The Pharisees make it sound like they want to help Jesus out. “Get away from here while you still can. Herod wants to kill you.” Of course, the Pharisees had been scheming for a year to do the same thing to Jesus. They just could not agree on when and how to get it done.
Did Herod Antipas really want to kill Jesus? We do not know for sure, but it would be consistent with the usual ways that family handled things - from his dad who slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem when Jesus was born, to Herod Antipas and his adulterous wife Herodias and that nasty beheading of John the Baptist, to his nephew Herod Agrippa who had the Apostle James executed and Peter imprisoned about a decade after Jesus ascended. But the Pharisees could have just been lying to scare Jesus into leaving town and getting out of their hair.
However, Jesus did not come to save His own skin. He came to save yours – and He is determined to do it. He will not be scared away. He says, “Go and tell that old fox that I still have work to do… and on the third day I will finish My course.” On the third day – so much important stuff in the Bible happens on the third day. Jesus knew what was in store for Him at Jerusalem the next time Passover comes up. He had already predicted it, that He would suffer, die, and on the third day rise to life again. Death threats from two-bit kings did not worry Jesus.
He is the Lord, so He lays down His life on His own terms. When the crowd in Nazareth wanted to throw Him off the cliff, Jesus slipped through their hands without a scratch. He goes to Jerusalem, the Lord’s holy city, and He knows His own people will put Him to death there. They would not have any power over Him if it had not been given to them. And you know that is the whole reason the Son of God was born to us on earth – so that He could die on earth for us to defeat our death. He will be slain at the hands of sinners for the forgiveness of sin. He will be laid in the grave to burst its stone cold grip. When the going gets tough, or when we know that people will be ungrateful for our help we give to them, we often times have wanted to give up, pack up and go home. But Jesus is determined to finish what He came to do. No matter how dangerous it will get.
Jesus explains that He is our refuge, our protective hiding place. And not only the Protector for some good people – He is here to be the Protector for all people, even Herod, the Pharisees, Pontius Pilate, and all who had a hand in putting Jesus to death. You can hear the sorrow and grief in God’s voice as He cries, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
The picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd is better known, but God’s love is every bit as tender in this picture of a mother hen with her helpless and vulnerable chicks under her wings – while birds of prey soar overhead, hungry beasts prowl around in search of an easy meal, and all sorts of other dangers lurk around every corner. The only line of defense between the threats and the chicks is mother hen’s wings. She is willing to give herself for the life of her chicks.
Likewise Jesus covers you to protect you from Satan. In Psalms 17, 36, and 57, the Holy Spirit gives us these words to pray – “Hide me in the shadow of Your wings, O Lord.” And just like the hen shields her offspring by offering her own back as a target for the predator, so also Jesus “gave His back to those who strike” (Isaiah 50:6) so that you and I would be protected from Death and the Devil devouring our faith. That is why the prophets like Jeremiah warned the people. That is why the Apostles took this message of Jesus far and wide – even under death threats from their enemies. And it is why Jesus Himself spreads His arms wide on the Cross – so that we find refuge and protection under His wings.
But then we hear Christ’s heartbreaking words – “And you were not willing.” And you have that heartbreak too as you think about the people you love who want absolutely nothing to do with Christ and walk away from Him or speak angrily against Him. Jesus wants only to shelter and love us, to forgive and save us from Hell. But many want nothing to do with that. They leave the protection of Christ to indulge in the pleasures of sin without regard to the dangers to themselves, or consequences for those around them. They expose themselves to the ravenous appetite of Satan and face death all on their own.
You can also see this play out in the history of Jerusalem. The city that rejected Jesus will watch helplessly years later as their city was forsaken. In 70 AD, the Romans tear Jerusalem’s Temple down. The mound where that Temple sat is now the location of a mosque. The land around the city is used for deadly target practice by the enemies of the Jewish people. And again we hear the sorrow of Jesus, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”
That sorrow for those who reject Him in a major way is also warning for us. Do not presume on the mercies of God. Do not sin on purpose today and then say to yourself that you will just repent next Sunday. You do not even have a hold on tomorrow. Now is all you have. Now is the time. Now is the day of your salvation. Now is the moment of repentance. Those tears that Jesus shed over Jerusalem He also sheds over the people of His church too, whenever you or I neglect His preaching, whenever we reject God’s eternal Word in favor of our own temporary opinions.
The Spirit of Christ seeks to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and keep us in true faith. If you or I are left out of the party, we have no one to blame except ourselves. Do not blame God. “And you were not willing.”
Left on our own, we are not willing. Our wills must be broken or we will never want to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus on the way of death to Resurrection. Lent calls us to return to the Lord our God so that we can discover again that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger against our sin and abounding in forgiveness and love. Return to the Lord and see the Son of God rise upon you with healing in His wings and salvation from your sin. Return to the Lord so that God’s will may be done in our lives as we believe His Word by His grace, and live godly lives according to it.
God wills to gather you into safety. God wills to deliver and protect you from all evil. God wills to keep us firm in this true faith until we die. God wills to keep your end from being destruction, and so He warns you against finding glory in shameful sin. And God wills for you and me to wait for the second coming of our “Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21) – even to subject to Himself His own rejection and death at the hands of men, which the Lord has turned into the power of your Resurrection. Amen.