Luke 13:31-35 and Philippians 3:17-21
Today is the 2nd Sunday of Lent 2019.
Last Sunday we witnessed Jesus overcoming the temptations in the wilderness. As he began His public ministry, He revealed His total commitment to living in the centre of God’s love, God’s plan and God’s timing.
As Jesus’ ministry unfolded it became clear through His teaching and explanations to His disciples that His mission was to live His life as an act of self-giving love for the world … and that this divine approach to life would ultimately lead to His self-sacrificial death on a Cross outside Jerusalem … and yet, He promised that this would not be the end … because it was the design of God that when He laid down His life in love for the world … God would raise Him from the dead on the third day.
Now, by the time we get to chapter 13 in Luke’s account of the life of Jesus, this approach to living out God’s will perfectly has already made Jesus some very powerful enemies.
- The religious establishment (in the form of the Pharisees) is profoundly offended by Jesus’ flagrant disregard for their sensibilities and their legalism … they are infuriated by His consistent offers of grace and forgiveness to those whom they consider to be the worst of sinners … and they have also persistently refused to acknowledge their own sinful hypocrisy and turn away from it and be forgiven.
- The political elite (in the form of Herod) is profoundly afraid of Jesus, perceiving Him to be a threat as He gains more and more popularity with the population of Galilee and Judah.
In the wilderness, the devil had come to Jesus with temptations that sought to lure Him to a life of:
- Personal comfort and pleasure (“turn these stones into bread”)
- Power (“I’ll give you all these kingdoms and their glory if you worship me”); and
- Popularity (through a dramatic miracle of showmanship)
The Pharisees now come to Jesus and seek to lure Him away from His current course of action through FEAR. They tell Him that Herod is planning to kill Him … and so He had better leave this place. Jesus has become a trouble-maker in their eyes … and they want Him gone … so they try to invoke the power of fear to get the job done.
All of that is the Biblical context to the responses that Jesus gives. They help us to understand why He says what He says next.
- A declaration of purpose, and
- A declaration of motive.
In what follows, our Message will consider these two declarations and then also, with the help of our Philippians reading, consider their implications for us.
1.A Declaration of Purpose (v.31-33)
Jesus tells the Pharisees that if in fact Herod is threatening Him with death, and they have become messengers for Herod, then they should take a message back to Herod. Was the message for Herod? Was it for the Pharisees? Was it for the others who were overhearing Him? Was it for the disciples? Was it for us Luke’s readers? Yes. Yes to all of those. And it was even for Jesus Himself! Because it was a clear declaration of Jesus’ purpose and of His resolve to fulfil that purpose!
He says, “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow and on the third day I will reach my goal.”
Jesus uses a well-known figure of speech when He makes His declaration. To say “today and tomorrow” didn’t mean two 24-hour days. It meant a short period of time which was needed to complete the task at hand.
It would be like when you as a child interrupted one of your parents as they stood working in the kitchen or the workshop or the garden to nag them to take you to the shop. “Just wait,” they may have replied, “I’ll be with you now-now”.
“Now-now” … what does that mean? Does it mean now immediately? Does it mean in two measures of time, “now” and another “now”? No. In South African English slang it means as soon as I’m good and ready but it won’t be too long … be patient.
“Today and tomorrow” was 1st Century Galilean “slang”. It meant a short period of time which was needed to complete the task at hand. It meant, “As soon as I am finished with my task … but I promise it won’t be long now”.
Jesus is declaring: “I am not on Herod’s timetable. I am not his puppet dancing to his tune! He will not control my life. And hey, you Pharisees, FEAR will not control my life either.”
Jesus was restating what He had settled in the wilderness: I will do what God has called me to do … in the way God has called me to do it … until it is done … and that is “my goal”. So Jesus ends that sentence … “on the third day I will reach my goal.” His goal? Yes … to complete God’s calling!
For us as New Testament readers, however, there is an ominous shadow hanging over Jesus’ words. When He says, “I will reach my goal” the Greek word Luke uses is “teleo” … to have been perfectly completed or finished. And we New Testament readers know that it was on the Cross as He died that Jesus called out in a loud voice, “It is finished” … which in Greek is “tetelestai” … a form of the root word “teleo”
So it is no surprise to us when Jesus adds something ominous which hints at what the outcome of His perfect obedience to God’s plan will be: “I must press on today and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”
As we read Jesus’ declaration of purpose today with hindsight we can recognise that it was this: “I will keep living within the perfect plan of God the Father … I will keep living a life of perfect love … delivering God’s people from their brokenness and bondage to sin … and I will do that until my task is completed … but I know full well that it’s completion … its ultimate, ultimate expression … will be when I literally lay down my life and with my dying breath … extend love and forgiveness to the very people who have nailed me to the Cross.
2.Declaration of Motive (v.34-35)
What follows next is a classic biblical literary form called a lament. Jesus mourns over the people of Jerusalem … but to us His disciples in 2019 it is a clear declaration of His motive.
Even though the political and religious powers represented by Jerusalem were going to be responsible for His death Jesus laments over them. Even though He can describe them as “the ones who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you” still He makes this lament over them:
“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
These can only be described as His enemies … and yet Jesus declares that His heart is filled with love and compassion for them. And not just any love and compassion … the very love and compassion of God. This is the power of His image … because it is a Biblical image of God’s love. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 91:4, “God will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.”
Jesus is crying out: “I love you with the love of God … and I long to shelter you in my love … but you refuse again and again and again … you reject my offer of love … you are not willing to be gathered into it.”
Jesus’ life of loving ALL people relentlessly with the love of God extended even to the Pharisees, Herod, Pilate, and the soldiers who nailed Him to the cross. And it even extends to me … and to you.”
All that Jesus did and said was to invite all people to come to Him and find shelter in the forgiveness and love of God … His love means that people can still refuse … and they did … and they do … but His commitment was to steadfastly continue pursuing people with the love of God.
So what are the implications for us … us Christians in 2019 … us followers of this Jesus .. this rabbi of relentless love … this Saviour of the world?
Now yes of course the first implication that springs to mind is: “Yay! I am loved! Jesus longs to gather me to Himself in love! Jesus died for me! Jesus rose for me! I can live forever in His Kingdom of perfect love!” And this is all true.
But that is not where it ends. That is only where it begins. Because the moment we say yes to the love of God in Jesus … entrust our lives to Him … and commit ourselves to His Lordship … we take upon ourselves a new identity.
In the words of Paul in Philippians 3 – our second reading – we receive a new citizenship … we become “citizens of heaven”. We become citizens of the Kingdom of God’s love … and we take upon ourselves the responsibilities that such citizenship carries.
In Philippians 3 Paul contrasts citizens of heaven with those who live only or themselves and their own physical pleasures and desires. What is so fascinating though is that in defining those who live in this way he calls them “enemies of the Cross.”
So on the one hand he places citizens of heaven … and on the other hand not “enemies of heaven” but “enemies of the cross”. In other words the “Kingdom of heaven” IS “the Kingdom of the Cross” … it is the Kingdom of self-sacrificial love!
Those living only for themselves and their own desires are utterly self-centred. But you and I are citizens of the Kingdom of the Cross … When we received Christ’s offer and ran into the embrace of His forgiving love … we took upon ourselves the commitment to live lives of love ourselves … to live with a willingness to sacrifice for others and their highest best.
We are citizens of the Kingdom of self-sacrificial love.
Brothers and sisters in Christ … we live in an age of hatred, division, and suspicion … where powerful people are entrenching their power through the weapons of hatred and fear.
Powerful people like the Pharisees … like Herod … used the weapons of fear and hatred … and they got Jesus murdered.
Powerful people like Hitler and his Nazis … used the power of fear and hatred … and they got 6 million Jews exterminated.
Powerful Hutu politicians in Rwanda … used the power of fear and hatred and 800 000 Tutsis died in an African genocide in 1994.
You would think the world would have learnt our lesson. The kingdom of fear and hatred leads only to death!
These are of course profound examples …but they must serve as a warning to us … that when anyone uses the weapons of fear and hatred to gain popularity and power … let me put it bluntly … they are acting as enemies of the Cross … enemies of the Kingdom of self-sacrificial love.
With their mouths they can profess as much Christianity as they like … but their public rhetoric proves that they are promoting the way of fear and hatred … not the way of love. They are acting as enemies of the Cross … enemies of the Kingdom of self-sacrificial love.
And when the kingdom they actually represent is made manifest it looks exactly like what happened in Christchurch on Friday morning. Those who promote the way of fear and hatred are ultimately responsible for tragedies like that.
There is such power in this kind of irrational fear and hatred that it can lead a man to murdering 49 innocent Muslim worshipers … and believing that he’s doing the right thing. Fear and hatred lead to terrorists flying into the Twin Towers … to ISIS massacring Christians in Syria, Libya and Egypt … to mosques being attacked even here in Cape Town in Khayelitsha in November 2018.
The enemies of the Kingdom of the Cross are not Muslims … they are not Jews … they are not Buddhists or Hindus or Sikhs or Hare Krishna …they are those who promote the kingdoms of fear and hatred and drive people apart.
The true Kingdom of the Cross gathers people together in the love of God … it is ordinary people like you and me refusing to live our lives in fear and hatred … but instead giving ourselves completely to lives of love for ALL. And when we do that we reveal ourselves to be true citizens of the Kingdom of love.
That’s what the world has always needed … more than ever that’s what the world needs NOW!!