Luke 13: 31-35 “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.’ He 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.” In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! 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! Look, 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.”’”
The opening question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer it gives is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.” It is setting before us our purpose in life. This is the narrative of every Christian. As we face our future and wonder, “What will we be doing in fifty years’ time, or 500 years’ time?” then this is the answer, our destiny has been set by creation and redemption. It is to glorify and enjoy God for ever. Nothing whatsoever – no force from hell, no temptation from the world, no power from heaven – is to deflect your life from this end. That is why you were created; that is why you have been redeemed; that is what the Scripture teaches; that is where the Spirit of God is leading both you and all the elect of God.
Some Pharisees came to Jesus and tried to disrupt him from his mission; “Get out of here!” They warned him that Herod wanted to kill him. This was Herod Antipas the subject-ruler of northern Palestine, son of Herod the Great who thirty years earlier had ordered the killing of all the little boys in Bethlehem in his fury. At this time our Lord was in the midst of his Galilean mission. This message might have been a vain threat of Herod. Or maybe the Pharisees who brought the warning were true supporters of Jesus like Gamaliel or Joseph of Arimathea, and they had heard a rumour of the danger from Herod. They were concerned for his life. Or perhaps this story was their fabrication, an invention by some hostile Pharisees, bluffing and intimidating Jesus, seeking to drive him away to a hideaway in the desert to stop his preaching. I think that that is an unlikely explanation. Wretched Herod had had the head of John the Baptist cut off merely to keep a vow he’d made to a dancing girl. Jesus’ preaching was as fearless as John’s had been, and one presumes this threat of Herod’s was a deliberate leak from the king intended to alarm and silence our Lord. Our Lord is being pressurized and tempted to follow the advice of the world and turn aside from his calling. It is Jesus’ response that is helpful to us as we consider faithfulness to our calling to glorify God and enjoy him for ever in the light of the world’s pressures on us to be silent.
WE ARE TO FULFIL OUR HEAVENLY CALLING IN THE FACE OF THE GREATEST THREATS.
Jesus replied to the Pharisees, “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.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (vv. 32&33). Jesus determined to fulfil his vocation. There is one great phrase describing this; he set his face steadfastly to Jerusalem. He had no other goal. He was walking with destiny and his end was Golgotha. He was like all the leaders of the Old Covenant, like Joseph, resolute to do no wickedness and sin against God; like Daniel to go on praying even if it meant being torn apart by lions; like Nehemiah to leave the luxury and leadership of Babylon to return to ruined, dusty Jerusalem and rebuild it; like Paul, Jesus’ apostle – “this one thing I do . . . I press toward the mark . . .” I was reading the life of Beethoven and was struck by the peculiar burden of a composer losing his hearing, so that by the age of fifty he could not hear a single note he had written. Yet he said once. “I will take life by the throat.” Press on! Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not do it. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not do it – unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not do it. The world is full of educated derelicts. It is persistence and determination that alone are important. Keep going. Don’t be intimidated by the frowns of men or bought by their smiles. Let me break that up a little:
i] Keep going with all the wisdom and sweetness of grace that you can muster. Our Lord Jesus was always a people person, kind and thoughtful about others. Let our witness to the world be gracious and sensible. For example, it is not good for you to play Christian music very loudly on your music centre to be heard by other people in the house. That may have the very opposite effect. There is no need for you to leave a tract on every desk in the open plan office each week. There is no need for you to blue tack tracts to every lamp-post in the High Street. There is no need for you to take a stand on each and every issue that is raised in class or in the tutorial group or at work; choose your issues carefully. It would be better for you to be known as a careful driver than cover the windows of your car with texts. It would be better for you to be the best mathematics teacher than be known in the school as a zealous evangelist. You must aim to be both. If you are weak in the job you are being paid to do then people will be disbelieving concerning your evangelism. But keep going in the faith that is in Christ Jesus, always being ready to give a reason for your hope to anyone who asks. Keep going especially when you’ve made mistakes, and said the wrong thing, and put your foot in it, and made people properly angry. Don’t let your mistakes drive you into silence . . . drive you to repentance and thoughtfulness, yes, but not inactivity. Just don’t make those mistakes again. People can posture and expostulate as if they’ve been offended by something you’ve said or done when in fact they’ve been convicted. Anyway, all of us are going to get some things wrong, but that is all part of the learning curve of the Christian life. Again,
ii] Being resolute doesn’t mean that you have to be a loner. Jesus wasn’t a loner. There was a work which he alone could do but he explained it to his men, and sought to take them along with him in the world. He was so patient and merciful with them. He forgave those who ran away and left him. He recommissioned and used those who denied him. It is a great mark of a wise and mature Christian that he or she is able to work with other Christians of different personalities, who have other convictions, who do things that antagonize. That is part of being a Christian to live with the tension of fulfilling one’s own holy calling and yet doing it in a team with people different from yourself
iii] Being resolute doesn’t mean being a gullible and gormless person. Jesus dubbed Herod as being like a fox. The fox is an opportunist, an utterly insignificant creature compared to a lion, and so was Herod compared to the Messiah who was the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Herod’s father had been the most effective thug around, and so Rome promoted his perverse son to keep an eye on the far edges of its territories. Foxes are nothing; they lack status or the power to carry out their threats. Fantastic Mr. Fox can sniff at a hen-coop but he can’t break in and take a single chicken. It would be a man who was behaving like a fox who might one day find himself under some mild pressure, and then, without thought, and because he could, would order John the Baptist to be beheaded. What a fox-like man! Men whom we dub ‘foxes’ are those who act by instinct. The fox is a malicious destroyer, a varmint in the Lord’s field. So Jesus sent Herod a message of contempt, showing the Pharisees how little he feared him. When, months later, Herod had Christ brought from Pilate to stand trial before him our Lord simply ignored him. Notice here that Jesus didn’t merely ignore Herod’s intimidation but he challenged Herod’s power to take Jesus’ life. No man could take Jesus’ life from him; he alone had the authority to lay it down and to raise it again. Herod the king was dismissed by Christ as a fox.
Loving our enemies, and turning the other cheek, and showing respect to those in authority does not mean that we Christians become ‘holy fools.’ When we are confronted with the massive despots of the 20th century and the millions they butchered and imprisoned – I am referring to Hitler and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and the dictators of the Middle East and Africa – then we don’t say, “I’m a Christian and so I mustn’t pass judgment on them.” You pass righteous and fair judgment on their lives, just like a Christian on jury duty, or a Christian magistrate listening to the evidence of a man on trial who has beaten up and raped a girl. Such Christians will judge in their hearts, “That man is like a fox!” The Christian will do all he can as a citizen to bring in moral and just rulers.
iv] Being resolute means a determination to fulfil your goal in life. The Saviour doesn’t merely speak to the Pharisees in his reply. He makes them his messenger boys to tell something to King Herod. “Tell that fox this from me,” he is saying, “‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” Herod could not touch Christ outside of Jerusalem. No assassin was going to strike down Jesus in Galilee. Nothing was going to prevent our Lord fulfilling the commission he’d had from his Father, certainly no threats from priests and Pharisees. His great dénouement was to be fulfilled by Christ in Jerusalem on a green hill outside its city wall. He also had his ‘chief end’ in life, just like us, and his goal was to fulfil that end, come what may. He’d made up his mind. He would continue to do what he had been sent into this world to do.
Notice how Jesus defined it, first of all, in terms of destroying the devil and his work. “I will drive out demons;” I often remind you that there was a unique explosion of demonic activity during the three years of our Lord’s pubic ministry, a phenomenon that has not been observed anywhere in the world since that time. It was headed by Satan himself when right at the beginning he tried to defeat our Lord with three full frontal temptations in the wilderness. Having failed there the devil sent his pack of dogs in, so that for the rest of his time in Galilee Jesus was occupied in delivering many people from the influence of the empire of evil. He never ceased rescuing young and old from demonic possession. Why had he come into the world? We are told in the first letter of John, chapter three and verse eight; “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Jesus never turned aside from that. Let us never be embarrassed by Jesus’ encounters with demons. Hasn’t the devil has been able to use you to no good at all? Haven’t you at times been a foolish and mischievous person through his influence hurting yourself as well as those who love you the most? Here, I say, is the mighty colossus who can destroy the devil’s work in your life. Cry mightily to him.
Again, Christ tells the messengers to inform the king that he was also continuing his mission of healing people, and that he intended to keep going in that very activity. Men and women, if there is such an emphasis in the gospels on an untold number of miracles that the Lord Christ had performed then we are not going to be embarrassed by them. We are told that he turned the contents of huge clay water containers into the finest aged wine. He had made paralyzed people walk. He had made blind men see. He had touched lepers and outcasts who had contagious diseases and instead of Jesus getting sick from them, they got well from him. He healed every one who had come to him of every single disease – in whatever stage of progression the disease gripped them. There had been no failures at all. He had even raised the dead. A man who had passed away and had been buried, one of his closest friends outside the circle of apostles, was lying in his grave for three days, until Christ stood outside it with the man’s sisters and other onlookers and he said, “Lazarus come forth!” The dead man was raised. Miracles like those were not tall tales; they were unfictional; they really happened; the books of the world couldn’t contain descriptions of them all. They all displayed the awesome power of Jesus; they were signs pointing to him. What sort of man is this? They confirmed the truth of his claims. Only a man who was one with God could speak to the winds and waves so that they obeyed him. But these healings also demonstrated Jesus’ personality, what sympathy and compassion was his. I’m saying that the Lord Christ didn’t just solve problems, he cared about people. He alone was undoing the damage of the fall of man that had brought sin and death into the world. That is why he’d come. Herod’s sabre rattling was not going to stop the Lord Christ in his tracks.
So Jesus says that he will keep destroying the work of the devil and healing the sick “today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day” (vv. 32&33). He is talking about his awareness of God’s timetable for his life, day by day, and that he would not be deflected from completing it, not today, not tomorrow and not the third day. He would always be reaching forward towards his goal. He was a man with a mission. He had been commissioned by his Father. He intended to keep going, and keep going, and never give up even if he were sent death threats. His work was not yet over. Until that time came it wasn’t in the power of Herod to hurt him: until that work was finished no weapon forged against him could prosper.
There is something in our Lord’s words which demands the attention of all true Christians. There is a frame of mind exhibited to us here that we must copy. Let this mind be in us that was also in him, to have a spirit of calm, unshaken confidence about things to come, to have a heart ‘not afraid of evil tidings,’ but quietly, steadily going on trusting in the Lord (Psalm 92:7). Let every mother here be settled and think, “For the next twenty years I shall be caring for my children. I shall be nursing them when they are sick. I shall be preparing food for them. I shall be washing their dirty clothes and organizing a warm welcoming home for them.” That is your Christian calling, your divine vocation. Let every student think, “Today and tomorrow and the third day I will attend lectures, and take notes, and complete assignments, and memorize the material I have been given and strive to succeed in the exams set before me.” That is your vocation as a Christian. Let every husband think, “I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day in providing for my wife and children what they need, supporting them with my love. Let me be there for them, and dependable, and caring, a man of God in the home.” The frame of mind that Christ had about his future, let us have it for our futures. If someone should have asked me 45 years ago what did I imagine I’d be doing in 45 years’ time then I would have said that if God should spare me that length of time, then I would be preaching from every part of the Bible, and following up the preaching with personal pastoring and praying, and that was my vocation “today and tomorrow and the next day.”
I’m not talking about becoming juggernauts, rumbling on remorselessly, insensitive to other people. We show we belong to Christ by loving his people. It is impossible for us to be his without also loving all the others who are also his. We will spend time with them every seven days under the public means of grace, receiving correction and instruction, inspiration and mighty encouragements. It is fanaticism to become a loner who neglects the Sunday services. It is fanaticism not to work for six days. It is fanaticism not to keep some savings in the bank. A couple of years ago a local man took all his savings out of the bank and opposite the railway station in our town, at a familiar pedestrian crossing, he threw bundles of currency notes high into the wind blown in every direction to the shrieks of people. The poor man was having treatment for a psychiatric condition. No healthy man would act like that. We are not to live for money, but we should save money, and we should be attentive to our duties, six days a week and then the seventh day meet to worship the God who blesses us so richly with all God’s people. There is no escape from them. It is not an ‘exciting alternative’ to avoid drudgery and our daily duties, except in Hollywood movies. Your name is not Butch Cassidy or the Sundance Kid. Duties are ours, but events are God’s. Let’s leave the things that are to come in the future in God’s hands; wonders of grace to God belong. Let’s not be over-anxious about our health, our family, our money, our old age. Let’s cultivate this frame of mind that knows what we must do today, tomorrow and the third day, and leave the future to the God who guides us with his hand; it would add immensely to our peace.
WE ARE TO FULFIL OUR HEAVENLY CALLING EVEN IN THE FACE OF DEATH.
The Lord Jesus said more; “I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! 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!” (vv.33&34). There are some issues confronting Christians that are more important than life itself. The Lord Jesus had come not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. He had come to be the Lamb of God who’d take away the sin of the world. He was given his very name ‘Jesus’ because it means that he would save his people from their sin. That appointment had been made at the time of the Passover in Jerusalem. There he would suffer and bleed and die. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. There was no desire to avoid the cost of atonement. There was no other cup given to him to drink but that cup and he drank its damnation to the dregs. Atonement must be made and only the God-man could make it.
There are people who have died for trivial things, but there is no one who has ever given his very life for something that seemed trifling to him. The Son of God had been sent on a mission by his Father to make eternal redemption, and for that he humbled himself even to the death of the cross. If he should have held that truth – and yet wasn’t prepared to die for it – then he would have been a hypocrite. If he should have died for something other than the truth he’d have been a fool. But Jesus died for truth, the truth of God, and Jesus died to fulfil the mission on which God had sent him, even to redeem all those the Father had given him, a company of people more than any man could number. That he achieved.
More Christians in the 20th century willingly laid down their lives than at any other time in the history of the church. They determined to follow the Saviour faithfully and preach his finished work. Lewis Paschalis said, “It is a small matter to die once for Christ; if it might be, I could wish I might die a thousand deaths for him.” The martyrs died with the longing that their tormentors would repent and know the mercy of God, but in the shadow of Golgotha Jesus cried to this persecuting city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Jesus’ longing was that they would come to him for eternal safety. Look at his words carefully.
i] These were people he knew whom he longed for. He knew Jerusalem well. For over thirty years he had gone to Jerusalem with his family three times a year in order to celebrate the feasts as the law of Moses laid down. He knew its Temple and its side streets, it markets and its wells. He knew the people who lived there, their distinctive non-Galilean accent, the families, the dignitaries and the beggars. He knew some people intimately, the folk with whom his family lodged on their visits to the feasts, and as the years went by and he grew in love for this city he longed more and more that these people of Jerusalem might become true worshippers of God. He often preached in the last weeks of his life in the precincts of the Temple, and he would cry, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.”
ii] He wanted to gather the children of Israel together to himself, under his protection. The hen sees the fox coming down the hill and she clucks out her warning sound and she brings them scampering full pelt to her to hide from his eyes under her wings. No hawk can touch them there. Jesus could protect them all. He invited the entire population of Jerusalem; “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” Let all the people of every house come to him, he could cope; they would be safe under his wings. They would dwell in the secret place of the most high and abide under the shadow of the Almighty. The Christian martyrs couldn’t say to their tormentors, “I long for you to hide in me, in the power of my name and my achievements.” They were conscious that their best deeds had been mixed with sin, but Christ bears the mighty name of God. All the protection of his omnipotence can save the whole world from sin, death and hell if men only hide in Jesus. He says of you and me and the whole world, “I would gather you to myself.”
iii] He longed sincerely that they would all come. That was his desire for every one in Jerusalem, even for Annas and Caiaphas the evil chief priests, for the whole of the Sanhedrin, for each individual Pharisee, for the rationalistic officers of the Temple, the Sadducces, for the money-changers and the crooks who bought and sold in the Temple courts, for Pilate and the brutal Roman garrison, for the criminals, the thieves and murderers in the prison, for the mob who mocked dying men on their crosses, for the prostitutes and for their customers – Jesus sincerely longed that every one without exception would allow him to gather them under his protection.
You say, “But God had not chosen all of them to be saved.” True. They were not all elected. Yet I am saying that the Lord desired to gather every one of them under his wings. I believe with all my heart, that God wishes some things that he has not willed. He longs for the salvation of every single citizen of Jerusalem, even though he has not willed the salvation of every one. I believe that. You say that that does not make sense. But I answer you that I don’t possess a Christian philosophical and logical system which I have imposed on the Bible. I don’t want such a system. I know that there are certain truths clearly revealed in the Scriptures, for example, that before the foundation of the earth God had willed that a vast company of people whom he had chosen should be saved by the life and death of his Son. These people will most certainly be saved. They will get to heaven and when they are there they will sing with one heart and voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. He loved us; he died for us; he made us alive; he kept us; and he glorified us here. The Lord did it all. Salvation is of the Lord in its conception, its continuance and its consummation.” They will be giving all the glory for every part of their salvation to the Lord who had chosen them before the foundation of the world, the one who had died for them in time-space history on the cross, the one who had quickened them and made them alive in their own experience by his Holy Spirit, the one who had preserved them through their lives by his providence, the one who had glorified them at their deaths. It was all because of him. I believe that sovereign grace will be the theme of eternal praise.
Yet I also believe that God shows us very clearly in the Bible that it is not his will that any man and woman should perish, but that all should turn and come under the protecting wings of Christ, that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, that he pleads with them all, “Turn ye, turn ye!” expostulating with them about their lack of response, “Why will you die?” He urges them, “Look unto me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth.” He even stretches forth his hands to a disobedient generation, offering them himself and his salvation. Luke later tells us that when Jesus entered this city the sight of it broke his heart and he wept over it. There was nothing deliberate or theatrical in that. It was the spontaneous overflow of deep feelings of compassion, sorrow and yearning. He saw it as a sinful city, a lost city; a place without hope.
When he sends his servants into the world he tells them that they must preach conscious that it is God beseeching their hearers to believe through the preachers. That is the expressed will of God. So I am saying that we have in the Bible not some rationalistic logical system, but we have truths that stand on the strength of what God has said in his Word, and sometimes it might appear to us that truths seem to contradict one another. He has said sincerely that he longs for the salvation of every single person. Yet he has also said that he has chosen a vast company of people and he has passed by others. Both those truths are clearly revealed in the Bible, but how anyone can possibly reconcile both those truths is not revealed. God has not given that explanation to anyone. There can be theories and philosophies about it but there is no theology that explains it.
What we are told in this text is that the Lord would gather every single person in Jerusalem, but that they refused to be gathered. They said, “No.” They rejected the sincere offer of God, preached in the Holy Spirit by the power and compassion of Jesus Christ. They heard his words and understood what he required of them. They saw the miracles. They witnessed Lazarus risen from the dead, but they refused to come to Christ for salvation. And that is why they will be condemned at the great white throne because they freely said no to the Christ they heard.
iv] What would be left for them but an empty house. “Behold your house is left to you desolate” (v.35). What did the Jews have if they rejected their Messiah? They had traditions, and books. Yes. They had priests and levites dressed in unusual clothes. Yes. They had the seventh day of week – restricted by hundreds of ordinances. And they had the Temple the house of God. But it was empty. There was nothing and nobody in it. The veil had been torn in two from top to bottom and God had gone from the Holy of Holies. They had killed his Son and God was gone. He had moved from the House to the hearts and lives of his people. He had abandoned the house and now he met where two or three gathered together in Jesus’ name, and he was there in the offer of the gospel. “Behold your house is left to you desolate.” You might have visited your old neighbourhood, and as you walked past the house in which you had spent your long boyhood years the door was open and the tenant was polishing the brass letterbox. You engaged her in conversation and told her that you had lived in that house forty years ago. “Come in” she aid and so you entered the old house. So much was not changed and yet other things had been drastically changed, and most of all the people you loved, your Mum and Dad, were not there and it was a desolating experience. The house was empty of them.
We challenge the world that has rejected our Saviour, “What of you? You have lived for your spouse and children. That is what life was all about as far as you were concerned. It was the totality of life, but your children grew up and married and moved away, and then your spouse took sick and died, and your house is left to you desolate. You rejected the one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25&26). You said no and so what do you have? A desolate house. You have lived your whole life without God and now what you have is a desolate house.
What of their future? We can say to them with all the authority of God that it need not be desolate! You may have a Companion in your house, a Friend that sticks closer than a brother. He lives who would gather you to himself. He lives who would save you from desolation. You need never enter an empty house again. He comes to you in the gospel, the blessed one, the one who has come that you might have life and have it more abundantly. He is addressing you now in these words, and God has not sent him to condemn you but that you might be saved through him. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord to save us, even though you have spurned him all your life, and lived for yourself, and though you cursed him for taking your best friend and companion from you he does not come to you to cry, “Depart from me you evil-doer.” The friend of Jerusalem sinners is here, the one who said to a criminal dying alone, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” No more the prospect of a desolate eternity. The one who became his Saviour would be your Saviour too.
You will see him again. Every eye will see him. Those who pierced him will see him. Some will see him and wail to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and cover them hiding them from his face, but that is not this moment. Jesus Christ is here in grace and he desires you with all his heart to come to him. He sincerely and lovingly offers himself to you, the blessed Jesus, to forgive all your sins, your past sins, your present sins and your future sins, and all the wasted years. He can restore them; he would restore them for you. Do not doubt it for a moment. Take him! He is here. Taking him is a movement of your heart and soul enabled by the Holy Spirit. It is your response to what you have heard in the Scriptures. Receive him as the prophet who will teach you who you are and who God is, what your purpose in life is to be. Receive him as the Lamb of God the all sufficient and comprehensive answer to all your guilt and shame. The one with whom God is totally satisfied, then your conscience can certainly be satisfied with him. Receive him as your Shepherd who will never allow you to be destroyed but will keep you day by day and every passing moment until you are presented to him with great joy. You will see the one who came from heaven in the name of the Lord not for the righteous, but for sinners. Blessed be his name!
10th April 2011 GEOFF THOMAS