As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.
A reading from the Gospel of Luke.
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 (NIV)
Today's text is a tough one with which to deal. There are a lot of different things going on in it.
First, there's this whole Pharisees (not the best of friends with Jesus) warning Jesus of Herod's intent to kill Jesus. Could this be Herod feeding the Pharisees a line in order to keep Jesus from coming into Jerusalem and “raising a ruckus?” Or, could it be that the Pharisees were just curious what Jesus' intentions were? Or, maybe these particular Pharisees liked Jesus and truly wanted to see Him continue in His mission?
Then, Jesus calls Herod a “fox.” Now, I've never been called a fox, nor have I ever called someone else a fox, but I can imagine that it's not a compliment. Maybe, He's accusing the Pharisees of being a pawn in Herod's chess game to attempt to lure Jesus.
Jesus makes a bold statement: “no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem.” He continues on with a lament over this city. He says how He longs to gather the children under his wings, but they weren't willing for that to be. Then He ends this discourse with a quote from the Psalms (Psalm 118:36).
So, what to do with all this? How does it impact us living 2,000 years later and Jerusalem still being an unsettled place?
Jesus is on the journey to Jerusalem. He's not yet entered the city for that last time, but He is well on the way. He, undoubtedly knows that entering Jerusalem is going to end with death. He surely can see the cross in the distance.
Yet, He continues on His way. Marching between the manger and the cross–a place we often find ourselves.
We know what God has given us to do. We know the task He has set before us. And, we have accepted that call–our manger moment.
We're on the journey. Solidly walking in all we know that God has said. Yet, at times all we can see ahead is a cross. No matter how hard we try to imagine the chicks gathering under the wing, we can't see fulfillment of that promise we've been marching toward. We only see the cross.
Yet, beyond the cross is another great event. Beyond the cross….
We're in a country where the average length of service for full-time workers is 18 months. It's not that they didn't have a manger moment, and knew that this was where God wanted them to be. No, it's simply that it's hard here. Very little fruit for a whole lot of work. The cross looms large in their vision.
Even those workers who have resolutely set their face toward this land and have stayed are tired. They've had moments of success–Peter and James agreeing to follow, 5000 being fed, Lazarus raised. Yet, at times all they can see is the cross.
Yet, just on the other side of the cross is a tomb. And it's empty. The promise is fulfilled.
I have often heard preachers say that Jesus had one sole thought on His mind while He was here–“He came for the cross!” But, I submit to you something different.
He came for the empty tomb! The victory was in the empty tomb. Death thought it had won–again. Just like it had done in Eden. But, Jesus didn't stay dead. And death didn't win.
In this moment, as we stand near the city gates, the Pharisees have come to warn us of impending doom. The cross looms in the distance. We know what God has asked us to do. And, we've obediently followed.
The cross–hardship, no fruit to our work, tiredness, people at home asking why you're even there in the first place–ever before us.
I am convinced that in that great conversation when God asked His Son to be the Rescuer the cross wasn't the focus of their conversation. I'm convinced that Jesus knew the cross was coming, but that He further knew the empty tomb was the end goal. It is the empty tomb that moves one from death to life.
So, to those of you working hard in between your own manger and empty tomb, don't give up at the looming shadow of the cross. Keep resolute in what God has said. Keep on the journey.
The empty tomb awaits!