When someone wants us dead

Luke 13.31-35

We are looking today at how to handle death threats!

I suspect that many of us may have thought, ‘My mother is going to kill me if she finds this out’.
Or maybe we have had someone really mad at us and saying, in the heat of the moment, ‘I’m going to kill you’.

By the way, never say that, however angry you are. To threaten to murder someone is to threaten to kill a person who has been made in the image of God, and you are effectively crucifying Christ again. And if you have said that to anybody, then you need to say sorry. Sorry to God, and ask him to help us control our anger, and a big sorry to the person we have threatened.

But there may be a few here who have been on the end of a far more serious death threat. It might be from a maniac or a stalker; it might be because we have done something stupid and got ourselves in big trouble; it might be because we have crossed or threatened someone who is evil; or it might even be a threat from those people who should really be there to protect us.

That is the setting for our reading today.

The Pharisees come to Jesus and tell him that Herod, the local ruler, wants him dead.

Maybe they were exaggerating.

Maybe they wanted Jesus out of their territory, and this was the way they thought they could get him to move on.

But when someone quite senior comes up to you and whispers in your ear, ‘the authorities are going to kill you’, that is scary.

And Herod was no pussycat. His father was the one who had tried to kill Jesus when he was a baby and who had murdered the children, and this was the Herod who had had John the Baptist put to death.

So how does Jesus react?

Does he say to the disciples, ‘Lads, it is not wise for us to continue to work here. I think we better move on’?
Or does he ask James and John, those two disciples who he nicknamed ‘sons of thunder’, to start doing some body building, and to wear the black jackets with the bulging inner pockets?

And the answer is no!
Instead, he does – nothing!

He tells the Pharisees, ‘Go and tell that fox – that cunning, sly operator – that I am going nowhere. I will stay here for as long as I need to be here. And I will continue to preach, and I will continue to do the work that God gave me to do.’

And as we read these verses, we can see that Jesus was driven by three compulsions, by three ‘yeses’ that trumped the ‘no’ – however big and scary that ‘no’ was.

1. Commitment to do the work of God, even when the calling was hard 

Jesus says, ‘Tell Herod, that I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

And he repeats that ‘today, tomorrow and the next day’ pattern in the next verse:

‘In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’

Do you notice the inner compulsion to do the work of God, ‘I must press on’, and the persistence in that work, ‘I will keep on’.

Jesus knows that God has sent him to do a job:

· To drive out demons: to confront and drive out evil.
· To heal people: to bring God’s restoration to broken and hurting people
· To die!

To drive out demons

The Jesus who we read about in the gospels did not come to cast out evil from the structures of society. He did not speak against the emperor. He did not challenge inequality in society. He did not even question unjust and exploitative laws.
Instead he came to do something much more radical and challenging.
He begins by casting evil out of people, out of individuals. He came to cast out the evil and the sin and the fear that grips each of us and controls us. He comes to set us free: free to worship him, free to love and serve others, free to be the people who God made us to be.

To heal people

We are talking something very physical here. Jesus enabled the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the mute to speak, the lame to walk. He healed those who had withered limbs or who were disfigured with terrible isolating skin diseases.
And as Jesus touches people, literally, we see glimpses of what the Messiah, God’s anointed ruler, has come to do for all people, for all of creation.
He unknots those who are knotted up
He unravels the twisted
He sets free those who are trapped
And he takes closed buds, and he loves them, so that we open up and begin to blossom

And his work was to die

He says, tell Herod, ‘Yet today, tomorrow and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem’

Jesus knows that he has come – like the messengers of God in the past - to be rejected. He knows that he will be killed and, more importantly, that he has come to be killed.

He has come to be that suffering servant, who the prophet Isaiah spoke about in Isaiah 53, about 700 years ago.
He has come to be that sacrifice, who came to die in our place, so that we can be forgiven and so that we can have peace with God.

That, I suspect, is partly why Jesus is so cool, why he can stand so firm, in the face of Herod’s death threat.

He knows he is already under sentence of death, and he knows that it will happen in Jerusalem. He has lived with that awareness certainly since the temptations in the wilderness, if not before.

Herod couldn’t scare Jesus, because Jesus is already living as one who has died to himself, he has already given up his life to God.

2. Jesus is motivated by a deep compassion for people 

For Jesus, love triumphs over fear.

These few verses open a window and allow us to look in at the heart of Jesus.

‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem .. how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’

We call God Father. But don’t be misled. That does not mean that God is male. God is far too big to be trapped by our understanding of sex and gender.

And God’s love is like the love of a father for his children.

And his love is like the love of a mother for her children.

So, Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

And here, Jesus is crying out for the people of God as a mother cries out for her wayward and lost children.

It is the cry of someone who sees what her children are doing to themselves, of how they are lost, and it is the cry of someone who would gather them together so that she can protect them.

This is a love which desires to gather, hold and embrace her children:So often it is the mother who brings and holds the family together. Alison is happiest when the three children come together.

In our reading from Philippians, Paul writes of the Philippian Christians. And I think that he has a glimpse of this love, when he describes them as those ‘whom I love and long for, my joy and crown’.

This is a love which wants to protect her children.We often go on holiday to the Norfolk coast in the UK. It is a breeding place for sea birds. And woe betide you, if in the breeding season, you wander onto the sand dunes near their nesting places. You will be dive-bombed mercilessly. Why? They are protecting their young.

And this is a maternal love which is willing to die for its children. In 1987 NorthWest Airlines flight 255 crashed shortly after take-off in Michigan. All 155 passenger and crew were killed. All, apart from a 4-year-old girl, Cecelia. She was saved, it is said, because her mother shielded her with her own body.

What led Jesus to the Cross?
Obedience to his Father? Yes.

But just as much, it was that deep maternal compassion for us, which longs to gather us, for us to be one with him, and which would protect us from sin and death.

3. Jesus was prepared to look in the face of death because he had absolute confidence in the purposes and victory of God 

He says, “You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.”

Those words, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’, are the acclamation of the people, in Psalm 118, as they welcome the promised Messiah, God’s ruler and God’s king, the one who will bring in God’s kingdom

Jesus’ words are not the declaration of one who thinks that death is the end.

And yes, those were the words of the disciples and followers of Jesus, when – a few months later – he entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.
But Jesus is not talking just about that.

He is looking forward to that day when he has risen from the dead, and when he comes again at the end of history, not as the baby born to die, but as the Messiah who has come to rule, to claim his throne, to usher in God’s glorious and amazing kingdom.

And on that day, all who have longed for him, all who have taken shelter under his wings, will cry out ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.

Jesus knew he had to die in Jerusalem. I suspect that he knew he had to die by crucifixion.
But he also knew that he would rise, and that there would be a day when he returns and when he will indeed gather his people to him.

That is why he was not shaken when Herod threatened him.

So what for us?
I do pray that none of us will face a death threat like this.

But many of our Christian brothers and sisters do face such threats, and we will all face difficulties and opposition.

Pray God that we may have the courage to face whatever comes in the power of the Holy Spirit:

with a profound commitment to the work of God, to defeat evil and to bring God’s healing.
And although we are not called to die, as Jesus was called to die (there was and can be only one sacrifice for us), we are called to live as people who are dead – dead to this world – and alive to God.

Solzhenitsyn writes, in Gulag Archipelago, about how to stand in front of the interrogator, with all his threats and all his power:
“From the moment you go to prison you must put your cosy past firmly behind you. At the very threshold, you must say to yourself: ‘My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die – now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me those I love have died, and for them I have died. For today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me’.”

And if you think that that is a counsel of despair, listen to his next lines.
“Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogation will tremble. Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.”

That is how all Christian men and women are called to live.
We are people who should be able to say to the world, ‘You threaten to kill me, but frankly I have already died to this world. I am living for God’.

And I pray that, like our Lord Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will have a growing

compassion for people - which longs to protect and bring people together into the kingdom of the risen Lord Jesus
confidence that the purposes of God can never be defeated.
In our communion service, during the long prayer that the minister prays as we set apart the bread and wine, we declare the Holiness of God. And then we say those words, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.

We are saying it of Jesus, and we are recognising that he is here, with us, us as we gather together and eat the bread and drink the wine.

But we are also saying it in hope, in the firm confidence, that one day we will see the risen Lord Jesus, as he comes to reveal his Kingdom, as he comes to finally destroy evil and bring healing to people and to creation, and as he comes to gather his people under his wings.


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