Traffic and Tears on the Road to Jerusalem

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Luke 13:31-35

INTRODUCTION: We are continuing our series of messages following Jesus and his disciples on the Road to Jerusalem. We’ve seen that as the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem and began his long walk toward the cross. For six months he traveled with his disciples teaching and preaching in the surrounding villages before finally entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We have already looked at some of the obstacles they encountered on the way, as well as their rest stop at the home of Martha and Mary. Now in today’s passage we encounter some Pharisees who come to Jesus and try to convince him to go back. (Read Luke 13:31-33 and pray.)

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One thing we all hate to deal with is traffic. Anybody here enjoy traffic? I like what one person said. Next time you complain about traffic, remember this – you’re not in traffic; you are traffic! Traffic can slow you down. Traffic can make you late for appointments. Traffic can send you off on long or unfamiliar routes. Sometimes it can make you turn back altogether. I am glad I live near the church office. I don’t have to deal with much traffic on a day-to-day basis. But I haven’t always been so fortunate. For those of you who have to deal with traffic every day of the week, God bless you! I know it’s not easy.

Well, here in Luke 13 Jesus hits some traffic on his way to Jerusalem. And this traffic comes in the form of the Pharisees. We have been comparing the road to Jerusalem to the road of discipleship in our lives today. Just as Jesus’ disciples followed him to Jerusalem, so Jesus calls us to follow him to the cross. And just like Jesus hit some traffic on the road to Jerusalem, we also can hit traffic in our spiritual lives. Anything that slows you down in your walk with Christ, anything that diverts you from your course, anything that tempts you to turn around and go back is traffic on the road of discipleship.

I. Walk strong in the path of discipleship (31-33)

We will be looking at both traffic and tears on the road to Jerusalem this morning, but we begin with the traffic. So, how do you walk strong in the path of discipleship when you encounter traffic along the way?

   A. Don’t let others set your agenda (31)
      – Matthew 16:22-23

First of all, don’t let others set your agenda. Look at verse 31 with me. “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.’” (Luke 13:31) So what do you think about the Pharisees here? Is this just some friendly advice? Are they looking out for Jesus’ best interests? Most likely not.

We find the Pharisees in conflict with Jesus all through the gospel of Luke. They tangled over a number of issues: Jesus forgiving the paralytic, Jesus eating with tax collectors, fasting, Sabbath day issues and ceremonial cleansing. The Pharisees were not favorable towards Jesus, and Jesus had some pretty harsh things to say about the Pharisees. The Pharisees were jealous of Jesus’ popularity. They were envious of his power. They were offended by his teachings. They did not want him around.

And so, they tell him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else.” Basically, the Pharisees try to give Jesus his walking papers. “Leave this place and keep going, just keep on walking.” Where? “We don’t care. Anywhere but here.” The Pharisees want Jesus to get out of there. In effect, they were saying, “This place ain’t big enough for the both of us …”

Now, they don’t come right out and tell him that. Instead, they give him a different reason for leaving. They tell Jesus, “Leave this place and go somewhere else because Herod wants to kill you.” So, blame it on Herod, right?

Now, this is not the same Herod who tried to kill Jesus at the time of his birth. That was Herod the Great. This is that Herod’s son, Herod Antipas. And you might wonder, are the Pharisees telling the truth here? Did this Herod really want to kill Jesus?

We know from Luke 9 that Herod was perplexed about Jesus’ identity. (Luke 9:7-9) He even wondered if Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead. He apparently wanted to see him, but he never got his chance until Jesus was arrested. After Jesus was arrested, Pilate sent Jesus before Herod who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. Luke tells us that Herod was pleased to see Jesus and was hoping he would perform some sort of miracle for him. When Jesus refused to perform for him, Herod ridiculed him and mocked him, but he did not kill him. Instead, he sent him back to Pilate.

So, we know at least at the time of Jesus’ arrest, Herod had the opportunity to kill Jesus but chose not to. It sounds to me like the Pharisees are just making up stories here to try and push Jesus out of the area. Either way, it is hard to trust the Pharisees’ motives here. They are either taking advantage of a situation, or they are making empty threats, anything to get Christ out of their territory.

So, what’s happening here? Basically, Jesus and his disciples have hit some traffic on the road to Jerusalem. The Pharisees are trying to set Jesus’ agenda for him. They are trying to manipulate Jesus by fear and to direct his movements as they see fit. They are trying to get Jesus to fit into their program instead of God’s.

Have you ever had someone try to set your agenda? Has the enemy ever tried to bully you out of God’s will through fear or manipulation? It happens all the time. Death threats have been made on Christian leaders who take public stands on such issues as abortion or homosexuality. Missionaries are threatened by governments or revolutionary groups and told to leave or else.

But it happens in more subtle ways as well. School Bible Clubs receive pressure from administrations even though they have a constitutional right to meet. The workplace clamps down on lunch-break Bible studies or casual witnessing on the employee’s own time. A worker is told not to put a Bible on her desk. And so on. Through a process of fear and intimidation, the enemy tries to set our course for us instead of God.

I hate to say it, but this can also happen through well-meaning, good-intentioned, sincere believers as well. Sometimes even those who love the Lord can try to set your agenda for you. I saw a poster once: “God loves you, and everyone else has a wonderful plan for your life!”

The apostle Peter fell into this trap. When Jesus told his disciples he was heading to Jerusalem to suffer and die, Peter pulled him aside and said, “May this never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22) Jesus turned and said to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23) Peter was interfering with God’s will for Jesus’ life. Peter is a prime example of some well-meaning traffic along the road of discipleship.

I always feel a strong caution when someone comes up and tells me, “This is God’s will for your life!” Really! Okay. Well, let me pray about it. Let God tell me. Let God confirm it in my heart through prayer and through his word.

Beware of letting anyone other than God set the agenda for your life. This is what we talked about last week with Mary and Martha. Spend time in Christ’s presence hearing from him. Learn to hear his voice, so you don’t get confused by the traffic of other voices telling you what to do. Don’t let others set your agenda.

   B. Don’t be afraid to confront evil (32)
      – Psalm 2:1-6

And then, secondly, don’t be afraid to confront evil. The Pharisees told Jesus, “Leave, because Herod wants to kill you.” So, how did Jesus respond? Look at verse 32: He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’” This may be a subtle allusion to Jesus’ resurrection on the third day, although in context there is a different meaning here. Jesus knew God’s will for his life. He had set his face toward Jerusalem. He was going to reach his goal, and he was not going to let any traffic get in the way.

Now Jesus’ reply, “Go tell that fox!” catches us a little off guard. Did Jesus really call people names? Yes, when appropriate. He certainly did not do it to hurt someone’s feelings or out of childish anger or to be unkind. But Jesus called a spade a spade. Jesus scoffs at Herod here.

Once again, we ask, “Can God do that? Can God scoff at people?” Look at Psalm 2 which says: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One…. The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’” (Psalm 2:1-6) Yes, God is in heaven, and yes, he scoffs at the puny plans of people on earth who try to overthrow his sovereign will.

So, what does Jesus mean by calling Herod a fox? Why does he use that specific term? A fox is a small, weak, wily animal that lives by cunning rather than strength. And so, in calling Herod a fox, Jesus was basically saying a couple of things.
First, he was drawing attention to Herod’s crafty, treacherous side. Herod was not a man worthy of much respect. He divorced his wife to marry his own niece who also happened to be married to his brother. I know, it’s complicated. He beheaded John the Baptist even when he didn’t want to because of a foolish promise he made at a birthday party. He was a weak man who used his political power for selfish gain.

And then secondly, Jesus was also showing that he was not afraid of Herod. Herod could not bully Jesus into submission. God had called Jesus to preach and to heal and to cast out demons. And God had called him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the sins of the world. Death threat or not, Jesus would go on with his work, and he would reach his goal. So, Jesus tells the Pharisees to go tell it to the fox.

Now, we need to be careful here. As Christians we are called to love, forgive, forbear and be courteous. We are not to go around calling people names as a general rule. Jesus rarely did.

But there are times when we also must call a spade a spade. Sometimes the thief needs to be called a thief. The unfaithful spouse needs to be called an adulterer. The pornographer needs to be called perverted. There are times when evil must be confronted and named. There are times when Herod must be called a fox.

   C. Follow God’s calling wherever he leads (33)

How do you walk strong in the path of discipleship when you encounter traffic along the way? 1) Don’t let others set your agenda. 2) Don’t be afraid to confront evil. And 3) Follow God’s calling wherever he leads. Look at what Jesus says next in verse 33: “In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day — for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”

This expression Jesus keeps using, “today, tomorrow and the next day,” does not mean that Jesus would literally arrive in Jerusalem in three days. This expression signifies a short and definite period of time. In other words, Christ was on his way, and nothing would deter him from reaching his goal. Jesus was motivated not by fear but rather by obedience. He had set his face towards Jerusalem where he knew he would die, and he would keep going. He was willing to follow God’s calling wherever that led, even to death on the cross.

There is a sad irony in Jesus’ statement: “for surely no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem.” Jerusalem was the holy city. It was the place of the temple, the place of worship for God’s people. But here Jesus calls it the killing place for God’s prophets. Jesus will also go there to his death. He will die soon enough without Herod’s help.

How do you handle traffic on the road to Jerusalem? Don’t let others set your agenda. Don’t be afraid to confront evil. Don’t let anything get in the way of following God’s will for you. Whatever the obstacles, whatever the cost, keep your eyes on the goal and keep plugging. Follow God’s calling wherever he leads.

II. Have compassion for the lost (34-35)

We’ve looked at the traffic on the road to Jerusalem. Now let us look briefly at the tears. In verses 34-35 Luke records a heartbreaking lament of Jesus over Jerusalem. We cannot do justice to Christ’s lament in these verses – his depth of emotion, the haunting beauty of his words. This lament is the broken heart of God crying out for his beloved people who have rejected him. Think of the heartbreak of a loving parent over a rebellious child and then multiply it a hundred times, a thousand times, an infinite amount – for God’s love is infinite and his compassion is beyond our understanding. In two short verses, Jesus reveals to us the heart of God.

   A. God longs for lost people to come to him (34)
      – Psalm 17:8, 61:4; Matthew 5:44; 2 Peter 3:9

There are a couple things we learn from this lament. First of all, God longs for lost people to come to him. Look at verse 34: “O 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, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

Notice Jesus’ double address of the holy city: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” We saw this last week too when Jesus spoke compassionately to Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.” (Luke 10:41) Now Jesus does the same with the city: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” Jesus probably refers to the whole nation of Israel here with Jerusalem as representative of the whole. You can just feel the longing in his heart for his people.

“You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” Unfortunately, Israel’s history was full of examples of rejecting and killing the prophets of God. This was no secret. There were no skeletons in the closet here. They had even built tombs as monuments for the prophets who had died.

“How often I have longed to gather your children together.” Notice how Jesus is full of love and compassion for Jerusalem – for those who had killed the prophets, for those who would soon crucify him. Earlier he had preached, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Now he lives it out by example. Notice also that this is not a one-shot deal. He has often longed to gather his people. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, and so he probably refers to all of Israel’s history here, even before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

“I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” This is a familiar image from the Old Testament of God’s protective presence. The Psalms speak of “hiding in the shadow of God’s wings” (Psalm 17:8) or “taking refuge under God’s wings.” (Psalm 61:4) The Old Testament applied this image to God. Jesus now applies this image to himself.

“I longed to gather you together, but you were not willing.” Notice that Jesus was willing, but Israel was not. God’s heart is always willing. He is willing to save. He is willing to bless. He longs to gather us under his wings. The sad truth is that we are not willing. We are not willing to humble ourselves before our Creator and worship him as God. We are not willing to come to him to be saved. God does not reject us. Rather, we refuse him. The reason we do not go to heaven is because we refuse the only one who can take us there.

We read in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) God desires to save, but if we refuse him, then we will perish.

   B. Those who reject Christ will face God’s judgment and wrath for sin (35a)
      – Luke 19:41-44

And that’s the next thing we see in Jesus’ lament. Those who reject Christ will face God’s judgment and wrath for sin.

Look at verse 35 where Jesus continues his lament for Jerusalem: “Look! Your house is left to you desolate!” (Luke 13:35a) Jesus looked into the future and saw the destruction of the Holy City only decades away. He saw the cruelty and the atrocities Jerusalem would suffer at the hands of others and even against themselves. He saw the horrors of coming war and famine, unspeakable things. And as much as he loves his people, as much as he has longed to gather them under his wings, their refusal of him will inevitably bring judgment.

Later on, when Jesus approaches Jerusalem during his triumphal entry, he will weep over the city once again. We read in Luke 19: “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44)

Jesus sees the city and the temple destroyed, the people slaughtered and scattered abroad. “Look,” he cries. “Your house is left to you desolate!” The word translated “desolate” here carries the idea of abandonment. Israel will be abandoned by the God who longed to save them, but they were not willing. Now they will be left to themselves.

The application for today is clear. The person who rejects Christ today will also be left desolate. They will be completely and utterly abandoned by God, not because God was not willing to save, but because they were not willing to come to him. The person without Christ has no protector, no deliverer on the day of judgment. They will be left to themselves. They will face God’s judgment and wrath for sin desolate and alone, and they will not stand in the day of judgment.

   C. One day all will acknowledge Jesus as Lord (35b)
      – Ezekiel 33:11; Romans 11:25-26; Philippians 2:10-11

And then the final thing we learn from Jesus’ lament is that one day all will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Jesus says at the end of verse 35: “I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:35b) People sometimes wonder if Jesus is speaking about Palm Sunday here. On Palm Sunday, the people will cry out these very words to Christ as he rides into the city.

But in the gospel of Matthew we find Jesus speaking these words again after Palm Sunday, after entering Jerusalem. (There are a number of places in the gospels where Christ repeats certain teachings or sayings.) And so it would seem Jesus is speaking here about his second coming, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11), when all nations will recognize that Jesus Christ is indeed the blessed one, the one truly sent from God in heaven. Jerusalem will not see Jesus as her Messiah until that day.

Perhaps Jesus is also speaking in symbolic fashion of those Jews who will turn to him for salvation throughout the church age. Whenever a Jewish person turns to Christ, calling him blessed, recognizing him as Messiah and Savior, there is a mini-fulfillment of this promise in Luke 13:35. There is a hint here of what Paul talks about in Romans 11, where Paul indicates many Jewish people will come to believe in Jesus as Messiah when they see the Gentiles turning to Christ for salvation. (Romans 11:25-26)

Have you learned like Christ to love your enemies, to bless those who persecute you? Are you filled with compassion for the lost? As Christ walked towards his death in Jerusalem, he shed no tears for himself. Rather, he lamented for those who would reject him and reap the consequences.

God takes no pleasure in punishing sinners. We read in Ezekiel 33:11: “As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)

God says the same to you. How often he has longed to take you under the shelter of his wings, to love and protect you. Are you willing? Will you come to him?

CONCLUSION: We have looked at traffic and tears on the road to Jerusalem today. Traffic is anything you encounter on the road of discipleship that would seek to change your direction, to shift your goal, to cause you to follow something other than God’s will for your life. Don’t let the traffic determine your direction. Rather, determine to follow God first and God only.

And then what are the tears? The tears we shed are not for ourselves, not even for the cross that we carry. As followers of Jesus we shed tears for those who persecute us and for any who remain outside of Christ, outside the shelter and protection of his wings. We long for them to come to Christ, to know his love and forgiveness, to know the joy and wonder of God’s salvation.

May we learn much today from Jesus’ example on the road to Jerusalem: from his determination and strength to follow God’s will; his compassion and pity for the lost; his unswerving commitment to justice and righteousness; and most of all the hope he holds out for all who will say concerning Jesus: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

© Ray Fowler

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