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I. Death Threats Against Jesus
I don’t know if you caught it or not but there is something terribly wrong about both our Old Testament reading and our Gospel reading for this morning. I’m sure you were just as shocked as I was to learn that the Old Testament Church had its own ‘goon squad’ they called in, to knock off a prophet who wasn’t careful to preach an agreeable sermon.
The Muslims have nothing on Israel. The priests and prophets and the people didn’t like Jeremiah’s sermon so they put a ‘fatwa’ on his head. “You shall die!”
It doesn’t get any better in the New Testament either. Jesus was in the region of Galilee where Herod was governor, and some Pharisee informants came to Him and said, “You better get out of here. Herod wants to kill you.” What they didn’t tell Him was that the Pharisees in Jerusalem had been cooking up their own assignation plot against him for some time now.
Once you get past the shocker that the ‘holy people of the most- high God’ are as willing to knock someone off as the Mafia, the question becomes, ‘why?’ Why would anyone want to kill the one “whose feet brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says, “Your God reigns?” (Is.52:7)
Why would you want to kill the ‘author of life,’ ‘the good shepherd,’ ‘prince of peace,’ ‘the light of the world,’ ‘the true vine,’ ‘THE SON OF GOD’?
Jesus told the parable about a man who planted a vineyard and put His servants in charge of running it. But every time he sent someone to collect some of the precious wine that He was due, the tenants beat and killed them. Finally, the Master said, “I will send my son. Surely they will honor Him.” But when the Son arrived they killed Him too. The thing is, these are not barbarian pagans we’re talking about here. THESE ARE GOD’S OWN PEOPLE. Why do they do it?
Incredibly, the answer is the same for the Church as it would be for the Mafia and the drug cartels. He interferes with our plans; He threatens our organization; He cuts into our profits; He wants to be the boss but there’s only room for one boss around here, and it’s not going to be Him as long as we can help it.
II. He Wants To Gather Us
Of course, He puts it a lot nicer than that. How often would I have GATHERED YOUR CHILDREN together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. Let’s talk for a moment about what it means to be ‘gathered’ by Jesus.
We are all very familiar with that verse that goes, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” (Mat.18:20). And what we usually take that to mean is that as long as at least two or three show up we’re able to conduct our business, totally ignoring that part about “in my name,” which means, ‘under my wings,’ ‘under my direction,’ ‘under my authority.’
The key word here is “under.” We don’t like to be “under.” We want to be “over.” So, we’re more than willing to take Jesus under OUR wing. After all, how many times have we invited Him to come into our hearts? We’ll give Him a seat at the table and welcome Him to our banquet. “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest.” We’ll even give Him a say in running the organization and a cut of the profits, as long as He doesn’t interfere too much. As long as He remembers that He is the chick and we are the mother hen.
You would have thought He wanted to gather us as a dictator wants to keep his citizens under his thumb.
But this of course is not what He means. To be gathered to Jesus means to be taken into His Kingdom, not as a foreigner but as a citizen; and to live in His Father’s house, not as a guest but as a son or daughter in a room prepared just for you; and to sit at the Banquet table with Adam and Eve and Noah and Noah’s wife and his sons and their wives and Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecah, Jacob and Rachael, and Job and Jeremiah. The table is set with the choicest meats and drink the finest wines. And to know like you never knew it was possible to know, such joy and happiness and peace and life. “How often have I longed to gather you.”
And if all of this sounds heavenly, and when you get to heaven you will gladly and joyfully be gathered to this, you’ve missed the point of what Jesus is talking about. He wants to gather you now, while you are still in this world. For the joy and happiness and peace and life that He alone “longs to gather you into” and that can only be had ‘under his wing’ need ‘not wait until you get to heaven. The appetizers He sets before you now are enough to satisfy you completely until it is time for the main course to be served.
III. You Would Not.
And so the second really big shocker that comes through loud and clear in the gospel this morning is, “and you would not.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? What could be more insane than that? Let me get this straight. Jesus wants to gather you under His wing “and you would not”?
• He says, “You can let go of all of the other gods that you cling to and that demand so much from you and never satisfy you and fear, love and trust in Me alone.” And you would not?
• He says, “You can use my Name and call upon me in every trouble and I will listen to you and answer You.” And you would not?
• He says, “I will give you My Sabbath rest and preachers who preach My Word that you may hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” And you would not?
• “I will give you fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and civil authorities to take care of you, that you may honor them, that it may go well with you.” And you would not?”
• “I will give you life, from the moment of conception to the moment that I have set for you to breath your last and for you to cherish and protect.” “And you would not?”
• “I give you the institution of marriage that you may lead a sexually pure and decent life and husband and wife love and honor.” “And you would not?”
• “I give you income and possessions and everything you need so that you may be content with what you have and help your neighbor preserve and protect his income and possessions.” “And you would not?”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THAT’S INSANE.
In hell there are speakers everywhere, and 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for all eternity, they blare this terrible refrain: “And you would not.”
But even now, Jesus longs to gather you under His wings that He might silence that terrible announcement with a wonderful announcement of His own, “I forgive you all of your sins.”
IV. The Compassion of Jesus
The terrible truth about ourselves is that ‘we would not.’ The wonderful truth about Jesus is ‘He would.’ Neither our death threats nor our rejection of His love will not stop Him from “finishing His course.”
He is incredibly unfazed by the warning from the Pharisees that Herod wants to kill Him. “Go tell that fox, Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I FINISH my course, as in, ‘IT IS FINISHED.’”
Herod’s death threats were no concern to Jesus. He came into this world to die. And not a natural death which is what we all hope for. He came to be put to death by the church and the government in an unholy collaboration with each other. He publicly declared, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…” (Jn. 3:14).
But it would happen on His terms. It would be in Jerusalem, for this is where the Scriptures must be fulfilled. He had told His disciples on several occasions that “the Son of Man must go to JERUSALEM and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (Mat. 16:21).
And this He does, willingly, even gladly, for you, because He loves you. We may reject His love but He will NOT stop loving us – because He is love.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” His double lament rings for you with the same depth of love as it did for “Martha, Martha.” And “Simon, Simon.” As it had long ago for “Abraham, Abraham,” and “Moses, Moses.” As it would yet for “Saul, Saul.” And as it would most poignantly when He would cry from the cross, “My God, My God.”
We shouldn’t get the idea that His love is just for the famous names in the bible. Remember that sermon He preached where He said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28). That’s the kind of ‘love’ that we have a hard time with, but not Jesus. Jesus loves everyone. He loves the Pharisees and Herod and every enemy that He has ever had. He loves you. Even when “you would not.”
“HOW OFTEN I have longed to gather you.” Peter once asked Him, “Lord, HOW OFTEN.” “How often must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Seven times?” And Jesus answered, “Not seven times but seventy seven times.”
“HOW OFTEN, I have longed to gather you.” Was it 77 times, or was it 70 times 7? “But you would not.” But He would. He will not be stopped. “God demonstrates His love for us in this, EVEN WHILE WE WOULD NOT, Christ died for us.” (Rom.5:8).
Just outside the city walls of Jerusalem, Jesus spread His wings wide to gather His brood to Himself. He said He would “gather the wheat into His barn.” (Matthew 3:12) “And send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from” the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:31). And He has done it, in Jerusalem, just as He said He would.
St. John describes what he sees, and what he sees is Jerusalem, the same Jerusalem that “kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” But now it is REDEEMED by the blood of Jesus who makes all things NEW. “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I head a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Rev. 21:2).
No longer “forsaken,” now it is blessed and filled with the holy brood of Christ that He has gathered to Himself by being put to death. And that includes you.
We are no longer to imitate the Mafia but rather we imitate our Lord who came to kill but to be killed. With the love of Christ that fills us, we gladly and willingly lay down our life for others and even be put to death for the sake of the gospel, and love one another as Christ has loved us.
In our Epistle reading, St. Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven” the New Jerusalem. Your baptism is your passport. The Banquet is already prepared and even now, we are invited to a foretaste of the feast to come. We are gathered before the Table like baby birds, mouths open, anxious to be fed.
But first, according to His Word, we sing, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”