The City of Peace that Kills God’s Prophets

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At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus], “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he 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.’ 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! 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 13:31-35).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

When your enemies act like your friends, watch out! You know things are getting dangerous when that happens. The Pharisees are Jesus’ enemies. And now, suddenly, they act like His best friends. Taking an interest in His safety and well-being. “Get away from here. Herod wants to kill you.”

These Pharisees sound so helpful. Are they different from the Pharisees who have been opposing Jesus every step of the way? Are they the Pharisees with the white hats? The good guys?

No, they’re the same Pharisees whom Jesus spoke His woes against in Luke 11. The ones who didn’t take too kindly to Jesus’ criticism, who “began to press Him hard and to provoke Him to speak about many things, lying in wait for Him, to catch Him in something He might say” (vv 53-54). It seems they might have invented (or at least, perfected) what we call “gotcha politics” today. Try to catch your opponent with a slip of the tongue and then hammer him with it repeatedly until he loses credibility and support.

These are the same Pharisees about whom Jesus warned the people: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:2). Not averse to hiding their diabolical intentions behind masks of piety, it’s more likely the Pharisees were trying to deceive Jesus into abandoning His journey to Jerusalem, not so He would be safe, but for their own sake. If Jesus turns and runs, He’ll surely lose credibility with His following.

The Pharisees realize that any man who wants to be a leader of the Jews must establish Himself in Jerusalem. Any ploy that could keep Him away from there would surely foil His plans. No, these Pharisees are not being helpful. They’ve already rejected Jesus and His purpose. In fact, they’ve allied themselves with Herod and his people. St. Mark tells us in his Gospel, that early in Jesus’ ministry “the Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against [Jesus], how to destroy Him” (3:6).    

Yes, this is a ruse. But that is not to say that Jesus does not face some very real threats—only they come from the Pharisees themselves, not Herod. After Jesus restored the withered hand of a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees “were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

Jesus knows very well His fate. In fact, He has been stating it clearly to His disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). Jesus knows full well what’s in store for Him. Where He is going. What He is about to do. Nevertheless, Jesus will go to Jerusalem

So He says to the Pharisees: “Go and tell that old fox, ‘Look, I cast out demons and perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal’” (Luke 13:32). Third day. A hint of His resurrection.

Jesus knows His mission. His goal. He will die and rise in Jerusalem. No one could sidetrack Him. Not the devil in the wilderness. Not the devil that comes as His friend in the form of the Pharisees. Not His own well-intended, but devil-inspired disciples. Jesus follows the Father’s agenda. As much as Herod and the Pharisees want Jesus dead, it will be on the Father’s terms. Not theirs.

After all, Jesus says, “No prophet can die outside Jerusalem.” Jerusalem—the City of Peace. What a reputation she had. Hers was a reputation of killing God’s prophets. Stoning to death those sent to preach to her.

Jeremiah experienced this rejection firsthand. The congregation who heard him preach said: “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city” (Jeremiah 26:11). The people in Jeremiah’s day thought they were doing God a favor by killing their preacher.

It was the same with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were very religious. At synagogue every Sabbath. Fasted twice a week. Gave a tithe of everything they had. Spoke out against the evils of society. Patriotic. Moral. Conservative. Outstanding citizens. Would probably fit right in at a Trump rally or pro-life march or VFW convention.

And yet Jesus says that all that isn’t good enough. For they would not repent. That, the Pharisees could do without. They were doing fine on their own. They had their self-righteousness. They had the Law. They had their traditions. And they had the courage of their convictions, and the willingness to follow through on them, even if they had to step on a few toes or crack a few skulls to do so. “Repentance? We don’t need no stinking repentance!”

What about you? During this Lent can you do without repentance? Are you a Pharisee? Are you getting along just fine on your own? Are you afraid of Jesus? Scared that He’ll take away all your good works and call them worthless? Are you afraid that Jesus’ death and resurrection isn’t good enough? That you must add something of your own? A little self-justification, perhaps?

Jerusalem’s unrepentance drove Jesus to tears. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those sent to you.” Unbelief breaks Jesus’ heart. He takes it personally. When the prophets and preachers were killed Jesus felt it because He was with them. He was with Isaiah who was sawn in two. With Ezekiel, Amos, Jeremiah, and Zechariah. When Israel rejected preacher-prophet Samuel, God told him: “They haven’t rejected you. They’ve rejected Me.” Jesus says the same about the preachers He sends: “He who rejects you, rejects Me.”

You can hear the deep sorrow in Jesus’ words. The holy city of Jerusalem and yet so unholy. The City of Peace that kills God’s prophets. Isn’t it amazing how the godly and ungodly can be so close together? And that’s true of the church today. The greatest faith and the worst of unbelief lie close beside one another. Within the same church. Within the same pew. Often within the same heart.

The devil doesn’t care about what goes on in the world. He is the prince of this world. But he does care about what goes on in the church. He’d rather you not be here. But once you are here, he’ll do his best to distract you. Get you to dwell on some pesky problem in your life rather than confess your sins and be forgiven. He wants you to pay attention to the preacher’s many shortcomings rather than the sermon that proclaims Christ’s death and resurrection for you.

The devil is thrilled when churches fire their pastors for restoring individual confession and absolution. For calling sin “sin” even when it offends and decreases membership. For urging people to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood. For daring to teach the historic practice of closed communion. For calling people to repentance, that is to say: “confess and believe.”

The devil delights in all this. But Jesus weeps. He wept over Jerusalem. He laments unbelief. “How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” A tender but yet tragic picture. A mother hen clucking after her little ones. Trying to gather them under her protective wings. To keep them out of harm’s way. Willing to sacrifice herself to save them. And yet they stubbornly refuse.

They say, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” If that’s true, then what fury—and hell—awaits those who scorn a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks under her wing? What fury is in store for those who spurn their Creator, the one who’s given them everything—including life itself? What hell lies ahead for those who would even dare destroy the One sent to save them from such fury?

A gracious God has chosen Jerusalem to be His holy city, to receive a small measure of His attention and blessings. But time and time and time again, she had rejected the men the Lord sent to deliver His message. And now, in today’s text, the people of Jerusalem are on the brink of rejecting even their Creator and Savior as He comes to them in person, to reject the Prophet who is God Himself. What fury! Yes, hell is waiting.

But that’s not the point of our text. Instead, and amazingly, Jesus still longs to gather them, just as He still longs to gather all who time and again reject Him—all of us. When Jerusalem has earned only wrath, the rejected Prophet will still go to the City of Peace that kills God’s prophets.

If anything should cause Jesus to reject Jerusalem, it should be their obstinate and repeated rejections of Him. The Lord has tried and tried and tried again to love these rebels. How many times can one—even God—be hurt and not give up on loving?

We understand. We’ve reached out. Put our feelings on our sleeves. Loved or offered our love and been rejected. We’ve tried to share God’s Word with our loved ones and been shot down. After a while, we pull pack, if for no other reason than self-preservation. More likely out of disappointed frustration, perhaps even personal anger. So we understand.

But do we? Do we understand—really?—how often we’ve rejected Christ’s love extended to us? He’s made us His chosen people, given us eternal life, and we say, “Ho, hum. What have you done for me that I can use today? How about something that will help be a better spouse, raise perfect children, or live a victorious life, here and now?”

He comes to us today in His Word, at His Table, as He does daily in our Baptism, and we want something more exciting? Something more relevant? Do we understand how deserving we are of the fury of a lover scorned?

For their rejection of the Messiah, Jerusalem will itself be rejected. The beloved city, the City of Peace that kills God’s prophets, will be destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Lord will take His honor and glory now to wherever Christ’s people are gathered around Him in Word and Sacrament.

But Jesus’ heart for His people will still send Him to Jerusalem—for her and for us. Nothing anyone could do, not even Jerusalem’s own rejection of her Savior, will prevent Him from coming to her one more time, the one more time that also brings Him to us. On Palm Sunday, Jesus would come to Jerusalem and be acclaimed by these very words: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35). Then He would be rejected and crucified.

But this is precisely why He would come. This had been Jerusalem’s purpose throughout her favored history: the city that kills God’s Prophet would be the City of Peace—the place where God and man would be reconciled.

That’s Jesus’ Lenten love for Jerusalem. That’s Jesus’ Lenten love for His Church. That’s Jesus’ love for you. To extend His crucified arms over us. To shelter us under the protection of His grace. To hide us in His mercy. He goes to Jerusalem to die for all. Even for those who hate Him and want Him dead. For those who have rejected His Word and insisted upon living their own way. Jesus dies for you in Jerusalem. Your sins are forgiven. All of them.

And so we sing: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus comes to us in His holy Supper. Behold, He extends His hands and arms over us. He hides us in His wounds. Covers us with His death and resurrection. Gathering us as His little birds under His outstretched wings. Here you are safe. And you have life. The Lord’s life. Here, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 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.

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