Second Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2010
Text: Luke 13:31-35
Rejection of preachers is nothing new. Prophet after prophet was sent by God to Israel, preaching repentance, preaching a returning to God, and prophet after prophet was rejected, exiled, imprisoned, tortured, executed. Preaching the Word of God demands a high price of the preacher. It demands self-sacrifice. But it is God who sends the preacher, and God who places the preaching into the preacher’s mouth. The preacher is to preach whatever God sends him to preach, and only what God sends him to preach, no more, and no less. And so a preacher preaches whether the message falls on deaf ears or finds reception in open hearts. The preacher preaches whether the seed of the Word falls on rocky ground or good soil, even at risk of the seed being picked off by birds or growing up only to be choked by thorns or scorched by sunlight. The preacher preaches the Word of God, Law and Gospel, bitter and sweet, life and death, because that is what he is called to do. The preacher preaches repentance and the forgiveness of sins. He preaches Christ. And woe to him if he fails to do it.
Now let me say at the outset here that I don’t have an axe to grind with this congregation… You’ve been nothing but welcoming to me, and you’ve embraced my family as your own. We’ve been among you almost four years now. I love you all dearly. But what I’m getting at here is a very real spiritual danger that has afflicted (and continues to afflict) many congregations and could at any time afflict ours, a danger that has troubled the Christian Church throughout her history, and that is a constant battle in the heart of every sinful saint: Rejection of the preacher and his preaching. We see it in our Scripture readings this morning. Jeremiah is rejected by the priests and the prophets, the religious elite of Judah, who want to kill him for his preaching (Jer. 26:8-15). Paul speaks of many who once walked in his own example, but who now walk as enemies of Christ (Phil. 3:17-18). And finally, our Lord Jesus is rejected by Herod, by the Pharisees, by Jerusalem, by the very people for whom He came to die (Luke 13:31-35). Why are preachers so often rejected? I’m not talking about legitimate reasons for fleeing a preacher or removing him from office, such as the preaching of false doctrine, or leading a manifestly sinful life. Why are even faithful preachers rejected, not only by the world, but by the people of their congregations? There are many superficial excuses… His personality rubs me the wrong way. I can’t understand him. I don’t like the way he conducts the liturgy. I don’t like the liturgy. I wish he preached more “uplifting” sermons. I don’t like how he always talks about sin and death and crosses and forgiveness. Why does he always harp on me about attending church and going to confession and absolution and receiving the Sacrament so often? I wish he would concentrate less on doctrine and more on what is relevant to my life (as if the doctrine, the teaching of Jesus, could ever be anything but relevant to you). I’m sure there are many other reasons given for rejecting a preacher. And maybe you’ve had some of these thoughts yourself. But in reality, when a preacher is rejected, it is for the Word He preaches. That is to say, what is rejected is the preaching of repentance, and the preaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus said to His disciples: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16; ESV). When a faithful preacher is rejected for preaching the Word of Christ, it is, in reality, Christ Himself who is rejected, and so the Father who sent Him.
Sometimes the preaching is rejected outright, as the priests and prophets rejected Jeremiah, and as Jerusalem rejected our Lord, both seeking to kill the preacher. We think of so many Christian martyrs throughout the centuries who were tortured and killed for their faithful proclamation of Christ. Often pastors are removed from their pulpits because they refuse to scratch the itching ears of their congregation. More often, the rejection is subtle, a matter of the heart. I know this because I’ve done it myself: We nod and smile as the pastor preaches, but in our hearts we secretly acknowledge that we don’t really believe what he’s saying. Beloved, repent.
The problem here is the hardness of the human heart. To the natural man, to the unconverted person, and even to the believing Christian insofar as every one of us is still a sinner, the preaching of Christ and His cross is an offense (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14). For outside of Christ and His life-giving Spirit, my will, your will, is bound. The bondage of the will is not a popular article of doctrine, and too-little taught and preached. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin, the human will has been bound to choose only sin, only death, only that which is opposed to God. This is why you can never say you made your decision for Jesus. A slave cannot choose which master to serve. You are born into the service of sin and unbelief, of death, and ultimately, the devil. That is what it means to be lost. You cannot choose to serve Jesus when you are bound by the chains of the evil one. And what really gets us about the idea of this bound will is that there is nothing you can do about it. If you are to be rescued from this bondage, it must come from outside of yourself. It must come from God. It can only come from God. All of this is simply to reaffirm what we confess in the Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The only way that anyone ever comes to accept and believe Jesus Christ and His Word and His preachers is by the Holy Spirit working through the divinely appointed means of grace, the Word and Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You don’t choose Jesus, He chooses you! It is by grace. Faith is not your work, it is the gift of God. But that doesn’t mean that faith is easy. Our Lord Christ has covered our sin with His blood, forgiven us poor sinners, but we still sin. We are at the same time saints and sinners, and so it is always a struggle with this sinful flesh to believe the preaching, to hear the preacher, to allow the Law to do its painful work on us, to look to Christ alone for help and salvation.
What great compassion our Lord Jesus has for those who reject the preaching, reject the prophets, reject Him and the salvation He alone brings. “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” (Luke 13:34). When there is danger, when there is a predator, like a hawk, seeking to eat the chicks, or when a fire threatens her brood, a hen will shield the little ones with her own body. She will die for the sake of her offspring, to save them. In the same way, Jesus suffers the cross for us. He dies for us. He dies for the sins of the whole world. He suffers our punishment. His wings are outstretched on the cross, and He would gather all people under them, gather all people to Himself, under His cross, in His holy Church, for safety and shelter. Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem for that very purpose, that He may die for all humanity, and gather a Church unto Himself: “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” (v. 33). Why can’t Jerusalem see the salvation that comes to her in Jesus? Why do the people not bow down in homage to the One who would pay so high a price, His blood and death, for their forgiveness and life? The answer is here in our text, in the lament of our Lord: “you would not!” (v. 34). It’s the bondage of the will. Jerusalem “would not,” willed not to be thus gathered to our Lord in faith, because her will is bound to choose everything and anything other than our Lord. It is not a lack of love or willingness on God’s part that leads to the eternal death of the sinner. It is the stubborn human heart that rejects the preaching, rejects the Gospel, and so rejects Jesus, rejects God, rejects salvation.
Beloved in the Lord, there is nothing within us that led the Holy Spirit to convert us, to turn our heart in repentance to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not by our merit or worthiness or any effort on our part that we came to faith. It is all by grace. Do not torture yourself with the question why everyone else is not converted. It is a futile question, a seeking to look into the hidden will of God, things that are not given us to know. We can only say what Scripture says, what our Lord says in our Gospel lesson this morning: How God longs for every sinner to be gathered to Christ and be saved, and how only the stubborn, hard heart of man, his bound will, is responsible if he is lost. God does not force anyone to believe. There is no such thing as “irresistible grace.” But there is unimaginable grace.
What great grace that God gave His sinless Son into death for us sinners. What great grace that God has gathered us here, by Baptism, under the wings of His Son’s cross, into His outstretched arms, into His nail pierced hands. What great grace that God has gathered us here to His Church, where we receive all the benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ, including His very body and blood in the Supper. What great grace that here God has placed a man into the preaching office, of himself unworthy, flawed, weak, sinful, but called by God to speak Jesus into your ears and hearts, to forgive your sins, a mere instrument and mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit. What great grace that we can come every Sunday, and so many other times during the week, and we will always find our Savior here in the preaching, and in the Sacrament. For the preacher is called to preach God’s Word, preach Jesus, and woe to him if he does not do it. God grant that this preacher, and every Christian pastor, always proclaims Christ and His Word faithfully, no matter the consequences, even if it be rejection, even if it be death. But what great grace that our Lord has not left us orphans. He comes to us (John 14:18), here, in Word and Sacrament. And even as we gather around His altar to receive His true body and blood, really present, received in our mouths for our forgiveness, we sing these words, the words Jerusalem sang as our Lord came into the city to die for her, for us: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 13:35). And so we see Him in the Supper, just as we hear Him in the preaching. Rejection of the preacher is nothing new. What is new is you, your heart released from bondage, forgiven of sin, freed by the Spirit, brought to faith in Christ by the same Spirit. What is new is the life you have in Christ crucified, the open ears and hearts that hear and cling to His Word. “Therefore, my brothers” and sisters, “whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Phil. 4:1). Stand firm by hearing Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).