Jerusalem was supposed to be a place of peace. It is inherent in the name. Jerusalem is a combination of the Hebrew words for foundation and peace (יְרוּ + שָׁלֵם). It literally means “foundation of peace.” For a time, Jerusalem was a place of peace. It was the throne of David, the king after God’s own heart. It was the capital of Judah, the city of Solomon’s temple. God put His name and His presence in Jerusalem. It was a special place. A holy place. A “foundation of peace.”
But something changed. Jerusalem did not remain a place of peace. It became a place violence. It became a place where the people of God rejected His message and killed His messengers.
I do not think the people of Jerusalem designed to reject God. They did not wake up one day and decide, instead of listening to God, they would make it their mission to kill Him. They were deceived. Blinded. Deluded by sin and its author. As a result, they were unable and unwilling to hear the Word of the Lord. The “foundation of peace” became a place of violence, first for the prophets, and then for Jesus himself. The parable of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-19 comes to mind.
The tragedy is Jesus had come to gather them together. To call them to repentance, yes. But also, to forgive them, unite them, and protect. The image of the hen gathering her chicks depicts a fierce and defending love. Like a mother guarding her young, Jesus longed to gather and protect His people from the enemy. But they would not. As a result, Jesus says in verse 35, they are forsaken.
This text is, among other things, a warning for every place in which God has promised to be present with His peace. While the Church (as the corporate gathering of the baptized believers who listen to the voice of Jesus) is not in the same position of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, the caution should be taken seriously. Shaped by more than only their baptism, it is tempting for the Church to resist the gathering love of Jesus and become a place of subtle forms of violence.
A sermon on this text might invite the hearers to think about people who refuse to be helped. We all know such people. It is the older man who refuses to see the doctor when everyone else knows he must. It is the high school girl who refuses to ask her teacher for some extra support after school. It is the husband who refuses to go to marriage counseling despite repeated pleas from his wife. It is the young mom who refuses to ask advice from her own mother about rearing her children. It is hard to watch people refuse help they so desperately need. As a pastor, I often felt this way about delinquent members. Many of their lives were in shambles, yet they refused to turn back to the only One who could forgive and renew and protect them.
Let us be clear. Most of the hearers of your sermon are not refusing to seek help from the Lord. They are in worship listening to you preach! But this is the second Sunday in Lent, and Lent is a time to take a closer look. Even regular church-goers are not immune from resisting the One who longs to gather and protect them.
As the preacher, you might ask your hearers (and yourself) some honest questions about our openness to Jesus and the help He promises. In what ways are we resisting Jesus as He longs to gather us to Himself? From which parts of our lives are we refusing to receive His help? It is tempting to think we are not as obstinate as the people in Jerusalem. That we would never be so dense as to reject Jesus and His Word. We would never refuse to be gathered by God.
And yet… each of us, in our own sinful way, resists the goodness and mercy of God. Perhaps it is His good Law we refuse to follow. Perhaps it is one of His gracious promises we refuse to believe. As the local pastor, you know the specifics of your congregation. Or, at least, you know your own areas of resistance.
The good news is your hearers (and you) are together again in the Lord’s house for this sermon. He has done it again! Perhaps against our own desires or understanding, He has gathered us together as His people. He has gathered us beneath the cross to forgive us. He has gathered us into a community to support and defend us. If you are celebrating the Lord’s Supper, you might highlight how He is gathering us together at His table, to feed us and to bless us with His protective love.
This text gives you an opportunity to emphasize the good news that Jesus never stops gathering. He never stops drawing us to Himself. He is like a hen who never gives up on her chicks. He is our protector. Our provider. Our Savior—even from ourselves.
Concordia Theology: Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO, to assist you in preaching Luke 13:31-35.
Lectionary Podcast: Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN, walks us through Luke 13:31-35.
Text Week: A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 13:31-35.