“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!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ: Jesus is coming! He is coming despite any warning, despite the advice of friends or enemies. The Pharisees in our text, whether wanting to spare His life or simply kick Him out of their neighborhood, tell Jesus to leave town before someone gets hurt: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” This is no empty threat. Herod showed how he treated prophets when he ordered up John the Baptist’s head on a platter. But Jesus will not be dissuaded, He will not be stopped; His path has been chosen for Him, and He walks it without wavering. In fact, far from turning aside and running away, Jesus has a bold message for Herod: “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.”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, city of Israel’s prophets, the throne of Israel’s kings, the home of her priests. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the location of God’s gracious presence in the temple. This was the destination of Jesus, as the true and final prophet. His road wound through the dusty towns of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea, and in His wake demons were driven out and the sick healed. Creation itself was released from the bondage of sin as Jesus the true prophet proclaimed in word and in deed the coming of the kingdom of God. He came to announce liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to the bound. His mission was one of release. “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” He brought release to those in physical bondage, and He brought release to those in spiritual bondage: liberation came to both body and soul. That was His road, and on the third day He would finish His course, but only in Jerusalem, for the prophetic pattern isn’t only the working of miracles, it is the fate of rejection and death. “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 comes to Jerusalem to proclaim liberty, the release of all creation from bondage to sin. But Jerusalem, God’s city, the chief city of His chosen people, rejects Him. They refuse the gift of salvation, and they will put Jesus to death, as they have done to the prophets who preceded Him. God has come to His people to save them, and they reject Him. There is no greater tragedy in all of history, and God Himself in the flesh cries out in anguish over the rejection that is to come. “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!” Jesus desperately desires to gather His people to Himself, to hide them in the loving shelter of His wings, but they do not desire Him, they refuse to repent. Jesus mourns over their rejection, and He mourns over the penalty. “Behold, your house will be forsaken.” Jesus came to bring release from the bondage of sin and death, but those who reject Him will find themselves released from God’s care and protection.
The house will be forsaken; Jerusalem will be burned, the temple will be made obsolete and destroyed. In its place Jesus will establish a New Jerusalem with a new temple. The New Jerusalem is His gathered Church, all who dwell under His wings, all who have been released from the hold of sin and death upon body and soul. The new temple is His own body, for in being rejected even to the point of death, Jesus will offer Himself as the final sacrifice, given once for all on the altar of the cross. He sent this message to Herod: “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” He proclaimed His mission of release by casting out demons and disease, by raising the dead and announcing forgiveness, but on the third day He finished His course, He brought salvation to completion by rising from the grave. He has the power to bring complete and total release to all creation, for only He has offered the required sacrifice through His rejection on the cross, and only He has risen in victory over all that held creation captive.
But after Easter comes Ascension; Jesus is no longer present with us in the same way as when He walked this earth. But He has promised a return. Dear friends in Christ: Jesus is coming! He is coming despite any warning, despite the advice of friends or enemies. His return is inevitable, and once again, He will follow the prophetic pattern. He sends forth His Church, the New Jerusalem, to bring release to a creation in bondage to sin and death. She drives out demons with water, she casts out sin with the powerful words of forgiveness, she defeats death with the proclamation of Good Friday and Easter. Nothing else in this world can give what she can, for only she proclaims the one who has conquered sin and death. For two thousand years she has brought release, liberation, freedom to the farthest reaches of our planet. She is the instrument of Christ, His means for going forth to declare His gospel throughout the world. But as she follows His prophetic pattern in miracles, so she will follow His pattern in rejection.
Jesus desires to gather all people through the Church as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but all people do not desire Him. He has not come for judgment, He has come for salvation, but so many will not have it: “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!” Hear the agony in Christ’s voice! It is tragic when people hear the Gospel and reject it, instead clinging to false gods or no god at all. But the greatest tragedy is when those who once received salvation, who may even still call themselves Christians, have no desire for Jesus or the gifts He offers. They are rebellious Jerusalem, who have had Jesus in their midst and have refused Him. They have no hunger or thirst for the great gifts that He brings. They see His Body and His Blood upon this altar and they refuse to come and receive it. The Church is like an oasis in the desert that people refuse to drink from. Even more to the point, the Church is like an oasis that people once drank from, but now think that they have no need of.
But enough about the people outside of these walls, who aren’t listening to this sermon in the first place; Jesus isn’t speaking only about them, but also about you and me. Christ desires to gather you under His wings, but you refuse. You refuse to be gathered when you hang onto your sin, when you refuse to repent. You refuse to be gathered when you wallow in your favorite pet sins, indulging in them instead of crying out for forgiveness. The penalty for those who refuse to be gathered by Christ, who refuse to be released by His Gospel, is the same as it was for Jerusalem: “Your house is forsaken.” Those who reject the One who has defeated death and won heaven will find themselves released from God’s care—forever. And so where do we turn, what is the answer? It is the clear and consistent call of Lent: Repent! Repent of your sin and receive the promised forgiveness, be gathered by Christ under His loving wings!
For Jesus is gathering a New Jerusalem: not the perfect, not the sinless, but the forgiven. Repentance doesn’t mean that you never sin again; repentance means that you see your sin and cry out to Jesus for forgiveness. Jesus is coming, He is returning, and upon His return He will gather the forgiven into the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and the new earth. That final day is the third day, the fulfillment of Easter. Jesus told Herod: “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” The third day is coming, and on that day, Jesus will return to finish His course. Sin, death, and Satan have been defeated through the cross and empty tomb; upon His return, they will be eliminated and destroyed forever. Satan’s house will be desolate, the grave will be robbed, sin will no longer hold in bondage. Christ will come to bring release, freedom, and liberation to all people, to you and to me!
Jesus is coming; He will not be dissuaded or hindered by anything. He isn’t waiting for some natural disaster, He isn’t waiting for some human prediction, He is waiting for the proper time. All that is holding Him back is His love for humanity and especially for His wandering sheep, His desire to have more gathered under His wings in repentance and forgiveness. He is coming; the third day is approaching, as Jesus promised at the end of our text: “I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.’” You do not fear the coming third day; you are forgiven, Christ has died for you, He has risen for you, He has baptized you, He has absolved you, He has placed His very Body and Blood into your mouth, and so upon His return you can boldly cry out in repentance and faith: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” In the Name of Jesus, who will return on the third day to gather His children, you and me, under His wings for an eternity in the New Jerusalem, Amen.