“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 would not!” (Luke 13:31-35)
The Pharisees, aka the “religious types” are at it once again. This time they appear as though they were doing Jesus a favor. Jesus was likely in Perea, Herod’s territory, and the Pharisees come to Jesus with an insider tip. “Herod wants to kill you. Better pick up and leave this place. The funny thing was, the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus too. They’d been plotting it for over a year. They just couldn’t figure out when and where.
Ah yes, Religion and Politics. They make strange bed-fellows, don’t they? The religious Pharisees and the scheming politician Herod Antipas. They hate each other with a passion. But they have something in common. Both want to kill Jesus. Both hate Him. Herod hates Him for being a threat to his throne; the Pharisees hate Him for being a threat to their religion. Both want Him out of the way.
It was the same way with Jeremiah. Politics and Religion conspiring against him. The government officials teamed up with the priests and the prophets to silence the prophet because they didn’t like his message of exile for 70 years. They favored a kinder and gentler program. They wanted to kill Jeremiah. It was always that way with the Word of God. It’s one of the greatest ironies of the Bible. That the Word is rejected by God’s own people, by those nearest to His temple, by those who handled the very Word of God. And the Word suffers this. It’s vulnerable, rejectible.
Jesus seems incredibly unconcerned. What’s the worst that can happen to Him? He dies? That’s what He came to do, to die for the sin of the world, to lay down His life and to take it up again. Death threats are hardly a concern to Jesus. The One who battled the devil, the Evil One, in the wilderness with nothing but the Word has nothing to fear from the likes of Herod. “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’” The third day. Do you think Jesus had in mind His own death and resurrection here? I can’t help but think so. He knew that Religion and Politics were eventually going to catch up with Him, that He would be handed over to the religious and political authorities, be put to death, and on the third day rise again. He knew that His death would conquer Death once and for all, and it was happen on His timetable and not Herod’s. Jesus knew that the Divine Fox would easily outfox old Herod, not to mention the devil, sin, death, and the Law.
Jesus is unthreatened by death threats. He is undeterred by murderous kings. He is King of kings and Lord of lords who has more power in a single word from His mouth than all the superpowers of the world put together. He is heading toward Jerusalem, the ancient seat of religious and political power in Israel. And he casts a sideways glance to the religious Pharisees and their concern over Jesus’ health and safety. “Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following (Jesus seems to have something about three days, doesn’t he?) for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.
Jesus knew what was on their minds. He knew they were trying to force Him to rush to Jerusalem where they could nab Him. Jerusalem was the seat of power back in Israel’s hey day, the city of the King’s palace and the temple. It was the city of kings and priests. Even before there was an Israel, Jerusalem existed as Salem and was ruled by that strange Christ figure named Melchizedek who served at the time of Abraham as both king and priest, Politics and Religion rolled into one. David built the palace in Jerusalem; Solomon, his son, built the temple.
Jerusalem had a reputation. So much so, that Jesus said it would not be fitting for a prophet to die away from Jerusalem. Tradition has it the Isaiah was martyred there. James, the brother of John, was killed by Herod in Jerusalem. Stephen was stoned to death in Jerusalem by the religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin. It seems the Religion and Politics always want to silence the Word and kill the prophet, and Jesus was no exception.
You might have expected Jesus to be angry, knowing what He does. I would be, if it were me. I get angry when people reject the Word for something else. I get frustrated that people want entertainment over forgiveness, and a temporary fix to their “issues” rather than an eternal solution to their sinfulness. We get angry at those who seek our harm, who want to hurt us, who simply insult us. You know how it is when your love is rejected, when you are snubbed or when you reach out to someone and the turn and slap you for it. We get angry. One of the hardest sayings of Jesus is that saying from the sermon on the mount where He says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” That’s hard. Impossible even, for us. Our self-centered sinfulness gets in the way.
But Jesus does it. He loves His enemies. He loves the Pharisees and Herod and us, because yes, we’re really in the same boat as they are, caught up in our religions and our political power games. He looks at Jerusalem off in the distance, knowing what is in store, and He laments over it. It breaks His heart that people reject the Word, the prophet, even the Messiah. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her sings, and you would not!”
That, my friends, is the merciful, loving, gracious heart of God in the flesh, dwelling among us. Jesus spreads His arms like a mother hen gathering up her wandering, wayward chicks. He wants them all – the religious and the unreligious, the powerful and the powerless. He came to save them all, even though they don’t want His salvation. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and if the world doesn’t want to have its sin taken away, He does it nonetheless. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, enemies of God, Christ died for 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 constantly 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 bargaining chip, we use politics as a means to gain control of others by power. We use politics to bolster our religion, we use religion to bolster our politics. Herod and the Pharisee are alive and well in each of us. We call it the “old Adam,” the original sinner, our flesh.
Like Jerusalem, we would not. We would not be saved, were it left to our own devices. We would not be children of God, gathered as chicks under His wing. But Christ has gathered us, against our wills, kicking and screaming at times. Lifted up on the cross, He has drawn all to Himself, drawing even those who would want Him dead and gone. He grieves of Jerusalem today, over the Church, over our rejections and denials too.
You might say that the history of Jerusalem is the history God’s dealing with humanity. It’s the history of sin, rebellion, stubbornness, idolatry, rejection of the Word and the prophets who preach it. It’s also the history of God’s grace, undeserved kindness toward sinful humanity, the Word made Flesh who was rejected for our acceptance, who died for our life, whose blood vindicates the blood of the prophets that is ground into its dust.
Jerusalem has a future, but it is not in the hands of men. The next time the holy city appears in the Scriptures, it comes down from heaven as a bride dressed for her wedding day. This is the city God builds as opposed to the city Man builds – Jerusalem redeemed, restored, raised from the dead. Her murders have been atoned for by the blood of the Lamb. The blood shed in her streets and alleys has been vindicated by the Blood shed once for all on the cross. Her streets once littered with stones cast in hatred are not paved in pure gold. The prophets and apostles who met their death in her city gates are not her firm foundation. And Christ the Lamb is her Light and her Life.
You are citizens of that free city, my friends. Your Baptism serves as your citizenship papers. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” St. Paul reminds the Philippians, who were so proud of their own free city. And the marvel of it all is that you and I get a foretaste of that where the Word is preached and the Supper is administered, and we say “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord,” recognizing Jesus our Lord in the Breaking of the Bread. It all points to a day, a day that will bring all religion and politics as we know it to an end. A day when the Lord Jesus Christ will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, and the heavenly city will be the only city there is – free of religion, free of politics, filled with the glory of the Lamb. “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
In the name of Jesus, Amen