Sermon by Andrew Linn 13.03.2022

Lent 2 - Luke 13:31–35

On this second Sunday of Lent, as we follow Jesus on the journey to the cross, we have this small snippet from Luke’s gospel which has been shorn of its context with the rest of what Luke is saying. We read “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus” At what time? Where is Jesus? Who is with him? All things we need to understand what Jesus is saying.

Well, it is only a few verses earlier we find this context from v22 in Luke 13. It tells us that Jesus is going through the towns and villages. He is teaching the people but as Luke says it is “as he made his way to Jerusalem”.

From the transfiguration, which Luke records in chapter 9, there has been a focus for Jesus. There on the mountain Jesus discussed with Moses and Elijah “[Jesus’] departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.”

Jesus is still visiting the villages and teaching but there is an aim and a purpose to his travels. He is going to Jerusalem. As he goes along Luke records a question about who is to be saved, to which Jesus presents the image of the narrow door. The tight restrictions on who it is who would be saved, a theme which continues into our passage.

It is in that context we have these Pharisees coming to Jesus to warn him

We are often in danger of seeing the Pharisees as the big baddies in the gospel story but there were Jesus’ supporters. Here they provide what appears to be a rational warning. Herod is looking to kill Jesus; so perhaps lying low for a while would be a good idea. Jesus responds with a message aimed at Herod,

“I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. […] I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”

Nothing is going to halt Jesus in his plans, not even Herod, known for his ruthlessness and destruction as a fox in a henhouse. No, Jesus is on a different timeline, he is on God’s timeline; note in his response the indication of precise timescales “today, tomorrow, the third day”. It is not random.

The goal, that is to be reached on the third day. Other references to the third day talk about resurrection. This is not just Jesus going to Jerusalem for the annual Passover; no, the goal is the cross, tomb and resurrection. Jesus knows how the plan will work out. He knows it will involve his dying on a cross. He knows all he will have to go through. He knows the result of all of this. As the writer to the Hebrews says “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We can struggle with the reality of God’s plan, it throws up so many questions for us, but the bible tells us that our salvation was according to God’s plan. It shows us the story of the outworking of this plan culminating in Jesus’ death and resurrection. As the hymn states “God is working his purposes out, as year succeeds to year”.

God has a plan of salvation for all who will turn to him and trust in Jesus and nothing will stop this. Jesus was set on Jerusalem, and Herod, as powerful and ruthless as he may have been at the time, was not going to stand in the way.

 

Jesus then in our passage turns his thoughts to Jerusalem “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jerusalem is not just the city itself, but the temple and the heart of the Jewish faith. In many ways it represents the whole people of God. As Jesus opens up, we see the heart of God, the heart of compassion. As he thinks of the people who will very shortly conspire to have him killed, who will cry out for his crucifixion, Jesus’ words are of compassion and longing. The heart of a God who longs to gather up his people, to bring them close, to protect them, but finds only rejection.

We might question what is going on here, surely these were God’s people. They worshiped at his temple; they sought to keep his laws; what does Jesus mean that they were not willing?

We get to the answer through the picture of the hen and her chicks. the mother hen is not looking for activity or performance from the chicks, no it is out of the natural motherly nature that the hen wants to be with the chicks.

We can see the same idea coming through the Old Testament. In Psalm 51 David says “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” David recognises his sin, first and foremost, has caused a break in relationship. God wants to be in relationship with David, so sin had to be repented of. We can see this in the prophets who call the people back into relationship with God.

The people of Jesus’ days were doing things, were working very hard at the things of God, but what God wanted above all was the relationship - the doing stuff came out of that. Yet they have rejected those who have come to bring them back to God. They will reject and kill the Son of God himself the final messenger. They reject all God’s demonstrations of compassion. Like chicks too busy or uninterested to seek the safety and comfort of the mother hen’s wings.

As a result, Jesus says “Look, your house is left to you desolate.”. God does not force us into relationship with him, that does not work. He gives us free will to walk our own path and make our own decisions, even if that is to walk away from God. Perhaps one of the saddest and most terrible things at a funeral is the popular song “My way”. That final statement that the person was their own boss, set their own path, made themselves their own god. God in his compassion longs to draw them to himself but will not force them.

As CS Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

 

 

 

This brings us to the final enigmatic statement in this short passage ‘I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”’ Here we pick up on the theme we mentioned at the very beginning, that of who is to be saved and the narrow door.

If Jerusalem, and through them the people of God, are in a desolate state, what is the solution? Jesus says it is to acknowledge the one who comes in the name of the Lord, to say that this person is blessed, holy, consecrated. This could refer to anyone sent by God but in the context of Jesus’ going to Jerusalem and the messengers sent to Jerusalem who were rejected, this points to Jesus himself.

Immediately in the passage we see this as a message to Israel. Even as Jesus knew the people in Jerusalem were to reject him and hand him over to be killed, He says the answer to desolation is acknowledging that he was the one sent by God, he is the blessed, holy, consecrated one. He is the one through whom God is reaching out to the world to welcome them back.

But this is not just a message for the Jews, this is a message for all. Back to the idea of the narrow door, Jesus is the way back into relationship with God. He is the narrow door, it is through him alone that we can be saved.

 

As we walk with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and the cross through Lent it is a time we can pause and examine our own walk with God.

Are the things we do, at church, in our own devotions, in the community, no matter how God-focused they may be, even preaching, coming out of our relationship to God? Or have they taken the place of our relationship with him? Are we trying to do things to get the things of God and ignoring God himself?

Do we need to refocus on Jesus? On what he has done for us? Who we are in him? Do we need to come in this week and say of him “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”? Asking him to gather us up into his care as the hen gathers her chicks.