“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!” (Luke 13:34).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I bet you can relate. You’ve heard it yourself. That drawn-out repeating of your name. Maybe accompanied with the sad shaking of a head. Preceded by a little sigh. “Robert, Robert” You understand instantly that you’ve probably disappointed someone.
Or maybe you’ve heard this variation. A little more drawn out, higher pitched, increasing in volume. “Robert! Robert!” Your mind is wandering, or you are otherwise distracted and someone needs to catch your attention.
We don’t see this happen very often in Scriptures, but when we do, it catches our attention, as it highlights a sense of urgency, true concern, or deep-felt emotion. Especially when it is used by God Himself.
For example, when Moses looked to see the burning bush, God called to him, “Moses! Moses!” (Exodus 3:4). Here the doubling of Moses’ name was meant to warn and to reveal. “Do not come near,” God said. “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).
In 1 Samuel, we read how the boy was lying down in the temple when the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” to gain attention that He was calling him as a prophet (1 Samuel 3:10).
When she was too preoccupied with serving and had no time for hearing the Word in Bible class, Jesus admonished, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:41).
And then there was the time a son of David hung on a tree, his body pierced three times, with wounds that cut him to the heart. Below him stood soldiers who surrounded him and struck him. And when the word of his death reached his father, King David cried out, “O my son Absalom, my son, My son Absalom!” (2 Samuel 18:33).
Do you hear the hurt and pain and sorrow? This is the same sort of lament Jesus makes as He sees before Him the city of God, the abandoned temple, the prophet-killing place: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:34).
Do you hear the heart of God in these words? The lament expresses His inmost desire. God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. It hurts Him more than we can ever imagine when His children reject Him and spurn His offer of grace and love.
Jerusalem—the city that kills prophets and stones apostles—how’s that for a nice slogan, a catchphrase for a publicity campaign? That would get people coming in by the droves, wouldn’t it? Especially prophets and apostles. But here we have a prophet, an apostle, purposely headed for that very city. One might think that He can’t be much of a prophet if He doesn’t realize the danger that He’s in. Even His enemies warn Him to stay away because “Herod wants to kill you.”
But this was the Prophet, the Apostle, the One sent by God to deliver His people from sin. Not only did He know of Herod’s plans, He knew the murderous hearts of the Pharisees. Jesus headed for the city, knowing full well that suffering, pain, and death lay ahead. Yet He went resolutely and willingly to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem itself had a sort of double identity. It hadn’t always been known as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:34). Ironically, it had first been called “Salem,” the city of peace. Throughout Israel’s history, it was identified as the city of God. The Lord Himself referred to it as “my city.” And because it was the place where God had put His name, it was often called “the Holy City.”
With all the honor and favor that God had shown Jerusalem over the years, it should’ve been a leader in welcoming prophets and showing them honor. Instead, “the holy city” became known as the city that kills prophets and stones apostles. Their reputation for rejecting God’s messengers was so bad, even Jesus said in our text, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). And so, the Lord Jesus announced, that after centuries of rejecting the Word of God and silencing His prophets, the day of grace had finally passed for Jerusalem. He would no longer visit in mercy, peace, and grace, but His advent would be one of judgment, dread, and desolation.
There comes a moment for the city that kills prophets and stones apostles… there comes a time for a congregation that casts out faithful pastors and drives away orthodox teachers… there comes an instant for an individual who lives in unrepentant sin, who continuously rejects the Word, or who absents himself from the Sacraments… there comes an hour when the time of repentance is past. That which the city, a congregation, or an individual seeks is suddenly realized.
That’s what had happened at the synagogue in Nazareth when those in attendance rose up and forced Jesus out of their midst. They sought to rid themselves of Him, and the result was that they no longer had Jesus among them.
Similarly, the people of the “holy city that kills prophets” will lead the Prophet Jesus outside the gates to a cursed place to be crucified. The City of God will remove the Son of God from their midst, and their ears, stopped by sin will not even hear Jesus’ lament on their behalf: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”
The congregation that silences the Word by rejecting faithful pastors, or that abandons the Word by listening to false shepherds will eventually get what they seek. Though they will still gather together, though they’re religious and zealous, they’ll no longer have a faithful pastor to feed and nurture them on Word and Sacrament, but rather a false pastor who is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.
But the really frightening thing is this—those who depart generally don’t even know that this is taking place, and they’re not even able to hear the lament: “O Congregation, Congregation! … O Pastor, Pastor!”
If that’s possible to happen to the congregation or her pastor, it certainly also can happen to a member of the congregation—the individual who, either through being careless, taking offense, expressing sinful pride, or just plain ignoring God’s Word, neglects to come to the holy place where the Lord meets His people. Such an individual will discover, if not in this life, at the Last Day, that he has not heard the Lord’s Word of forgiveness and has no place at His banquet.
Now dear friends, be assured that this is not the way Jesus desires the city, the congregation, or the individual to be. But if any one of them is impenitent, then he, she, or it will suffer the divine consequences. They will hear those words of judgment: “You would not! Behold, your house is forsaken” (Luke 13:35).
This word “forsaken” in our text is another example of a type of doubling, because the same Greek word for “desolate or forsaken” is also the word for “forgiven or released.” Both have to do with leaving or separating. With the Holy Trinity there will always be a releasing or departure of one sort or the other. There will either be the releasing forgiveness of sins, or there’ll be forsakenness, the departure of God’s merciful and gracious Presence.
Let this be a serious reflection for every Christian. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. Indeed, since the Father and the Son are also One, you have the Holy Trinity living within you. The only way this can be is if you have been released from your sin, and your transgressions have been removed from you “as far as the east is from the west.”
This happened when you were baptized in His name for the “releasing,” that is, for the forgiveness of your sins. You remain the temple of God as you live in your baptismal grace by confessing your sins and hearing the Absolution—the Word of forgiveness—that is announced and applied to you. Christ is graciously within you as you commune at His table and feed on His body and blood.
No, the holy Lord and your sin cannot live together. Jesus bore it once when He died upon the cross. He does not bear being with it again. Though He is patient and longsuffering, there comes a time when Jesus says, “Either your sin is removed from you or I am. If you will not let Me release you from your sin, then I will not live with you. But even now, I seek to have you with Me, even as my Bride, the Church, seeks to keep you gathered under her wings.”
Dear friends, there is no salvation apart from Christ and no eternal life outside the Church, the Body of Christ. How sad and tragic it will be for those who’ve departed from God’s presence as they seek to do their own thing. How tragic it will be for those who justify themselves because of their good works done without God. How sad it will be for those who take God’s grace for granted or who look at His atoning death as a sort of spiritual “get out of jail free card” that entitles them to go on living in unrepentant sin.
How sad it will be, for then will come to pass what Jesus foretold, “On that day, many will say to [Him], ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:22-23).
This same truth concerning the individual also applies to the congregation. In Revelation, Jesus warned the church in Ephesus, as it teetered on the edge of unbelief, that they had forsaken the sacrificial love of the Lord. The consequences of their corporate failure to repent would be that Christ would no longer remain with them. Jesus said it like this: “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).
A congregation that permits false doctrine to be taught, and as a result, false practices to take place and even be promoted, will no longer be the holy place where people may enter into God’s gracious presence. Indeed, the Lord will depart from such a place as He did centuries ago.
For Jerusalem it was too late. The day of grace had passed. And from outside the city, Jesus’ lamentation was heard: “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. 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).
Yes, Jesus will return to Jerusalem. It will be on Palm Sunday as foretold by Zechariah. He’ll come as a king, “righteous and having salvation,” “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:8).
Yes, Jesus will return also to the Temple in Jerusalem, when He leads the children in and they sing their hosannas to the Lord. But before He leaves the temple area, He’ll overturn the tables of the moneychangers and drive out those making His holy house of prayer into “a den of robbers.” He’ll heal the blind and the lame and teach all who will listen about the kingdom of God.
And a few days later, Christ will once more wind through the streets of the city that kills the prophets. As Simon of Cyrene helps to carry His cross, the Lord will turn to those women who mourn and wail for Him, and say, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”
You see, even in the midst of rejection and rebellion by His chosen people, Christ is still in control. No one takes His life. He lays it down of His own accord. Incredibly, He’ll use even Jerusalem’s penchant for killing the prophets to accomplish His good purposes, to bring His salvation, and to gather His chosen people under His protection and loving care.
The Son of David will hang on a tree, His body pierced three times, with wounds that cut Him to the heart. Below Him will stand soldiers who will surround Him and pierce Him. But His Father won’t lament His death as David did for his disobedient, rebellious son, Absalom. Rather, the heavenly Father will turn His back on His obedient Son, as He bears the sins of the entire world.
The haunting, repeating words will come from Jesus’ mouth instead: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). On that cross, Christ will suffer an eternity of God’s wrath, so that you and I might never be abandoned by God. So that you and I might be released from our sins. So that you and I might have eternal life.
By God’s grace, may we all be willing to repent of our sinful ways and be gathered together into Christ’s body, the church, like chicks gathered under a hen’s wings. Released from the bondage of our sin through Baptism and faith, may we never again depart from our Savior’s love. May we all rest in Christ’s forgiveness until the Last Day when we will say again, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” May God grant this to us all. Amen.
Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.