One of the most comforting thoughts that occurs to me with sermons like these (and it’s especially a theme in Lent) is the simple fact that Jesus keeps going. He doesn’t give up as easily as we do. He doesn’t throw in the towel after a halfhearted try, as we are prone to do. He drank the cup His Father had given Him and drained it to its dregs. Thanks be to God that He did!
“31At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34“O 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! 35Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Sometimes it’s hard to tell who your friends truly are. You can consider someone a dear friend, yet they can let you down or stab you in the back. You might not feel particularly close to someone, but they can prove to be your truest friend in an emergency, when you really need them. Lonely high school students, burned business associates, and jilted boyfriends and girlfriends will all tell you: you can’t always tell who your friends truly are. Today we will listen in on a conversation Jesus has. He will express his drive to save the world and lament over the way his own people rejected him. As we ponder his words, we will see who our best and kindest friend truly is – Jesus. We will behold his determination. We will marvel at his compassion. We will see what it’s really like when someone has Unstoppable Love.
Our text begins with some Pharisees coming up to Jesus with a warning. “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” Right away this sounds suspicious – not because of the message, but because of who’s bringing it. Herod was the kind of guy who would kill someone as soon as look at them. He was notorious for being bloodthirsty, paranoid, and more than a little crazy. This is definitely a credible threat. But the Pharisees don’t love Jesus either. He exposed their hypocrisy and their greed. He made fools out of them with his teaching and denounced them in front of everybody. This is most likely a case of two groups united by a common enemy. They both want Jesus out of the way.
Jesus’ answer is remarkable. He says, “Go tell that fox, I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” First of all he calls Herod a fox. He sees right through Herod. He is threatening Jesus just to get him to leave, but Jesus doesn’t scare easily. He won’t be knocked off course even by someone like Herod. When Jesus talks about today and tomorrow and the third day, that was a Jewish way of saying that his time was short. It’s not literally referring to three 24-hour periods. Jesus kept going for longer than three days after this, if you read further in Luke’s gospel. What he means is, he had a lot of work to do and only a little time left to do it. A lot had to be accomplished and the clock was ticking. Jesus declares that he will do what he came to do, and nobody’s going to stop him. He came to drive out demons – something only the finger of God can accomplish. He came to drive out disease – something only God can do instantly and totally, which Jesus the Son of God did. More than that, he says that on the third day he will reach his goal. He came here to glorify God by suffering and dying for the sins of the world. He knew that was his mission, why he was here.
He came for no other reason than to be our Savior. He came here for nothing less than the full payment for all sin, to make all things new by his destruction of death, sin, and hell forever. Not to win popularity contests, not to utter obscure sayings or get famous as another great teacher (although regarded as just a man) – but only to be our Savior. Nothing and no one will stop Jesus. At any rate, whatever else he has to do, Jesus refuses to stop. He’s putting himself on a collision course with those who hate him and would kill him, and he accepts that. He can’t be turned aside or dissuaded. He pushes everything else aside and keeps his eyes on the prize. There was no plan B for Jesus.
He has no illusions about how his end will come. Jesus knows full well what’s waiting for him. Jerusalem had cornered the market on killing the prophets. Just look at what Jeremiah goes through in the temple today in our first lesson. His life is threatened by an angry mob – yet he refuses to back down or say less than what the word of the Lord says. Jerusalem was supposed to be the city of God. It was where the temple was. It was the capital of God’s people. It was God’s special city, because all his people were supposed to gather there to worship him. And what did they do? Kill God’s messengers. Try and stone them. Persecute them. Hound them and try to stop up the mouth of God speaking to them. They act like Stephen’s killers in the book of Acts, covering their ears and yelling at the top of their lungs as they rush at him to kill him. They rage against God and his Word and take out all their fury on his messengers – which still happens to us today.
Why do they act this way? The answer is in Jesus’ lament: “O 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!” They were not willing. They acted like an uncontrollable toddler who kicks and bites and screams. The more his mom or his dad tries to hold on to him, the harder he kicks. He screams until he’s red in the face and claws at them with his fingernails. His parents have to hold him so tightly that eventually he can’t move at all and he’s exhausted. The Jews, God’s special people, refused to accept God’s love and compassion. They wanted nothing to do with his mercy for them. The more God wanted to gather them together into his people, the more they fought back against him and struggled.
Don’t you think that hurt God? Don’t you think that broke Jesus’ heart, that his own people would not receive him? We are in the same position the Jews were in. We are God’s special people now through faith in Christ. What do you think Jesus thinks about your sins? Don’t your thoughts and words and actions hurt him? We often get irritated or bored with his Word. We give him the leftover scraps of our time and our money. We fight and we argue, with each other and God. We bicker and refuse to admit when we’re wrong. We know what is right and we decide to do something else anyway, even if we feel guilty about it. We back down and we compromise when it comes to doing what God wants us to do, and we tell ourselves it will be fine. It’s not fine. Our unwillingness to do his will estranges us from God, and nothing less than the blood of God’s Son can gather us together into his people again.
Just think about it: he wants the eternal salvation of those who resist him and hate him. He loves and wants to see saved those who would ridicule and mock him on the cross and refuse to believe in him. That’s real love, which wants the best for the other person no matter what they’re like or what they do. Jesus wanted to save you so badly that he kept going and gave his life that you, his sworn enemy since your conception, should be his friend and brother. He claimed you for God in the waters of baptism, when your heart hated him. He still draws you back to himself through his Word. He feeds you and forgives you through his own body and blood, given and shed for you. Jesus kept going and sought out each of us individually from the power of the devil and our own unwillingness. He did not quit until he cried out, “It is finished!” from Golgotha. He did not stop until every sin that stands between you and your God was taken away by his sacrifice. He refused to give up, despite the fact that most of the people he was so intent on dying for would never love him and would refuse to accept his grace and mercy. He refused to give up because you were on his mind and on his heart and he wanted you to be with him.
God is determined that no one should die in their sins. He kept after the Jews. The Jews kept getting prophets to lead them to repent. When they killed the prophets, he sent more. One messenger of God’s grace after another, for hundreds of years. God keeps after you in that same way. He calls out to you today – through the nagging of our consciences, which tell us that something isn’t right between us and God – through circumstances in our lives, which lead us to come back to him after we’ve wandered away; most of all through his holy Word. There his mercy is abundant and freely available to all who call on him in truth. There he absolves the guilt of years, even lifetimes. There he breaks down barriers and brings us back to himself. He keeps calling us through his Word, showing us mercy even as he calls on us to repent. Christ keeps going for each of us until the full number of God’s elect come in and we all reach unity in the faith and in the Son of God. He will not quit until every last one of those the Father has given him have been gathered under his wings. That is his goal and purpose, his heart’s desire, and nothing and no one – not Herod, not Satan, not the unbelieving world or our own sluggish flesh – will stop him or knock him off course. Jesus’ love is unstoppable.
It’s not always easy to tell who your friends really are. The Jews did not recognize their greatest Friend, their Lord and Messiah, when he came to them. They would get one more chance, on the day when the crowds shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” His compassion and desire to see them saved was so great that he endured all their abuse and finally sacrificed his life for them. Christ has made that same sacrifice for us. He gave up everything and shed his blood so that we would live forever with him in heaven. May we, who through faith are God’s special people, not turn our backs on him and make that same mistake, but instead repent of our sins, turn to our God, and discover again, every day, his mercy for us. Amen.