“Sorrow Over Jerusalem” (Luke 13:31-35)
Many a parent has been deeply hurt by rejection from their children. A toddler frowns and pouts because he was disciplined. A teenager shouts “I hate you” because she was told she could not stay out late with their friends. An adult child stops coming to visit or call because of some long held grudge. Any parent would be full of sorrow over rejection no matter how old their child may be.
Our Heavenly Father is full of sorrow when the people he has created reject him. Like a faithful parent, he gives us his love … and yes, his discipline, too. Too often, his creatures ignore him and are unwilling to receive him. But for the sake of his Son who died for the sin of our creaturely rejection, he continues to hold out his offer of mercy and forgiveness.
Today’s Gospel is another step along the road that Jesus walked to the cross, the path that we are following during this season of Lent. Jesus knew where he was headed. His life and ministry would end in Jerusalem where he would be crucified. As we sing in the Gradual for Lent, it was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus endured the cross. As Jesus set his face toward his destination – Jerusalem, the cross – the joy of knowing that he was earning forgiveness and eternal life for all who would receive him by faith caused Jesus to willingly endure suffering and death for us.
But the Bible also describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Jesus was a man of sorrows because he knew what awful consequences sin had brought into the world. He was moved with compassion when he saw the evidence of those consequences … suffering, death, unbelief.
And so, God’s Son in today’s Gospel lesson has sorrow over Jerusalem: “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!’” (Luke 13:34-35).
Some Pharisees came to Jesus to warn him that Herod wanted to kill him. Whether this was a serious threat or not, Herod’s intent was to scare Jesus from his territory. It seems as though he didn’t want to be bothered with all the commotion surrounding Jesus. Jesus recognizes Herod’s crafty plan and replies, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem’” (Luke 13:32-33).
Jesus says all this to make it clear that it’s not Herod who will determine the time and place of his death. Jesus is absolutely in control. His ministry would continue “today and tomorrow, and the third day.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Herod will not be the one to put me to death. Nor will it happen here … away from Jerusalem. I will go to Jerusalem to die when it is my time.” It’s also hard not to think of Jesus’ time spent in the tomb when we hear those words “today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” Jesus was in the tomb on Friday and Saturday, and on the third day he finished his course of rising to life again in victory over death.
After responding to Herod’s threat, Jesus spoke about his sorrow over Jerusalem, the city which was unwilling to receive him and his Word … the city in which he would be rejected, despised, and killed. The stubbornness and unbelieving hearts of the people of Jerusalem were nothing new, of course. The history of Israel in the Bible provides many examples where they rejected God’s Word and persecuted the prophets who sent to bring God’s message.
Jeremiah was one of those prophets. We heard about him in today’s Old Testament lesson. Through the mouth of Jeremiah, God warned the city of Jerusalem that destruction would soon come because the people were continually disobedient. The priests and the false prophets called for Jeremiah’s death. But Jeremiah stood his ground and said, “I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants” (Jer. 26:14-15).
There are other accounts in the Scriptures of child sacrifice, murder of prophets, and the despising of God’s messengers within the walls of Jerusalem. Take King Manasseh, for example, who offered children as burnt offerings to a pagan god and who, according to tradition, got tired of hearing Isaiah preach and ordered him to be put inside a hollow log and sawn in two.
Knowing all this, we can understand our Lord’s sorrow over the city and his declaration, “Behold, your house is forsaken!” Chilling words. As judgment over their persistent unbelief, God’s presence left the temple in Jerusalem. The gracious presence of God now dwelt fully in Jesus, God’s Son, the Incarnate God, God in the Flesh. And God’s former “house” would be destroyed by the Romans about 40 years later.
Does Jesus have sorrow over us? When we neglect him and are unwilling to hear his Word … yes, Jesus has sorrow over us. When we fight and kick against his call to repent of our sins and believe in him … yes, Jesus has sorrow over us. When we reject him like the people of Jerusalem … yes, Jesus has sorrow over us. Certainly, we have not engaged in child sacrifice or murdered any prophets … but any sin – however big or small it may seem to us – is ultimately a rejection of God and his good purposes for us. When we disobey God’s Word, we are essentially saying, “I know better than God. I know what’s good and right for my life, not him.”
Jesus has sorrow over our sin because of his great love for us. And this leads us to have sorrow over our sins, as St. Paul writes in Romans 2, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). Jesus’ desire for us is the same desire he had for Jerusalem: to gather us together as a hen gathers her precious baby chicks under her wings.
What a beautiful picture of God’s love and care. A mother hen lovingly keeps an eye out for her precious little babies. She takes them under her wings to protect them from predators such as hawks or other birds diving out of the sky. Likewise, God puts himself on the line to guard us and keep us. David said in Psalm 32, “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with songs of deliverance” (Ps. 32:7). In the same way, we can come to God with repentant hearts, knowing that for Jesus’ sake, he will forgive us and keep us safe in the hiding place of his grace. He will protect us from our predators that seek to take our lives … sin, death, and the devil.
It was too late for Jerusalem. Its fate had been sealed. But in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it’s never too late for us. Jesus continues to hold out his promises to you. He doesn’t give up on you. He continues to hold out his promise of love. He continues to hold out his promise of forgiveness … even for our sins of rejecting him or neglecting him in any way in our life. He was forsaken at the cross so that we will never be forsaken. Our house here will never be left forsaken or desolate, but he fills it with his presence whenever his Word is preached, whenever Baptism is given, whenever we eat and drink his Body and Blood at this altar.
Jesus had sorrow over the earthly city of Jerusalem and its desolation. But God’s intention was to create a new Jerusalem … a city not made with hands, but built by the Holy Spirit who works faith in our hearts through the Gospel. The Church is the Holy City in which dwell all those who trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. In this Church, we have sorrow over our sins, especially during Lent. But we also believe that because of Good Friday and Easter, what the prophet Zephaniah foretold has come to pass: “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing’” (Zeph. 3:15-17).
The Lord has indeed taken away the judgments against you. He is in your midst. He delights in you and rejoices over you for the sake of Jesus.