By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 13, 2022
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Luke 13:31–35 (ESV)
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 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. 33 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.’ 34 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! 35 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!’”
Last week we considered the temptations that Jesus faced. I hope that we were able to see how similar those temptations are to our own temptations. They are not necessarily a desire or urge to do something wrong, but often temptations are a desire to do the right thing the wrong way. We in our desire to do the right things can sin, we can oppose the will of God, because we are not able to see or are unwilling to see how God is using the process.
The first temptation was to turn a stone into bread. And I mentioned that this was a temptation to withdraw from the community aspect of life. Instead of encouraging others to get involved you take all the power on yourself to fulfill your own needs. This does not sound terrible does it, it sounds like great business sense. But what is more important to God? In the kingdoms of men profit is important. Profit is looking out for yourself or your group first. But in the kingdom of God, mutual profit is what is important. Mutual profit is looking out for something larger. Making sure that all within the community benefits from the transactions.
The second temptation was to being all the kingdoms of the world under the rule of Jesus. This is the ultimate goal of God. That all nations, tribes, and languages will come to praise the one Most High God. But the temptation was to get to take a short cut to that goal. So often we are tempted with the same things. I want a good grade on a test because the goal at that moment is to pass. How do I get that grade? I could spend hours studying, or if I just write the answers down on my arm and wear a long-sleeved shirt, I can just cheat my way to the top. Businesses want to make a larger profit, so they use inferior resources to make their goods. They sacrifice quality and possibly safety for their goal. And we see this in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. We could say that this is a battle between the East and West, but really it is a desire to take a short cut. Instead of developing a deeper relationship, they will use force instead.
The third temptation was to make a spectacle. To attract attention not by substance but by show. I want us to think of this. How often are we manipulated by the show? Every political campaign is a spectacle that manipulates the people into thinking that one person is better than the other. The ads are propaganda filled with half-truths to convince each of us to regard the other candidate as just one step less evil than the devil. Even movies, an industry that is based on entertainment, have increasingly devoted resources to special effects instead of plot development. If you do not believe me, look at the latest trailers for the emerging movies, they are filled with special effects. Half the time the best parts of the movie are in the trailers, and the rest of the movie is often a waste of time. This of course does not happen in Star Wars, because they are all good.
Then we come to the church. How often do we get distracted by the spectacular? There are churches that claim to be so holy that gold dust will fall from the ceilings as people sing praises, and that feathers from angel wings are often seen floating down around you. The fact that scripture never says that angels have wings let alone feathers is suspect, but the spectacle is there. We are drawn in by the exciting, but what about substance? I am not saying that those places do not have substance, but the spectacular feats surrounding them causes me to pause and look deeper.
These temptations always surround us. They bombard us from every direction. Half the time we do not even notice that we are being subjected to their influences, and there are people that have gotten very good at manipulating the use of these very things for their own advancement. We as followers of Christ are called to something greater. We are called to look deeper, and to live differently.
This is something that has been part of religious life from the dawn of history. Today we meet Jesus during a conversation. A group of Pharisees come to Jesus and they carry with them a dire warning. “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
The first thing I want us to see, is that these Pharisees seem to be allies with Jesus and not opponents. Usually when we see the word Pharisee, we quickly assume that they are the bad guys of the story. They are the leaders that are mindlessly trapped in the bondage of religion and fail to see the working of God around them. Many times, we would not be wrong in this assertion, but in this case, these men have respect for Jesus.
I say they have respect, but I also want us to recognize that they have information. They know that the king, or the political ruler over this territory, has a mind to assassinate Jesus. These men and the group they are members of have an insiders’ knowledge of what is going on. This highlights that the larger group of Pharisees are in fact plotting with Herod, but these men are in opposition.
We often regard the religious sect of the Pharisees as this unified monolithic organization that has one overarching perspective to life. But the reality is that they are a human organization and there are different opinions within their organization. With the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls we can develop a deeper understanding of this group of people. First off, their name literally means, to separate, divide, or distinguish. What are they dividing from? The Sadducees, which were largely in charge of the temple traditions. I want us to think of the Pharisees not as this monolithic religious organization, but as the reformers. They are basically the Protestants of the religion of Israel. And their focus was to bring the center of religious identity away from the outward ceremonies performed in the temple, and instead place the center of their religious identity into the home.
They sought to decentralize religion, making it into something that we all could live. It was this group that laid the foundation not only for the rabbinical Judaism we see practiced throughout the world today, but they contributed a great deal to the formation of the Christian church today. Regarding theological understanding the Pharisees and Jesus were very closely related. And yet there were disagreements between Jesus and this group, and if we were to look closely at the various tests the Pharisees challenge Jesus with, we would see that there are differences within the ranks of the Pharisees. Scholars have noted that there are two major schools of thought within the Pharisees. One is the conservative school of Rabbi Shammai, and the second is the more liberal school of Rabbi Hillel. I use the terms liberal and conservative, for a reason because I want us to realize that they are simply words used to scare us. Neither Shammai nor Hillel would be considered liberal today, but Hillel taught that the interpretation of the law was not fixed, but it needed to adapt to the changing conditions of the world. This would mean that the torah are teachings, a moral and ethical guide, instead of divine mandate. To Hillel we were supposed to think and use reason to determine how the law applies in the circumstances of today?
These differences of perspective come up often in the conversations with Jesus, and that is something we see today. Some Pharisees are working with Herod and his plot against Jesus, while others want to preserve this popular teacher.
Jesus tells this group of unsuspected allies, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’” This is a very interesting statement that is packed full of… well insults. Even today we use the term fox in a derogatory manner. We use this as a way of describing a cunning and deceptive nature. This is true even in the ancient days, but there is another view that may come into play. In some Jewish circles, a fox can also symbolize an individual that is regarded as or considers himself a lion but is in reality a very small threat. This could explain Herod in many ways. He was the son of Herod the Great and had aspired to reunite the territory of his father. Herod wanted to be seen as great, but when he made attempts to show his authority, Rome quickly stepped in and removed him from power. He regarded himself as a lion, but he was nothing more than a small predator that stole chickens from the farmyard.
The insults do not stop there. Some other scholars look at this statement and they see something completely different. The Hebrew word for Saul and fox are homophones. Meaning they are different words that sound the same. Veggie Tales has a wonderful song about homophones if you want to do a quick google search. Jesus might be using a play on words and basically calling Herod Saul. Saul was the first king of Israel that fell from God’s graces. God then chose and anointed David to be the next king and Saul spent the rest of his life focused on how he could somehow get rid of David, only to find every attempt foiled because David had God’s blessing. The will of God will triumph over the will of mankind.
After Jesus insults Herod, he then says something that is also strange. “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow and the third day I finish my course.” The expression today, tomorrow, and the third day is a Hebraic idiom for a short and indefinite period. Jesus is telling this fox and his allies that I have work to do, and I am going to finish the course set before me, and you will not be able to stop it.
Jesus, had to go to the cross. He had to die so that he could conquer death. Often, we think of the fall of humanity as being where sin entered the human existence. But the reality is that when our first parent ate of the tree of knowledge, death entered. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they turned from God’s will, that was sin, but the result of that sin was that they were severed from the source of life, God. Death is separation from life, it is not sin. Sin is the opposition of God’s will, where death is the resulting curse that comes from our sin.
We all face death because we have all sinned, we cannot help but to sin because the connection to life has been severed so we are all making vain attempts using whatever is at our disposal to determine good and evil. The reality is that our knowledge is at best incomplete. And when we act with incomplete knowledge, we will inevitably cause harm in some way. When we cause harm, we participate in the continuation of sin because we are making decision based on our will instead of the will of God. Jesus forgives sin, but death is still our destiny. Only God can change the course of our human destiny. The book of Revelation tells us that Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades. And Peter tells us in his letter that Jesus descended into hell. We can get some pretty skewed theological positions from this, but what it means is that Jesus entered the realm of the dead, he was buried and he took the one thing that the devil can hold over us, death.
Jesus had to die, Jesus had to face death with us and for us. He faced this so that he could reverse the curse. And that is what he is speaking about. I cast out demons, the minions of death, and perform cures, the inflictions of death. He speaks of reversing the damage that this spiritual rebellion instituted. And no plot of man, nor the powers of demonic forces can change that. Just as Saul sought to deprive David of his anointed destiny as king, the fox of Herod will not prevent God’s will to be fulfilled on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Jesus has a divine mandate to reverse the damage caused by spiritual rebellion and sin, but this will occur in a way that is beyond human understanding. Last week I spoke about hypocrisy. How our own hypocrisy can sear or dam the lifegiving flow of blessing because it can cause us to lose sight of the image of God within those around us. We can easily fall into this type of hypocrisy. It is found in the three temptations of Christ and always surrounds us. We all want to profit, but we often do not seek mutual profit. We all want the ultimate goal to come to being, but we often do not want to put in the work of developing the relationships to make that happen. We like the spectacular, but we do not have time to develop the substance to make the spectacular a constant reality. This resembles what Jesus says about prayer. We want but we do not ask, and when we ask, we ask wrongly.
The Pharisees were seeking to make the world around them ready for the messiah. Even today you can hear this being taught by the rabbis, we must make the world ready for messiah, and when he comes all things will be set right again. We often get caught in this same practice. Some of us because of our understanding of Eschatology or the theology of the end, believe that certain things must happen before Christ returns so we eagerly watch and wait, and we make decisions based on what we believe will make that return happen more promptly. We look at the world around us and we nearly praise the debauchery instead of seeking to inspire a different lifestyle. The same could be said about the Pharisees. They had ideas; they had their own theories. And Jesus calls them out on it. “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!”
Jesus here is telling them that they do not understand. They do not understand what God desires. The prophets spoke out against the sins of the Gentiles but they did not only speak out about their sins, but also the sins of Israel. “It is mercy I desire not sacrifice.” Hosea says. The prophets spoke out against the sins of their own people. And the result of their preaching was to be stoned.
Stoning is the prescribed form of execution for those that are apostate and idolatrous. Stoning was the legal means God commanded the people of Israel to deal with those that lived contrary to His will. Yet, it was those that He chose to be his spokesmen, that faced this divinely mandated punishment. We can become so blinded by our own ideology that we would reject the word of God and subject those that speak it to a perversion of justice. God was calling out to his people, yet they rejected God and killed those that were calling them back. What does God want? What does God desire?
The greatest lions among us are simply a fox in the hen house. We think we can change the course of history with our wars and our policies. But where exactly do we stand? Jesus told his followers not to fear the ones that can take life, but the one that can judge the soul. I like everyone reads the news and I wonder if the concept of nuclear war will become a reality, but the lions that I perceive are nothing but foxes, because God is still at work. Are we following the lion or the fox? Are we looking at the people around us as threats to our ideology or are we seeing them as imagers of God in need of mercy?
Jesus looked at the people of his day, people that had the ear of power, and he called them out. They in all their religious posturing were connected to the kingdoms of men instead of the kingdom of God. Fear keeps us in bondage within the kingdoms of men. But perfect love casts out all fear. Our God came to live among us. He was born of a virgin, and he lived a complete life. He taught and ministered within his community and showed us the lifestyle God wants us to live. He stood up to the foxes of men and took on our fear, our shame, and our curse as he was nailed to the cross. He was buried in a tomb and challenged the one thing we all face with fear, death. He ripped the keys out of death’s hand and broke through the vail that separates us from life, as he rose from the grave on the third day, and our God restores our hope.
What does God want? What does God desire? He wants us. He wants us to turn from the foxes that make spectacular claims of power among mankind’s kingdoms, and he wants us to come to him. God so loved the world that he sent his one unique son to us so that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life with him. And this is eternal life that we believe in God, and the one He sent. Putin and Biden can rattle their sabers, the nations of men can make their postures of power, but they are but foxes in the hen house. They too face the same end that we all face. They cannot stop the goal that God has set from the beginning of creation. We are to bear the image of God, we are to make our world into God’s Garden, and dwell with him. Everything apart from that is sin. Will we stone the prophets and follow the foxes, or will we boldly stand with the lion of Judah?
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