READ : Luke 13:34-35
In the words of Jesus long ago to the city of Jerusalem, we can hear God’s message today to people like us. Listen:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! 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!”
This is a word, friends, about our strange rebelliousness, about God’s patient seeking grace, about the unimaginable no we say to Him, and the forsakenness that follows. Finally, it’s a message of hope about our future.
OUR STRANGE REBELLIOUSNESS
First, this odd rebelliousness of ours. The words of Jesus to Jerusalem are a stunning indictment. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you!” This is Jerusalem now, the holy city. This is the city of the great king. Here God is pleased to dwell among His people, in His holy temple. Jerusalem is the place where God has set His name; it is the joy of all the earth. If there’s anywhere on earth where God should reign and people obey, it is in this city among the hills, Jerusalem. But Jesus calls it, shockingly, a murderous place. It’s a city that kills the prophets and stones the messengers sent to it by God.
Does that sound too severe? I’ve been reading for these past few weeks in the prophecy of Jeremiah. He was one of those prophets, one of the messengers sent by God to Jerusalem. He lived in the days when the king of Babylon was menacing the city. Here was Jeremiah’s prophecy, “Thus says the LORD, He who stays in this city [Jerusalem] shall die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence; but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live; he shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. Thus says the LORD, This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken” (Jer. 38:2,3). Many of those in power were infuriated by these words. Listen: “Then the princes said to the king, `Let this man [Jeremiah] be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.’ King Zedekiah said, `Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you.’ So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes, and there was no water in the cistern, but only mire, and Jeremiah sank in the mire” (Jer. 38:4-6). If a friend had not come to his rescue, Jeremiah would have died, then and there.
Do you see what was happening here? Jeremiah came with the word of the Lord, but it was not what the people of Jerusalem wanted to hear. So the prophet took the blame. He was called a traitor, a destroyer of morale, an enemy of the people. They said he deserved to die, and that’s how they treated him.
These authorities professed to believe in the God of Israel. They knew that He sometimes sent prophets to reveal His will to the people. They saw themselves as receptive to that and God-fearing. But when Jeremiah came with a message of judgment, they were certain that he must be a false prophet. He could not possibly have come from God, they thought, not when He said that the holy city, God’s dwelling, would fall into the hands of foes!
Jerusalem came to be known in this way for its treatment of the prophets. In fact, Jesus said that it could not be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem. These were the killing fields in those days. Jesus was aware of that when He set His face to go there. He was the greatest of the prophets, the final sent One. What had befallen God’s faithful messengers in other ages was awaiting him too in Jerusalem. “The Son of man must suffer many things,” He said, “and be delivered into the hands of the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed” (Luke 9:22).
What’s the message here for us? Just this, that where God has revealed Himself most fully, where people are most religious, even there we are so resistant to God’s rule that we abuse His prophets and crucify His Son. Don’t despise Jerusalem. Don’t blame the Jewish people. This is a word about all of us, even at our best!
GOD’S PATIENT GRACE
Now we encounter something even more amazing: God’s patient, seeking grace. Listen to Jesus, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!” Remember, Jesus is the Word made flesh. He reveals the heart of God. When we see Him and hear Him, we meet the Father. What is God’s reaction to the stubbornness and cruelty of His people? How will He respond to their murderous rage against Him? He feels a yearning compassion for them. He has longed over them, many times, He says. In spite of all, He sees them as His own, precious in His sight. Like a hen with her chicks, He wants to nurture and shelter them. That’s why the prophets keep coming: God rises up early to send them. That’s why God doesn’t withhold even His own Son. So great is His love that in the face of bitter rejection He keeps on making His appeal.
Remember the parable Jesus told about the householder who went to a far country, leaving his property in the hands of tenant farmers? When he sent his servants to receive the fruits of his land, the tenants abused them, shamed them, beat them, even killed some. This kept on happening. Finally the householder made himself supremely vulnerable. Having one son, his well-beloved, he sent him, saying, “Surely they will reverence my son” (see Matt. 21:33-39). But they didn’t. They treated him worse than all the rest.
The tenants in the parable seem incredibly perverse, don’t they? It’s hard for us to imagine that anyone could have acted so shamefully. But in the experience of the prophets and in the treatment accorded to Jesus, the incredible, the unmentionable, actually happened. Yet God, seeing it all coming, still sent His prophets, still gave His Son. So great God’s patient love! In spite of all, He invites us still. He wants us back.
OUR UNIMAGINABLE NO
But when the story of God’s seeking grace reaches its climax, when God is saying a marvelous yes to His people, they say an unimaginable no. Jesus says, “I would have gathered your children together, but you would not.” Jesus wanted to gather them. They didn’t want to come. When God came in person, the One whom they claimed to love and serve, they said, “We will not have this One to reign over us. Away with Him! Crucify Him!”
Isn’t it sad that these dwellers of Jerusalem were enemies to their own best interests? They scorned those who told them the truth. They rejected Him who only came to do them good. They were the destroyers of their own peace. Do we know people like this, those who hate the very ones who love them most? Who most deeply desire their good? Do we know children who break the hearts of devoted parents, spouses who betray the ones they have solemnly vowed always to love? Do we know about those who, about to drown, who in frenzy pull down their rescuers with them?
Yes, we know those people, all too well. We are the ones, friends, who find it easy to reject heaven’s message if it runs counter to what we want to hear. And God help those who bring it to us! Did not our sins, yours and mine, nail Jesus to the cross? Did He not suffer and die because of our transgressions, our wilful, wandering ways? He wanted to call us but we didn’t want to listen. He invited us but we made our excuses. He came to us, but we shut the door in His face.
This is the shadow side of the freedom we all cherish, isn’t it? God didn’t make us to be robots, automatically conforming to His ways. He wanted from us the gratitude of the heart, an answering love to His. To offer that, we needed to be responsible, to have some power to choose. But that meant also that we could say no. We could turn away. And we did.
God honors it, that perilous freedom of ours. He won’t violate our personhood, won’t compel our choice. He doesn’t terrify us with thunderbolts, cow us into submission. He comes to us rather on the human level, horizontally, in the lowly Galilean. He wants us in but we can want out. And though it breaks His heart, He won’t stop us when we turn to go.
Jesus says to Jerusalem, “Your house is forsaken.” The city was their “house” in one sense, but the temple was supremely Jerusalem’s great “house.” The temple had long been the place of God’s special dwelling in the midst of His people. Now when the Lord had come to His own and they had rejected Him, that house would be empty. The heavenly guest would depart.
Something like that had happened before. Remember how in Ezekiel’s time the people had left God for their idols? The prophet saw the presence of God go up from the midst of the holy city. That meant Ichabod, no glory. The glory had departed. The temple, however splendid, had become an empty shell, a body without a living spirit.
We can grieve God’s Spirit by our continuing resistance to Him. We can quench His working. Like Samson, we can lose God’s presence and power without even being aware that He has departed from us. That’s the sad result of our rebellion.
When God had gone up from the city, it was an easy mark for hostile forces. A.D. 70 saw Jerusalem sacked and the temple fallen. All because the people did not know the day of their visitation. They did not understand the things that belonged to their peace.
Maybe something like that has happened in your life. There was a time when God came near to you in some way. You seemed to hear Him speaking. Your heart was tender to His call. He seemed close, but you weren’t willing to make a commitment. You had other things on your mind perhaps, other goals to pursue. To all His invitations and overtures of mercy, you said no. You kept resisting, kept turning away, kept going your own way. Now the conscience that once shouted to you only whispers. God seems far away, remote. Your house is left forsaken. That’s the way it is, friends. God goes where He’s wanted. Shut the door against Him long enough, and firmly enough, and by and by you won’t hear Him knocking any more. There comes a time when He will leave you to yourself. And oh, what miseries you will fall prey to then! What emptiness! What loneliness! And it’s what you chose when you kept saying no.
STILL A FUTURE
But you know, even that is not the end of it. That’s not the last gloomy word for Jerusalem or for you. There’s still a glimmer of hope. There’s a promise of grace. God isn’t through with us yet. Listen to Jesus, the crucified One. “I tell you, you will not see me until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” “You don’t see me now, Jerusalem, and you won’t see me,” but there the door is left ajar. He doesn’t say, “You won’t see me ever.” It’s “You will not see me until you say, `Blessed is he.'” In this most important matter in all of life, you can change your mind. You can repent. You can admit that you were wrong about Jesus, that you were one of those rebels who resisted His call of love, who would not receive Him, would not yield to Him. You can admit all that with a sorrowing heart and begin a new life. That starts when you think differently about Jesus, when you say something new about Him, when You call Him the Christ, the Son of the blessed, when you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Oh, say it today from your heart: Blessed be Jesus, my Savior and King!”