Steadfast and Compassionate

February 14, 2021 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: The Gospel according to Luke

Passage: Luke 13:31–35

Steadfast and Compassionate

Our passage this morning is a turning point in Luke’s Gospel. That might sound strange to say, considering it’s only a handful of verses at the end of the chapter. It seems like little more than a transition. But that conclusion would miss the importance of this text. Let me explain what I mean.

Over and over in the last few chapters, Jesus has confronted Israel’s hard-heartedness. Remember the verdict of v6 here in chapter 13 – Israel is the barren fig tree. And then consider the warning we saw last week – the way forward is a narrow door. The time for response is now. But the people have not responded. The narrow door is closing quickly. From the Jewish religious leaders down to everyday Israelites, the response to Jesus has been persistently negative, ranging from ambivalent to hostile. And now, Luke tells us, that hostility is expanding, as Kind Herod gets in on the action with a plan to put Jesus to death. If Jesus continues to Jerusalem, the road will only get more dangerous from here.

And yet, Jesus goes ahead anyway. That’s the turning point. It is very clear that Jerusalem will be a place of suffering for Jesus. It is very clear that Israel’s Messiah will be rejected in Israel’s capital. And still, Jesus goes ahead. In fact, when Jesus hears of Herod’s threat, he does two rather remarkable things. One, Jesus affirms his rock-solid commitment to carry out the will of God. And two, Jesus laments Israel’s stubborn unbelief. Those responses, taken together, are remarkable. In one short moment, Jesus is both tenacious and tenderhearted. He is not afraid of Herod, and he is not unmoved by Israel’s blindness.

Again, this is the significance. The passage is brief, but it gives us a glimpse of how the gospel will triumph, even over unbelief. As we witness Jesus’ tenacity and tenderheartedness, we see the reason why the good news is not deterred by human wickedness. We see the reason why God’s purpose in the gospel cannot be thwarted. And that reason rests solely on the determined faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

And therein lies the connection for us as the church. There is much in this passage that applies to the historical nation of Israel, and we’ll seek to understand that context this morning. But that does not mean this passage is merely historical or has no connection to us. In fact, the connection from this passage to us is perhaps even more important than we realize. By observing the determined faithfulness of Jesus, we ought to be reminded that the mission of the church does not rest primarily on our faithfulness, but on Christ’s. His faithfulness, even unto death, is our hope, and from that death-defying hope, his faithfulness becomes our calling, as we seek to entrust ourselves to the Father even when the cost is high.

So, with that overview in mind, let’s consider the details of this turning point passage. I’ve already sketched a bit of the outline; it’s simple enough, I hope. I want us to observe three truths in connection with Christ. #1 is the Steadfastness of Christ. #2 is the Compassion of Christ. And #3 is the Triumph of the Gospel.


The Steadfastness of Christ

We begin in vv31-33 with the Steadfastness of Christ. The text begins with a surprise. V31, the Pharisees, of all people, warn Jesus of danger – “At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’” Now, why would the Pharisees go out of their way to warn Jesus? Their opposition to Jesus has been building for some time, and it’s recently started to spill out in public. So, why would they look out for Jesus?

The best we can say is that Luke doesn’t tell us why. Perhaps it’s the old adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It seems unlikely that the Pharisees legitimately care about Jesus’ well-being, but again, Luke does not identify their motive. But in the end, the motivation doesn’t affect our understanding of the passage. What’s clear is that Jesus knows his life is in danger. If he keeps going on this road, he faces a mortal threat.

But the warning is not the most important thing in this text. Jesus’ response is. Despite clear knowledge of the threat, Jesus doesn’t back down. He presses on. Notice the Lord’s response, v32 – “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” There are a couple of points to note from Jesus’ response. 

The first is Jesus’ clarity. He does not mince words. Herod is not the ultimate authority in the land. Herod is not the ultimate King. Jesus is. And Jesus backs that claim up. Notice Jesus’ message to Herod – tell him about casting out unclean spirits and healing the sick. Why mention those things? It’s not to impress Herod; it’s to warn him. Those miracles are the proof of God’s kingdom arriving in Jesus. By describing his ministry, Jesus essentially says to Herod, “You’re not the ultimate King. You don’t have unlimited power. I do,” Jesus says. If Herod thinks he can make Jesus turn tail and run, then Herod is sorely mistakenly. Herod may have an earthly throne, but Jesus comes with the power of God’s kingdom. Jesus is very clear about who he is.

The second point we ought to note is Jesus’ commitment. Look again at the last phrase in v32 – “and the third day, I finish my course.” What does Jesus mean by the third day? Is he just three days away from Jerusalem and the cross? Probably not. Rather, the point is that the events of Jesus’ ministry are unfolding in the proper order, with a sense of purpose. Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, he’s proclaiming the kingdom as he goes, he knows what’s coming, and he cannot be stopped. One, two, three, Jesus says – I’m committed to this mission.

In fact, the word finished in v32 is key. The idea is to accomplish something, and to do so with determination. The word shows up more frequently in John’s Gospel, like when Jesus tells the disciples in John 4 that his food is to accomplish the Father’s work. Or in John 17 when Jesus prays to the Father that he has accomplished the work he was given to do. Or in John 19, when Jesus, on the cross, knows that all is now finished. That is the sense here in v32. It is determination, commitment. Despite the danger, despite the cost, despite the suffering that lies ahead, Jesus will finish his course. He is clear about who he is, and he is committed to what he must do.

All of this comes together in v33. Here we see why Jesus remains steadfast in the face of Herod’s threat. Notice what Luke writes, v33 – “Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” This is a profound statement from Jesus. What we see here is the Son’s complete submission to the Father’s will. We see this in that little word must. Jesus must continue on his way. Why must Jesus continue? Because it is God’s will that he does so.

In other words, what drives Jesus to Jerusalem is the eternal plan of God. The Father’s will is for the Son to bear the cross. That’s what Jesus means when he says “it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem has often been the epicenter of opposition to God’s Word, and so it will be for Jesus. The Father’s will requires that Jesus reach Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die for the salvation of his church. In other words, divine sovereignty is at work here, and the outworking of that sovereignty includes Jesus’ faithfulness unto death. That’s what Herod doesn’t understand. Herod thinks he is sovereign, which is why he threatens Jesus. But in reality, God is sovereign, and therefore, there is nothing Herod can do to derail the plan of God.

This is why Jesus remains steadfast in the face of suffering. With complete humility, Jesus submits himself to the Father’s will, and that submission arms Jesus with the confidence, the courage even, to remain faithful to the Father.

Now, at this point, we might conclude that the takeaway for us is that we ought to follow Jesus’ example. Just as Jesus entrusted himself to the Father and therefore was faithful, so also, we must entrust ourselves to God in order to live faithfully. We might conclude this is the application for us, and that is not an improper takeaway. Jesus is modeling for us the pathway to faithfulness, and it does require a deep submission to the Father’s sovereign will. So, in no way should we minimize that connection.

But for this morning I’d like us to consider another takeaway, a different connection to our lives. And this takeaway is less something we ought to do, and more something we ought to marvel at. What we have in these few verses is the foundation for our confidence as the people of God. What we see here in Jesus’ steadfastness is the bedrock of our hope that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. And that bedrock, brothers and sisters, is the steadfast faithfulness of God the Son. We stand secure in salvation because Christ stood firm in the face of the cross. We stand secure in God’s love because Christ stood firm to bear God’s wrath.

Brothers and Sisters, what I’m urging you to see is that the obedience and faithfulness of Christ are an essential part of our salvation. We are saved because of what Jesus endured in our place, and we are saved because of what Jesus actively accomplished in our place. He submitted himself to the Father in complete and total faithfulness. For the joy that was set before him – the joy of glorifying his Father – Jesus despised the shame of crucifixion, embraced Calvary, and is seated now at the right hand of God. How do we know that we will one day reach the glory of heaven? Because Christ was faithful in our place – because Christ stood where we would not – because Jesus Christ is steadfast, firm, resolute, and determined in his submission to the Father.

Oh church, before we quickly jump to what we ought to do as Christians, let’s marvel at what Jesus did to make us Christians. Far too often we rush past the glory of the gospel because we want to do something. We want to be practical, we want to take action, we want a neat list of steps that we can check off tomorrow and tell ourselves we’ve done our part.

And to be sure, taking action is not wrong. Carrying out some practical steps of godliness is a good thing. But that good thing can become a less-than-good thing if we miss the glory that upholds our doing. Instead of rushing on to the next thing, this passage – and indeed all of Scripture – says, “Stop! Linger. Look, and wonder.” Here is the Son of God, faithful for you. Here is the Son of God, obedient for you. Here is the Son of God, courageous and committed and tenacious for you.

So, don’t rush past, brothers and sisters. Worship Christ for his faithfulness. The glory of the gospel is on display right here in Luke 13, and the specific jewel that invites our wonder is the Steadfastness of Christ.


The Compassion of Christ

Indeed, the wonder does not stop in v33. It continues on into v34, so let’s linger a little more on Jesus, this time noting the Compassion of Christ. The exchange with the Pharisees has clearly established that suffering lies ahead for Jesus. He knows what lies ahead, and what lies ahead is the cross. Israel’s Messiah will be rejected in Israel’s capital.

But instead of responding with harsh criticism, Jesus responds with mourning. Instead of upbraiding the spiritually blind city, Jesus displays compassion. Notice v34 – “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” We need to recognize there is a tragic storyline playing out in Jesus’ ministry, and that storyline has to do with the nation of Israel. By speaking of Jerusalem, Jesus is speaking of the nation.

And this storyline is tragic. From Israel’s earliest days, the nation has opposed God’s word through his prophets. Think of how the people grumbled against Moses in the wilderness. Moses clearly spoke for God, and his ministry was attested with mighty deeds. But the people grumbled against him. They opposed his leadership at points. Or think of the people’s response to the prophet Samuel. He clearly spoke for God when he warned them against choosing a king like the nations, and yet the people rejected his counsel. Elijah was chased across the country by King Ahab, even though Elijah’s words were always fulfilled, often with remarkable power. Isaiah and Jeremiah endured difficult ministries among the nation, as the people stubbornly refused to listen to their preaching. From the earliest days, Israel’s prophets brought God’s word, and Israel’s people rejected it.

And now, Jesus says, that history is coming to a head. But this time, it is not merely a prophet coming to Jerusalem; it is the Messiah. And still, the city will not receive him. In fact, this is another way that Jesus’ ministry brings to a climax God’s dealing with Israel. All of the prophets, all of the covenant renewals, all the centuries of calling people back to the Lord – all of that is reaching a climax with Jesus in Jerusalem.

And still, Jesus mourns in v34. That’s stunning, if you think about it. God, through Jesus, has every right to simply write Jerusalem off, to immediately consign the rebellious nation to a future of judgment. And while there is judgment coming, that does not rule out Jesus’ compassion. Note the image Jesus uses – of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings. That is an image of nurture and care. It has roots in Deuteronomy, and it was expressed with particularly poignancy in the book of Ruth. And the point is that God’s heart is always to care for his people.

And that’s what Jesus is demonstrating here. In a display of God’s character, Jesus mourns over Jerusalem’s hardheartedness. As Peter says in his second letter, God is patient, not wanting any to perish, but all to reach repentance. So, what v34 shows us is the heart of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Of course, that raises a question, doesn’t it? Jesus’ lament is that he would have gathered Jerusalem to himself, but the city was unwilling. That is, the people, by and large, refused to respond to the good news of the kingdom. We just talked a moment ago about God’s will being unstoppable, but here it appears that Jesus is thwarted. He would gather the people, but they won’t come. What’s the point?

I take it that the point is actually not to provide commentary on the will of God. To use doctrinal terms, this is not a verse about divine foreknowledge. Rather, the point here is to warn against the danger of disregarding God’s Word. That’s part of the compassion, part of the mercy. Rather than instantly consigning the city to destruction, Jesus once more calls them to respond to the mercy of God. Again, Jesus reminds the people of what is true about God’s character – he will protect and provide for his people. And therefore, the time to respond is now. The narrow door is closing, so don’t delay. V34 is not saying God’s will can be thwarted. Not at all. V34 is reminding us that God in Christ is unthinkably patient with sinners.

Now, with the hindsight of history, we know that Jerusalem did not respond. The city was largely destroyed in A.D. 70, which reminds us that God’s mercy does not exclude his judgment. There are consequences for rejecting the gospel, and the nation of Israel knows that full well. Along with that, we also know, with the help of other passages in Scripture, that Israel, like all people, needs to be born again. There is no response to God’s Word apart from the work of the Spirit to grant new life. God must take out our hearts of stone and give us new hearts that delight to believe the gospel. So, with both history and Scripture, we can understand why Israel did not believe and what the consequences would be.

But at this point, we ought to recognize the mercy and compassion of Christ. Once more, Jesus calls to the rebellious nation. Once more, God sends his word to people who deserved judgment. And therefore, we ought to see how God is doing that still today. If you’re not a Christian this morning, the same compassion that Jesus displayed here in Luke is being shown to you, even now. God has made his promise plain in his Word – there is salvation in Christ for those who repent and believe the gospel. And in that sense, the tragedy of Israel is a call to you. Hear God’s Word and believe. Turn from sin, and trust that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin. The compassion of Christ – which is so clear in v34 – is also a call to you, urging you to respond to God’s Word in faith.


The Triumph of the Gospel

Now, at this point, I want to come back to God’s will in the gospel and Israel’s refusal to respond. I want to come back to this because that’s where Jesus ends in v35, and what we see here is the Triumph of the Gospel. As we said a moment ago, it might be easy to conclude, based on Israel’s refusal, that God’s will is being thwarted somehow. If even Jerusalem would not receive the Messiah, then how can we say God’s kingdom has come? That is the question Jesus answers in v35. Here is a statement of judgment that reminds us how the gospel will triumph. Notice what Jesus says – “Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Jesus references two OT passages in this verse, and both are essential for grasping Jesus’ point. The first is the declaration Behold, your house is forsaken. That is an allusion to Jeremiah chapter 12, a passage that also deals with God’s people rejecting God’s messenger. And in Jeremiah, the prophet’s message was clear – God’s judgment is coming for the nation because they refuse to respond.

So, by referencing this passage from Jeremiah, Jesus is connecting his ministry with the history of Israel, but in a much greater way. Since Jesus is the very Word of God made flesh, the judgment he brings is much greater than the judgment of Jeremiah’s day. Rejecting Jeremiah, while heinous, pales in comparison to rejecting Jesus. Hence the image Jesus uses in v35 – if Israel is a house, then their house is forsaken. Or, to use the image from earlier in Luke 13, it is time for the barren fig tree to be cut down.

So, that is the first OT reference that Jesus makes. He alludes to Jeremiah as a way of confronting the nation with their spiritual bankruptcy. God’s judgment is at hand.

But that does not mean that God’s purpose has failed. Rather, God’s plan is coming to pass, even through the people’s rejection. Notice where Jesus says, “you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” That is a quotation from Psalm 118, which is a song of thanksgiving that praises God for his steadfast love. In the psalm, God’s people celebrate his faithfulness by declaring a blessing on the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

Now, you probably recognize this quotation from Jesus’ triumphal entry, which will take place in a few chapters. But that is the not the connection Jesus intends here in chapter 13. Jesus does not cite this psalm in anticipation of his triumphal entry. Rather, Jesus cites this psalm as a way of telling the nation, “Until you recognize me as the One who brings God’s salvation, you will experience God’s judgment. Until you bow the knee in worship, your house will continue to be forsaken.” Do you see how that works? Put the two OT passages together. Until the people do Psalm 118 – recognize the Messiah – they will experience Jeremiah 12 – judgment.

Now, here is the connection for us. While the psalm confronts unbelieving Israel, notice that it also exalts Jesus as the Messiah. He is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. He is the One who comes to pour out God’s steadfast love on those who believe. He is the Messiah – Psalm 118 is about him! And that means Israel’s rejection and unbelief will not derail the plan of God. Judgment for Israel does not change what God is doing in and through Jesus Christ. God will bring salvation to the earth, his steadfast love does endure forever, but it endures how? Through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that’s what we mean when we say that the gospel will triumph. God’s purpose for Christ is being fulfilled, even through Israel’s unbelief.

So, as we bring this passage to a close, where does this turning point passage leave us? Frankly, brothers and sisters, it leaves us dependent upon Christ, and that is a good thing. Our life as the people of God does not rest on our effort. Our confidence is the steadfastness of Christ. Even with the cross very clearly before him, Jesus endured to the end, and thus, we are saved. And because Jesus endured to the end, God’s purpose will not be thwarted. Even when there is unbelief and rejection, we have confidence that God’s will is coming to pass.

And therefore, we do not lose heart. We continue to devote ourselves to the ministry of the gospel. We continue to display the compassion of Christ. Like the Savior who bought us with his blood, we are patient, pleading with sinners to repent while praying for God to be gracious. This is our calling, and it rests not on us, but on our steadfast Savior whose gospel will triumph in the end.

So, may God increase our joy in Christ. May we continue to stand out in a distracted world as we linger in wonder over the Lord Jesus Christ. And may God be pleased to work through us to accomplish his purpose and build his church. Amen.

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