If you listened closely to the appointed scripture readings for today, the 2nd Sunday in Lent, there is a line in each reading that intimately connects them together. The prophet Jeremiah speaks the word of the Lord and then it says, “All the people laid hold of him, saying, you shall die”. Paul in the Epistle reading says, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” And finally in the Gospel reading we have the Pharisees warn Jesus saying, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” The theme in these three readings is rejection and more specifically the rejection of God’s Word, God’s ways, and God’s Son.
There was a Pastor who wanted to see if people gave notice when he repeated his sermon a few weeks in a row. He preached the sermon for the first time and got the usual response as people exited the church, “good sermon Pastor, good sermon Pastor.” The second week he preached the same sermon again. The people where still kind and said “It’s still a good sermon, but it was the same as last week?” The preacher did not respond to the inquiry. Finally the third week in a row of the same sermon people started to get upset. The people grumbled and complained to the Pastor on their way out and with a quick witted reply he said, “I will stop preaching the same sermon when you start adhering to the words that the Lord has given me to preach.”
If you ever think Worship is very similar Sunday after Sunday that’s because we keep falling into temptation and sin over and over. Worship will change when we fully adhere to the Lord’s words. We will skip over confession and absolution when we stop committing the same old sins. We will start preaching something else besides Christ crucified when we perfectly receive His teachings and work. We will find something different to do then all of us filing up to this altar every Sunday when the food and drink of this earth has the power to sustain us into eternity. I think you get the point. These things will never happen on this earth. Thus, generations keep passing as God gives His word through prophets, apostles, and pastors, and through whom the incarnate Son of God speaks. He continues that today, tomorrow, and the day following.
The great prophet Jeremiah faced death because of what he had been given to preach. The Apostle Paul with all his theological depth and linguistic skill still reports enemies of the cross of Christ in the young Christian Churches. And then we have Jesus the great prophet and chief Apostle, that is one sent by God, preaching and teaching in the flesh and yet people want nothing more then to snuff out His life.
Rejection is the story of the Prophets, the apostles, the Son of God and the whole Christian Church. Jesus responds to Herod’s threat with saying, “Go and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following…” The imagery of a cunning fox is quite appropriate not just for Herod, but this illustration becomes symbolic to the world’s disposition toward the Church. Despite Jesus’ acts of release from demonic forces and disease that testify to the liberation that Jesus brings by His gracious presence in the world He still is marked as the rejected prophet in Jerusalem.
Jesus keeps on course each day preaching and teaching that same freedom and hope the Father gave Him to deliver despite the rejection again and again. Even in Jesus’ giving a strict warning in His Words He is still proclaiming pure gospel to them, “And the third day I finish my course.” Jesus speaks prophetic words that indicate the fulfillment of His work on the third day. The third day, the day of resurrection is the final release of all creation. Jesus assumes the world’s bondage while on the cross and buries it in the tomb at His death. The crucified Lord rising from the dead becomes the basis for all exorcisms and all healings in Jesus ministry.
Jerusalem’s history is a bloody one. But its bloodiest moment is yet to come when the wrath of God is poured on to the sacrificial lamb of Jesus. Later in Luke’s Gospel he records Jesus’ words as he comes into Jerusalem in Chapter 19. Luke writes, “And when He drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” These words mark the blood shed that must take place for peace to be made for the people’s sins. The long track record of Jerusalem spitting out God’s prophets does nothing to stop Jesus from heading to Jerusalem for the pinnacle of His work.
That, my friends, is the merciful, loving, gracious heart of God in the flesh, dwelling among us. Jesus spreads His arms like a mother hen gathering up her wandering, wayward chicks. He wants them all. He came to save them all, even though they don’t want His salvation. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and if the world doesn’t want to have its sin taken away, He does it nonetheless. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, enemies of God, Christ died for us.”
We must face it, and Lent is a good time to square ourselves to the harsh truth that there is a little religious Pharisee and a little tyrannical Herod in each one of us. We are constantly trying to orchestrate things our way, to be little gods in place of God, exerting our wills to control others, and even, were it possible to control God. We use religion as bargaining chip, we use politics as a means to gain control of others by power. We use politics to bolster our religion, we use religion to bolster our politics. Herod and the Pharisee are alive and well in each of us. We call it the “old Adam,” the original sinner, our flesh.
Like Jerusalem, we would not. We would not be saved, were it left to our own devices. We would not be children of God, gathered as chicks under His wing. But Christ has gathered us, against our wills, kicking and screaming at times. Lifted up on the cross, He has drawn all to Himself, drawing even those who would want Him dead and gone. He grieves of Jerusalem today, over the Church, over our rejections and denials too.
You might say that the history of Jerusalem is the history God’s dealing with humanity. It’s the history of sin, rebellion, stubbornness, idolatry, rejection of the Word and the prophets who preach it. It’s also the history of God’s grace, undeserved kindness toward sinful humanity, the Word made Flesh who was rejected for our acceptance, who died for our life, whose blood vindicates the blood of the prophets that is ground into its dust.
Jerusalem has a future, but it is not in the hands of men. The next time the holy city appears in the Scriptures, they would shout “hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is the city God builds as opposed to the city Man builds – Jerusalem redeemed, restored, raised from the dead. Her murders have been atoned for by the blood of the Lamb. The blood shed in her streets and alleys has been vindicated by the Blood shed once for all on the cross. The prophets and apostles who met their death in her city gates are not her firm foundation. And Christ the Lamb is her Light and her Life.
And the marvel of it all is that you and I get a foretaste of that where the Word is preached and the Supper is administered, and we say “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord,” recognizing Jesus our Lord in the Breaking of the Bread. It all points to a day, a day that will bring all religion and politics as we know it to an end. A day when the Lord Jesus Christ will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, and the heavenly city will be the only city there is – free of religion, free of politics, filled with the glory of the Lamb. “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”