Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Lent (March 17, 2019)

LUKE 13:31-35


In the name + of Jesus.

     When the prophet Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to Assyria, Jonah got on a ship which was bound for the opposite direction.  He feared that God's word would lead Israel's enemy to repent and that God would be merciful to them.  When Elijah preached, he called the northern tribes of Israel to return to worshiping the Lord alone and to reject Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility.  Queen Jezebel vowed death to Elijah, and Elijah fled the country—some 280 miles south, down to Mt. Sinai.  God's prophets had been influenced by fear, causing them to flee from their duties.  The Pharisees were banking on the same reaction from Jesus.
     At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” (Luke 13:31)  They had hoped that the same fear that caused Jonah and Elijah to flee would be seen in Jesus.  Such fear would certainly discredit one who claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  But Jesus was not shaken.  Whether the threat from Herod was real or not, who knows?  But what Jesus did know was what the Scriptures had foretold.  Jesus knew that his end would not come in Galilee, but in Jerusalem.  Therefore, he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.  Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13:32-33)  That reply may have been for the benefit of Herod, but it was more likely directed at the Pharisees.  Jesus made it clear: He would not be distracted from his goal.  He would preach.  He would heal.  He would have mercy.  And he would go to Jerusalem where he would be slain.  For, Jesus' desire was to do the work to save us.
     After Jesus expressed his destination—both the end of his journey and the end of his life—he expressed a lament.  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)  Jerusalem did not have a good track record with God's prophets.  They were resistant.  They were rebellious.  They even killed prophets who did nothing to them but call them back to God's word.  You'd think that Jesus would have turned his back on Jerusalem, or rained down judgment on them.  Instead, he had compassion.  He was compelled to go there to suffer all things in order to redeem them.  For, he yearns to save even the rebels.
     The love that Jesus has for sinners really cannot be disputed.  Consider what he longs for:  Jerusalem, you kill the prophets.  How often would I have gathered you to myself!  Jerusalem, you stone those sent to you.  How often would I have gathered you to myself!   Contemporaries of Noah, I gave you 120 years to repent before the destructive Flood.  People of Canaan, I was patient with you for 400 years, hoping you would forsake your perverse worship and child sacrifices.  Israel, I called you again and again to be a faithful bride to your Lord.  How often would I have gathered you to myself!  But you were not willing.  You chased after others and gave your love to them.  You were seduced by the promises of false gods who promised you endless happiness which they could never deliver.  In turn, you rejected a peaceful conscience and eternal joys.
     The love that Jesus has for you cannot be disputed, either.  He promises to be with you, to watch over you, and to supply all your needs.  He assures you that everything that comes to you will work for your eternal good—even if it is hard, unpleasant, and painful.  He never lies to you.  He calls out to you in his word.  He declares to you what a good life looks like, and he tells you to live according to his Commandments.  To do so is to love your neighbor.  To do so is to respond to his gracious love with willing and obedient devotion.  To do so is to be faithful to him who yearns for your salvation.
     The faults we have seen in past sinners is repeated in present day sinners.  Our sinful flesh is not content with God's word, and we are disappointed in God's blessings.  We expect more from God, and we notice that the world promises it.  The world presents endless pleasures—luxuries, delicacies, and instant gratification.  And yet, with all the comforts that we enjoy in our suburban American lifestyle, we are still not satisfied.  The cravings continue.  We often medicate ourselves with food, drink, sports, shopping, or whatever.  We keep running back to these, hoping that they will finally satisfy us, but they never do.  We never have enough.  Even if the world grants you your every wish, it will still not save you from the grave.  And it will not give you a refuge in the judgment.  Many people find out too late that the seductive and enticing voices were lying voices.  No matter how false gods disguise themselves, they do not save.  They cannot alleviate your guilt.  They offer no consolation for your fears.  They provide no hope.
     “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)  There will always be people who seek comfort and happiness from this world and its thrills.  They devote themselves to their cravings, hoping instant gratification will lead to lasting gratification.  They will not heed Jesus' word, and they do not desire his gifts.  If people remain rebellious against Jesus, he will not force his way upon them.  He does not abduct anyone into his kingdom.  He grants their wish and says with regret: “Behold, your house is forsaken.” (Luke 13:35)
     But that does not mean he delights in the demise of anyone.  He yearns to save even the rebels.  We, too, have often strayed and sought our joy from worldly cravings.  Nevertheless, the Lord still desires our salvation.  Jesus does not utter empty words when he says:  “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings...” (Luke 13:34)  Jesus Christ has come to save sinners.  He yearns to save even the rebels.  And that is why Jesus was earnestly headed to Jerusalem.  He would not be scared off by the threats of Herod, not by the deception of the Pharisees, not by his disappointing rejection at Jerusalem, and not even by our weaknesses and rebellions.  Rather, Jesus came to atone for all of it.  For he is always faithful to his Father, to his mission, and to you.
     Jesus yearns to save even the rebels.  He went to Jerusalem where he delivered himself up to death for our rebellions.  He heeded the word of his Father who sent him to die for us and for all.  As Isaiah had foretold it: He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)  The righteous one was slain for our rebellions, and the rebels are declared innocent and set free.
     You may have heard the story of park rangers at Yellowstone National Park going to inspect the damage after a forest fire.  They came upon the charred remains of a bird, huddled in its nest.  When they removed the charred bird, they found underneath its chicks, still alive and crying to be fed.  That mama bird gave itself up for her chicks.  So also, the Lord Jesus spread out his arms at the cross and gathered us all under his protection as a hen covers her brood under her wings.  He protects you from judgment; for he has taken your sins from you.  He protects you from the Father's wrath; for he has taken the blows for you.  He protects you even from death because he has destroyed the power of death and will raise you up to live in glory with him.
     He yearns to save even the rebels.  No matter how much you have done or how often you have strayed from him, he longs to save you.  And to strengthen you so that you are not enticed by the world's empty promises, he sustains you with heavenly food by which he keeps you in his care.  Therefore, we sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35), because we know that he is coming with his gifts to save us.  He gathers us together often to encourage, to comfort, to bless, and to save.  He drives away fear, death, and disappointment.  He satisfies us with good things, for his gifts have eternal value and deliver everlasting benefits.  He yearns for you to have all of these, and so he gives them freely and frequently—even to rebels.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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