(31) At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus], Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you. So our text for this morning begins with the shocking announcement. Look out Jesus! Run for your life! Someone is out to kill you. Talk about dropping a bomb from out of the blue! Where is this coming from?
It is a good question. Why are the Pharisees so concerned? Our first reaction might be to question their motives for telling this to Jesus. Aren’t these the very same guys who butted their heads against Jesus at almost every other turn? Aren’t these the very same individuals whose actions and attitudes Jesus has publicly decried? Why should they want to help? Wouldn’t they rather Herod got Him?
Many scholars have debated the motives behind this encounter. Some, wishing to be kind, think that these men may be genuine. Some Pharisees, like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus, did indeed care for Jesus and His ministry. Yet the Gospels tell us that Herod wanted to meet Jesus, and was a little scared that Jesus might be John the Baptist’s ghost. When Jesus would later stand before Herod, he wasn’t the least bit interested in killing him.
Perhaps this is why most scholars would say it is more likely that these men are trying to get back at Jesus in some way. Perhaps they are trying to test His resolve that they might show Jesus as a coward. Maybe they knew they couldn’t argue with Him so they were just trying to send Him packing out of their territory. Worse yet (and as Jesus’ answer seems to indicate) this might be a ploy to send Him rushing headlong into a trap waiting in Jerusalem, the seat of their power and influence.
So just what do you do with a statement as outrageous as this? Listen to Jesus’ response: (32-33) 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.
Completely unphased, Jesus turns the tables on these men and tells THEM to run along. Herod is of no concern to Jesus. His work is begun and His work will continue until it is time for it to be finished. No king of this world can change that, despite his cleverest schemes. Further, Jesus not only laughs off the idea that He should fear Herod, but offers a biting remark about His own final destiny. Herod can’t kill him, the job of killing prophets has always been a specialty of Jerusalem and its religious leaders. Ouch!
But that doesn’t mean that others don’t regularly try. Nearly every year, just before Easter, it seems that there is some knew ancient finding that sheds “better light” on this same Jesus. A few years ago it was “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” contending that an excavated Jerusalem tomb may have contained the remains of Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, a son named Judah and other family members. Before that it was the Gospel of Judas, claiming that Judas was not the villain but the hero, in freeing Jesus from His earthly prison. Before that it was the Gospel of Thomas, featuring a the long-lost record of the child Jesus wielding life and death in His precocious little hands.
Time and time again, some old piece of evidence comes into new light and then, “Look out Jesus, they are trying to kill you.” Run in fear dear Christians, for at last, after 2000 years of conspiracy, the truth shall be made clear!
Again, a good first reaction might be to question the motives of those involved. The evidence just simply isn’t there to be making any such claims. The reasoning is often circular or just plain specious, the evidence scant or non-existent. So are these regular Jesus-findings bombshells being dropped for some other reason? Is it about the quest for truth? Is it about making a name for oneself? Is it about trying to discredit the Saviour and dishearten his followers? Did I mention the book deals, the film rights, and the interview fees?
More importantly, what is our response to all these outrageous claims? Do we try to conform our faith to the idea that it is OK if Jesus was just a normal guy who had a mis-spent youth, lived and married, had a family and died? Do we believe it and fall into the temptation to despair? Do we fall into the trap of simply trying to “prove” that Jesus is what the scriptures say He is … to argue the validity of any such conspiracy theories?
Perhaps we should take our cues from our Saviour’s own reaction. Laugh it off. Jesus has been killed already … and by far better people than some new-age gnostics or a couple of name-seeking film-makers. Yes Jesus was killed – good and dead. Dead and buried – right there in the tomb of Joseph the Pharisee. But He didn’t stay buried or dead for that matter. He rose again and is alive even now. That’s why you won’t find his bones. He’s still using them. And He most likely isn’t willing to give them up for a very, very, long time either.
When such outlandish claims are thrust into the face of our Lord or of his church, what else can be done but to show them for the folly they are … and then get back to work. After all, isn’t that at the heart of Jesus reply to the Pharisees? (33-34) 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!
Even in the midst of their scheming and treachery, Jesus was not out to get them. He was there to gather them into God’s grace and protection. Jesus wanted to help them, not mock them. He wanted to save them, not destroy them. Our Lord wanted to correct them, not punish them. Yet if they would not see that, neither would He let them stop Him from doing it for others.
32 … Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Christ would not be stayed, could not be stopped, until He had accomplished that for which he came. All of His healing, and miracles to that point were only building up to the biggest and greatest of them all. He would bring complete and final release from the bondage to sin death and the devil through his own life-giving sacrifice upon the cross. Indeed, not even death would stop him from bringing about new life for his chosen people for on the third day He came back to life (bones and all), to bring new life and hope to one and all.
Similarly, Christ’s church here on earth must never become side-tracked or diverted by the schemes of the world. We must never take our eyes off of the salvation won for us and all mankind in the determined sacrifice of our Saviour on the cross. We must never cease to bring healing and comfort to this world. To be agents of reform, and social conscience, yes, but more importantly, to be the ones who proclaim Jesus Christ crucified, dead, and raised to new life. We must stay the course and be Christ to our friends, our neighbours, and even those whom we would rather be against.
For you see dear friends, in the end, conspiracy theorists, hecklers, and scoffers are of no real concern to Christ’s Church. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And so is His support for the work He has entrusted to us. God’s work is begun in the daily Preaching of the Word, in the Baptizing of lost and hurting souls into God’s heavenly family, and the Distribution of Jesus’ own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. God’s work continues as we encourage one another, forgive one another, and call one another to be accountable. Finally, God’s work will continue through His church until it is time for it to be finished, and all mankind is called before the throne of God. No king, no powers, no alternative gospels, and no Hollywood filmmakers of this world can change that, despite their cleverest schemes. Not today, not tomorrow, and certainly not on the third day.