Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sorrow for God's People

"At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”  (Luke 13:31-35)

Jesus encountered some short-sighted people on this leg of his journey. First of all, there were the Pharisees. They come with a message concerning Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee. “Leave this place, because Herod wants to kill you.” A kind of warning for this rising Jewish leader. Interesting to note, the Pharisees are the good guys in this story. In fact, the Pharisees are rarely shown in a bad light from Luke’s pen.

A Pharisee is the moderating voice of the Jewish council in Acts 5—he in a sense saves Peter! Some of the members of the church, according to Luke, were Pharisees. In fact, according to Luke, Paul himself was a Pharisee! And here, this group of Pharisees come to Jesus with a warning. But in this warning, we catch a glimpse of their short-sightedness. They didn’t understand who Jesus was. So, they come warning Him about Herod.

Another person with unclear vision in this story is Herod himself. By this point, Herod has already killed John the Baptist. But now, there are reports surfacing that John the Baptist has raised from the dead and his new name is Jesus of Nazareth! We read back in the ninth chapter of Luke:

"Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life.  But Herod said, "I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?" And he tried to see Him." (Luke 9:7–9)

Herod is actually wrong on two counts. First, he thought Jesus was John the Baptist. Second, he thought he had the power to end Jesus’ life!

Finally, in this narrative, and perhaps most perplexing, Jerusalem failed to see Jesus clearly. This was, in fact, no surprise to Jesus. Sadly, it had always been that way. He knew Jerusalem so well that when He heard the threat from Herod, He was unmoved.

He knew that He would not die that day. He knew that Jerusalem would eventually kill Him. You see Jerusalem had that kind of reputation. Jerusalem was known for killing prophets! The Bible is littered with examples of prophets who gave their last prophecies in the city of Jerusalem:

Uriah the prophet was killed by King Jehoiakim when he prophesied against the sin of the city. (Jer 26:20-23)

Various attempts were made upon the life of one of Uriah’s contemporaries, Jeremiah.

Amos was killed in the vicinity of Jerusalem, in Bethel. (Amos 7:10-17)

The prophet Zechariah is killed inside the city of Jerusalem (2 Chr 24:20-22)

Isaiah was killed in Jerusalem. (Mart. Isa 5:1-14)

One of the most famous murders in this city was actually a massacre. King Mannasseh led a massacre in Jerusalem (2 Kgs 21:16). When his father, Hezekiah, died, Mannasseh turned Israel away from God. He lined the streets of Jerusalem with the bodies of the godly. This episode was so heinous, it is recorded by some extra-biblical records—including Josephus, the Jewish historian.

Jerusalem was “God’s City,” but she consistently failed to see God. There is something very important to understand about this text in Luke: when he says “Jerusalem” he means more than a city in Israel. Jerusalem has always been more than a city. Jerusalem is a people. The people of God!

When God’s own people turn their eyes from God, this causes God to lament over His city. God had sent prophets to Jerusalem time and time again as a sign that He was still in control and as an indication that real peace, safety, and protection only comes from God.

Here is the sad truth:

God continually sent His prophets to comfort his people, but they were consistently more interested in stoning them than in receiving the comfort offered by the Father.

Church, how have we—the present-day residents of Jerusalem—responded to God’s offer of peace and protection? I bet when men like Isaiah and Jeremiah showed up with their warnings, they received a pretty standard response. They came saying:
“Real peace is found only in God.
“Reject the gods of your neighbors.”
“Stop trusting so much in your own abilities.”
“God alone can save you.”

But the text reveals the responses:
“Just leave us alone, you prophets.”
“We don’t need you…and we don’t need God.”
“We can do this without any help!”

So, in turn, Israel experienced tragedy after tragedy. Families were torn in two. Their land was taken away. One disaster after another. And for some reason, many of us have not learned from their short-sightedness.

Why is it that when many children of God face struggles in this life, they act as if they have to fight alone? I have to tell you, when we do this, I honestly believe God continues to grieve over Jerusalem saying,

“How I wish I could gather you together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you are not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

I have a theory. I believe many of us refuse to turn to God in our times of trouble because we think we’ve moved too far away from His nest. Our troubles are often the result of the messes we’ve made. We get caught in some sin and we can’t find a way out.

We’re too scared to admit what we’ve done. And we’re too ashamed to ask for help from our families, from our church, even from God.

Let me be the voice this morning calling you back to reality. Our God is a Father who loves us—in spite of our sin! Our God is a Father who promises comfort and safety! Our God is a Father who longs to bring you back to His nest!

Jesus concluded His lament saying,

"You will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’ " (Luke 13:35)

This was the standard welcome from those living in Jerusalem for those who arrived in the city for feast days. It was the “Jerusalem way” of saying, “We’re glad you’re here. Pull up a chair and stay awhile.”

As we all know, and as Jesus knew when He made this statement, they did welcome him to their city a short time later. But their welcome was hollow. They allowed Him to come into their city…but only for a week. Then, they took His life.

Church, let us not offer the same hollow welcome to Jesus. So many of us have welcomed Him into our hearts. When the stuff of life arrives; When we get caught in whatever kind of mess we get caught in, do not then rescind His welcome. Do not then jump out of the nest provided by God. Do not then, like the earlier residents of this great city, stone those sent to you to help in the name of Jesus.

There is a good chance Jesus’ image here in this lament comes from a well-known psalm. I want you to hear these ancient words of comfort offered to the people of God so long ago. Hear this promise from our Father:

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
    who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;
    my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.
Because you have made the LORD your refuge,
    the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
    no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Those who love me, I will deliver;
    I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
    I will be with them in trouble,
    I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
    and show them my salvation.

(Psalm 91 NRSV)

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