At the end of last Sunday’s gospel lesson, which recounted Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, we were told, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).”
Today’s gospel lesson, Luke 13:31-35, tells about one of the times the devil deemed “opportune” for tempting Jesus away from His mission of saving us. Here, the devil uses at least one human being, a corrupt and murderous king focused on neither God or faith in God, focused instead on fear and evil, to tempt Jesus.
Jesus has been teaching, casting out demons, and healing the sick in Galilee, when Luke tells us, “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.’” (Luke 13:31)
Students of the New Testament aren’t sure about the motives of this particular group of Pharisees. The Pharisees, as you know, were a sect of Judaism, who believed in a more literal interpretation of the Old Testament, a strict adherence to Old Testament law, and the resurrection of the dead. Although Jesus had run-ins with many of the Pharisees, their views were closer to those Jesus taught than were those of the Sadducees. The Pharisees weren't altogether bad, as they're sometimes stereotyped to be. The apostle Paul, for example, described himself as a Pharisee all his life, though he followed Christ and offended many Pharisees by insisting that human beings cannot make themselves acceptable to God by fulfilling God’s law, but only by entrusting our lives by faith in Jesus (Acts 23:6; Romans 3:21-26). The Pharisees here then, could have wanted to frighten Jesus, maybe even have been working with Herod. Or they may have had genuine concern for Jesus. We don’t know.
But we do know what they tell Jesus: “Herod wants to kill you.”
Now, this is not the same Herod who was king when Jesus was born. That Herod, Herod the Great, was a thug put on the throne by the Romans who already had conquered the Jews and found it convenient to have local puppets, with some power, to make their rule a bit more acceptable to the conquered people. When Herod the Great died, his “kingdom” was split into smaller areas overseen by Herod’s sons, who were also thugs. (It was a family thing. Can you imagine what Thanksgivings were like with that brood?)
The Herod in our gospel lesson today ruled over Galilee, the region in which Jesus grew up. Herod kept a palace in Jerusalem, where one of this brothers was the local puppet king, presumably so that he could suck up to the Roman governor, at this time Pilate, and make sure his brothers didn’t get an advantage over him. This is the Herod who beheaded John the Baptist.
Although he expressed an interest in watching Jesus perform a miracle, he also wouldn’t have hesitated to have Jesus killed if he thought Jesus posed a threat to him.
The Herods were all murderous goons like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Bashar al-Assad, and Mohammed bin Salman today.
What would we do if we lived in Russia, North Korea, Syria, or Saudi Arabia and learned that the thugs ruling those countries wanted to kill us? Speaking for myself, I would be tempted to save my life by running the other way.
But, Jesus didn’t come into this world to save Himself; He came into this world to save you and me from sin, death, darkness, and futility by dying on the cross at a day and time of God’s choosing. The preacher in Hebrews says of Jesus, “For the joy set before him [that is, the joy of having us live in God’s eternal kingdom] he endured the cross, scorning its shame...” (Hebrews 12:2)
The devil was using the Pharisees to tempt Jesus from going to the cross for you and me. “Stay away from Jerusalem,” the devil was telling Jesus through the Pharisees. “Don’t make waves and you won’t get hurt.” But Jesus came to “seek and save” those lost in sin and death (Luke 19:10) and was resolutely headed for Jerusalem and death on a cross for us (Luke 9:51), whether the devil, the Pharisees, or anyone else wanted it to happen or not! Jesus would not be deterred from giving His fulfilling His for you and me! We must not be deterred from following Him!
And so we’re told in verses 32 and 33: “He [Jesus] replied, ‘Go tell that fox, “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”’”
God’s book, the Bible, of course, teaches that God is the one who establishes governments and that Christians are to be respectful of governments and prayerful for leaders. God instituted government because most people will not voluntarily accede to Christ's Lordship over their lives. Without governments, Martin Luther said, Christians would live in this world as lambs among ravenous wolves.
But the Bible also teaches that we are to stand against anyone, including leaders, when they try to thwart the will of God.
- The Hebrew midwives refused to obey the Egyptian Pharaoh’s orders that they kill the Hebrew baby boys the moment they were born By refusing to do so, Moses was allowed to be born and God would later use Moses to lead His people to the promised land. (Exodus 1:15-19)
- Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to obey the Persian king’s orders that they worship idols and worshiped God alone (Daniel 6:10-28; Daniel 3).
Paul writes in Romans, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
Jesus refers to Herod as “that fox.” In Jesus’ time, foxes were seen as dangerous and evil, but not very bright. This is how Jesus sees Herod.
“You tell that fox that I will keep doing my mission no matter if He thinks He can kill me off,” Jesus is saying.
The phrase “today and tomorrow and on a third day” which Jesus uses here was a common Aramaic expression. It meant that Jesus was going to do what He came to the world to accomplish. But it’s also not hard to see in the words “the third day,” Jesus’ promise that when He was raised from the dead on Easter Sunday, it would be confirmation of the victory for us that He won on Good Friday!
Now, Jesus shifts gears. He thinks of Jerusalem. Verse 34: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Jesus’ repetition of, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” was a common way to express sorrow.
When my great-grandmother lay dying, she looked above her and called the name of a then-deceased brother who had loved Jesus. She then turned her head downward and said the name of a relative who had refused to follow Jesus. “John, John,” she said with sorrow in her voice as she shook her head.
In our lesson, Jesus is lamenting the fact that because of Jerusalem’s hardness of heart, it had repeatedly refused the protection of God from sin, death, and the devil. Jesus would have gladly protected Jerusalem from the foxes--the devil and his earthly co-conspirators, the Herods--and acted as a mother hen protecting her brood. But Jerusalem and God's people generally, had repeatedly chosen to go their own way (Isaiah 53:6; Acts 1:25).
Listen: Jesus wants to shelter you, your family, our congregation, our nation, and our world from the evil one.
I am convinced that if more Christians would run to take shelter in Jesus, if we would intentionally pray that our families, churches, and nations would come under Jesus’ lordship, and if we were bold and unapologetic in our witness for Christ, we would experience what the Bible calls “the peace of God, which transcends all understandings…” (Philippians 4:7).
That doesn’t mean that all our troubles will disappear. That will have to wait until we, like our Savior Jesus, have been raised from death to live in eternity with Him. But, in the power of Jesus, we can handle all that this world, its Herods, and the devil himself might throw at us. Under Jesus’ protective wings, we are “more than conquerors” and we belong to Him now and forever!
Verse 35: “[Jesus says] ‘Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Here Jesus looks ahead to future events which, as God in the flesh, He sees with clarity.
- First, He points to 70 AD, some four decades later, when His people will be decisively put down, the Temple destroyed, many people massacred. This would happen because Jesus’ fellow Jews refused to take shelter under His arms and instead took hope in armed rebellion against the Romans, in their own thinking. When we put our hope in anyone or anything other than the God revealed in Jesus Christ, we sow our own eternal destruction.
- Second, Jesus points to Palm Sunday when He will be welcomed into Jerusalem with the words of Psalm 118:26. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that, unless they want to hang out with Him, He’s going to keep at His mission on earth and they won’t see Him until Palm Sunday when He comes to complete it.
- to not speak the name of Jesus to others who don’t know Him and need Him as much as we do,
- to not give of ourselves without thought of reward or recognition,
- to not love God to love neighbor as we love ourselves,
- to not love fellow believers sacrificially,
- to give into the fear incited in us by the devil and this world’s foxes.
He was not bowed by Herod or the devil or death.
And He’s still in business, still alive, still loving us.
So, we need not fear:
- to speak His name to those who need Him
- to give of ourselves without thought of reward
- to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves
- to love fellow believers sacrificially
- to take courage in Christ's name by the power of the Holy Spirit in all circumstances.
You can trust in that!
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]