Luke 13_31-35 the cross-road
I have a weed here which is growing throughout the lawn. I like the yellow flowers, so I suppose I could leave them out there. Perhaps we could cover the whole backyard with this plant…a beautiful yellow field for the kids to run and roll around on. Kids, would you like a backyard covered in these? The down side are these ‘horrible’ spiny thorns! (actually do this) Perhaps if I fertilize the plant and tenderly care for it by watering it, digging around the roots and pruning it, then it will stop growing the thorns.
Why won’t this work? The problem is that this weed. So the more I tenderly care for it, instead of reducing its thorns, the weed will actually increase its yield. The more good I do for it, the more it shows its thorns!
What is the only solution left, if I don’t want to have thorns? Yes, Round up! The weed needs to be killed off to allow the grass to grow, to make way form the intended growth of lawn. We know that in nature, dying brings new life.
We know this is true in farming and gardening, but we cannot see how this is true also in our own life. We cannot see that we, since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, are produces of sin and are cursed to continually sin, as Isaiah said ‘All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.’ No matter how much we try and cultivate our good intentions, fertilize ourselves by trying to please God in what we say and do, following his commands to the last dot and iota, there is no way we can change who we are. We cannot change any more that I can change this weed into anything but a thorn bush. We need to die to self and let God make us a new creation.
Yet, we are constantly tricked into thinking we can re-create ourselves the more we are involved in Christian programs. We somehow think we are better Christians before God if we don’t feel sinful; that God is more pleased, will warmly welcome us, is obliged to owe us, the more we tenderly care for ourselves and don’t produce the ‘thorns of sin.’ We read the bible as if its entire message is an instruction booklet to life, a guide to better living and growing; a self-help book on how to become good, like we would read a ‘Better homes and Gardens’ magazine to improve our backyard. Believing we are better people before God by doing good things, is like believing I can get rid of thorns by caring and improving the weed…we can’t.
Sadly, that is how the Pharisees, the scribes and many of the people of Israel understood the scriptures. They all had good intentions and strived to be with God, but could not comprehend all humanity’s complete and total sinfulness and separation from God. They did not want to hear and refused to listen, even to Moses and all the prophets, that something far more radical than a good life was required to enter heaven – we need to die to self-righteousness and live by faith in God alone who makes all things new; who says in 1 Samuel 2: ‘The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.’
Rather, they wanted to walk the glory road to God and be self-appointed judges over who is good enough for God. They stoned and killed the prophets in Jerusalem, which ironically means ‘place of peace’, hoping their message of repentance and grace would die with them. The ‘place of peace’ became a killing field for God’s prophets, as Jesus laments ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.’
Like the people of Israel, you and I also have good intentions. We all long for and strive to share in the glory of God. We came from glory, created by God to be with him and are therefore most at peace when in his presence, as one church father wrote ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.’ Sadly, our country, like Jerusalem was, is also a ‘killing field’ for God’s word. Many would rather stay on the glory road of good intentions, the wide road; the road most travelled and be self-appointed judges’. It is a glory road that leads to idolatry or self-trust, instead of trust in God. It is a road that convinces us that we must at least try to do something on our part to get to heaven, and then, it is assumed, Christ will make up for our short comings.
The weed can only be a thorn bush, no matter how good it looks or how well I care for it. As a sinner by nature, when it comes to the righteousness God seeks, I can do nothing but be judged a sinner, no matter how good I may look; we can sorrow over this, we can rebel against this, we can pretend its not true or we can take our chances, but God’s judgment remains, ‘all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.’
Jesus is saddened by so many choosing the glory road and laments over them for rejecting God’s word; a word which promised salvation will come through God’s own Son, and that salvation is given freely by grace to all who believe this promise, as we heard in Genesis” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.’ Again and again God promises salvation freely to all who believe, but sadly, many rejected his grace, as Jesus laments, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!’
For anyone to be saved there is only one road that must be travelled and Jesus knows the road, the one that leads to the cross, as he says ‘I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day– for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’ Jesus, as true man, must die in our place and for our sin. The judgment of God upon humanity, ‘you will surely die’, must be fulfilled. By journeying to the cross to die for our sin, Jesus is enacting the gift of free salvation promised in that same Garden of Eden, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’
The cross exposes the absolute depth and hopelessness of our sinful condition. Only Jesus’ road to the cross, for us, can change our state of being, from sinner to saint. Luther, commenting on what the cross means for us, wrote, ‘The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.’ (Heidelberg Disputation 28) That means, Jesus is not out and about in the world looking for good people to bring into heaven; rather, through the cross he puts to death the old and creates a new and pleasing people. St Paul says the same ‘our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.’
With his arms out-stretched on the cross, Jesus gathered his children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Jesus continues today to gather all people who believe, and he gathers and creates you and me to be his holy ones, as he stretches-out his arms beyond the cross, into the water’s of baptism. It is ONLY here in baptism, where the cross is our ‘roundup’ that our old sinful nature is killed. Yet it is also the water that brings new life, as St Paul says in Romans 6 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’
Jesus also continues to gather you and me to himself as his holy people, as he stretches-out his arms through the bread and wine in Holy Communion. He is truly present for us, to re-create us, and we acknowledge this to be true in the liturgy of the church when we sing the ‘sanctus, or ‘Holy, holy, holy’, around the Lord’s Supper. We repeat Jesus promise ‘I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’
This is the gospel, the good news! You are already a Christian, a child of God through baptism. Your old self has been killed and continues to be killed by the water, Spirit and blood of Jesus and your new self in Christ now lives by the same water, Spirit and blood. Go in peace and live each day under the protective wing of Jesus.