IN NOMINE JESU
We are still a fair distance away from Holy Week, and already we hear that someone wants to kill the Lord. In our text, the Pharisees say that Herod wants to kill Him. We know this is not the case because we later discover in St. Luke's Gospel, specifically the 23rd chapter, that Herod was glad to see Jesus on Good Friday. For a while this paranoid ruler thought that Jesus was John the Baptizer alive again, for Herod had John beheaded earlier. This Herod was not the same one who slaughtered the innocents shortly after the Lord's birth; that one was Herod the Great. This particular Herod was one of his sons, Herod Antipas, tetrarch over Galilee and Perea, the land through which the Lord traveled. But is more than likely that is was simply a ploy on the Pharisees' part to be rid of Jesus, perhaps trying to intimidate Him into fleeing the region. Their attempt was futile, as is any attempt to intimidate God, the Creator of all things. This is exactly what they tried to do: they tried to intimidate God, refusing to recognize Jesus as God the Son, the long-promised Messiah.
The Lord's reply was simple and direct. The Pharisees ordered Him to leave. He ordered them to go back to Herod, the fox who cared nothing about the chicks the Lord desired to gather under His wings. The Lord said He would continue His ministry until it was perfected. It would be perfected at Jerusalem, the Holy City, a city so holy that it killed its prophets and would likewise kill the Christ. You can almost hear in the Lord's voice the hurt He may well have had as He lamented over Jerusalem…and not only the city, but the entire Jewish nation. "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (Jn. 1:11). He came to save His people, but they refused to be saved. They refused to be His people. They refused to listen to Him. They refused to believe in Him. He said of His people, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!" (v. 34). Since the Jews rejected Jesus the Messiah, they would no longer be the people of God. The holy presence of God no longer dwelt in the Temple as the Jews knew Him to do. The Temple had a new location; it was in the Person of Jesus Christ, the One who overturned the tables in the Jews' temple at the beginning of His earthly ministry and said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn. 2:19). As St. John also notes, "Then the Jews said, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?' But He was speaking of the temple of His body" (Jn. 2:20). Their house was left to them desolate, their temple and their nation, for they rejected the messianic promises made by God and fulfilled in His Son. The Lord was no longer in their temple. He was not part of their nation. They would not behold Him again until they each confessed, "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!" (v. 35b). Until then, they would not be counted among the saints…they would not see heaven.
This is just as true now as it was then. No one will see God unless he confesses Him. The Lord says earlier in Luke's Gospel, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (11:28). Those who confess the Name of Jesus hear Him and keep His Word. This is what the entire First Table of the Law (the First, Second, and Third Commandments) is all about. This is what our text is all about, keeping the First Table. This is what the Pharisees did not do. This is what we do not do. The Pharisees broke the First Commandment, just as we today break it. The Pharisees had other gods before the one true God, namely, their own selfish desires. They feared, loved, and trusted in their power and prestige above God. We are no better. We each have those things we look to in times of trouble more often than we do to God. We like to rely on ourselves for our own well-being. We forget that we would not have anything unless our great and gracious giver God had given them to us. The Pharisees violated the Second Commandment, even as we violate it. They misused the Name of the Lord; they took His Name in vain. They lied and deceived by His Name; they claimed to worship the Lord, but their actions betrayed them as they sought to do the Lord harm. Jesus, true God, knowing all things, said to them, "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'" (Mt. 15:8-9). How far is our heart from God? Listen to your conversations, and behold how many times the Name of God is invoked needlessly. Listen for how often we use His Name for cursing, calling upon Him to condemn someone or something; how often we use His Name for swearing, invoking His Name as our witness, swearing to Him that something indeed happened. Listen also for the number of times we use the words O, my, and God in casual conversation and not in prayer. We do not call upon His Name as we should, to call upon Him in every trouble, in pray, praise, and give thanks.
Regarding the Third Commandment, the Pharisees may have remembered the Sabbath day, but they certainly did not keep it holy. They desecrated it with their code, which had loopholes for them to get around the Sabbath laws, in their estimation. They remembered the Sabbath, but they rejected the Lord of the Sabbath. In their evil hearts they wanted to make sure that on Good Friday the Lord was put to death and His body taken down from the cross before sunset so that they could celebrate the Passover Sabbath. They celebrated the holiest day of the year with the blood of the Son of God on their hands, whether they wanted to acknowledge it or not. His blood is on our hands today, too. We do not always sanctify the holy day. Granted, our day of worship is no longer Saturday but Sunday, but this does not change the fact that we do not keep this commandment. We do not always come to the Lord's house when we are able to do so. And when we are here, our hearts are not filled with joy but with disdain for the message the Lord brings. We despise the preaching and Word of God, and we do not hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Neither did the Pharisees. We are no better than they were. The Lord has sought to gather us under His wings, and we also have not been willing. We will not behold the Lord until we also, by the Holy Spirit, say, "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!" (v. 35b). And this happens through repentance. We echo the words of the Psalmist, as we did earlier, "O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old, the tribe of Your inheritance, which You have redeemed—this Mount Zion where You have dwelt" (Ps. 74:1-2).
This is why the Lord has come. This is why He is here today. This is why He comes to you today in His Word and in His body and blood. He comes so that you would receive the forgiveness of sins which He won on the cross for you and now gives to you in the reading and preaching of His Word and in His holy Supper. Even as He came into this world to cast out demons and to perform cures, He has come to His house among His people to forgive our sins and grant healing for our souls. Jesus has come to grant you His healing touch, as His Word touches your ears and as His body and blood touch your lips and as these Means of Grace touch your heart. That is the goal of repentance, for God to touch your heart, that you would, in the words of Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading, "amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God" (Jer. 26:13a), that you would believe in the Triune God as the only true God, use His Name as he has given it to you, and worship Him in spirit and in truth, giving thanks to Him for all of His goodness, for His giving you all that you need to support your body and life, and for His giving you what is necessary for your salvation, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Why did Jesus Christ come into the world? He did this so that He would save you from sin, death, and eternal condemnation. This was His desire. This was His passion. Remember that He said in our text, "How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…." He also wants to gather you under His wings, His outstretched wings as He hung on the cross. His arms were stretched out while He was on the cross for all people at all times and in all places, that He would take us all under His wings, giving us shelter from the old evil foe who seeks to work us woe. As King David prayed, "Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings" (Ps. 17:8). As we rest under the shelter of the wings of our Lord, His blood is indeed on us, from His pierced side, the blood that He shed for the forgiveness of our sins, the blood He gives you today.
We have been led by the Holy Spirit to be here in the Lord's house today. He has led us to confess our sins and to confess our faith. In a few moments we will sing this confession as we will indeed see our Lord as He comes to us in His body and blood. Singing "Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord" is not merely a liturgical chant; it is a confession of faith, a confession we make as we come to the Lord's Table. Through faith we behold His sacramental presence among us today as we come to His Table. As a mother hen feeds her chicks, so also our Lord feeds us as He gathers us under His wings and in His holy space during this, His holy time on His holy day. Through faith do we behold Him, unlike the Pharisees, and we boldly confess, "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!" Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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