Of Foxes and Hens

Luke 13:31-35

 

Sometimes in life, the most stern and determined people we know can also be the most tender and encouraging.

Appearances can be deceiving, and—as I’m sure you’ve heard—we should never judge a book by its cover.

But I think you’d agree with me that this is often the case.  There are several folks I think about at my former church in Illinois.

I remember our kitchen ladies on Wednesday nights.  When I first started there, we had a team of several retired women who cooked every Wednesday night meal.

They were excellent cooks, and they were a tough bunch.  If you went back to visit with them on a Wednesday afternoon, you better be careful.

They’ll put you to work.  They were known to get into impassioned arguments, for each had their own way of doing things—and each knew she was right.

But, as tough as they were, they were also tender.  I remember Eleanor.  I always had to go see her on Sunday mornings for a great big hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Occasionally she would grin at me and offer me a blueberry donut.  “I know they’re your favorite, and there was only one left.  So I saved it for you,” she’d say.

 

I remember Dave, a great leader in our church, serving as deacon and head of church council.  He was a financial advisor and very knowledgeable about a lot of things.

Though he typically had a smile on his face, he was also a man of few words.  He was solidly built and able to still play second base in softball into his sixties.

In truth, he could at times be rather imposing and not the easiest person in the world to talk to.  And then came the night of the church talent show.

Dave came out for his talent, dressed in a tuxedo.  He then proceeded to put an elastic surgical glove over his head, covering his nose.

He managed to inflate that glove to three times the size of his noggin, merely by exhaling through his nose.

The thing finally popped, and the room erupted in applause and laughter.  Dave grinned from ear to ear as he returned to his seat.

Never would I have guessed that to be buttoned-down Dave’s talent.  And I could name countless others that I’ve met—throughout life and throughout my family.

 

Do you know one thing they all have in common?  Yes, these folks tend to be focused and strong-willed and intense and maybe even a little unapproachable.

But that tender side I mentioned?  It typically seems to reveal itself with regard to their families.  Sons and daughters bring that side out in them.

The same is true of grandchildren.  Those they call their own make them grin from ear to ear, show tons of pictures, and tell even more stories.

They come alive.  They are suddenly more relatable and enjoyable.  In fact, when once they seemed hard to talk to, now you can’t get them to be quiet.

The tough exterior has seemingly melted into this gushing grandparent.  And you know what?  Each side of the personality enhances the other.

With all of these people—and I daresay I’ve met a few here—I always end up appreciating who they are even more when I see both sides.

The resolute and focused personality makes me appreciate the tender side all the more.  And that tenderness let’s me know what’s beneath that other side.

It’s these personality traits that jumped out at me in this morning’s passage.  It can be found in Luke, chapter 13, and I invite you to join me there.

As you might imagine, we are looking at Jesus, as we have been rather closely these last few weeks.  We are nearing His entry into Jerusalem.

There, He will be celebrated, as we will discuss next week on Palm Sunday.  But there, He will also be betrayed, arrested, and crucified.

We will discuss that in two weeks, during Easter week.  But, for now, I’d like us to take a look at Jesus’ demeanor and His attitude.

These events are imminent, and Jesus is fully aware of what awaits Him.  Let’s see what God’s word has to say, as we begin our reading with verse 31.

(Read Luke 13:31-35.)

 

Let’s start with a somewhat surprising statement.  Not all Pharisees are bad fellows.

To be sure, they—along with the chief priests, scribes, and Sadducees—were the primary enemies of Jesus.

But, with those other groups, we have very little evidence of any of them being favorable toward Jesus.  That wasn’t the case with the Pharisees.

You may remember Nicodemus.  You may remember Joseph of Arimethea.  These were Pharisees who, in their own ways, were supportive of Jesus.

So, here, we see some Pharisees that seem to be looking out for Jesus’ best interests.

They come to Him with an urgent warning.  “Leave this place and go somewhere else.  Herod wants to kill you.”

 

Let’s take a look at all the factors at play here.  “Leave this place,” they advise Jesus.

Well, where was “this place”?  Earlier in the chapter, we read that Jesus had been cutting a path through towns and villages on the way to Jerusalem.

He has yet to reach the famed city.  (That will come next week.)  But He is certainly nearing it.  We have been discussing that in recent weeks.

A few weeks ago we talked about Peter’s confession—and Jesus’ subsequent predictions of His suffering and death, which would take place in Jerusalem.

Two weeks ago, we looked at the transfiguration.  Peter wanted to stay up on that mountain, in that wonderful moment.

But Jesus made it clear that there was a mission at hand.  Once again, it involved His suffering and death.  Once again, it involved Jerusalem.

Therefore, they must get moving.  And, therefore, we know that we are getting perilously close to Jesus reaching that city and the fate that awaits Him.

 

So these Pharisees are advising Jesus to go no further.  He should turn around and leave.  Go in the other direction.  Get the heck out of Dodge.

But they give Him a different cause for alarm.  Instead of concern over the evildoing of the religious elite, their concern is over the madman, King Herod.

You won’t find much of anything favorable about Herod in the Bible.  My dad once had commentary, much to my enjoyment, regarding a sermon involving Herod.

“You don’t hear about many babies these days being named Herod, do you?”  It’s certainly not a name that evokes pleasant memories.

This was the same Herod that had John the Baptist beheaded, so there can be no doubt that he was a crazed and dangerous man.

Furthermore, Herod was extremely curious in regards to Jesus.  Scripture tells us that he had heard of many of Jesus’ divine acts.

He even presupposed that Jesus was the reincarnation of John the Baptist.  We witnessed Herod’s curiosity during Jesus’ trial.

You may remember that Pilate and Herod passed Jesus back and forth on that fateful Friday.  Though Herod was not responsible for His death, he did nothing to help.

 

Jesus responds with steely—almost cold—resolve.  To quote commentator Robert Stein, “No two-bit politician could frustrate the divine plan.”

Those are important words for us to remember today, I would dare say.  Jesus snaps back, calling Herod a “fox”.

Much like it is today, this is a term to connote craftiness, probably in a treacherous manner.  Herod was a politician to the core.  He was not one to be trusted.

Instead of cowering to Herod, Jesus was going to keep doing what He had been doing—restoring the natural, God-ordained order of things.

He would continue to exercise mastery over the spiritual world by casting out demons.  He would also show His mastery of the physical world by healing people.

Here, Jesus makes it clear that these sorts of personal touches were clearly a part—though not the main part—of His earthly mission.

He came to die for sin, first and foremost.  But He also came to show His people that He desired to be intimately involved in their lives.

 

But there is a limit to this time of restoration.  Jesus is nearing the end of His mission.  That’s why we have the “today, tomorrow” language.

Soon, the time will come when the healings and exorcisms will cease.  The cross will consume the rest of Jesus’ time before His death.

He states that “on the third day” He will reach His goal.  Jesus gives the people a “play on words” here.  Reaching Jerusalem will not be His ultimate goal.

His goal is “the completion of His redemptive work,” Stein comments.  When we hear the term “third day”, we naturally think of Easter and resurrection.

On the third day following His death, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead.  That was the goal.  That was the consummation of the mission before Him.

 

Jesus holds, in verse thirty-three, that He must press on.  There’s a lesson there for us, I believe.  Think about the context in which Jesus pressed on.

We all face difficult circumstances.  We all face uncertainty and fear.  We all face pain and hardship, to varying degrees.

But Jesus faced carrying the sins of the world.  He faced torture and brutal death.  He faced abandonment from His closest friends—even from His heavenly Father.

At least, He did cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  We can become paralyzed by uncertain days ahead.  He pressed on, facing certain death.

We must press on, because He did.  We must press on—through the small stuff and the gigantic stuff.  And we can do it, but not necessarily because He did.

We can do it because He promised to be with us.  He promised us a Helper, a Comforter, a Counselor.  We can do it because of God’s presence in the Holy Spirit.

 

Getting back to Jesus, He states that He must press on to Jerusalem for “no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”  This, of course, is not an absolute statement.

Plenty of prophets met their demise in other places.  But Jerusalem—or, better put, the people of God—has been known for mistreating God’s messengers.

They did it with Jeremiah.  They did it with Zechariah.  They even at times turned on Moses and Elijah.  Simply put, Jesus is saying this.

“Of course I would meet my death in Jerusalem, the hometown of God’s people, Israel.  They are famous for abusing God’s chosen vessels!”

 

It’s interesting to observe Jesus’ attitude here.  He seems focused and full of resolve, to be sure.  He even seems to be a little feisty or combative, calling Herod names.

We might also detect a bit of sarcasm with regards to the description of Jerusalem’s treatment of the prophets.  He casts an imposing appearance, to be sure.

That’s what makes the next two verses—thirty-four and thirty-five—equally interesting and, perhaps, even more captivating.

Things take quite a curious turn as Jesus raises His voice in regards to Jerusalem.

 

He reiterates that His people, Israel, have been guilty of attacking and murdering God’s messengers.  What you might not realize is this.

In that day and place, to harm someone’s messenger was tantamount to harming the person who sent the messenger.  You know how it is, don’t you?

When you share Jesus with someone—and they essentially say, “Thanks, but no thanks”—they are not rejecting you.  They are rejecting Jesus.

To reject God’s messengers is to reject God.  Jesus, being God the Son, felt the sting.

God’s people had ignored and mistreated great messengers, such as the aforementioned Jeremiah.  But it was God—yes, Jesus—who felt it the most.

 

How do you feel when someone rejects or mistreats you?  How tender is your heart toward that person?  How much compassion do you feel toward that person?

Naturally, we would develop a hardened shell, complete with bitterness, animosity, or even hatred toward that person.  But look at how Jesus responds.

He pities them.  In truth, people who act in ungodly and immoral ways are to be pitied, for they clearly know nothing of God’s love, His grace, or even God Himself.

We often seethe toward those who reject, ignore, or even mock our faith.  And yet Jesus longs to spread out His arms, as a mother hen would toward her chicks.

Let’s take a moment to flesh out that metaphor, for it is a meaningful one.

 

Jesus desires to bring His people close to His side.  He wants them to feel His loving touch.  He wants them to experience intimacy with Him.

He also desires to protect them.  That’s what those mother’s wings symbolize.  It’s a way for the hen to protect her chicks.

Think about the ways God can and does protect us.  Often we are protected from disease and disaster.  His word protects us by steering us in the right paths.

Ultimately, He protects us from the deadly effects of sin by His atoning death on the cross.  And often, He protects us from ourselves.

 

But notice Jesus’ next words:  You were not willing!  If we are out of fellowship with God, outside of His protection, and outside His will, there is only one party to blame.

It is God Who desires these things for us.  It is us who, so often, desire something else.  We reject the caring and protective wings of God.

That was certainly the case for the people of Israel.  It had been the case, even tracing things all the way back to the book of Exodus.

God wills one thing, but His people will another.

 

The consequences of being out of fellowship with God are drastic and dramatic.  Jesus predicts that Israel will be left desolate—even Jerusalem itself.  This most definitely came to pass just a few decades after Jesus’ time on earth.

The Roman army came in and ransacked the city.  What’s more, it had happened before at the hands of the Babylonians in the 500’s, B.C.

Jesus says that they will not see Him again until they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  We might be tempted to think of Palm Sunday here.

But that’s not really what Jesus is referencing.  This refers more to the second coming of Christ.  One of two possibilities is at play here.

Either Israel will finally acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, but it will be too late.

Or, there will be a revival within the people of Israel prior to that second coming.

In any case, for the immediate future of those listening to Jesus, it was grim news.

Israel would be left desolate again—physically and spiritually.  God was doing something new, and now is the time to get on board.

 

That’s one of the lessons that face us today.  First is the rejection of Israel.  When I say that God rejected Israel, bear in mind that Israel rejected Him first.

The gospel message found fertile ground among the Gentiles.  This gives us shades of the story of Jonah.  He preached a dramatic and urgent message in Nineveh.

That’s what Jesus did in Jerusalem right here.  Of course, there was a dramatic difference.  Jonah, questionable in his motives, had a message that was heeded.

Beyond that, those heeding the message were Gentiles, foreigners to the nation of Israel.  And then there’s Jesus and His message.

Jesus, who pressed on and loved with compassion and never complained and never looked for the easy way out, had a message that went largely unnoticed.

The Gentiles responded to God’s call to repentance through Jonah.  The Jews rejected God’s same call through His Son, Jesus.

I guess the lesson might be that we might ought to be careful as to how much stock we put into our standing as a longtime member of a church or Christian family.

Christians might well be called “God’s people”, but God’s people have always had a history of missing the mark and failing to take His message seriously.

God’s people rejected God the Father when they built the Golden Calf.  They rejected God the Son at Calvary.  Might we fall prey to rejecting the Holy Spirit?

 

Secondly, this passage ought to teach us that nothing will deter God from carrying out His sovereign plan.  Herod couldn’t do it.

Neither could Pilate.  The same is true of the religious leaders, who unknowingly were aiding in carrying out God’s will when they demanded Jesus’ execution.

So let’s not wring our hands when some politician or other power-hungry and/or influential leader today appears to set himself or herself up against God.

He can and will handle it.  His will can and will be done.  He’s not worried about it.  Neither should we be.

 

And, finally, remember that this Jesus, Who was and is sovereignly in control, also longs to tenderly gather you to His side.

If there were Pharisees who managed to see the light and side with Jesus, then even the most stubborn and most sinful of us today can make the same choice.

How do you need to respond to Jesus and His call today?  (Pray.)