Anyone watching the news at the moment is left in no doubt that this is a fallen world. A world where many innocent people have their lives threatened by evil men, and where Christians are often persecuted for their faith. A world where millions live with little or no thought of serving God – as we see in our own society, for example.
So the question is, how are we Christians to act in such a world? What attitude should we Christians have towards a world that largely ignores God and can show hostility towards his people?
I’m tempted to call today’s Gospel reading, “The Pharisees, the Fox and the Fall of Jerusalem,” since it has a nice alliteration to it! But a better analysis of the text divides it into two halves. A first half that encourages us to have confidence in God in every circumstance – even when we feel under threat. And a second half that shows us how to have compassion on the spiritually lost – towards those we know who are far from God.
Christ’s confidence in his Father (v.31-33)
So our passage today begins by Jesus demonstrating his confidence in his heavenly Father.
These events take place when Jesus was somewhere en route to Jerusalem. In fact, the whole second half of Luke’s Gospel describes Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, accompanied by his disciples. As he travelled south from Galilee to Judea, its clear that he taught, healed and exorcised people as he went along.
His message was one of repentance and faith. He invited his hearers to turn from their sins, to receive God’s forgiveness – and to recognise him as the long-promised Messiah – as the true heaven-sent King.
Its no surprise that the religious and political establishment were threatened by such teaching. Jesus was offering a fast-track to God that was not sanctioned by the Jewish religious hierarchy, and he was claiming to possess an authority that could undermine the rule of Israel’s earthly leaders.
We are not given much detail, but in the opening verse of today’s passage it seems that the religious and political elite had conspired together to get rid of Jesus. Even though he was completely innocent, “some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.’”
Together, Herod and the Pharisees wanted rid of Jesus – he was a trouble-maker and false-teacher as far as they were both concerned.
But faced with these threats, Jesus shows calmness, clarity of thought, and determination to carry on, doesn’t he? “Go tell that fox” he says in verse 32, “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” In verse 33 Jesus continues by saying, “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”
Jesus’ fearless determination to press on with his journey and to persevere in his ministry surely rests on his confidence in God. We see throughout the Gospels that Jesus had a rock solid sense of his God-given mission. He was clear in his mind that it was his Father’s will for him to go to Jerusalem to die and rise again on the third day for the salvation of sinners.
Right up to his crucifixion, Jesus was supremely confident that God had prepared the path he would walk in – confident that nothing could or should divert him from his mission. He had no fear of man, not even of that cruel and cunning ‘fox’, King Herod!
Surely we should have a similar determination to carry on doing God’s work in the face of adversity and opposition? Our mission may not be on the same scale as Christ’s, but as Christians it is our God-given mission to tell people about Jesus, to care for the needy and to love our neighbours. Whenever we are doing such things we can have confidence that God is with us and approves of what we are doing.
If we are doing God’s will we shouldn’t fear other people’s opinions, but press on in the knowledge that what we are doing is pleasing in his sight. God is sovereign, so he will ensure that we’ll be able to keep on serving him for as long as he wants us to. As the famous Methodist preacher George Whitfield put it, “We are immortal until our work here on earth is done.” So let’s have confidence in the Lord, and press on in his service!
Christ’s compassion for the lost (v.34-35)
If the first half of today’s passage is about Jesus’ confidence in his Father, then the second half is about his compassion for the lost. To be more precise, it shows his concern for the spiritual and moral condition of Jerusalem and its people. They are a people who had consistently and wilfully rejected God’s purposes for them, a people who for centuries had spurned the Lord’s love and persecuted his messengers. Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, for example, had been treated terribly in that city.
So in verses 34 and 35 we observe Jesus’ grief over the spiritual state of Jerusalem, we read his words of warning to its wayward people, and see his promise of salvation to those who recognise him as their rightful king.
Verse 34 opens with Jesus saying “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”. Its verse rich in emotion – a verse full of grief and compassion. To give it its technical term, it’s a verse of “lament” – one of many that appear in the Bible (there is even a whole book called Lamentations!).
To lament is to express grief and sadness over the state of a nation or an individual. It is to express profound distress over a situation or circumstance. So I’m sure all of us today are lamenting recent events in Ukraine, for example – they cause us distress and arouse our compassion. (Please do make a donation to Christian Aid’s ‘Ukraine crisis appeal’ if you have not yet done so).
After Jesus’ words of lament come words of warning. Because he says to the people of Jerusalem, “Look, your house is left to you desolate.” Those are shocking words, because they mean that, for a time at least, God has turned his back on his people. Having chosen to reject him, he will respect their choice and withdraw his presence from them. This is devastating news, because the withdrawal of God’s special presence included the withdrawal of his special protection of the Holy City. With prophetic foresight, Jesus could see that within a generation the Romans would overrun the city. In 70AD Roman soldiers would cause the type of destruction in Jerusalem that we are tragically now seeing Russian soldiers do to the towns and cities of Ukraine.
In chapter 19 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes in more detail what Jerusalem’s devastation will look like: “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another.”
Finally, however, Jesus delivers a promise to any residents of Jerusalem who might have been listening: “I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” He is alluding here to Psalm 118, a psalm which describes a victorious king arriving in triumph at the gates of Jerusalem. By quoting this psalm Jesus may possibly have been anticipating the events of Palm Sunday, when a crowd of ordinary pilgrims welcomed him to Jerusalem as their Messianic king. Unlike Herod and the Pharisees, there were some in Israel who did recognise that God had come to save them in the person of his Son.
But most biblical scholars think it is more likely that Jesus is referring to his ‘Parousia’ – to that great day when the risen, glorified Jesus will return to our world and put things right. That ‘second coming’ of Christ when wars will cease, when justice will be done, and when the persecution of God’s people will be put to an end.
So with these words, Jesus is offering a route to salvation, a message of hope, to anyone listening who will repent of their sin and acknowledge him as their Heaven-sent Saviour – as the one “who comes in the name of the Lord”.
So as I finish, let us have the same confident and compassionate attitude as Christ as we look out on our fallen world, on our increasingly godless society and on our spiritually impoverished friends and neighbours today:
• Let us lament, with Jesus, the state of our world – let us mourn with him the sin and suffering we see on the news and closer to home.
• Let us also gently but clearly warn people that a life lived without God is ultimately hopeless and self-destructive, an act of rebellion against our loving Creator that is deserving of judgement.
• But thirdly, and most importantly, let us offer people the forgiveness, life and hope that is promised to all who acknowledge Christ as their saviour, Lord and king.
Copyright © 2015-2018 St John the Evangelist, Ashton Hayes. All rights reserved.