Jesus’ desire to rescue the lost

Sermon: Sunday,1st May, 2022 Video
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Luke 13:31-35

Determination can be an excellent quality to have- we are single-minded and focused on something. Usually, we are determined to do things which will improve our own lives. The person learning a new language is determined to become fluent and moves to Spain for a year to immerse herself in it. Or the man who works long hours and studies courses at night because he is determined to rise in the company. Or the person with their own business determined to succeed and willing to do what it takes to make more sales.

1. A loving determination
When we read through Luke’s gospel, we see there is something Jesus is determined to do, and he will not shift his focus from it. ‘When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:51) This journey will take us all the way to Luke chapter 19, when he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him and urge him to leave the area. Perhaps they are trying to manipulate Jesus to head south into Judea, where they might be able to exercise more power over Jesus. Perhaps they are working closely with Herod, who would like the ‘Jesus problem’ on his doorstep to become someone else’s problem. Perhaps their warning is genuine – we cannot be sure.

What we can be sure of, however, is that nothing and no one will prevent Jesus from doing his Father’s will in his Father’s way. Jesus has a timetable to follow, and it is God’s timetable not Herod’s, nor that of the Pharisees. Verse 32: He replied, ‘Go and 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 other words, Jesus will go at his own pace and his own schedule until his work is finished. He will not be manipulated by human leaders. He will not be distracted.

Jesus calls Herod a ‘fox’, signalling his evil craftiness and scheming character, but perhaps also his insignificance in the grand sweep of history. It’s highly unusual to hear Jesus speaking to someone in this way. In fact, this is the only person Jesus speaks to with this kind of contempt in all the Bible. Jesus doesn’t care when Herod wants. He is driven by his love to die for his people, and by his desire to obey his Father’s will. I like how Kent Hughes describes Jesus’ words here: “King Jesus had addressed Herod, the petty monarch, with regal contempt and kingly confidence.”

Jesus speaks of reaching his goal on the third day. I don’t think Herod would have understood this at the time, but surely this is a reference to his resurrection from the dead, when his work would have been completed. In verse 33 Jesus says ‘I must press on’. This is a ‘divine must’. It is a necessity. There is no other way for a lost world to be rescued other than Jesus dying on the cross in Jerusalem.

With great irony, Jesus says ‘Surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem’. Down through the centuries, the Lord’s prophets had been rejected and murdered in the capital, and for Jesus, the ultimate prophet, it would be the same. It is remarkable just how much in control Jesus is over his own death. He will willingly make his way to Jerusalem. ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’ (John 10:17-18)

It’s hard for us to imagine what it must have been like for Jesus, knowing full well the torture and rejection and suffering he would experience in Jerusalem, and yet never deviating from the path. Each day that passed was one closer to the cross. Kent Hughes: “The relentless terror of the cross daily loomed higher over his life, but his love for others drove him on.” Jesus’ determination was for the good of others. We ought to be so impressed with our Saviour. Never think this daily movement towards the cross was easy for Jesus.

‘During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.’ (Hebrews 5 vs 7-10:)

The journey to the cross was far from easy, as his ‘fervent cries and tears’ highlight. This is loving determination, necessary because of our sin.

2. Jesus’ deep desire to rescue the lost
Here we have an astonishing picture of Jesus’ compassion and anguish over those who reject him and refuse to believe in him. Jesus is not coldly indifferent to their unbelief, but is deeply affected by it. He longs for them to come to him to be saved. This is the heart of God. Even as a mother hen would gather her chicks under her wings to shelter them from the storm, so Jesus longed to protect the people and keep them safe from the storms of judgment. Tragically, they refused to shelter under his wings.

‘Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: Our offences and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:10-11)

‘But concerning Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’ (Romans 1:21)

The truth is, Jesus is always ready and willing to receive sinners who turn to him. It’s not Jesus who prevents their salvation, but their own rebellion and unbelief.

All human beings are, in one sense, like helpless chicks, unable to look after ourselves. We need to be rescued from danger. There is only one person we can shelter under, and that is Jesus himself. If only more people were to come to Jesus for shelter. ‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.’ (John 6:37)

The Psalms are full of references of the Lord’s people sheltering in the shadow of his wings:
Psalm 17:8; Psalm 36:7; Psalm 57:1; Psalm 61:4; and Psalm 63:7.

‘He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.’ (Psalm 91:4)

Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus takes this Old Testament image of the LORD and applies it to himself? This is further evidence of Jesus’ claim to be God himself.

How do you think about God this morning? Perhaps you view him as harsh and detached. He is not. This is our God – he is like a mother hen, with maternal love for lost people. Jesus is not being sentimental here, but is expressing his compassion for the lost.

If you are here, and are not a Christian yet, surely you must hear Jesus saying to you, come to me with all your sin and guilt. Place your trust in me. Shelter in me. Will you do that?

How sad the last 4 words of verse 34 are: ‘You were not willing’. The same can be said of many in Scotland in 2022; Jesus offers us eternal life, and a new start, and the offer goes out to everyone, and yet many say to him ‘No’. They are not willing to admit their need and come to Jesus for rescue. They somehow think Jesus will restrict their lives, and they don’t want to give up being in charge. And so, with terrible consequences, they reject the Saviour, and all that is left for them is desolation.

Always keep this image of Jesus as the mother hen before you, and never doubt for a second his willingness to save. What else can we shelter under? There is no one else who can remove our sin and give us everlasting life. There is no other shelter.

3. Jesus’ compassion on sinners
When we see Jesus’ heart-break over the stubborn refusal of Jerusalem to receive their Messiah, we should be struck by just who it is Jesus’ compassion is for. It is compassion for a wicked, prophet-killing and God-rejecting city. Jesus knows all about their centuries of idolatry, pride, rebellion and in particular, the way God’s own mouthpieces had been treated with such contempt. Jesus also knows what this city is going to do to him. Their choice will not be for the loving, perfect Son of God, but for the murdering Barabbas. They will cry out against Jesus ‘Crucify him, crucify him’.

Nevertheless, it grieves Jesus to see Jerusalem make such terrible choices. Their house (verse 35) will be left desolate. This might well point to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by emperor Titus, when the city was starved into submission before its desolation. Israel has been so privileged to have been the chosen people of God and to have had the Messiah come to them, but what have they done with all that privilege? They have rejected the Saviour. However, Jesus seems to look far beyond AD70 to his Second Coming, when any who have placed their trust in Jesus will be able to say: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

What has this all to do with us today? What applies to Israel applies to many of us. Many of us here have been brought up with massive spiritual privileges, having heard the gospel again and again from knee height. We have been prayed for by parents and grandparents, and we have been taught God’s Word. Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem acts as a warning to us, as it reminds us that all these privileges will actually count against us if we refuse to come and shelter under the wings of Jesus Christ. It’s no good just knowing about Jesus. That will not save us from the coming judgment. We need to turn from our sinful ways, and submit to Jesus’ rule in our lives. He must be at the centre of our lives.

There’s something else. Just as Israel’s wickedness highlights the compassion of Jesus all the more, so our own wickedness and that of the whole world, magnifies the compassion of God for a rebellious world. When we read in John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world…’ what kind of a world is it that God loves? It’s an undeserving, selfish, self-destructive world, which again and again fails to thank God for his goodness and blames God when things go wrong. We don’t deserve compassion. But God loves this world in all its darkness and offers everyone in the world eternal life, if we place our trust in Jesus. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’

Finally, in a culture which likes to blame others for the wrong choices we make, let’s learn from Jesus’ sobering words ‘You were not willing’. These words come to us today, and remind us that if we refuse to trust in King Jesus and submit to him, then we shall be eternally lost, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves. We have the opportunity to come to Jesus. He is a willing and merciful Saviour and will receive us. However, if we do not come to him, and we are lost, then it’s because we were not willing to confess our sin, and beg for mercy.

May the steely and determined love of Jesus and may the compassion of Jesus draw us to come and place our trust in him today. Now is the time to respond to him, before it’s too late.