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March 17, 2019
By Rev. David French

Last week’s Gospel reading talked about how Jesus knew, from the beginning of His ministry, that His path led to Jerusalem.  It also revealed satan’s effort to tempt Jesus away from that path.  In today’s Gospel, some Pharisees come to Jesus and warn Him that Herod wants to kill Him.  Is it possible that satan used these Pharisees to tempt Jesus away from His path to the cross in Jerusalem?

Obviously, we can’t know what was in the hearts of these Pharisees.  They seem to have good intentions toward Jesus.  Is it possible that these Pharisees have a genuine desire to help Jesus, or is it just as possible that these Pharisees simply want Jesus to avoid their territory and they are using the Herod story as a convenient excuse to any trouble with Jesus coming to Jerusalem?  Both are possible.  We just don’t know.

What we do know is that whether the Pharisees had good or bad intentions, they were urging Jesus to abandon His mission.  Whether their intentions were good or ill, they were agents of temptation - temptation to abandon the way that led to the cross and to our salvation.

Jesus responds to these Pharisees in a way that made it clear that He was on a schedule; that He had an appointment with the cross and He would not miss that appointment.  Jesus would take time out from His travels to preach and teach, but at the end of each day, He would be a little bit closer to Jerusalem - a little bit closer to (offering Himself as payment for our sin) the cross.

We see that Jesus knew that Herod wouldn’t kill Him.  He knew that because of His office as prophet.  Not that as a prophet He knew the method and time of his death, but as He says, “no prophet can die outside Jerusalem.”  How strange that a city whose very name, Jerusalem, means “city of peace” would be known as the place where prophets die. 

Jesus expressed His great sorrow over the rebellious nature of His people saying, “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!”  Over and over and over again, God the Father had sent His messengers to Jerusalem only to have them die at the hands of the very people they were trying to save. 

Today’s Old Testament reading gives a good example of this violence toward the prophets in the ministry of Jeremiah.  He brought a word of law that they might repent, and they refused to believe that Jeremiah’s message was from God simply because it was something that they did not want to hear … again.

Do you really think people have changed over the centuries?  If I were to ask any one of you about the value of the forgiveness of sins, you would without hesitation tell me that it is priceless.  It’s worth infinitely more than any amount of wealth this world could ever produce.  It’s worth the life and death of God’s only begotten Son.  And that’s good, we know the right words, but do we really believe them?

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write these words to the congregations in Rome: “[All] are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-24).  Then a little later, Paul writes: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  So, God reveals through St. Paul that we are made one with Him by faith, and that faith comes by hearing the word of God.

If we all really believed that, I would expect our worship, Bible studies, and Sunday school attendance to be standing room only.  I’d expect people to be saying things like, “Pastor, we need more of the Word of God than just the little bit available on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, or Monday and Thursday evenings, which we currently have.  I would expect people to wear me out asking for more time to gather together around the word of God.

But that hasn’t happened.  Think about it.  We all agree that forgiveness is priceless, that we receive forgiveness by faith, and that the Holy Spirit has promised to work faith in our hearts as we hear the word of God. Yet, there is room for more members in every class we offer.  I’m not saying you aren’t in God’s word at home on your own.  I know many of you are.  But still, you’d have to agree, there’s room for improvement.

Sadly, it’s in our nature to reject God.  It’s a result of Adam and Eve’s original sin, the sin that as the catechism teaches: “has left everyone without true fear and love of God, that is spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God.”  That’s the truth. We are all born into this world as enemies of God, hating His gifts.  That’s why the people of ancient Jerusalem killed the prophets and stoned those whom God sent to them.  That’s also the reason many members find it hard to get up to come church on any given Sunday morning.  That’s the reason we sometimes skip church and do some work around the house.  It’s the reason we all treat the priceless treasures of God like worthless pieces of junk.

Fortunately, God loved us even while we hated Him.  Remember, God so loved the world He sent His Son to save us.  Today’s lesson happened while Jesus was on His way to bring to completion God’s plan for our salvation.  He was reinforcing the blessing of the cross one last time as He made His way to Jerusalem where He would freely offer Himself as the payment for sin. 

That journey, however, does not end at the gates of Jerusalem.  Jesus would soon be arrested and put on trial.  He’ll carry our sins to the cross of Calvary, and with His blood He will bring to completion God’s plan of salvation for all mankind.

Jerusalem is also the location of the empty tomb.  It’s the place where Jesus’s friends laid His body after His death.  It’s the place where the angels proclaimed, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)  Jerusalem is the place of Christ’s resurrection from the dead where He proves His gift of forgiveness and promise of eternal life are real and true.

To be sure, there are times that many of us have felt like joining Jesus in lamenting His children’s refusal to be gathered.  I mean, it’s easy to be discouraged by attendance at Divine Service, or Bible class or Sunday school, at what seems like a general apathy towards God’s Word.  And, it’s tempting to ask, “Don’t you understand the priceless nature of God's gifts?  Don’t you understand that God wants us to gather together for your protection?”

My friends, when we have these feelings, we need to stop and remember that we don’t make Christians.  That is the work of God the Holy Spirit alone.  What God does ask of His church is that we remain faithful to His Word, that we proclaim the forgiveness of sins and administer the sacraments according to His command, and that we go into the world teaching all the things that Jesus has taught us.  Why?  Because it’s through these Means of Grace that we both learn of and receive or nurture God’s gift of faith in the forgiveness of sins that was earned by Christ and is freely offered to you because of the love our God has for all.

In His Name, Amen.