Monday, February 22, 2016

Sermon on Luke 13:31-35, for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, "The Refuge is Open"

            In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today in our Bible readings, we hear some dire warnings—first in the Old Testament reading, where the prophet Jeremiah is rejected by his own people because he spoke God’s word of judgment against the city of Jerusalem. This was some 600 years before Jesus was born. Then in our reading from Philippians, the apostle Paul writes, in the time after Jesus’ ministry, how many people still set themselves as enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. Finally, in our Gospel reading, Jesus Himself is facing the rejection of His own people, and how they would not listen or receive God’s help. None of them sound particularly promising or hopeful. Time changes little about our willingness to listen to and hear God’s Word. Just like every generation of children goes through the same battles of disobedience and rebellion against the authority of their parents, so also every generation of mankind battles against God’s will. We seek our own way, all the while God holds out His hands to us, inviting us, calling us to turn back to Him. And when we endanger ourselves, God calls out even more urgently, with louder and sharper messages so we will hear.
But if you pay close attention to each of the readings and the authors, you’ll find that God is never giving out idle warnings for the purpose of creating hopelessness or that He wants to cast us away from Him forever. Rather God passionately desires and hopes for us to turn back to Him for His help and protection. Often when we hear the strongest words of God’s disapproval and warnings of judgment, these are contrasted all the more brilliantly by His promises of light and salvation when we come back to Him. Like a parent is compelled by their love for their children, so much more is God earnestly and faithfully seeking after us.
            Today I especially want to focus on the message of Jesus in Luke 13, as it reveals and shows us God’s heart—but also to tie it in with the related message of the prophet Jeremiah, about what hope there would be for God’s people in dark times. What kind of Father is our God?
Jeremiah and Jesus lived 600 years apart, and we live 2,000 years after Jesus walked on earth, but to different degrees, we’ve all lived in dark or dangerous times. The threats and dangers may have changed, but the world of wars between nations, political tensions and resentment between the people and their leaders, and those who have spoken against tyranny and corruption—that is all the same. Nothing is new under the sun. Jeremiah warned the Jewish nation that after centuries of sliding further into disobedience against God—the time was not long before their nation would fall to the kingdom of Babylon. And it happened. Jesus also foresaw danger coming against the people of His day—but the danger He saw was more than just a political or national threat—it was the internal danger of being carried away into God’s judgment by our own sins.
Many of us here today have children that are precious to us. And God has given children their parents to protect and watch over them. Without the vision of parents to protect their children, to see and sense danger, and to rescue children from running in the street, or touching electricity, or eating the wrong things, they would inevitably harm themselves. As parents we have a good, but imperfect sense of danger—at times we can swerve too far towards overprotection, at other times we may swerve towards carelessness. But you all recognize that as adults there are dangers you can see that your children can’t, and that they depend on you for safety. It is the same, but greater, with God our Heavenly Father. He doesn’t struggle with how best to apply discipline, or to strike a balance—God knows perfectly what dangers threaten us. His warnings are clear and true, and neither overprotective nor careless. And you know how often it is, whether with our earthly parents, or with God our heavenly Father, that children will run away from and ignore their parent’s well-intentioned warnings.
In today’s reading, Jesus stands in the middle of a hostile environment, with religious and political leaders seeking His death. He even gest what may have been a friendly warning, to get away while He can. But Jesus shows a sturdy determination to stay and continue His mission. He did not fear the danger to His own life—He was sent by God, His Father, to speak, to teach, to love, and rescue God’s children. All who had gone astray. His mission put Him in danger, because He came, not as the All-Powerful God in blinding light and irresistible power—but He came in humble, human form. Born as one of us, born to live under God’s own Law, born to experience all the human joys and sorrows of life as we do. God came to earth in an entirely relatable way, as a true human person. For this purpose—God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
God came to us in human likeness, to keep us from the childish danger of running away from His love, and pursuing the deadly danger of our sins. As a human being, Jesus set aside His full power, and became relatable. And even resistible. He did not force anyone to listen to or obey them. Instead, He appealed to them. Many did not and would not listen. He was rejected and attacked. He allowed Himself to be mistreated, even unjustly sentenced to death. He became vulnerable to our rebellion. But this would not turn Jesus from His mission of saving the world. Any and all who would come to Him, He received.
Listen to Jesus’ words again as He cries out in sadness over His people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Jesus knew His mission led to the cross. Instead of coming to punish His rebellious people—Jesus came to bear that punishment Himself. They would see in His own death, the awful price and cost of sin. That God Himself would right the wrongs that we had done, and take our place.
And Jesus uses a picture of God from the Old Testament to describe what He’s doing—a bird who stretches out its wings to protect and shield its young. Jesus borrows and makes His own, a common phrase from the Old Testament. Jesus says like a hen would gather its chicks for safety, under its wings, so He would gather His children Israel, and keep them safe. In the Old Testament, God’s people prayed to take refuge in the shadow of His wings. They prayed that God would protect them under His wings, till the storms of destruction would pass them by. And Jesus answers—Yes! I want to spread my wings over you, and protect you! But so often, like senseless chicks, we run away instead.
But the good news is that Jesus’ wings are still spread open, and He still calls us to take refuge in Him! Many took refuge then, and we still take refuge in Him today. Jesus’ mission did not end at the cross, but there He secured our forgiveness. And on the third day He completed His course, and rose from the dead to conquer the grave. When Jesus rose from the dead, and appeared to His disciples and many others, He charged them to continue this mission. He charged them to carry the words of repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name, to all ends of the earth. Jesus told His disciples to continue pointing people to Him, to take refuge in His mercy. The time is not too late for any of us to hear God’s call, to listen to His Word, and seek shelter in Him from the danger of sin and death. Jesus is our refuge, and the refuge is open! He calls us to learn and know His love, just as a parent wants their child to stay and know the security of their home and their love.
We were all children once, and we all know the times when we threw caution aside and ignored danger. It’s not hard to figure out why we would do the same towards God. None of us like to be told “no”. It’s in our sinful nature to seek our own way. But the stakes are much greater with God. We have eternity in store for us, after this life. Jesus calls us to the way of eternal life, to turn away from the wide path that leads to eternal judgment. We also probably can remember times when we were a little older, and our parents let us make our own choices, even if they knew some of them would end badly. There is no reason, or sense for us to ignore God’s warnings and His calls to us. He tells us plainly and accurately that the consequence of rejecting Him, is hell—to be forever separated from His love. Even though our sins deserve this, God eagerly, passionately desires to keep us from that fate. He paid the cost to spare us from it, so that no one need have that fate.
Jesus calls to us, He calls to you. God love prepares a way of safety, a path to shelter and refuge under His wings. Jesus made the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, to bear the full guilt of sin, and face the full punishment of its guilt in death, so that we could be spared. Jesus calls for us to believe in Him, so that we will never be desolate or forsaken, but that we will have a home, a house—an eternal dwelling place together with our God who loves us. In short, God has done everything for us, and more than we ever deserved. He stretches out His open arms to receive us as His children. Hear His call. Come to Him. Receive His love—and when you do, you will find yourself caught up together praising Jesus and waiting for His return to take us home—singing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Why does Jesus ignore the Pharisees’ warning that Herod wants Him dead? What was Jesus preparing for? How does this show Jesus’ resolve to accomplish His mission?

  1. What had happened to many of the prophets in Israel? See the speech of Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees, in Matthew 23:29-36. Hebrews 11:32-38. Why did God send the prophets again and again, knowing that they would be rejected? 2 Chronicles 36:15-16.

  1. Jesus’ analogy of the hen and the chicks recalls many Old Testament passages about God providing protection for His people under the “shadow of his wings”. What message does this communicate to His people? Deuteronomy 32:11; Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; Ruth 2:12

  1. How does the Bible speak of God’s love and concern for the lost and for sinners? Ezekiel 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9

  1. Why do we go astray from God and His desire to help us? Why do sinners turn away from God? What is the deadly danger of doing so?

  1. Jesus warns the people: “Behold, your house is forsaken.” In the prophets, God spoke of the people of Israel or Judah as the “house of Israel,” or the “house of the king of Judah”—referring to the kingdom and people of God. In Jeremiah 12:7 He talks about leaving that house forsaken, and enemies coming against them. What is the reason, given in Jeremiah 22:1-5, for why God was forsaking them?

  1. How does Jeremiah speak of God’s returning compassion, after the people have been punished for their sins? Where would their hope be directed? Jeremiah 12:15; 23:3-6. 31:31-34. How does Jesus give us refuge?

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