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"Defying a Threat"
Luke 13:31-35

One of the classic elements of literature and of many movies is that moment when one who was thought to be an enemy turns out to be, or becomes, something of a friend. And in so doing provides information, or warning, about the enemy.

That moment may be fleeting; that friendship may be superficial. But the important thing is that the moment does happen. It provides a turning point in the story.

Many times that previous enemy immediately disappears. But a message has been delivered, and a difference has been made. We may know very little about why the enemy's mind, or feelings, have been changed.

In fact, it may have been that he or she was never really a part of the enemy camp. But now we know that there is an obvious switching of sides.

In scripture, we are more familiar with the switching of sides moving from good to evil, as in Judas betrayal of Jesus. And in much of the gospel story it would appear that there is little changing of sides.

But this makes it all the more important that we look closely at what happens in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke.

"At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."

This is unusual, because most Pharisees would not have done this. And Luke is very careful to say "some" Pharisees and not "the" Pharisees. We know from scripture that most Pharisees were spending much time trying to figure out how to get rid of Jesus.

So this is clearly a minority position. Now, they could have stood back silently and let events take their course. But they didn't. They take action. It wasn't much action, because they were not prepared to defend Jesus.

They had no creative, alternative plans for Jesus. Just, "Get away from here."

But this is enough. It is a sign. And in our own lives, when we least expect them, we receive signs. Those signs may not spell out elaborate creative alternatives for us, but they still warn us.

They put us on our guard; they cause us to be more aware of what is going on around us. And I believe that in these signs God is working. God does not spell out everything for us to do. God leaves that up to us. But God continues to point us in the right direction.

So what does Jesus do with this information? He has been warned. And the threat of death is clear. Furthermore, he has received this information from very reliable sources. What would we have done in a similar situation? Jump and run?

Or would we have denied the information? Or would we have sought out other sources to confirm what we had heard?

I should also point out that the King James Version makes the threat even more pointed: "Herod WILL kill you." In that translation, these Pharisees are speaking not merely of what is on Herod's mind, but what may be a part of Herod's present course of action.

Indeed, it sounds like the plot to kill Jesus is underway.

Now the easy way out is simply to get out of town. And I am reminded of those frequent scenes in western movies when the local sheriff tells the bad guys to be out of town by sundown. That doesn't make the bad guys any less bad, but it eases the responsibilities of the sheriff.

But Jesus has other plans.

"He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, "Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work."

Obviously, Jesus has no intention of getting out of town. But this verse is loaded. Consider all the possibilities for Jesus. For one thing, he could have simply ignored what was said. Or, he could have ignored it for the moment and gone off and thought about it.

Or, he could have acknowledged it, but then forgotten about it. But these are all easy ways out. Instead, Jesus is defiant. Not only does he acknowledge the message, but he also has a response for Herod. And in that response, he tells Herod what he thinks of him. Now, I don't know what it meant in those days to be called a "fox."

In today's slang, a beautiful woman might be called a "fox," but I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind. At the very least, I would imagine that he is referring to Herod as one who is cunning and sly.

And to call Herod a fox is to refer to him as one who can only sneak around trying to get Jesus rather than confront him directly.

So, in a sense, Jesus is calling a bluff. Jesus is confronting Herod. And he is telling Herod, these are the acts that I am performing today. And these very acts I will continue to perform tomorrow. And I will continue to perform these acts until "I finish my work." But when he speaks of the "third day," he is not telling Herod that it will all be over in three days, and that he will leave town. Rather, we are hearing prophecy of the resurrection. For it was on the third day that Jesus was raised from the dead.

And it was in the resurrection that Jesus truly finished his earthly course.

Can we be so bold in following Christ's example? Of course, most of our work is not life-threatening. But in following his example, in leading the kinds of lives he would have us lead, we run many risks. We make many sacrifices.

And frequently we are tempted to alter our course. It's easier that way. It's more difficult to confront temptation. To say, "What I do today in the name of Christ I will continue to do tomorrow. And I will continue to do that until I finish my work."

And Jesus continues, "Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem."

And when Jesus says what he "must" do, he is speaking of his life as a fulfillment of prophecy. When he speaks of "a prophet," he is speaking of himself as "the" prophet. And he is foretelling his own crucifixion in Jerusalem.

Yet, I believe that Jesus is speaking not only of that which is inevitable and unavoidable. I believe that he is speaking in CONFIDENCE of God's plan for him. He is saying that this is where I SHOULD be, where I NEED to be, and where I WANT to be.

In our own lives, we often wonder if God has some plan for us which we have not yet figured out. We wonder if we should be somewhere else, doing something else, with or for someone else. When we ask those kinds of questions, we are quite likely asking the WRONG kinds of questions.

More likely, God would have us rejoice in being where we are, doing what we are doing, with and for the people we now know; but in the full faith and confidence that this is God's plan for us.

And should God's plan for us change, we will KNOW without having to run away to seek it.

And Jesus knows how he is fulfillment of prophecy, because he knows the history of the Jewish people. He knows all that has gone before, all that the prophets have spoken, and how the Jewish people have responded to that prophecy. Because of this, he knows that Jerusalem is where he must be.

And indeed, when we look upon truly effective leadership throughout history, we find that it was in those persons who understood the history of their people, who knew where they had come from.

Such persons are frequently spoken of as the right people in the right place at the right time. But if those were accidents, they were accidents of a divine providence.

And the Messiah was the right person in Jesus of Nazareth, in the right place, among the Israelites, at the right time, a moment when the children of Israel truly needed him.

But this is not to say that it was a comfortable time; and it is not to say that Jesus took comfort in looking back over history.

Indeed, he exclaims, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

And Jesus is speaking not only as a preacher from Nazareth, but as God incarnate. And I suspect that we could lift this verse out of its context and drop it into a wide variety of other contexts throughout history, and it would readily apply.

For how frequently does God send messengers, in such a variety of ways, who are not only rejected, but scorned, tortured, and killed? And how frequently do we try to hide from this by labeling such actions "political assassinations"?

Now, this is not to say that all such victims were God's messengers; indeed they are not. But even in our own lifetimes, how frequently have we sought to silence, by whatever means, the voices of those who have disagreed with us?

Jesus knows exactly the situation into which he has been born. He knows that to be a prophet among the children of Israel is to risk torture and death, because that has been the history of the Israelites.

But although there is despair, there is also hope. Jesus continues, "See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."

And Jesus is echoing the words of the prophet Jeremiah from the twenty-second chapter: "But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.

"For thus says the Lord concerning the house of the king of Judah: "You are like Gilead to me, like the summit of Lebanon; but I swear that I will make you a desert, an uninhabited city.

"I will prepare destroyers against you, all with their weapons; they shall cut down your choicest cedars and cast them into the fire. And many nations will pass by this city, and all of them will say one to another, "Why has the Lord dealt in this way with that great city?" And they will answer, "Because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord their God, and worshiped other gods and served them."

But there is also hope. And again we hear Jesus' words echoing the one hundred eighteenth psalm: "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar!"

But it is not just a promise: it is also a prophecy.

For on the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, riding on the back of a humble donkey, Mark tells us in the eleventh chapter, "Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"

And so Jesus has heard from some Pharisees of the threat on his life. And he knows of what has happened to those prophets who have gone before him. Yet, he also knows that it is in God's plan that he continue with his work today, the day after, and all the days until he finishes his work.

Although for the earthly Jesus the course was completed with the resurrection, within us the eternal Christ continues the course as we proclaim, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"

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