2nd Sunday in Lent (C)
February 21, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
The phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger” was first coined by Shakespeare in his play Hamlet and used again in his play Antony and Cleopatra. Since a similar phrase was found way back in 446 BC, it’s clear that people have never wanted to be bearers of bad news. Think about it. Do you want to tell someone the bad news? I don’t like to do it. Nobody does. And yet, there are times when it just can’t be avoided, regardless of the possible consequences. Take our readings for today. Both Jeremiah and Jesus were sent by God to deliver important messages, and they both faced repercussions for the news they brought. Most of the people didn’t like what they had to say and they wanted to kill the messenger. But both Jeremiah and Jesus were sent to speak the Word of God and they did.
As you read the Old Testament you see that God frequently used prophets to communicate with His people. Some of them, like Jeremiah, had long careers, while others, like Haggai, seemed to have fairly short assignments. The prophets weren’t guys who conveyed God’s thoughts on each and every topic, rather God used them when He needed to get the attention of the people to deliver an urgent message, which was often bad news.
Noah, one of the first prophets, proclaimed a message of repent or be drowned. Jonah went to Nineveh and from one end of the city to the other announcing, “Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days.” Nathan, Amos, Joel, Jeremiah, and the rest of them preached the same message – God’s judgment was coming. Even John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, delivered the same message, “Repent for the reign of God was at hand.” The pattern is pretty clear – the prophets brought bad news.
What’s also pretty clear is that the people didn’t like hearing bad news so they frequently sought to kill the messenger. In our Old Testament reading, Jeremiah’s unwelcome message led the people to condemn him to death for blasphemy because he dared to speak against Jerusalem, the place where God made His home. He was spared this time, but Jewish tradition records that he was later stoned to death in Egypt. Isaiah was reportedly sawn in two while hiding in a cedar tree. Others were killed with swords, and John the Baptist was beheaded. The message of God was unwelcome, bad news, so the prophets were killed.
Is it any wonder then that Jesus, the perfect prophet sent by God, received the same kind of response? Jesus spent His ministry preaching much like the prophets from before, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” Jesus was calling on all people to turn from their sin and unbelief back to God. Turn from sin and be saved by God. Don’t turn back to God, keep living in sin and be destroyed. It’s a clear message that angered the New Testament people just as it angered the Old Testament people. Like the prophets, Jesus wasn’t delivering bad news for no purpose, He was calling them to repentance so they wouldn’t die. Their sin was going to lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Worse than that, their sins were leading to their damnation.
The words of Jesus, like the prophets of old, fell on deaf ears. Jesus says, How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” He wanted to save His people, He wanted them to know the joy of forgiveness and peace with God, but they wouldn’t let Him. They rejected Him, so Jesus had to say, “Behold, your house is forsaken”, they abandoned God, so He would abandon them.
This was really bad news but while God sent the prophets with bad news, He also had good news to share. Their message was also good news because in some cases God was giving the people a second chance. The citizens of Nineveh are a great example. When they heard Jonah’s words of destruction, everyone from the king on down covered themselves in ashes, wore burlap clothing, and refused to eat in the hope that God would change His mind. They repented of their sins and God did. Those who heard John the Baptist asked what they had to do to be saved, and then repented and were baptized.
In other instances, when the people didn’t repent or when the prophets didn’t give them the opportunity, the prophets still spoke words of hope. They spoke of a time when God’s judgments would come to an end. The promised that God would hear them when they repented and when their time of punishment or exile was over, they would return home and once again find favor with God.
Jesus proclaimed, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!” because He had come to bring Good News. In Him there is forgiveness and life. His message of repent and find life is for you. Let Him cover you under His wings where He will shelter you. Let Him take the burdens of your Sin upon Himself. Let Him bear your guilt and grief. When Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem”, He was showing the depth of His love and of His longing for people to believe in Him and be saved.
We don’t really know if the Pharisees were sincere when they told Jesus that Herod wanted Him dead. I think they were just trying to get Jesus out of their territory so He’d be someone else’s problem. It doesn’t matter though, Jesus wasn’t afraid of anyone, not even Herod. He says, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’” Jesus would die, in Jerusalem like the other prophets, and only when it was time. Like the prophets before Him Jesus would face a violent death, but His death was unlike any other, for Jesus didn’t just bring the Word of God, He is the Word of God. So His death brings forgiveness to the sinners, healing to the hurting, a place of belonging to the lost. Those who were condemned are now saved. You’re saved because you hear this wonderful news for yourself.
Jesus may have returned to Heaven, but He continues His prophetic work through the prophets of today. Not prophets who have had their own revelation from God or who perform miracles, those people are false prophets. Not prophets who wear goat skin like John the Baptist or marry unfaithful women like Hosea or walk around naked for three years like Isaiah. But men in clerical collars who share the Word of God with you. As a pastor, it’s not easy to tell you to repent of your sins, and I don’t like it. I’ve been where you are and I don’t like to hear that a particular behavior is a sin. But you must hear the Law. You cannot remain in your Sin, you cannot just keep doing it as if there weren’t any repercussions. There are, serious ones. So I call on you to repent of your sins.
But like the prophets of old, I don’t leave you in your sins and under God’s anger. I get to tell you that your sins are forgiven! All of them. There’s hope, there’s an absolute certainty, that God’s anger will be forgotten. It’s His promise to you. Jesus, the perfect prophet, was more than a prophet, and His death was more than a prophet’s death. It brings life and joy. It brings forgiveness and peace. It restores the broken relationship between you and God. And Jesus, the perfect, eternal, sacrificial prophet continues to speak His Word to you. He wants you to hear the Bad News, the Law, so that He can proclaim to you lifesaving Good News, His Word of Forgiveness.
I don’t know if messengers were commonly killed for bearing bad news. I imagine it must have happened under evil men like Nero, Stalin, Hitler, or President Kim in North Korea. We know it happened in the Bible. It happened because God’s Word is often unwelcome and it stirs up unrighteous anger. Still, God sent His prophets and when they were killed, He sent His Only Son who suffered the same fate. His death though is Good News because it is for you that He died. That’s the Word of the Lord He wants you to know, because it’s not just good news, it’s the best news that you will ever hear.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen