From fear to comfort

Luke 13:31-35

31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He 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. 33Yet 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.’ 34Jerusalem, 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! 35See, 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.’”

            Why do chicken coups only have two doors?  Because if they had four doors, they would be chicken sedans.

            This Sunday might be the only opportunity that I ever have to tell a chicken joke from the pulpit.  And I feel free to do that because Jesus uses a chicken metaphor to describe his love for the people of Jerusalem.  But today’s scripture is about a lot more than chickens.  Today’s scripture is about being brave in the face of danger because it is God’s desire to comfort and protect us.

            This is a fascinating passage of scripture; fascinating because I don’t know what to think of it.  It has challenged me all week long as I have prepared for this Sunday, and though I cannot claim that I fully understand it, I hope that we can wrestle with it together today and come out with a better understanding of who God is and what God is calling us to.

            Our text begins with Jesus traveling from town to town, on his way to Jerusalem, doing miracles, healing the sick, and teaching along the way.  And as he is teaching in some unnamed town, some Pharisees approached Jesus and warn him that Herod (Antipas) was looking to kill him.  I said I don’t fully understand this text, and this is the first confusing thing that I find in the text.  The Pharisees didn’t tend to like Jesus.  Especially if you were to look at the parallel to this text in Matthew, it comes immediately following Jesus’ woes, where he doesn’t seem to hold back in calling the scribes and Pharisees things like “hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs”.  We know that there were some good Pharisees as well.  I think of Nicodemus, who visited Jesus at nighttime and was told that he must be born again.  But I believe that it is safe to say that the majority of the Pharisees were seeking to do Jesus more harm than good.

            So why are these Pharisees coming to Jesus and warning him about Herod?  Some have said that this was a trick by the Pharisees trying to get Jesus to move quickly along his way because he was disturbing all of the peace and the status quo that the Pharisees had come to enjoy.  They had tried to outsmart him before, and that failed miserably.  They had tried to discredit him, but as long as he was able to perform miracles and teach with authority, they had no chance of discrediting him.  Imagine being an onlooker, standing next to a Pharisee who is trying to convince you that Jesus is a heretic and needs to be stoned, while Jesus is performing miracles.  You are like, “Hey look!  That paralyzed man that is always begging by the gates.  Jesus just made him walk.  So what was it that you were saying again about him needing to be stoned?  Sorry, I missed what you were saying.” 

So perhaps the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into thinking that king Herod was after him.  King Herod would have had the authority to inflict pain, possibly even the death penalty.  So maybe the Pharisees realized that they were losing the battle against Jesus, but maybe if they made Jesus believe that his life was in danger at the hand of the king himself, then maybe, just maybe, Jesus would move along and out of their business.

            Regardless of whether some of the Pharisees were actually warning Jesus about Herod’s threats or if this was some kind of trick that they were playing on him, we see that it didn’t have any effect on him.  Jesus knew what God had called him to do, and he wasn’t about to let some criticism or even threats deter him.  So Jesus replies to the Pharisees, “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.’”

            So Jesus calls Herod a fox, which is not like we used the term in the 1980’s when I was growing up.  To call someone a fox in the 1st century meant that they were conniving, manipulative, and cunning.  So for Jesus to call Herod a fox suggests to me that the Pharisees had worked out this plan with Herod to have the Pharisees come to him to warn him, thinking, ‘Surely he will believe the Pharisees’ warning.’  But Jesus was not swayed by their conniving and manipulative efforts.  He had a mission that he was called to.  He was quite stubborn; stubborn in a good way.

            The scripture leading up to our text tells us that Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem, and he seems to know what is waiting for him there.  Jesus seems to relate himself to the prophets of the Old Testament, and he seems to be anticipating that he will have the same fate at the hands of the Jews as the prophets that came before him.  But in spite of the threats by Herod, and in spite of knowing that his own death is inevitable, Jesus continues to do the work that God has called him to.

     Now all of that is not to say that Jesus was not afraid.  We know that he was afraid by looking at the way he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night he was to be betrayed.  He prayed earnestly that what was to come might be avoided.  But now, even as the foxes are trying to disrupt his mission, he keeps pressing on.  And as Jesus anticipates going to Jerusalem, the emotion that he shows is not fear.  It is compassion.  Jesus says in verse 34, “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!”  Jesus knows that he has the same fate in store for him that the prophets had before him. But he has compassion on the people of Jerusalem.  Even though he knows that they are going to turn on him, torture him, and kill him, Jesus wishes he could gather them like a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.

            We had some chickens when I was growing up, but we never hatched eggs.  So I didn’t have the opportunity to view how hens interact with their chicks and how they defend their young.  But now I live just a couple of blocks away from the Gypsy Hill Duck Pond, so I have had the opportunity to see a mother duck protecting her ducklings.

            Last spring there were some baby ducks at the pond, and they were usually inside the fence where they were well protected from park-goers.  But one day as I was jogging by, I noticed that the mother was leading the ducklings along the sidewalk, up to the road, right where I was jogging.  I wasn’t in any danger of stomping on a duckling, so I kept going with the intention of just going around them.

            A duck is what, 18 inches tall?  I’m not just a little guy; I stand 72″ tall.  But as I got close to that family of ducks, that mother duck attacked me!  I’m thinking, Duck, I could kick you halfway across this park if I wanted to.  Or at least that’s what I thought after I had stopped screaming and high-stepping to avoid that squawking fowl!

            So I am assuming that a chicken would have a similar reaction if someone got too close to her chicks.  There is this maternal instinct to protect your offspring, to care for them in the middle of danger.  Even when the odds are against you, even when it is an 18” duck versus a 72” man, a mother duck risks her own life for the sake of her young.  And this is the way that Jesus cares for his people.  He desires to gather them together under his wing, to protect them, to care for them, as a hen cares for her young.  

            Just over a week ago I had the opportunity to feel that protective wing over me.  I was driving North on 340, coming from a meeting at Springdale Mennonite on Thursday when I heard a strange noise coming from my car.  It was a thump.  I thought that I had hit a clump of snow or ice, but I pulled off to the side of the road just to be safe.  I couldn’t see anything, so I got back into my Volkswagen and started driving toward I-64 to head back to Staunton.  I got up to speed, and as I approached the first stoplight, I realized that stopping the car was not going to be easy.  I had lost my breaks, or most of my car’s breaking ability had been taken away.

            So I carefully pulled into the Target parking lot, got out of my car, and tried to find the problem.  I looked around to see if I was leaking break fluid, and I really couldn’t tell because of all of the moisture under the car from the melting snow.  But I found that I had some breaking ability, and I assumed that I blew a break line and would still have my emergency break.  So I was going to try to take back roads to get the car back to Staunton to Hershey Tire.

            I got back into my car, started to turn around, and it felt like it was dragging in the rear.  I got out and looked at the right rear tire, and it was riding on the inside of the wheel well.  I wasn’t sure if the rear shocks had broke, or just what I was dealing with.

            So the tow truck driver showed up and we limped the car onto his truck.  And when we got the car up to eye level, we could see that the entire wheel had pulled away from the car.  At Hershey Tire they had to jack the car up with a jack on wheels to get it off the tow truck.  The wheel bearing had gone out and the wheel had simply been riding on the spindle inside the wheel.  It could have fallen off at any time.

            A fair amount of work would be needed to repair my car, but what hit me was that if things would have happened a little differently, I might have been out on 64, traveling 65+ miles per hour, with semi trucks all around me.  If that wheel would have come completely off on 64, who knows what could have happened.

            I have no problem with saying that I was under the protective wing of Jesus on that Thursday afternoon.  And I know that many of you would have similar stories of how God has protected you.  Florence shared last week about how God cared for her as she battled cancer.  My mother-in-law would likely tell you the same thing about her time with cancer.  But as I sat reflecting on God’s protection, I questioned, “Why me?”

            I believe in a big God.  I believe in a God that created the heavens and the earth.  I believe in a God that burst into this world in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.  I believe in a God that raised Jesus from the dead and has promised to raise all of those who are in Christ to eternal life.  So there is no doubt in my mind that God can keep the wheel on a 98 Jetta long enough for me to get off the road and into a safe place.  But the thing I struggle with is, Why doesn’t God protect those living on fault lines in Haiti?  Why does God seem to intervene on behalf of some and not others?

            Now I am not interested in hearing stories about how certain people might have made an agreement with the devil centuries ago and that is why Haiti experienced one of the worst natural disasters in history.  Let me share with you five verses from earlier in chapter 13.  “At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

            Jesus is saying that natural disasters are not caused by sin.  The Galileans and those killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them were no worse sinners than anyone else.  But these things did happen to them.  And Jesus does not give any reason for why they happened.  Sometimes bad things seem to happen and often they happen to good people.

            Yes, Jesus has a desire to bring all people under his protective wing.  And yes, sometimes God does seem to intervene on behalf of people to save them from pain and suffering.  But if we look in the very next chapter of Luke (14) we find Jesus explaining that sometimes being his follower will cause pain as he discusses the cost of being his disciple.  He explains that it may cost us our family life; it may cost you all of your possessions.  He says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  And carrying one’s cross is nothing short of punishment by the rulers of this world for following the ways of Christ.  Yes, being a disciple of Jesus might cost us our life.

            As I read about Jesus looking out over Jerusalem and wishing that he could gather them in, to protect the people, like a mother hen protects her young, I am reminded of the duck that attacked me in the park to protect her young.  Like I said, I could have punted that duck across the park if I so desired (I didn’t desire.  I love animals and don’t advocate punting any of them).  That mother duck was risking her life to save the lives of her young.  And ultimately, that is what Jesus did as well.  Though threatened by Herod, though threatened by the Pharisees, though threatened by people of all kinds throughout his ministry, Jesus kept to the plan.  He risked his own life so that we can truly have life; the abundant life.  A life that will endure throughout eternity.  This is the kind of love that Jesus has for us.

            Even though we do not understand why sometimes God intervenes on behalf of his people, and other times he does not, we must never make the claim that it is sin in the life of the afflicted that has led to their suffering.  Jesus disproves this theory in chapter 13 (and John 9) and encourages us to take up our cross and follow him.

            We will never understand the tragedy in Haiti as long as we are bound by these earthly bodies and minds.  But we know that God loves us and in the end love wins.  As Paul writes in conclusion of his chapter on love, we see through a glass darkly, but one day we will see face to face (1 Cor.13:12).  For today we are called to live a life, not of fear of threats or criticism or even death.  No, we are to live the abundant life under the wing of our savior; our savior who gave his own life so that we might live.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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