The Lord's Day Morning
November 14, 2010
“Jesus’ Compassion and Our Indifference”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 13 as we continue our way through this gospel. I want you to be on the lookout for three things as we read this passage from verses 31 to 35.
First, I want you to look at Jesus’ example. We heard a passage read earlier today where the apostle Paul, in Philippians 2, commends to us Jesus’ example. We need more than Jesus’ example. If Jesus’ example is all we have, we're all in trouble, because the best of us don't follow His example. But when we have received the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ it is a wonderful thing to have His example because He shows us the way to go in hard places. And this is one of those places where He shows us the way to go. So I want you to be on the lookout for Jesus’ example here, especially the example that Jesus gives of trusting God's providence and living out the purpose of His life despite the threats that are swirling around Him. He does not give way to fear, but He walks in confidence because He knows the Father's providence and He knows His purpose in life, and so it helps Him in these moments of darkness and threat.
The second thing I want you to be on the lookout for is Jesus’ compassion. Here in this passage, and especially in verse 34, we see something of Jesus’ heart of compassion, even towards those who have rejected Him. I think we're to learn something from that as well.
And then, I'd like us to look at the response that Jesus gets, not only from Jerusalem mentioned in verse 34, but also from the other players in this passage — the Pharisees, Herod — all of them picture for us a response to Jesus. In the sermon title I've called it “indifference” but really, that's an understatement. The response that Jesus faces is rejection here and we need to contemplate that too.
Let's pray before we read God's Word together.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. Your Word is more valuable to us than gold, and to those who have tasted of Your grace, it tastes better than the sweetest honey ever tasted in this world. And so we ask Lord, that You would speak Your Words deep into our hearts that we would understand them, that we would believe them, that we would respond to them in faith and walk by them in faithfulness. Do this by Your Holy Spirit. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it, beginning in Luke 13 verse 31:
“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill You.’ And He 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. 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.’ 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 would not! 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!’’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I wonder if you've ever thought about how you would live if there were people who wanted to kill you because of who you are and what you believe, the Lord that you worship, the message that you share. It would be a shame if we never thought about that question. We have brothers and sisters around the world that have to think about that question every day, and they have an answer for it. And it would be very sad if we didn't have an answer for it.
Jesus had an answer to that question. You see that answer in this passage. He's surrounded by people who want to kill Him. Herod wants Him dead. Most of the Pharisees want Him dead. Eventually, large crowds in Jerusalem will scream out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Jesus had to know how to live when there were people who wanted Him dead and His example is important for us, not just when we face circumstances where we are persecuted. Whereas Jeremy has already intimated in our prayer, we know so little of that compared to so many of our friends in Christ around the world. But we need to understand this in every difficult circumstance of life. So I want to think with you today about what Jesus’ example teaches us about living under the providence of God when there are threats to our life, when there are trials and tribulations. But I also want us to think about the compassion of Jesus displayed in this passage, even towards those who wanted to kill Him and who were going to kill Him. And then I want to think a little bit about their response to Jesus.
I. Jesus’ example.
Let's begin by looking at Jesus’ example. Jesus gives us an example here. Jesus gives us much more than an example, thank heavens. Jesus didn't just tell us how to live or show us how to live, He lived for us a life in our place a life that we couldn't live. He died a death that we deserved to die in our place. He bore in His own body on the tree the penalty due our sins so that everyone who trusts in Him receives from God the gift of being counted righteous in Him, being treated as if we had lived the life that He had lived, and as if we did not deserve the punishment that He absorbed for us, but being welcomed into God's family and forgiven and accepted in Jesus Christ the Beloved.
That's what Jesus did for us, and if He hadn't done that for us, then everything that He showed us by way of example would avail nothing for us. But because Jesus has done that for us, and because we have trusted in Him and accepted His life and death in our place, His obedience and sacrifice on our behalf, His example does matter to us.
And the New Testament often points to the way Jesus lived and says that believers need to take that into consideration and to emulate Jesus at certain points of our own living. This is one of those places.
Jesus is approached by Pharisees. Now Luke doesn't tell us whether these Pharisees are sincere. This would be very uncustomary for Pharisees to be looking to help Jesus out. And he doesn't tell us whether the Pharisees just wanted to get Him out of Galilee and into Judea where Pharisees had greater influence and perhaps they could exercise greater control over Him. But these Pharisees come to Jesus and they share with Him a message and the message is this — “Jesus, get out of here! Herod wants to kill You!”
And you see what Jesus’ response is in verse 32. He ways, “I'm going to Jerusalem to die on purpose. I'm not scared that Herod wants to kill Me. And by the way, Herod can't lay a finger on Me because I'm not going to die one minute before God wants Me to die. My job is to perform cures and to proclaim the Gospel and I will do that this day and tomorrow and the next day and then I will go to Jerusalem to die. My life is in God's hands. God is providentially watching over Me. He has a purpose in My life and My purpose is to die, so I'm not afraid of death threats! I was born to die, but I won't die here at the hand of Herod in Galilee. I'm going to Jerusalem. It's in Jerusalem that I'm going to die.” The confidence of Jesus in the face of the threat of Herod, and perhaps the veiled threats of the Pharisees, is astounding. Why? Because He trusts in His Father's providence. He's not afraid. He knows the purpose of His life. He is unafraid.
I shared with you some stories last week that I had heard from the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism of people who face death for the sharing of the Gospel. And one of the stories I shared with you was from Michael Ramsden. And I've been trying for two weeks now to go back and re-listen to that story because I wanted to make sure that I had every detail right. And I must report to you this morning that I under-told that story. The story was better than I told it. I really work hard not to embellish stories. That is a preacher's frequent temptation, to take a good story and make it a little bit better. Well in this case, I took a good story and I made it a little bit worse! The story that Michael Ramsden told was even better than I told it and I heard it again. I'd been trying to listen to it again, but the website was blocking me, and then suddenly on Thursday of this week it let me hear it again. And here's how it went.
I told you a story of a missionary in a country where Christianity is illegal, where sharing the Gospel is illegal, where giving a Bible to someone is punishable by law. And this missionary and his wife were out in a rural section of the country and they went to the town and the missionary went into a store and he saw a man standing by that store. Well, here's one of the things I left out — the man standing by the store had a gun and he followed the missionary into the store and he followed the missionary out of the store and he continued to stand outside the store. And the missionary got into his car and began to drive away and the missionary's wife said, “Did you give him a Bible?” And this missionary said, “No, I didn't give him a Bible! I don't intend on getting shot!” And his wife said, “I feel burdened that you should have given him the Bible. I've been praying and I think the Lord wants you to give him a Bible.” And the missionary said, “I have no intention of giving him a Bible! I will die!” And the missionary's wife began to pray right there in the car. “Lord, on the Judgment Day, may the blood of this man not be counted against me, who my husband will not even give a Bible!” And they stopped right there in the middle of the road and had a friendly marital disagreement. And you’ll know who won the marital disagreement because the car turned back around and they started driving back into town. And he got out of the car and he walked up to the man and — here's another thing that I had forgotten — and he handed the man a Bible in his own language and the man said, “Three nights ago in a dream I was told to come here and someone would give me the Book of Life. Thank you for giving me this Book.” The other thing that I forgot to tell you was, five years later, that man who gave that man with the gun the Bible, that missionary, five years later that missionary was martyred for sharing the Gospel.
At Lausanne — now the reason that Michael Ramsden told the story was to make this point. His big point in that part of the message was – there are no countries that are closed to the Gospel if we are willing to die to share the Gospel. His point was – there are no countries that are closed to the Gospel if only we are willing to die to share the Gospel. We often speak of countries that are closed where missionaries only go into in grave danger. And so very often we think of those countries as countries that are not open to the sharing of the Gospel, but if you’re ready to die, there is no place that is not open to the Gospel. And it was exhilarating at Lausanne to be around so many people like that. When Michael Ramsden stood up to speak in fact he said, “I feel like a lion in a room full of Daniels.” There were many, many people in that conference who had already made the commitment they were ready to die. I told you about Archbishop Kwashi who said, “I don't care how many times the Muslims threaten me. I'm going to die someday. I don't care. I'm going to proclaim the Gospel until I've taken my last breath.”
Now this is exactly Jesus’ attitude. He was not easily scared by Herod or by the Pharisees because He believed in God's providence and He knew that He was born to die and He was not going to be put off of His purpose in life, His proclamation, or His task. And my friends, that is an example to us about how we ought to live our lives. Do you understand the exhilarating freedom and liberty that comes from knowing that nobody can take anything away from you that matters? What you just sang in response to Philippians 2, “A life of self-renouncing love is one of liberty” — do you have any idea how true that is? When you have renounced everything and determined to live a life worthy of the Gospel, do you understand how absolutely free you are? Jesus gives an us an example of how to live.
II. Jesus’ compassion.
Jesus also gives us an example in His compassion. Look at His words in verse 34. Now He tells you in the beginning of verse 34 that when He gets to Jerusalem they’re going to treat Him just like they treated the prophets in the Old Testament. They’re going to reject Him. But look at His heart of compassion. Look at the end of verse 34 — “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Do you see what Jesus is saying there? Jesus is using Old Testament language that God used for His bringing the people of Israel under the watchcare of His wings. It's a beautiful picture. And Jesus says this about Jerusalem.
One thing that Jesus is indicating here is that He is divine. He is identifying Himself with the Lord God of Israel. Only God could say this and not be a delusional maniac. And Jesus says it. It's a strong claim of His deity, but it is also an evidence of His heart of compassion because the people He is saying this to and about are exactly the same people who will reject Him and who will kill Him. That is His heart of compassion. That's why, when we mentioned the story of Archbishop Kwashi last week, he encouraged the Christians who had been martyred — the families of the Christians who had been martyred — by the Muslims, not to see vengeance against them. Not that we don't care about justice, we certainly do. And we who have the resources available to us should do all that we can to seek justice for our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ around the world, but not to have a heart of vengeance against our enemies, but a heart of compassion, a Gospel-desire to see people converted to faith in Jesus Christ. And Jesus Himself manifests that right here. He knows these people are going to reject Him and yet He longs for them to know the blessing of union with Himself, the blessings of God's beneficence poured out on them.
You know, when you become a Christian, you begin to have a heart like Jesus. You begin to have a compassion for the lost. One of the signs that you are growing in the Christian life is you start to have compassion like Jesus has compassion. You have a heart for the lost. You long for those who face an eternity separated from God to come into fellowship with Him by faith in Christ. You can't be indifferent to it. And so the way you live begins to show that compassion. You share the Gospel, you are committed to the support of evangelism and campus ministry and missionary work, so that as many as possible can hear the message of salvation and come to faith in Christ because your heart has been enlarged with compassion. And even towards those who would naturally be your enemies.
I remember sitting in the Grace Chapel at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson just a few weeks after the events of September 11th in New York and Washington and elsewhere, and John Piper was preaching the missions conference. And he was talking about sending missionaries into the Muslim world with the message of the Gospel, ready to die if necessary, in order to bring the Gospel into the Muslim world. Now, I must confess that I went to that conference not thinking about how much I wanted Islam to be converted to faith in Christ. I had other prayers that I was thinking of relating to Islam. But my wicked heart melted under that preaching. And I realized I had the wrong attitude. And one of the things that happens to us when we come to faith in Christ is His compassion begins to build in our heart towards the lost. Jesus manifests that here.
III. The response of the crowd to Jesus.
But then I want you to see the response of the people in this passage to Jesus. And in the sermon title I called it “indifference,” but it's more than that, isn't it? You really can't be indifferent to Jesus. You either accept Him or you reject Him. There's really no middle ground with Jesus, and in this passage you see that. The Pharisees want Him out of Galilee, Herod wants to kill Him, and the people in Jerusalem, they’re going to reject Him and eventually they’re going to kill Him just like they did so many of the prophets in the Old Testament. In other words, there is going to be a rejection of Jesus’ person and His proclamation and His ministry.
And that presses on us a question because Jesus is speaking here to religious, God-fearing people who had a Bible. These people had their Hebrew Bible, they had their Old Testament, and they knew it. They knew it far better than most of us know the Old Testament and they were serious about religion. And yet they rejected Jesus.
And there's a message for us. We’re God-fearing people and we've got our Bibles and we're serious about religion and we’ll argue theology with you, but have we embraced Jesus by faith? Have we acknowledged that His cross is the only way of salvation that if He is not our substitute for sin there is no hope? Do we trust in Him? Have we put our faith in Him? And do we treasure Him more than anything in this world, or is He something that we add onto our life and that we fill up for about an hour a week and then the rest of our lives we do what we really care about and then we're religious again for an hour or so the next week? Or is He our all in all? Do we really want to crown Him Lord of all because He's already Lord of all that we are?
The question that is pressed upon the people who originally heard Jesus say, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I have longed to gather you like a mother hen gathers her chicks,” is pressed upon us. Will we come to Jesus? Will we respond in faith to Him? Will we hear His call to sinners or will we reject Him? There's no in-between.
And we must also see this — He, He is more compassionate to us than we will ever be. He longs to see us saved more than we long to be saved. In fact, if He did not long for us to be saved, none of us would be saved. Had He not gathered us to Himself we would have not been gathered. And so in the end, when someone is condemned, it is not because there is something lacking in the compassion of Jesus, for He cares more about the salvation of sinners than sinners care about the salvation of sinners.
If we reject Jesus in the end, it's entirely our doing. It's not a lack of His compassion. And that is a very sober thing to consider, and so we must.
Heavenly Father, by grace this morning we ask that Your Spirit would help us to see who Jesus is and to respond to the Gospel in faith and to respond to His call, “Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” And to respond to His call, “Come sinners, come to Me.” And to respond to His call, “Come, for I have already spread the feast for you.” Grant, O Lord, by faith, by grace, that we would come, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now let's take our hymnals and turn to number 480 and sing to God's praise.
Whatever your lack is, God has the blessing you need. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.