Jesus is refuge

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The Gospel of Luke  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  26:28
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Nothing will turn Jesus aside from his mission which will be completed at Jerusalem - even though it will cost him his life. Jesus goes on because he longs to offer refuge to God's people - but they are not willing. Still the hope is held out that one day, some will be among the crowd that welcomes Jesus, ultimately victorious, into the presence of his Father, God.

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Big Idea: Jesus will complete his mission, bringing refuge - but the unwilling are forsaken
Introduce me
This week a small town, Whaley Bridge, spent a lot of time in the news. Why? Well it sits just under a huge reservoir and with all the rain in the last week, the dam - you can see it - the dam was seriously damaged. The environment agency issued a “danger to life” warning as more rain was forecast, fearing the whole thing might fail and a reservoir full of water flood out over the town. People were given just minutes notice to evacuate from their homes as the emergency services set out to gather them together into a high school in a neighbouring town - gathering them together for refuge.
Why do I mention that story? We’ve been working through Luke’s gospel - his telling of the story of Jesus for over a year now, taking it slowly, bit by bit. And today we come to a section where these ideas of impending catastrophe and gathering people into refuge take centre stage. Listen with me and let’s hear again what Jesus has to say.
We’re in Luke chapter 13 - the chapters are the big numbers in the bible - and verse 31 - the verses are the small numbers. That’s on page __________ in these blue bibles which should be around if you want to read along. Page _________, chapter 13 - big 13 - verse 31 - small 31. Jesus has just been speaking to the crowds about how time is running out, how the door of opportunity to be welcomed into God’s house and his celebration is going to close soon. What happens next? Julia’s going to come and read for us..
Luke 13:31–35 NIV
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! “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, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
So let’s find our bearings here - what’s going on? Well the scene opens with a bunch of people called Pharisees coming to Jesus and it seems they are the good guys, looking out for him: warning he’s in grave danger from Herod, a local ruler. Herod wants to kill him so he should flee, seek refuge, they say. But Jesus is having none of it. Does he want to get himself killed? Well, we’ll come back to that question.
Now these Pharisees: just so we’re all clear, these Pharisees are a religious sect, the super-super strict end of Judaism; rule-keeping, box -ticking goodie-goodies. And if you’ve been following the story so far, you’ll already know they’re not.. how shall I put it? .. they’re not Jesus’ biggest fans. They think he speaks blasphemy - Luke 5:21. They are furious with him - Luke 6:11. They oppose him fiercely - Luke 11:53. Most recently, they’ve just been humiliated by him - Luke 13:17. They’re not his biggest fans.
Add into the mix that this Herod, when we do catch a glimpse of him in the Bible, doesn’t look set on killing Jesus at all - in fact he wants to meet him for a chat - Luke 9:9 - and in the story that’s yet to come we’ll see him get to do just that, deciding Jesus should be released, not killed - Luke 23:8.
Have these Pharisees had a sudden change of heart, and decided they should be on his side after all? Overheard a deadly plan and come to get Jesus to a safe refuge? I think not. I think their main goal here isn’t to rescue Jesus, but to tell him where to go - and the irony is that he responds by telling them where to go! v22 “Go! Go tell that fox (Herod, that is), I will keep on going...” says Jesus, “...I will reach my goal”.
Jesus is going to carry on driving out demons and healing people - doing exactly the sort of stuff which demonstrates who he is - the promised rescuer, sent by God with all God’s authority and power. Healing which incidentally winds up these Pharisees no end. No love lost here between Jesus and the Pharisees. They’re not going to pull him off his course.
There’s more here too, though: they’re pretending they want to keep him from death by sending him away to take refuge - though really they just want rid of him. Yet Jesus completely rejects their call - not so that he can stay safe right where he is, but so that he can reach his goal, complete his mission: he’s got Jerusalem in his sights still - like he has since Luke 9:51 where “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
And here’s the thing: that goal, that destination, doesn’t mean refuge or safety, but death. v33 Jesus is heading for Jerusalem and he knows as a prophet, as the prophet, the ultimate prophet, it’s there he will die. Jesus isn’t one to run away, to seek refuge, despite what’s ahead. “This one’s not for turning,” we might say.
We have to ask the question why. Why doesn’t Jesus run? Why doesn’t Jesus turn? Why doesn’t he at least just delay and stay where he is? Because there’s a reason he came, something he came to do, something so important, so close to his heart, that it’s worth it to him: Jesus longs to gather God’s people, to offer them refuge. You see, Jesus doesn’t seek refuge, he is refuge. Even though the people he longs to gather reject him, and ultimately will kill him. Jesus doesn’t seek refuge, he is that refuge.
Verse 34: he longs to gather God’s children together as a hen gathers her chicks: under her wings. This idea of being safe underneath someone’s wings has good precedent in the bible as a way of describing God’s protection of his people - so for example way back in the book of psalms, a songbook built into the bible, in Psalm 57 we read
Psalm 57:1 NIV
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.
Or in Psalm 91 we read
Psalm 91:4 NIV
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Jesus paints himself into this picture as the mother hen, offering refuge to her children, calling them to her for safety. In the picture, it is the mother hen’s own wings which will protect the children from attack, which would bear the brunt of any assault in the place of her chicks. It’s not just somewhere warm and cozy to hang out - Jesus is saying here he’s going to put himself between them and danger - he himself will be the thing that offers them refuge.
And notice too that Jesus longs for his children to come running to him for safety, for refuge - see that here in v34. He’s not just offering refuge as an option, take it or leave it. He wishes that they would come and find it, find it close to him, find it in him.
Let’s stop here for a moment and see if we can unpack this a little. What does this have to say to you or to me, here today? Well first it’s an invitation to us all: come and find refuge. Jesus offers himself as refuge for all God’s children.
Many in this room, I think, know they need that refuge. Many have found themselves exposed, alone, afraid - like a chick caught out in the open, insufficient for what’s ranged against them. Many know what it is to come take refuge in Jesus, to find themselves safe at last, no longer in danger, but finally secure. If that’s you, let this picture remind you again of how Jesus reached his goal and finished his mission so he truly can offer you refuge - and let it remind you again of just how completely secure you are in Jesus, under his wings. Use this picture when worry starts to climb again, when doubt starts to take hold.
But perhaps that’s not you - perhaps you’re here this morning, knowing you haven’t taken refuge in Jesus, and not even feeling that need for refuge at all. Perhaps things are going just fine, all’s well, and you’re happy out there in the open, strutting around. What you need to know - like those residents evacuated from their homes in Whaley Bridge - is that you’re not safe, that disaster is looming even though you can’t see it yet. The dam is breaking. It’s been catastrophically weakened and it will fall. There’s a flood coming, one that will wash you away. And you MUST take refuge.
Why do I say that? Because our world’s in a mess - you can see that just by turning on the news - and God isn’t going to let this mess continue for ever. One day he will draw a line under it, call time on it, stop all the evil and right every wrong. It’s tempting to think the world’s a mess because of just a few bad apples, just a few evil people - but the bible tells us a harder truth: none of us are fully good, not one. All of us are a part of the problem, not the solution. The dividing line between good and evil doesn’t run between good people like us and bad people like them, but right through each of our hearts. All of us are tainted - and when God comes to put everything right, all of us would find ourselves on the wrong side, God set against us.
That’s what we need refuge from. That’s what Jesus offers us refuge from. And it’s only in him that we can find that refuge. And here’s the wonderful thing: he longs for us to come and find it with him, to become God’s children, safe under his wings. He longs for you to come and find refuge - that’s why he’s set on reaching his goal, going to Jerusalem, dying in your place, creating that refuge where you need no longer die. He longs for you to come enough to give up his life. So will you come, take refuge in him?
Perhaps you’re ready to, you want to say yes. Perhaps you’ve tried to say “yes” to him before - but today you’re not sure you’ve actually taken refuge. If you don’t know whether you’re safe or still in danger, if you want to know more about how to say “yes”, speak to someone today - someone you came with, or me if you can’t do any better. We want you to be safe, to be confident you’re safe, to have refuge and peace.
Let’s turn back to this passage again - it has more to teach us yet. Jesus longs to gather God’s children, to have them take refuge in him, but see the very end of verse 34, Jesus tells us how they responded: “you were not willing.” These children of Jerusalem - now it’s not like cities have babies; children of Jerusalem is just another way of describing God’s people, the Jews - well Jesus came to gather them, but they were not willing. They rejected Jesus just like they’d rejected the other prophets and people God had sent before.
And in his words that follow, Jesus shows us this time they have done something more: they have rejected the rescuer himself - so now they will find themselves abandoned. It’s hard to capture and get across all of what v35 is saying. In our translation here, we have “your house is left to you desolate.” The house in view here is most likely the temple, the place of God’s presence among his people. And they’re being told this house is being left, being forsaken. God is leaving his people as they reject him. If you were with us last week, the open door is closing. If you were with us a few more weeks back, the fruitless tree is being cut down. Time is up.
As God’s people reject God’s rescuer, God’s presence is removed. The temple is being left, God’s presence is departing from it. And this makes sense because Jesus himself is God’s presence - he’s like a portable temple, a walking one. In fact that’s exactly how the beginning of John’s gospel describes Jesus’ life here on earth: John 1:14
John 1:14 NIV
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
“made his dwelling among us”, literally is “tented” or tabernacled among us. That’s exactly the way the portable temple that the Jewish people started out with was described. Jesus is God’s presence with us - and as Jesus goes to Jerusalem to die, God’s presence will be removed from among the children of Jerusalem. No more refuge or protection for Jerusalem - they were not willing to be gathered. And history shows that worked out in the fall of Jerusalem in AD70. “Your house is left to you desolate” Jesus foretells.
Why would they not be gathered to Jesus, as he longed for? Why would they not take refuge? What they really needed was staring them in the face. How could they completely fail to see it? More than that: reject it completely, even. I think that’s the same question Christians ask when we see those we love not responding to Jesus. The only answer Jesus has for us here is they were not willing. That it is a question of volition, of desire. That there is a step humans are responsible for - response-able - that is, a step of response they are able to take. He speaks as if they have the free choice of how to respond, that it is upon their will that the outcome ultimately rests. And how can you change the will of another? It’s not really their will if you do. What can we do? We can argue. We can commend. We can demonstrate. We can plead. We can pray. But here, ultimately, Jesus presents it as a question of whether they are willing.
Some of you might be worrying how this ties into what’s called the “sovereignty of God” - that is, his total rule over everything. How can God be sovereign if it is a question of humans being willing? Well, ask Jesus. Our goal here is to teach what the bible teaches. And here Jesus seems to be teaching the significance and freedom of human will. Elsewhere in the bible you’ll find it clearly teaching the utter sovereignty of God, his total control even of this. Is one right and the other wrong? No - it’s a paradox. Both, though they seem opposed, are true - because the bible tells us so. And they’re true whether we can wrap our tiny human brains around how that can be or not. Sometimes the bible just calls for some humility from us. And I think this is one of those times.
They were not willing, Jesus says. Their house will be left desolate: “you will not see me again”. But let me close with hope - like Jesus does. “until”. You will not see me again until you say “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” So this “not willing” may not be the last word after all.
That response, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, is a quote from another of the Psalms, the songs of God’s people. It comes from Psalm 188, a song we know describes Jesus’ life. “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” it says, a little earlier on. And in chapter 20, Jesus suggests to the crowds he is that cornerstone. In Luke’s second book, narrating the story of the early church, it’s even clearer: Peter the apostle tells us straight “Jesus is the stone you builders rejected which has become the cornerstone.”
The verse Jesus is quoting here comes at the end of the psalm, where victorious Jesus, vindicated, raised from the dead, is pictured returning into God’s presence as the conquering hero. And this cry isn’t one of terror, from fallen people, finally recognising who Jesus is now their opportunity for salvation has passed. It’s the cry that goes up from the crowd welcoming him and joining the procession behind him.
Although at first they were not willing, it seems in the end some will indeed see Jesus again as they welcome him into God’s presence and join his victory procession. Even here, as he sets his face towards Jerusalem and the people’s rejection, Jesus holds out this hope. As the early church held out the same hope to the Jewish people after Jesus had risen - and saw many saved.
So take refuge in Jesus - he finished the mission; he won refuge for you; he longs to gather you in.
Don’t reject his offer and forfeit his presence - you must have refuge. A destructive flood is coming.
And don’t lose hope: some who at first “were not willing” are among those who will welcome Jesus.
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