Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Text: Luke 13:31-35
Date: Lent II + 2/28/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

When St. Luke begins today’s Gospel reading with the words, “In that very hour,” he is signaling that what follows is an important step directly toward the goal of “THE hour,” namely, our Lord’s betrayal, arrest, trials, beatings, mockings, sufferings and ultimately His death by hanging on the cruel cross of Calvary.

What follows, then, is, in a word, a lie. It is a lie when the Pharisees threaten Jesus by telling Him to “get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Herod didn’t want to kill Jesus! When our Lord finally appeared before Herod it was obvious the ruler was interested only to be entertained by the so-called miracle-working rabbi. Herod wasn’t threatened by Jesus. It was Pilate who felt the threat for his hopes of political advancement if he couldn’t handle the religious unrest in his vicinity. So then why did the Pharisees lie? They wanted Jesus to go somewhere else. They were trying to scare Him away.

Before we go on, let us not pass over or ignore but admit that the common reaction to Jesus in every sinner is to stay as far away as possible from Him, to tell Him to leave us alone. That’s because the fallen sinner’s first and obvious reaction to God, to the Church and to Christians is the fear of judgment of sin. People stay away from Church because they know they are sinners and they expect judgment and condemnation for their sin by God and by the Church. After all Church is for good people, right? What they don’t know is that being a sinner is the first requirement to be a member of the Church, not because, as they say, “the Church is full of hypocrites,” but because the Church is all about the forgiveness of sins. If you have no sin (or refuse to face up to it and confess it) you have no need (or, more precisely, do not know your need) of Jesus or His forgiveness. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). This is the very, very Good News that escapes every person who does not hear the Gospel but lets their wrong presumptions get in the way.

Instead of Jesus going away, however, He, rather, told the Pharisees to go away, saying, “Go. Go to Herod yourselves.” He calls Herod “that fox” highlighting the common trait of the governing authority’s slick, cunning and crafty ways of political intrigue; the same intrigue that ended John the Baptist’s life and that, through Pilate, would be part of the picture of Jesus’ destiny.

In His answer to the Pharisees Jesus speaks prophetically, summarizing His ministry and His rapidly approaching destiny and goal. His words, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures” recall and summarize what we heard Him announce in His hometown of Nazareth, that He came to release people from sin, Satan and sickness. When He says he does this “today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course” He announced that His goal, destiny or “finish” is quickly approaching. The divine imperative of His mission is emphasized as He says, “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.” Yes, He called Himself a prophet. And yes, He will perish in Jerusalem.

Now His voice lowers at the utterance of the name “Jerusalem.” It started in Jerusalem and it ends in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was God’s choice of a place where His people could connect with Him, hear His Word, receive His guidance, direction, mercy and grace. Jerusalem was the name also that identified God’s people, the recipients of all His grace and mercy. But now Jesus repeats, laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” For instead of faith and love for God they have proved to be “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” just like the rest of mankind; spiritually blind and dead, having no impulse or desire for God. I have seen at least parts of our own congregations driven by sinful anger proceeding, if not to kill and stone their pastors and called servants, at least to cause so much pain and hurt as to force them to leave.

Nevertheless, it is to the millions of dying sinners walking the streets today that our Lord still laments, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” You would not! God does not force His grace and mercy and forgiveness on anyone. By His Word and Spirit He calls, gathers and enlightens men, but only those who do not shut their ears and tell Him to “Get away from here.”

Jerusalem, Jerusalem. What was about to happen was no accident. It was God the Father’s will to send His Son to take away the sin of the world by way of His death on the Cross. There the judgment against all sin would be final. “Behold, your house is forsaken.” Yet taking on Himself what we really deserved, on the Cross He would plead, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He became wounded, crushed, chastised and forsaken by God for us, so that we would no longer be alienated from God.

“And I tell you,” he says, finally, “you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” And that is just what Jerusalem did as they welcomed Him on that Palm Sunday procession into the city. He is the blessed One who came in the name of the Lord. He came to bless the whole world with the release from sin and death by means of His own mighty battle on the cross, through the grave and into the bright light of the resurrection.

People’s ears are still stopped up with sin. People still reject God, try to scare Him away or keep Him away because they think God and His Church is all about judging and condemning. What they don’t know is that God and His Church is all about judging and condemning, judging and condemning SIN, in order to forgive and release and save and love the sinner! They need to hear what we need to hear, that by faith in Christ, “there is therefore now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Today we have once again come near and confessed our sin to God and now are receiving that release, that forgiveness of sin purchased at the price of nothing less than the sacrifice of the Savior’s body and blood on the cross. There we see at once the wrath of God fully satisfied and the love of God fully displayed—a real love that has the strength to save and to give new life. In Christ we are the new Jerusalem and look forward to our dwelling there:

Jerusalem the golden,
With milk and honey blest—
The promise of salvation,
The place of peace and rest—
We know not, oh, we know not
What joys await us there:
The radiancy of glory,
The bliss beyond compare!