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LSB Lent 2C Sermon – Luke 13:31-35

February 27, 2016

February 21, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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 were not willing!”

There are good reputations and bad reputations. That is true for people. The importance of reputations is why we teach our catechism students the importance of the Eighth Commandment and its prohibition against falsely testifying about our neighbors. But reputations aren’t a possession of people only; other institutions carry them, including cities and towns. That can be seen in the Scriptures. When hearing about the Messiah being Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael wonders: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Because of their rampant immorality, Sodom and Gomorrah are forever known as dens of iniquity. Paul reminds Titus of the place where he serves as bishop: “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” None of these were examples of good reputations.

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus speaks about the city of Jerusalem. He mentions what it is known for. But when Jesus does so, He doesn’t mention the Temple. He doesn’t talk about the vistas that can be viewed from the city’s hills. Jesus doesn’t speak about Jerusalem’s holiness. Instead, what does He mention? “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem…the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Jesus states that Jerusalem is a place of martyrdom, a place where the LORD’s messengers are not welcomed but rejected.

Jesus’ statement about Jerusalem is not unwarranted. He tells the truth about that city. It has done exactly what Jesus says. Jerusalem’s history is marred with various episodes of spurning those whom the LORD had sent to speak messages to them. You heard one of those episodes in the Old Testament Reading, when the LORD sent Jeremiah to Jerusalem: “Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, ‘This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.’” Though Jeremiah escapes that incident with his life, the thoughts of Jerusalem’s leaders were clear: they desired to stone the one who had been sent to them.

Jerusalem’s rejection of the LORD’s messengers would lead to its destruction. The LORD’s wrath would be poured out on that city numerous times, but two major ones come to mind: the Babylonian Empire’s conquering of the city and looting of the Temple and the Roman Empire’s siege and destruction of most of the city’s buildings. But why was this so? What would cause this to take place? Jesus gives a clue to the answer: “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 were not willing! Behold your house is forsaken.”

When Jesus speaks this lament about Jerusalem, He is pointing out both the LORD’s gracious desires and the people’s devotion to unrighteousness. The LORD had sent prophets to call the people back to Himself and His ways. The LORD had done so repeatedly. But when these messengers spoke the LORD’s word to them, they were not heard. Their statements were rejected, particularly when it revealed the people’s sin. But their devotion would not be returned to the LORD and His Covenant. Instead, they remained like the people Paul described in the Epistle Reading: “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

It is no coincidence that these divine words have been spoken for your hearing during this season of Lent. As Christians, we use the term “penitential season” to speak about Lent’s character. It is a time for stark confrontation with the LORD’s Law, His words that point out faults and flaws. The questions of reputation should arise: What is this place known for? How would Jesus speak about this group of people? What is the reaction when the LORD causes His words—including messages of correction or judgment—to be spoken here?

When Jesus speaks about Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” that should be jarring. When Jesus mentions His willingness “to gather [Jerusalem’s] children together…but [they] were not willing,” that should be shocking. Remember that Jesus wasn’t speaking about pagan Nineveh or Rome, but the people who were supposed to be in a covenant relationship with the LORD. The significance of His statements of judgment can’t be missed.

Jesus’ words heard today also prick the consciences of those who reflect on their own acts and notice how they aren’t different than Jerusalem’s reactions to the LORD’s messages. This is the way that the Holy Spirit convicts hearts of sin for the purpose of leading them to repentance. It is a call for the Church and its members to consider how they have received the LORD’s words. Where the reaction has been rejection or ignoring or disputing the LORD’s words, then Jesus’ statements point out the negative fate that awaits. There can be no other end than what Jesus declares for those who will not be gathered up by Him: “Behold, your house is forsaken.” For safety is found under the LORD’s pinions or to use Jesus’ image, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Outside of that, there is no salvation.

But the jarring words are meant to drive hearers back to the LORD. It is a way of putting a stop to the walking away from the LORD and His Covenant. Instead, there is a bringing of people to what the LORD has done for them through Jesus. In the Gospel Reading, Jesus alludes to that work when He sends the message to Herod: “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘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.”’”

Jesus’ statement tells what He will do. He will go to Jerusalem and die. He will endure the fate that many prophets before Him did. But this is how the LORD actually brings salvation. This is how the LORD provides His righteousness. This is how the LORD bestows life. Those gifts will be given to the people who are drawn back to Him, who will be cut to the heart when the truth about Jesus is preached, who will be convicted of both their guilt and the LORD’s graciousness.

This is what awaits you. That is why the LORD continues to send messengers to your midst, people who speak about Jesus. You are given to hear the call to repentance. And you get to listen of how the LORD was patient and long-suffering with you, so much so that He gave Himself totally to make you part of His kingdom. You have the promises of forgiveness spoken to you, as Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are proclaimed and you believe that this was done for your salvation. Jesus brings His power over evil spirits and His cures to you, so that you are regenerated in heart and mind. This takes you from being a forsaken house to people in and among whom the LORD Himself dwells.

Having this confrontation with the LORD’s Word is part of the purpose of Lent. The stark words of judgment are spoken plainly and bluntly. But this incident in Jesus’ life notes that the time for this action is not forever. Just as Jesus mentioned to Herod, there is a limit to when the LORD’s work is done. It is for today and tomorrow and the third day. The day will come when no one will be speaking the LORD’s Word for people to hear—either at the Last Day or when the LORD leaves a city abandoned and forsaken.

But it is not meant for you to be people who reject the ones whom the LORD sends and the message they speak. It’s not meant for you to be a group of people remembered for their failure to listen and other disobedience. Instead, you are to take the LORD’s Word to heart. Now is the favorable time. Now is the day of salvation. Now is when the LORD’s Word is brought to you. Hear and believe, even when His statements point out your flaws and faults. Hear and believe, when His statements speak about His goodness. They are living and active words through which the Holy Spirit does His work in you. When that happens, you will be gathered up by Jesus and your place in His kingdom will be secured.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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