God's Will When We Are Unwilling
Palm Sunday – 2019 LSB #’s 444, 435, 441
Text – Luke 13:34
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets & 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, & you were not willing!
GOD’S WILL WHEN WE ARE UNWILLING
How often have we been here with Jesus on Palm Sunday? Some of us 10 years, some 30, some of us 50 years & even more. We join with the whole crowd of followers & proclaim, “Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord!” With that crowd we join our voices to declare, by echoing the angels at Jesus’ birth, “Peace in heaven & glory in the highest.”
Matthew gives us hosannas, John gives us palm branches, & Luke takes us back to the birth of the King. How often we’ve been here with King Jesus as He comes to Jerusalem to be crowned with thorns & ascend the throne of the cross to bring us salvation & peace.
Many of us have been here so often that the details of the scene blur from one gospel to another. Yet, if you pay attention to the details Luke gives, you might have noticed that something seems out of place. With the crowd of disciples following & praising, when Jesus comes near Jerusalem He stops & weeps.
Our Lord shed tears for good reason. He knows what’s coming for this city, & her people, who have so often rejected the will of the heavenly Father. Judgment is coming & no stone will be left unturned when the Romans arrive. In 70 AD, they destroy Jerusalem, including the temple of God, & the people there were decimated.
As the crowds of Palm Sunday rejoice, Jesus weeps, but this is not the 1st time He has grieved for God’s people & this very city. Sometime before Palm Sunday, along His journey to Jerusalem, Jesus points to His coming death & speaks this lament: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets & 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, & you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken.” (Luke 13:34-35a ESV) As Jesus finally comes to Jerusalem & the crowds shout praises to Him, it is striking that we remember Palm Sunday as a day of joy while Jesus weeps.
Jesus’ words, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, as well as His tears, are about the will of God & His people’s lack of will to live in His salvation & peace. To help us understand His grief, Christ takes us into the world of – chickens. You heard it right – chickens. On farms around this country, especially at this time of year the sound of peeping chicks rings out across the barnyard.
If you follow the sound you’ll find a hen surrounded by a brood of tiny yellow creatures. Some follow mommy while others stray this way & that. She will scratch & peck the ground; they will do the same. She will go for water & for the most part they’ll follow. But, there are always a few feathered balls of yellow that will stray too far.
Momma hen will walk over to them & “gather” them back to herself. If you get too close you learn quickly not to stand between the mother hen & her chicks. When she realizes they need shelter or protection she raises her wings, to her own discomfort, & draws them beneath herself where they are covered & safe.
She will patiently repeat this process of teaching, nurturing, protecting & gathering her brood an endless number of times. The chicks constantly wander off to explore & get into trouble. How does the mother hen have the will to repeat that process again & again when the will of her chicks is so often opposed to her will?
What an appropriate picture of Jerusalem & the people of God. How often Jesus had experienced them as a brood of unwilling chicks! He’d ushered in the gracious reign of God, the activity of the King. He’d healed the lame, fed the hungry, driven out demons, calmed the storm & raised the dead. Jesus had brought peace from heaven to His people. The very city whose name contains the word peace – Salem – should have seen, heard & understood the things having to do with peace. God had come to gather them into His Shalom by the visitation of His Son, but they kept on challenging, kept on doubting & kept on opposing the ministry of Messiah.
In doing so they were directly opposing the will of their Creator who’d sent His Son to gather them, that He might be their peace. As it was in the days of the prophets of old, so it was as Jesus approached Jerusalem. Perhaps hearing all this causes your heart to join with Jesus’ lament as you witness the unwillingness of God’s people to live in His will?
To keep on rejecting Jesus runs the risk of remaining apart from Him & under judgment forever. We join Jesus in grieving that reality, yet, it is helpful if we confess that it’s always easier to see someone else’s lack of will to live in God’s will. Because sin has corrupted our sense of reality it is difficult to see how we willfully oppose & reject God’s plan in our lives.
Peter was confident he would never fail Jesus, yet he flat out rejected God’s plan to send His Son to the cross. Jesus had to tell Peter, “Get behind me Satan,” before Peter saw his own unwillingness to follow.
St. Paul, who often lamented the unwillingness of his fellow Jews to live in God’s will, had himself directly rejected God’s plan in Jesus. It took the blinding light of Christ knocking Paul off his horse until he surrendered to the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus also laments our unwillingness to be gathered, as a hen gathers her chicks, into His gracious will.
For some, Jesus sees an unwillingness to be reconciled to a person you work with or to a church or family member. That person hurt you so badly you can’t imagine feeling safe with them again. Due to the upside down nature of sin you wander further each day from the peace & protection Jesus came to gather you into. How often He extends His healing hand only to watch you hold even tighter to the hurt you now find so familiar. Jesus weeps at your unwillingness to receive His peace in your life. He knows it doesn’t have to be this way.
For others, Jesus sees the secret – the one we wish to be free of, the path of drugs, or pornography, or even an addiction to working. You try to leave that path before it destroys everything & everyone around you, but as hard as you try you just can’t get it done. The truth is you don’t even know what life would be like without it.
How often Jesus has extended His transforming grace, only to watch you choose to be shackled to that burden instead. Our Savior weeps over us as we cling to our burdens.
Maybe you’re the one trying to manage yet another situation as if you had the power to control the universe. How often has Christ poured His grace upon you when you find yourself helpless to make YOUR plan work! He wants nothing more than to gather you, to see you let go of the struggle & to rest in His peace. His tears fall as He watches you take the reins yet again.
Each of us has some place in life where we are unwilling to be conformed to the will of Jesus. That unwillingness is wrapped into what Christ is doing as He approaches Jerusalem weeping & lamenting. How often He has been here, with us His people. You & I are powerless to change our unwillingness. We’re helpless to will ourselves onto His path & into His healing.
No wonder tears flow from our Savior’s eyes as He looks upon Jerusalem & His people even while they praise Him. No wonder tears flow from our Lord’s eyes as He looks upon us while we praise Him today.
Jesus’ weeping in Luke 19 leads us back to His lament in Luke 13 where He employs the image of a hen & her chicks to talk about our unwillingness. He’s tried to gather us back to Himself so often that it seems logical He should walk away & leave us to judgment. Yet, the image Jesus uses is not only of unwilling chicks. It also shows the even greater unwillingness of a hen to abandon her chicks that she loves. When she sees her babies confused, wandering away, or in peril, there’s nothing that can prevent her from spreading her wings to cover those helpless, vulnerable & frequently unwilling little chicks. She’d gladly receive in her body a death blow to save what is most precious to her. She is unwilling to leave her chicks on their own!
Can you see it? He raises His wings higher than it seems possible, to His own discomfort & anguish. So high & lifted up are the arms of Jesus it took nails to hold them there. He is so unwilling that you should perish in your sin that He submits to the Father’s will. Standing in the shadow of those blood stained arms, we see the full fury of divine punishment upon sin.
So strong & eager is the will of God to restore His creation & rejoice over you that He delivered the deathblow not upon you, His helpless chick, but on His only begotten Son. And that’s only the beginning. After three days in the tomb, Yahweh’s love for you caused Him to raise Jesus back to life, ushering in a new creation in the face of our unwillingness.
How often does Jesus meet you here, in this sanctuary, to gather & remind you that from baptism you belong to Him? How often does He hear your confession & gather you under His wings of forgiveness & mercy? How often does our Lord gather you to Himself at this altar where He touches your lips with His resurrected body & blood making you His new creation?
Upon leaving here today, when you see that pathway of unwillingness you’ve walked down too many times – bitterness, control, hiding in the darkness of sin – & you feel helpless to do anything about it, lean into what Jesus is doing today because you cannot change things on your own. As you lean into Jesus you’ll experience His unwillingness to leave you on your own.
In that safety & security, as you look around, you discover that you are not alone. You are joined under His wings by all of us. Maybe you know of a story like this. Being in relationship to her father had not been easy – over the years a series of some big rejections & many little ones. Choices he made drove a wedge into their relationship & bitterness grew into a seemingly impenetrable fortress. They’d drifted apart until she received a phone call from her father’s neighbor. The neighbor had been taking him to doctor appointments & wanted the daughter to know that her father needed help.
At the time no one knew he was in the 1st stages of dementia. He needed his daughter, yet in that moment she did not want to lean into a relationship with him. She wanted to hold on to the bitterness that had grown over time. How could she start caring for him after all he had done & failed to do? What could possibly break down that barrier?
He had rejected her attempts at being in relationship for many years. It was impossible on her own, but, she was never actually alone. Leaning into Jesus she discovered again that His love & peace were unconditionally hers. It’s been a long process of being shaped by Jesus’ love & peace, but she took a very small step away from the bitterness into a relationship with her dad.
Leaning into Jesus, covered by His wings, she discovered she wasn’t alone on the journey. As other disciples shared in her struggle, Jesus used them to bring her & her dad more & more into God’s story. She’ll tell you some days are still really hard to be in relationship to her dad. She still grieves the years she missed with him, & remembers the hurt of his rejection.
She’s finding that happens less often as she lives in the peace the crucified & risen Savior gathers her into. Now she’s able to give her father the care he needs. In this life our struggles with sin never go away, but neither does Jesus. Under His wings we find that we are not alone. As we lean into His love & peace we discover that His wings have already been covering us.
On this Palm Sunday, as we sing & celebrate the coming of the King, who ascended the throne of the cross, we confess our own unwillingness, while we trust that the love of God in Christ is relentless in pursuing us. That is the meaning of the cross. Amen.
Come to Calvary’s holy mountain, sinners ruined by The Fall; here a pure & healing fountain flows for you, for me, for all, in a full, perpetual tide, opened when our Savior died. Come in sorrow & contrition, wounded, impotent & blind; here the guilty, free remission, here the troubled, peace may find. Health this fountain will restore; they that drink shall thirst no more. Amen. LSB 435:1, 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet