’s agenda. As much as Herod and the Pharisees want Jesus dead, it will be on the Father’s terms. Not theirs. After all, Jesus says, “No prophet can die outside Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem—the City of Peace. What a reputation she had. Hers was a reputation of killing God’s prophets. Stoning to death those sent to preach to her. As we heard in our Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah experiences this rejection first hand. The congregation who hears him preach, lays their hands on him and says: “You shall die!” And then they bring him before the officials, and the priests and prophets charge Him with prophesying against the city. The people in Jeremiah’s day refuse to repent. They (the political and religious authorities, in particular) think they were doing God a favor by killing their preacher.
Hmmm… sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?
It is the same in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees are very religious. At synagogue every Sabbath. Fast twice a week. Give a tithe of everything they have. Speak out against the evils of society. Patriotic. Moral. Conservative. Outstanding citizens. They would probably fit right in at a Tea Party rally or pro-life march or VFW convention. And yet Jesus says that all that isn’t good enough, for they will not repent. That, the Pharisees can do without. They are doing fine on their own. They have their self-righteousness. They have the Law. They have their traditions. And they have the courage of their convictions, and the willingness to follow through on them, even if they have to step on a few toes or crack a few skulls to do so. “Repentance? Why? We don’t need no stinking repentance!”
What about you? During this Lent can you do without repentance? Are you a Pharisee at heart? Are you getting along just fine on your own? Are you afraid of Jesus? Perhaps harboring a guilty conscience that is worried that His light might expose that wickedness you’ve kept hidden in the dark recesses of your heart. Or maybe scared that He’ll take away all your good works and call them worthless? Perhaps you are afraid that Jesus’ death and resurrection isn’t good enough? That you must add something of your own? A little self-justification, perhaps? A little manageable law?
Jerusalem’s impenitence drove Jesus to tears. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Unbelief breaks Jesus’ heart. He takes it personally. For when God’s faithful prophets and preachers are rejected, it’s really the Lord and His Word that are being rejected. And it’s not the Lord who will suffer, but those who refuse to repent and believe.
You can hear the deep sorrow and bitter irony in Jesus’ words. The holy city of Jerusalem and yet so unholy. The City of Peace that kills God’s prophets. Isn’t it amazing how the godly and ungodly can be so close together? How truth and error can be separated by such a narrow margin? And that’s true of the Church today. The greatest faith and the worst of unbelief lie close beside one another. Within the same congregation. Within the same pew. Often within the same heart.
The devil doesn’t care about what goes on in the world. He’s the prince of this fallen world. But he does care about what goes on in the church. He’d rather you not be here. But once you are here, he’ll do his best to distract you. Get you to dwell on some pesky problem in your life rather than confess your sins and be forgiven. He wants you to pay attention to the preacher’s many shortcomings rather than the sermon that proclaims Christ’s death and resurrection for you.
The devil is thrilled when churches fire their pastors for restoring individual confession and absolution. For calling sin “sin” even when it offends and decreases membership. For urging people to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood. For daring to teach the historic practice of closed communion. For calling people to repentance. The devil delights in all this. But Jesus weeps. He wept over Jerusalem. He laments their unbelief and rebellious spirit. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not.” A tender, yet tragic picture. A mother hen clucking after her little ones. Trying to gather them under her protective wings. Willing to sacrifice herself to save them. And yet they stubbornly refuse.
They say, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” If that’s true, then what fury—and hell—awaits those who scorn a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks under her wing? What fury is in store for those who spurn their Creator, the One who’s given them everything—including life itself? What hell lies ahead for those who would even dare destroy the One sent to save them from such fury?
A gracious God has chosen Jerusalem to be His holy city, to receive a small measure of His attention and blessings. But time and again, she rejects the men the Lord sends to deliver His message. And now, in today’s text, the people of Jerusalem are on the brink of rejecting even their Creator and Savior as He comes to them in person, to reject the Prophet who is God Himself. What fury!
Yes, hell is waiting. But that’s not the point of our text. Instead, and amazingly, Jesus still longs to gather them, just as He still longs to gather all who time and again reject Him—all of us. When Jerusalem has earned only wrath, the rejected Prophet will still go to the City of Peace that kills God’s prophets to suffer that wrath Himself. He will still go to the brood that refuses to repent, to gather as many of those little ones under His saving wings as He can!
If anything should cause Jesus to reject Jerusalem, it should be their repeated rejections of Him. How many times can one—even God—be hurt and not give up on loving? We understand, we think. We’ve reached out. We’ve put our feelings on our sleeves. We’ve loved or offered our love, and been rejected. We’ve tried to share God’s Word with our loved ones and been shot down. After a while, we pull pack, if for no other reason than self-preservation. More likely out of disappointed frustration, perhaps even personal anger. So we understand.
But do we? Do we understand—really?—how often we’ve rejected Christ’s love extended to us? We must face it, and Lent is a good time to square ourselves to the harsh truth that there is a little religious Pharisee and a little tyrannical Herod in each one of us. We are constant trying to orchestrate things our way, to be little gods in place of God, exerting our wills to control others, and even, were it possible to control God. We use religion as a bargaining chip. We use politics as the muscle. We use politics to bolster our religion, and religion to bolster our politics. Herod and the Pharisees are alive and well in each of us.
Like Jerusalem, we would not. We would not be saved, were it left to our own devices. We would not be children of God, but Christ has gathered us, against our wills, kicking and screaming at times. We also are, in many ways, the brood that refuses to repent, the little chicks that reject the shelter and protection of the loving hen’s mighty wings.
God makes us His chosen people, gives us eternal life, and we say, “Ho, hum. What have you done for me that I can use today? How about something that will help be a better spouse, raise perfect children, or live a victorious life, here and now?” He comes to us today in His Word and Sacraments, and we want something more exciting? Something more relevant? Do we understand how deserving we are of the fury of a lover scorned?
For their rejection of the Messiah, Jerusalem will ultimately itself be rejected. The beloved city, the City of Peace that kills God’s prophets, will be destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Lord will take His honor and glory now to wherever Christ’s people gather around Him in Word and Sacrament.
But even knowing this in advance, Jesus’ heart for His people will still send Him to Jerusalem—for her and for us. Nothing anyone could do, not even Jerusalem’s own rejection of her Savior, will prevent Him from coming to her one more time, the one more time that also brings Him to us. On Palm Sunday, Jesus will come to Jerusalem and be acclaimed by these very words: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35). Then He will be rejected and crucified. He’ll suffer the God-forsakenness of hell.
But this is precisely why He will come. This has been Jerusalem’s paradoxical purpose throughout her favored history: the city that kills God’s Prophet will be the City of Peace—the place where God and man will be reconciled when Christ faithfully finishes His course all the way to the cross.
That’s Jesus’ love for Jerusalem. That’s Jesus’ love for His Church. That’s Jesus’ love for you. To extend His crucified arms over you. To shelter you under the protection of His grace. To hide you in His mercy. He goes to Jerusalem to die for all. Even for those who hate Him and want Him dead. For those who have rejected His Word and insisted upon living their own way. People like you and me. All that you might repent and believe this Good News: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.