by Pastor Cherie Johnson
Last week we had the obvious tests of Satan with Jesus alone in the desert. It was a time of wrestling and deciding. While a person can get worn down over time, it can be easier to withstand this frontal, obvious attack. The final verse in that passage says, that Satan “left him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Today’s reading maybe one of those times.
Luke 13:31-35 (NIV)
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32 He 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.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
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. 35 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.’”
Quite some time had passed from this testing in the desert, and Jesus has withstood and had an answer to every attack since. Most of these have been by those either thinking he was leading the people down a dangerous path. (Many were following primarily because of his feelings and that he provided food. They were listening to what he said teaching what he said often contradicted what the authorities talk.) It was a threat to their power, but they also thought he was wrong. Today’s attack is more subtle.
As I said, Jesus has been on his ministry journey for quite a while, and he had a crowd following him. He was being noticed by more than the local lawyers, scribes, and Pharisees. The government was starting to take notice. Enter Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee. He should not be confused with Herod the Great, his father. It can be confusing keeping them straight especially when you consider that Herod the Great named four of his sons some form of “Herod.”
Sometimes, he reminds me of the boxer George Foreman, naming his five sons George, George the second to George the fifth. You may move more familiar with him from the George Foreman Grill.
Herod the Great was the ruler of all of Palestine when Jesus was born. He was paranoid and ruthless. If there was a hint that someone may be a threat to his power, even his family, he did not hesitate to have them killed. When he died, his area of responsibility was divided between several of his children. Herod Antipas was responsible for Galilee.
By now, the Romans had taken direct control over the Jerusalem area. That is why when Jesus is finally arrested he is transferred between Pilate and Herod. Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem, but he was a citizen of Galilee, and therefore under the authority of Herod Antipas.
Why would Herod be interested in killing Jesus? Speaking the truth to power is always a dangerous thing. John the Baptist was arrested for confronting Herod Antipas and his lifestyle. By this time, he already killed John the Baptist. Jesus was becoming a political threat. There were crowds following Jesus. The whisperings had started about whether he was the Messiah. If the disciples thought the Jesus, as Messiah, was going to drive out the Romans, what would the authorities think? Herod was not a Roman, but he was a collaborator. He owed his position to the Romans. If a Jewish king came to power through revolt, Herod’s power is gone.
Directly after John the Baptist is killed in the narrative is the Feeding of the 5,000. Normally, we focus on the amazing feat, the amazing miracle, of Jesus stretching five loaves of bread and two fish to feed 5,000 people. It is astounding. Jesus’s compassion is on display, but, what would that look like to Herod? A group of 5,000 people following around this man who is teaching and giving speeches. It may look like organization for a revolt. It is Herod’s job as Rome’s representative to quash that. He knows that if he doesn’t do it, the Romans will do it for him, and he will be out of a job.
Never forget that when you are reading the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. There is the constant oppression of Roman occupation. It is an undercurrent affecting everything.
I saw the new movie Risen this past weekend. It starts on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, and continues through the days immediately after when the Roman authorities investigate the disappearance of Jesus’ body. One of the reasons I like it is because it shows what it was like to live under Roman oppression.
Sure, the Jewish leaders want to preserve their power, but their primary goal is for the Jewish nation to survive. The Jewish people have a special privilege compare with other areas in the Empire. The Romans would allow locals to keep their religion and gods, as long as they also worshiped the Roman ones, including the Emperor.
When they saw that the Jewish people were willing to die rather than worship the Roman gods, the Jewish people were given a special dispensation. However it was an uneasy truce, and there was a constant concern of when Rome would say, “Enough!” They finally did in 70 CE when they destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, with only the Wailing Wall remaining, which is still in Jerusalem today.
The Pharisees we’re trying to get Jewish people to follow the laws that they could, so that God would return to them. They were concerned that Jesus was leading the people in the wrong direction.
But that begs the question of why would the Pharisees warned Jesus about Herod? We’re not used to seeing the Pharisees as Jesus friends in the Gospels. There are a couple of perspectives on this. They may not have wanted him in this particular location corrupting the locals, or they were concerned about the danger that he represented as an enemy of Herod. So, they may have wanted to “encourage” Jesus to move on sooner rather than later.
It could be an example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” They didn’t like him. He was a threat, but they still help each other against the power of Rome. Also, not all Pharisees were enemies. There was Nicodemus, and other examples of more moderate Pharisees wanting to wait and see how it all played out.
Here is the test. Jesus is given a warning about danger, but he doesn’t take advantage of it. Even if the Pharisees were being genuine, and let’s presume that they were, the people who love us and care for us might encourage us to leave the path because they are concerned it might be dangerous even though it may serve God’s higher purpose.
Later, when Christians were no longer considered a Jewish sect, and they lost their special dispensation that gave them permission not to worship the Roman gods and Caesar, they came under more severe persecution and were martyred killed for the faith. Don’t you think that family and friends encouraged them to recant, to keep them from being killed? Later, even now if something is causing your family or loved one to be ostracized or ridiculed is it not our natural inclination to encourage them to avoid it. It would be reasonable, after all, “He who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day” (Menander c. 341 – 290 BC). And, “Discretion is the better part of valor” (Shakespeare, King Henry IV). But Jesus reject all that. He is resolved to stay the course, even sending the taunt back to Herod, “Go tell that fox…”
He knows that death is coming, but not today. In the meantime, he will keep doing what he’s been doing, showing people the kingdom, teaching people the ways of the kingdom, but his work will not be complete until “the third day.” The goal is not to die, but it is a necessary precursor to the resurrection in the new life, the new creation.
Jesus knows he will be rejected. It is inevitable. They rejected the prophets. In Luke 20:9-15, Jesus tells the parable of the tenants in the vineyard.
A man planted vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He send another servant, but that one they also be in treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my son whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.”
But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. “This is the heir” they said. “Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
They will reject Jesus, but that does not change his affection for them, or his desire to save them, preserve them, regardless of the cost.
And Jesus gives us this illustration of a hen and her chicks. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you 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 bad you are not willing.”
Interesting combination of fox and hens. Hens usually don’t farewell against foxes, but a hen may go to extraordinary links to protect her chicks. Jesus is not giving us more of an “awe” moment. Isn’t that sweet. It comes from when the destruction of fire is threatening. The hen will gather the chicks under her wing to protect them from fire. There are accounts from fire cleanup in farmyards finding dead hens, burned and scorched with living chicks beneath the wings. This is what Jesus is offering, a much more powerful image than the heartwarming image we may be used to.
Yet, the chicks resisted, rejected this protection. They rejected it then. We reject it now. Why?
One could be because they are merely trying to survive under the day today pressures of Roman oppression. They’re not looking deeper. Also, it could be that it doesn’t look like what they have imagined, warrior king, to drive out the Romans. Or they may want to do it their own way, to be independent not depend on God. It’s like the toddler that learning a new task if you try to help. “I can do it myself,” or finally they may think that they have it all figured out.
Aren’t those just the kinds of things we try to do? We are oblivious because we’re just trying to survive from day to day. It doesn’t look like we thought it would so we can’t recognize it. Or we try to be independent, and we only shout for help when we are in severe distress.
In this time of Lent, we’re examining how we can stop trying to do it our own way and trust God’s ways. Use Jesus as our example, stay the course, when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable. Not treating the ways of Jesus Christ as an interest or hobby among many, discarding it when something more appealing presents itself. Rather seeing it as a way of life that ultimately makes our lives more interesting and satisfying… If a little dangerous.
Yesterday, I was reading a devotional to some of you by N.T. Wright, from Lent for Everyone, one of the devotionals we are featuring this Lent. It says, “Jesus did make it clear that God’s commands matter deeply, but it is in the context of him healing people, celebrating God’s kingdom with all kinds of unlikely people, so that somehow, when he was around, holiness seem different: exciting, liberty rather than constricting and gloomy.” A way of life in Jesus Christ can to be a great adventure if we let it.
What is one thing that you can do this week to help draw you closer to Christ? Perhaps, show the light of Christ to someone else. What does that even mean? Thinking, what would Jesus do, or better what would Jesus want you to do when you see someone in distress, maybe something that feels like a risk, outside our normal comfort zone. What is a risk for me might not be a risk for you and vice versa. I’m not talking about you necessarily putting your life in danger, but there are those things that practically scared to death, even if they aren’t necessarily life-threatening.
Take a moment; think; consider. Where might you take a risk this next week? If nothing comes to mind, how might you keep your eyes open for opportunities that God might give you, things we normally would ignore?
I will never forget the time that I stopped for the man who was stranded on the side of the road, out of gas. I was living in Charleston, South Carolina at the time. It was beastly hot and humid. I knew he had quite a walk to the next gas station. We all hear the stories about how you shouldn’t stop. It might be dangerous. Don’t get me wrong, this is not something I normally do, but this time it was different. I felt like I needed to stop, and this time my fears didn’t get in the way. I helped this man. Drove him back to his car and never saw him again.
I’m not saying it’s necessary to stop for every person on the side of the road. What I am saying is to be mindful of what God wants you to do in any situation.
One of my favorite stories about this kind of thing comes from Beth Moore. She is a famous writer women’s Bible studies. I’ve done at least half a dozen. Even if I don’t always agree with her, I admire her greatly. She is often encouraging people to be in conversation with God, to depend on God, to follow the promptings of God, but even she resists when it makes her feel uncomfortable or she doesn’t understand. One day she was in an airport in Knoxville waiting to board a plane. She says:
I have the Bible on my lap and was very intent upon what I was doing. I’d had a marvelous morning with the Lord. I say that because I want to tell you that it is a scary thing to have the Spirit of God really working in you. You could end up doing some things you would never have done otherwise. Life in the Spirit can be dangerous for a thousand reasons not the least of which is our ego.
I tried to keep from staring but he was such a strange sight. Humped over in a wheelchair, he was skin and bones, dressed in clothes that obviously fit when he was at least 20 pounds heavier. His knees protruded from his trousers, and his shoulders look like the coat hanger was still in his shirt. His hands look like tangled masses of veins and bones. The strangest part of him with his hair and nails. Stringy gray hair hung well over his shoulders and down part of his back. His fingernails were long. Clean, but strangely out of place on an older man.
I looked down at my Bible as fast as I could, discomfort burning my face. As I tried to imagine what his story might have been, I found myself wondering if I just had a Howard Hughes sighting. Then, I remembered reading somewhere that he was dead. So this man in the airport… An impersonator maybe? Was I on camera somewhere?
There I sat trying to concentrate on the Word to keep from being concerned about a thin slice of humanity served on a wheelchair only a few seats from me. All the while my heart was growing more and more overwhelmed with a feeling for him. Let’s admit it. Curiosity is a heap more comfortable than true concern, and suddenly I was awash with aching emotion for this bizarre looking old man.
I have walked with God long enough to see the handwriting on the wall. I’ve learned that when I begin to feel what God feels, something so contrary to my natural feelings, something dramatic is bound to happen. And it may be embarrassing. Immediately began to resist because I could feel God working on my spirit and I started arguing with God in my mind. ‘Oh no, God please no.’ I looked up at the ceiling as if I could stare straight through it into heaven and said, ‘Don’t make me witness to this man. Not right here and now. Please. I’ll do anything. Put me on the same plane, but don’t make me get up here and witness to this man in front of the gawking audience. Please Lord!’
There I sat in the blue vinyl chair begging His Highness, ‘Please don’t make me witness to this man. Not now. I’ll do it on the plane.’ Then I heard it. ‘I don’t want you to witness to him. I want you to brush his hair.’
The words were so clear, my heart leapt into my throat, and my thoughts spun like a top. Do I witness to the man or brush his hair? No brainer. I looked straight back up at the ceiling and said, ‘God, as I live and breathe, I want you to know I am ready to witness to this man. I’m on this Lord. I’m your girl! You never seen a woman witness to a man faster in your life. What difference does it make if his hair is a mess if he’s not redeemed? I am on him. I am going to witness to this man.’
Again as clearly as I’ve ever heard an audible word, GOD seem to write the statement across the wall of my mind. ‘That is not what I said, Beth. I don’t want you to witness to him. I want you to go brush his hair.’
I looked up that God and quipped, ‘I don’t have a hair brush. It’s in my suitcase on the plane. How am I supposed to brush his hair without a hairbrush?’
God was so insistent that I almost involuntarily began to walk towards him […] Even as I retell the story my pulse quickens and I feel the same butterflies.
I knelt down in front of the man, and asked as demurely as possible, ‘Sir, may I have the pleasure of brushing your hair?’
He looked back at me and said, ‘What did you say?’
‘May I have the pleasure of brushing your hair?’
To which he responded in volume 10, ‘Little lady if you expect me to hear you, you’re going to have to talk louder than that.’
At this point, I took a deep breath and blurted out, ‘SIR, MAY I HAVE THE PLEASURE OF BRUSHING YOUR HAIR?’ At which point every eye in the place darted right at me. I was the only thing in the room looking more peculiar then old Mr. Longlocks. Face crimson and forehead breaking out in a sweat.
I watched him look up at me with absolute shock on his face, and say, ‘If you really want to.’ Are you kidding? Of course I didn’t want to. But God didn’t seem interested in my personal preference right about then. He pressed on my heart until I could under the words, ‘Yes, sir, I would be pleased. But I have one little problem. I don’t have a hair brush.’
‘I have one in my bag,’ He responded.
I went around to the back of that wheelchair, and I got on my hands and knees and unzipped the stranger’s old carry-on hardly believing what I was doing. I stood up and started brushing the old man’s hair.
It was perfectly clean, but it was tangled and matted. I don’t do many things well, but I must admit I’ve had notable experience untangling knotted hair mothering two little girls. Like I’ve done with either Amanda or Melissa in such a condition, I began brushing at the very bottom of the strands, remembering to take my time not to pull.
A miraculous thing happened to me as I started brushing out old man’s hair….. Everybody else in the room disappeared. There was no one alive for those moments accept that old man and me. I brushed and brushed and I brushed until every tangle was out of that hair. I know this sounds so strange, but I’ve never felt that kind of love for another soul in my entire life. I believe with all my heart, I – for that few minutes – felt a portion of the very love of God. That he had overtaken my heart for a little while like someone renting a room and making himself at home for a short while. Emotions were so strong and so pure that I knew they had they had to be God’s.
His hair was finally a soft and smooth as an infant’s. I slipped the brush back in the bag, went around the chair to face him. I got back down on my knees, put my hands on his knees, and said, ‘Sir, do you know my Jesus?
He said, ‘Yes, I do.’ Well, that figures.
He explained, ‘I’ve known him since I married my bride. She wouldn’t marry me until I got to know the Savior.” He said, “You see, the problem is, I haven’t seen my bride and months. I’ve had open heart surgery, and she’s been too ill to come to see me. I was sitting here thinking to myself what a mess I must be for my bride.’
Only God knows how often He allows us to be part of a divine moment when we’re completely unaware of their significance. This, on the other hand was one of those rare encounters when I knew God intervened in details only He could have known. It was a God moment, and I’ll never forget it.
Our time came to board, and we were not on the same plane. I was deeply ashamed of how I’d acted earlier and would have been so proud to have accompanied him on that aircraft.
I still had a few minutes, and as I gathered my things to board, the airline hostess returned from the corridor, tears streaming down her cheeks. She said, ‘That old man sitting on the plane, sobbing. Why did you do that? What made you do that?’
I said, ‘Do you know Jesus? He can be the bossiest thing!’ […]
I got on my own flight, sobs talking in my throat, wondering how many opportunities just like that I’ve missed along the way, all because I didn’t want people to think I was strange. All because I was afraid. God didn’t send me to that old man. He sent that old man to me. (Further Still, by Beth Moore)
Sure, there are always those who will give us a way to escape. Often we don’t need anyone else’s help. We can come up with plenty of excuses for ourselves. What are you willing to risk as a follower of the ways of Jesus? How will you persevere?