Sermon / February 21, 2016 / Luke 13:34 / Under God's Wing / Pastor Terry Defoe
My message is based on these words from Luke's Gospel, chapter 13. Jesus' says in verse 34:
34 “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. (N.I.V.)
Our text this morning records an event for us -- an event from the last weeks of Jesus' life. Jesus is now returning to Jerusalem, the center of Israel's religious life. He's returning there – one last time – to complete His Father's plan of salvation. Jesus knows very well that the cross is near. Jesus was a prophet, the latest in a long line of prophets, actually – prophets sent by God to the nation of Israel. Jesus the Prophet entered Jerusalem one last time to make God's will known to a stiff-necked and uncooperative people. The prophets who had come before Him had often been treated badly – some, like Jesus, to the point of death.
Our text this morning from Luke chapter 13 has two basic themes. One is growing opposition to Jesus and to His ministry. The other is His determination to do His Father's will no matter what. As we read about the last days of Jesus' ministry in this season of Lent, it's obvious there's going to be a clash of strong wills. It's obvious something drastic is going to happen. When you think about it, no one goes through life without any opposition. And the same was true of Jesus. I pray, as I always do, that God would bless our encounter with His word this day - that His Holy Spirit would enable us to hear it, to understand it, and to put it into practice.
I have a question for you as I begin this morning. What was it about Jesus that bothered the religious leaders of Israel so much? Well, Israel's leaders thought of Jesus as someone who played fast and loose with their cherished traditions. They felt that Jesus' interpretation of the Scriptures was heretical. They cringed when Jesus re-interpreted their own Scriptures by saying: "You have heard that it was said..., BUT I SAY UNTO YOU..." The Jewish religious leaders were bothered by the way Jesus dealt with their beloved laws and regulations. It's important to remember that the Pharisees, one of the groups that made up the Jewish religious leadership, had scrupulously divided up God's law into 613 separate commandments. Jesus knew that many of these commandments were not the will of God. Jesus upset the religious leaders by pointing out their hypocrisy. The Jewish leaders were offended by Jesus' attitude regarding the Sabbath. In their opinion, Jesus' behavior, in all of these areas, just wasn't acceptable. Jesus, for his part, told them that they had it all wrong. They kept the letter of the Law, he said, but broke its spirit and its intention.
Jesus didn't match Israel's expectation of what the Messiah would be like. They expected a political Messiah, someone who would raise up an army, and take out the Romans oppressors once and for all. Israel expected their Messiah to be a powerful military and political leader. And what did they get? They got a gentle prophet with no political pretensions – a man who, instead of hating the Romans, spent time with them and even did miracles for them, such as the time he healed a Roman centurion's servant. In our text this morning, the Pharisees came to Jesus hoping to slow Him down a little by bringing Him a warning from King Herod.
"Leave this place," they told Jesus, "and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you."
We need to remember that King Herod had a problem with John the Baptist long before he had a problem with Jesus. John had confronted Herod's adultery – and John did that directly and publicly. Herod’s wife, her name was Herodias, covertly arranged for the death of John the Baptist and was able to carry it out when her daughter Salome danced for Herod and got him to promise her anything, up to half his kingdom. Herodias prompted her daughter to ask the king for the head of John the Baptist. And Herod was forced, against his better judgment, to grant her gruesome request.
By having John killed, Herod thought he would be rid of this thorn in his side once and for all. He had hoped that he could get back to his old ways with no further opposition from the religious community. But now he was hearing reports about Jesus – reports about His miracles and His teachings. Herod heard that Jesus and John were on the same page. The Scriptures tell us that Herod was curiously interested in Jesus. But, in the end, Herod rejected both the faith and the Savior who embodied it. And, when you think about it, the same is true today. Many find Christianity attractive, at least from a distance. But when they hear the details, they turn away. Many in our world find Jesus' teachings attractive. But few are willing to forsake all to follow Him.
Many people today are critical of the Christian faith. Some of those reasons are legitimate and some are not. Now, don’t get me wrong. It's not as if the Christian faith is beyond criticism. It is not. As God's people, we are accountable for what we do and for what we say. People have a right to expect a Biblical morality from church members and from their leaders. Some, however, criticize the church for reasons that are not legitimate. Some criticize the church for talking about sin, and salvation, and the wrath of God. Some criticize the Christian faith because they don't like what it says about the lifestyle they're living. Some are offended when Christians say that Jesus is the only way to salvation.
When the going gets tough in the church today, it's comforting to know that persecution is nothing new. When the going gets tough, and the critics become strident, it's comforting to know that Jesus himself faced powerful opposition. In Luke, chapter 13, verse 32, we find Jesus' reply to Herod's threats:
32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ (NIV)
You'll notice that Jesus called Herod a "fox." Jesus considered Herod to be a cunning and shrewd character, not to be trusted. Bible scholars tell us that back in Biblical days, a fox was thought of as a creature of little importance. Jesus was saying that he was not going to be put off by Herod, a man he thought of as shrewd, but ultimately unimportant, in God's scheme of things. Jesus was saying that His ministry would continue and neither Herod nor anyone else would be able to stop it.
As Christians, we consider Jesus to be God's Ultimate Prophet. In many ways, Jesus was similar to the prophets who had come before him. Like them, Jesus spoke God's word powerfully, and without compromise. He had the courage to face evil and to tell the truth. He was willing to share the same fate many godly prophets before him had endured. But his final state was different from theirs. God accepted Jesus' death as full payment for human sin. Jesus' death on the cross brought life – eternal life – to all who would trust him as Savior and Lord. At this point, however, Jesus hadn't yet reached his goal. The word for "goal" here means "to be completed, to come to perfection." In other words, Jesus’ work would not be completed, it would not come to perfection, until the cross and the empty tomb. That's why Herod's threats didn't bother Jesus. That's why Jesus wasn’t upset by the Pharisees. "I MUST KEEP GOING," he said. In other words, "I must reach my goal, for your sake."
As a wise Christian once said, and I've said this before, that Jesus paid a debt he didn't owe. And we owed a debt we couldn't pay. Our text this morning – on this second Sunday in the season of Lent – is chock full of powerful emotions. One of them is frustration. Jesus was frustrated because the leaders of the Jews rejected him, and his teachings. But, when you think about it, the Jewish leaders were frustrated, too. They were frustrated because Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they had been expecting. They were frustrated because many of the common people accepted his teachings and were not listening to them any longer. At this point, so near the end of his ministry, Jesus felt scorned. And you can’t blame him. His message had been largely ignored. His gracious gifts had been thrown back in his face. Those who rejected him had no one to blame but themselves. Jesus’ frustration is clearly heard in our text this morning:
34 “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. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. (N.I.V.)
One of my favorite preachers is Charles Swindoll from the Evangelical Free Church. Pastor Swindoll shares the following story. He says:
Donald Barnhouse tells us – in one of his writings – that when he was a little boy raised in the Midwest, the wheat fields in front of his house caught fire. There was a dirt road that separated the farm house from the wheat field. The blaze began to roar and – as only you who have seen such a blaze can appreciate – the heat became intense, as the flames licked up and found their way to that road, and they feared the loss of their home. (Donald Barnhouse) remembers, as a little boy, cowering in the corner as he watched that flame.
They had a big tree out in front of the house, a big oak tree that hung out over the road, and as the flames licked up from the wheat field, they caught the branches of that tree and (they) set it on fire. The tree began to drop great chunks of burning debris onto the road – pieces of branch and bark. But, by the grace of God, the fire went no further. The tree burned, but the house was spared.
Donald Barnhouse said he remembers stuffing his hands into his pockets that evening and walking outside, feeling the heat as it radiated from that charred field. As he walked along the road, he was absent-mindedly kicking pieces of debris lying in his path. He saw a large chunk that looked like a piece of bark and he kicked it – and little chickens ran everywhere. And he leaned over – and flipped that – what he thought was debris – over – and it was the charred remains of a mother hen that had pulled her little ones under her wings.
SHE DIED THAT THEY MIGHT LIVE.
At this point in His ministry, Jesus was well on his way to the goal his Father had set for him. The cross was very close. Jesus was on his way to die for the sins of the people. Our Lord's will hasn't changed. He still wants everyone to come to repentance over their sins – he still wants everyone to hold out the hand of faith – prompted and enabled by the Holy Spirit – and receive his precious gift of salvation. In our text this morning, Jesus compared himself to a mother hen whose greatest desire is to protect her offspring from danger. Some, it is true, did allow Jesus to place them under his protective wing. But many more refused.
There's a deep irony here. Why do people so often refuse that which they most desperately need? Why do people so often choose to do things the hard way? There are many ironies in our text this morning. There's even an irony in the name, "Jerusalem." Jerusalem in the Hebrew language means the "City of Peace." So, it was the City of Peace that gave birth to the Prince of Peace.
A while ago, I came across a message titled “The Sacrifice of the Cross.” The unnamed writer says this:
Recently, I had an experience at church I will never forget. During the Sunday morning service, the pastor asked each member of the congregation to make a list of his or her sins on a sheet of paper, as the Spirit led. After a time of reflection and prayer, each person walked up to the front of the church and nailed their folded piece of paper, which represented their sins, onto a large wooden cross.
When it was my turn, I laid my folded “list of sins” onto the end of the crossbar and struck the nail with the hammer that had been provided. The sound of the hammer connecting with the nail was deafening – not to my ears, but to my spirit. The realization that, in effect, my own hand had driven the nails into the Savior’s flesh was overwhelming. In that moment, I was struck with the reality that because Jesus knew I would be in this world, and would not be able to live a sinless life, He – the One who spoke the world into being – had chosen to lay down his life for me so that I could have everlasting fellowship with him.
On the way back to my seat, I listened to the thunder of nails being hammered into the cross by those who were doing as I had just done. I watched as scores of other people streamed toward the front to nail their sins to the cross, and once again I was struck with the awesomeness of the sacrifice. Tears began to stream down my face. I heard the Lord say, “I did this not only for you, but for the whole world!” It was an echo of his words recorded in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish -- but have everlasting life.” (NKJV). The full impact of what Jesus did for us all reached the very core of my being.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Help us serve you, despite the world's criticisms and misunderstandings. Help us remember Jesus' courage and His determination to reach the goal set for him. In His most holy and precious name we pray. Amen.