This sermon was delivered to St Oswald’s in Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland on the 21st February 2016; St Oswalds is a Scottish Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Glasgow and Dumfries.
The readings for today are:
Genesis 15: Philippians 3 Luke 13:31-35 Psalm 27
“Please be seated, and join me in a short prayer.” Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalms. 19:14).
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "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.'"
Today, we have a very strange reading. … It does not appear to be as powerful or as interesting as what we have been used to, and my first reaction was, how to I make a sermon of this? … But later I thought, as this reading is in the Lectionary, why is it important or even relevant?
On reading it again, and again, one thing became clear, and that is the love shown by Jesus was rejected by his own people, the Jews, … and knowing this, he is still continued with his mission. … To understand why, we first need to see the context in which this reading was set, and it is quite disturbing to find that it is set while Jesus was on his last legs to Jerusalem, ... to be crucified, … and notice, the closer he gets to Jerusalem, the more and more stronger his opposition becomes. … Jesus is going to Jerusalem, to die on a cross, (for the sins of the world), and his own people, the Jews, or should I say, those Jews in authority, are trying to kill him, because He is openly exposing their hypocrisy.
The ordinary, common people on the other hand love him, and they run to hear him with joy, and so in today’s reading, we can almost feel the depth of love and compassion Jesus has for these people … love he has for us today, the kind of love that we need to understand.
1. Jesus is determined to reach that Cross.
Let us now look at that love, ... verse 31 starts off by saying, “Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." … Now do you think you think for one second the Pharisees were concerned for the life of Jesus? “Oh Jesus, you better run because Herod wants to kill you”. Did they honestly expect Jesus not to see through them?
Yes Herod Antipas was the powerful regent who had the authority to execute anyone he desired; … it was he who had John the Baptist beheaded at the request of his stepdaughter Salome, … however we also know that Herod suffered bad nightmares for doing that, … and that would explain why he thought that Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead to haunt him; … so this threat from Herod was very real indeed.
But Jesus replied to that threat was good, “You tell that fox ...”, … Jesus made light of that threat with Hebrew humour or sarcasm, … comparing Herod as a cunning sneaky animal, but an animal of no real threat. … A tiger, or a poisonous snake, or a bear is a threat, but a fox, a fox is a pest, … to the game keepers at Culzean, foxes are simply vermin.
So Jesus, by down playing the threat from Herod, is showing courage, … he is saying that he is going to keep going until his mission is complete, … Herod or not. … Jesus had a job to do and verse 31 continues, “Listen, (he says), I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work”.
Jesus had a goal to accomplish, his goal was to redeem sinful mankind from themselves, and he knew that he would be sacrificial lamb necessary to do that. … Jesus was determined to reach that cross in a timely manner, and nothing would deter himf.
Now this may seam like a paradox, and what I am thinking about here is the apparent similarity between suicide bombers who tried to bomb Glasgow Airport a few years ago, (remember them), and Jesus on his way to the cross. The suicide bombers were trying to kill themselves, when those around them, started knocking lumps out of them. … Similarly, Jesus was on his way to the cross, and here we read of his enemies trying to kill him as he does so. What is the difference? Well, for a start, the suicide bombers were wanting to take people with them when they died, where as Jesus was dying to save those he was leaving left behind.
But there is another difference, Jesus needed to die in a timely manner, a manner where he is accused falsely. He needed to die on that particular cross, on a particular day, under certain conditions … conditions determined by God, long before the world began as stated in Revelation 13:8, which says, Jesus the Lamb of God was “slain from the foundation of the earth”. Jesus had a date with destiny, and he needed to keep that date, so to be killed before hand, by Satan, would be a disaster. … So can you see the predicament Jesus was in?
Jesus needed to die in a certain way, … a martyr’s death was no use to him; he needed to lay down his life willingly, as confirmed in John 10:17-18: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life, … only to take it up again. … No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”.
And it was only in a few days time that Jesus would meet this date with destiny, … but right now Jesus was already carrying that cross in his head, because at the beginning of His ministry, he knew He would die and rise again. He said as much in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again”.
Human nature always looks for the easy way out … but there is always a cross that needs to be carried for those who follow Jesus … and we must therefore be fearless in carrying it. … But when we are carrying this cross of Jesus, we have already died to ourselves, inside.
There are some very strong words in Matthew 10:38-40 which emphasis this, “And he that takes not his cross, and follow after me, is not worthy of me. … He that finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it. … He that receives you, receives me, and he that receives me, receives him that sent me”.
You cannot kill a dead man … when we are carrying a cross, we are not to be afraid of anybody, or anything. The Bible says in 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love casts out all fear”, and that is why Jesus wasn’t afraid, because his love for us was perfect, and Jesus laughed in the face of the fear, and so must we.
2. Jesus is compared to certain animals.
To move on, just before Easter last year I gave a sermon with reference to sheep, and that was because of the reading in the lectionary. … There were sheep in it everywhere, and I hoped I would never do that again. Today, we have other animals … we already have had a fox, now we have a mother hen. There I have said it, but before I say it again, be aware that Jesus is compared to many animals in the bible.
For example, the Book or Gospel of Mark symbolises Jesus as lion. … A figure of courage and monarchy. The lion also represents the' resurrection, and Christ as the king; and this signifies to us that all Christians should be courageous on their path of salvation.
The book or Gospel of Luke symbolises Jesus as an ox or a bull, a figure of sacrifice, service and strength. Luke's account begins with the duties of Zacharias in the temple and it represents Jesus' sacrifice in his Crucifixion. The ox therefore signifies that as Christians we too should be prepared to sacrifice ourselves in following Christ.
And the Gospel of John, well John, symbolises Jesus as an eagle, – a mighty figure of the sky. John focuses on hi ascension, and divine nature, signifying that all Christians should look on eternity without flinching, as they journey towards their union with God; hence the eagle as the symbol of Christ on our lectern.
And finally the Gospel of Mathew symbolises Jesus as a man. Mathew starts his Gospel with genealogy of Joseph all the way from Abraham; representing Jesus' incarnation, and therefore his humanity. This signifies that all Christians should use their reason for salvation.
Today in our reading, we are told that Jesus is a mother hen, not a chicken, a mother hen. This is not the most flattering of terms, but it is the sentiment that is important. Verse 34, “Oh 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, … but you were not willing”! And this sentiment here is telling us that there is a passion, and a heartache from Jesus in that verse, to gather his children together like a mother hen.
I don't want to go into hens, but a mother hen, like any good mother, is very protective of their off-spring; even willing to take on the great birds of prey.
There is one good story I found which relates this: one day, a farmer’s hen house caught fire. He eventually put the fire out, and as he searched through the rubble, he found a scorched hen, dead near her nest, but as he lifted the dead bird, he was surprised to see movement beneath, … five small chicks were found alive under the mothers body. The mother could have easily have escaped, but she chose to face the fire, and the pain, to protect her young.
And the lesson here is, that Jesus could have taken the easy way out, but he chose to shelter us from our eternal judgement to hell, by dying, and protecting or shielding us in the process. … And it is no coincidence we read in Psalm 91, verse 4 which says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge”. God therefore wants to shelter and protect us from the harm of the enemy … and that is why Jesus wept, because the Jews did not seek that shelter … under His love.
3. God's own people, the Jews, are rejected.
Now to move on further, Verse 34 contains five very sad words … “but you were not willing”. ... Jesus loved us you so much He died for our sins, yet there are so many people in this world who refuse to believe this. The bible tells us there is a heaven and a hell, and if a person lives their entire life rejecting the love of Christ, then they will spend eternity in hell. So what Jesus was saying here was, “I wanted to protect you, and shelter you like a mother hen, … but you were not willing”.
Now Jews were, and still are, God's chosen people, they were the ones who should have accepted his love first, so we can understand how the heart of Jesus was disappointed, or broken, because the Jews refused to accept him. And we all know John 1.11, which says, “He came to that which was his own … but his own did not receive him.”
Jesus also says something in this passage that has prophetic implications, verse 35 says about Israel, “You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’”.
God is not finished with the State of Israel, … because God went to great lengths to create, or recreate, the State of Israel in 1948, … a state that is smaller than our own West Country, with a population of 8 million which is about the size of London, … yet it is in the world news every other day. Why, because Israel will play an important role in the end of the world, the end times revelations.
Today, we are living in the age of Grace, where salvation is offered to the Gentiles; … yet, when Israel rejected Jesus, it was as if they were completely blinded to the truth, and to this day, … most Israelites are still blinded about who Jesus really is.
Paul writes in Romans 11:25: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part, until the full number of Gentiles has come in.” That word “hardening” means that they are denying themselves the truth and do not recognise Jesus, … but the bible tells us that Jesus will return at the Battle of Armageddon, standing on the Mount of Olives, and … at that moment, the scales will fall from their eyes, … and they will recognise Jesus as the son of God.
And this is exactly how it is prophesied in Zechariah 12:10, “And I, (that is God), will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: … and they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, … as one mourns for his only son”.
It is interesting to note, that Zechariah wrote these words in 500 B.C, that is centuries before crucifixion was ever used … and to mourn for him as one mourns for an only child … the only child being the son of God. … Later on Zechariah 13:6 goes on to say, “And one shall say unto him, … What are these wounds in thine hands? … Then he shall answer, those are with which I was wounded in the house of my friends”, … and the friend here being his own people the Jews.
In verse 35 Jesus finishes by saying, “Your house is left unto you desolate”; … and when He said “house”, he was part referring to the great Temple in Jerusalem which 40 years later become desolate as the Roman General Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem, and raised the great Temple to the ground. Coincidence or what … and the proud nation of Israel passed out of existence until … just 1948. … And even to this day, the Temple Mount is still desolate for the Jews. The result of rejecting Jesus’ love is therefore desolation, and death.
And this isn’t just true for Israel, … any person who rejects God’s love will also experience the same result: spiritual desolation, and when we think of the word “desolate”, we try and imagine a dry, barren desert, where there is no shade or water, meaning that people will be left with no life or spirit, in their personality; with little or no good fruit being produced; … and we all know the type.
The most amazing thing Jesus said in this passage is that we have the power to choose. … The last four words in verse 34 are also some of the most powerful words in the bible … he says to us today, “I will love you and shelter you like a mother hen protects her chicks ... if … (and only if) … we are willing”. … Amen, and may God bless us with these words. Let us pray,
Father we thank you for Jesus, and we thank you that he completed his final journey to the cross despite the opposition. Father we take this opportunity to say that we are willing to follow you, and we are willing to let you gather us together under your wing.
Father we are aware that the road ahead is difficult, but we also know that there is no other road we can truly or safely take. … Like Jesus Father, strengthens us, and protect us as we journey this road, all the way to our meeting with you. We ask Father in Jesus name, Amen.