Living in a Dangerous World
A Sermon Based on Luke 13:31-35
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” 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.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!“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. 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.’” (Luke 13:31-35)
On Friday morning, you probably woke up the way I did, to the news of a horrific tragedy. You turned on the TV, or clicked on the internet, only to learn how a deranged individual went on a shooting spree in Aurora, Colorado. Like me, you probably thought, “How tragic, how horrific, how senseless all this is.” You then may have thought about safety. “How can I allow my children to go out into a world where random acts of violence take place? How did we get to a point like this in our society? What can we do to make it safer?” Many people are asking the same questions. People want to live in a safer world. People want to live in a world where they can send their children and grandchildren to the movies without having to fear when the next random act of violence will take place. It is a complex issue, and people do not agree on the solution. Some say we need less guns, and others say we need more. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know that anybody does, but each side agrees on the problem. Individuals from each side go home at night, hold their children close to them, and wish nothing more than for them to be a little safer in a dangerous world.
When we look at this text from Luke 13, it is evident Jesus also lived in a dangerous world. Although we are separated by 2,000 years, our world is not that different. They are both full of violence. They both have corrupt politicians who would do just about anything to stay in office. They both have dangerous cities where a good man must be careful when he travels there. The world has been marred by sin. We see this in our text, and we see it each morning we get up and open the newspaper. Bad things happen. Evil people thrive and flourish. Terror is real. All these things are a result of the fall. They are a result of sin entering into the world. God has nothing to do with the evil that exists in our world. It is not a part of his plan. God hates evil more than we do, and he wants to protect us. He is not pleased with violence or tragedy. Like a mother hen with baby chicks, He wants to take us under His wing and shelter us from the evil that exists. His plan is a plan of redemption, not only for us, but for all things (Rom. 8:18-25). One day, all wrongs will be righted, all evil will be destroyed, and we will inhabit a world as God intended it to be, a world with no Herods, no Pilates, no Roman oppressors, no men who walk into movie theaters just to kill innocent human beings. It will be a world with no tears, no sickness, and no death. In the midst of evil and tragedy, the message we proclaim as Christians is that God cares, and He is coming back to reclaim what is rightfully His. Our mission was uttered on the lips of Zechariah in Luke 1:78-79, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” We must remind everyone that the dawn is breaking and a better world is on the horizon.
Luke 13:31-35 begins with some Pharisees warning Jesus about the dangerous world He lives in. They warn him about Herod, who had no claim to the throne. He was given his position by the Romans because his father had proven to be an effective thug. He was hated and disliked not only because he possessed a position that was not rightfully his, but because he was an evil ruler who was only concerned about himself. He was a dangerous man, and he would not have liked a person like Jesus going around claiming to be the Messiah, the true leader of Israel. So these Pharisees warn Jesus about this potential threat. What is interesting is Luke tells us the men who warned Jesus were Pharisees. We tend to think all Pharisees were bad guys because they are typically portrayed in a negative light. This passage is a good reminder not to judge an entire group of people, even if the evidence points in that direction. It is true that most Pharisees opposed Jesus and stood in his way, but this does not mean all of them were bad people. Here, we find some Pharisees who are willing to offer Jesus some friendly advice, even though it is information he already possesses. Jesus knows all about Herod. He calls him fox, a sly and cunning animal who poses a threat to those who do not pay attention. Jesus understands Herod is a dangerous man.
Herod is not the only threat. Another threat is the city of Jerusalem, who has a history of killing the prophets, men of God who were sent to warn Jerusalem and call her to repentance. Jerusalem has proven to be a dangerous city for these men of God, a city not of peace, but of rebellion. This is not a safe city for Jesus to enter. He is perceived to be a prophet. There is a real threat that lies in front of him, but that is where He is going. He is on the road to Jerusalem and there is no turning back. Jesus lives in a dangerous world, a world where a man can get killed for simply speaking the truth and standing on the side of God.
As Jesus looks around at the world in which He lives, His response is lament and mourning. He cries out, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” Earlier in Luke 13 He warned the people and spoke of judgment, but now He simply mourns. He mourns a world that is corrupt and full of violence. He mourns a world in which a person cannot speak truth without the fear of persecution. He mourns a world where the marginalized are ignored and forced to the edges of society. It is in this setting that He gives a vivid image of a hen who wants to protect her baby chicks. He mourns and wants to protect, but Jerusalem will not comply. He says, “How many times did I want to collect your children, like a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would have none of it.” This is an image we have probably come across before, but I’m not sure we have really grasped its meaning.
N.T. Wright in his commentary on Luke tells us that the mental image Jesus is painting is that of a fire. Fire is a real threat still today, but it was much more dangerous in the first century. In 64 A.D. a fire broke out in Rome that burned for a week and destroyed half of the city. Here, Jesus uses the same image. Fire is just as scary to animals as it is to us. When they become aware of a fire, they will try to escape just as we do, but if they cannot escape, they will protect their young. Jesus uses this image. He speaks of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings to protect them from the fire. This really happens. Individuals cleaning up after farm fires have found dead hens scorched and blackened by the fire with live chicks under their wings. The hen has literally given her life to protect her offspring. This is a vivid and violent picture of what Jesus longed to do for Jerusalem and the whole world, but at that moment, all He could see was chicks scurrying in the opposite direction. They did not pay attention to the smoke or the flames, and they ran away from the only one that could save them.*
Jesus lives in a dark, dangerous world, but His response is twofold. First, he mourns and laments the condition of the world. He is not okay with how the world is. He cries to God about all the terrible things he sees around him. This should always be our first response. Many people will want to point fingers or offer their solution, but our first response should be mourning and lament. We should pray about the condition of the world before we do anything else. God needs to hear our cries, because that is where help begins. When God hears the cry of the people, He responds.
Jesus, then, enters into this dangerous world. He does not run away from Jerusalem, the city that kills its prophets. He does not hide from Herod, the man who would kill anyone who poses a threat to his position. He enters into this world. Jesus will not allow fear to dictate what He does in life. He chooses to live by faith rather than fear. He marches toward Jerusalem and never looks back. Why? It’s not because He has a death wish. He is on a mission, but He appreciates life just as much as anyone else. It’s not because He is super human. In the garden of Gethsemane, He is consumed with agony over the task that is before Him. He goes forward because of us. He goes forward, because, like a mother hen, He wants to protect His baby chicks. He wants to protect them so much that He is willing to be burned up in the fire, just to save us. He is willing to give His life for you and me.
On Friday, we were reminded again that we live in a dangerous world. In the coming weeks, politicians will argue and debate about what we need to do to make this world safer. I hope they come up with some kind of solution, but I have my doubts. The answer to this world’s problems is not more guns or less guns. The answer, is a people who lament and cry out to God, and then go into the world and point to what is on the horizon, the better things that are to come. This world is dangerous and full of evil, but we will not live by fear. We will let faith guide our path, and we will stand with Zechariah, who long ago uttered these words of hope, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” May we always remember that our God is bigger than any tragedy that might arise, and may we strive to live the way Jesus did in a dangerous world.
Our Father in heaven we praise you and glorify you. Although Friday was a day of darkness in our country, we thank you for Sunday, the day of resurrection and hope. Father we cry out from the depths of our soul. We cry out because we are frustrated and distraught by the slaying of innocent individuals. We cry out because we have had enough. We cry out for your justice. We ask you to bring peace and comfort to the victims of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. We ask you to be with us as we strive to point others to your truth and your salvation. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
* The imagery and language of this paragraph was taken directly from N.T. Wright’s commentary Luke For Everyone (113-114). Some of it was quoted directly and other parts were reworded.