Text: Luke 13:31-35
Dear saints and Christ, Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are all kinds of images of Jesus that we get from the Bible. Images that we cherish and cling to because they help us to understand a little better who our Lord Jesus is and what He has done for us.
One of those images is of Jesus as a lion. St. John describes Jesus as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” in the book of Revelation. C.S. Lewis even picked that idea up in his famous “Chronicles of Narnia” books portraying Jesus there as a great lion who even dies and rises again to save his people. A mighty, ferocious lion defeating enemies and saving his people. A beautiful image of Jesus.
Another familiar image the Bible gives us is it that of a shepherd. The shepherd who faithfully cares for and tends his flock. The shepherd who protects his sheep from lions and bears like David the shepherd boy did in the Old Testament. The shepherd who, as Jesus says, leaves 99 sheep behind and goes out looking for the one that is lost. The shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who even lays down His life for the sheep in order to save them. Another beautiful image the Scriptures give us of Jesus.
Even the lamb, though less ferocious than a lion and less dedicated than a shepherd, reminds us of who our Lord Jesus is. A lamb, helpless and powerless, but also pure and holy. A lamb ready to be sacrificed. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
All these beautiful images that the scriptures give us of Jesus are near and dear to our hearts, they shape and inform our faith, and we treasure them. In our gospel reading Jesus adds another image to the list, but it is admittedly somewhat less compelling. In our Gospel reading today Jesus described himself as a chicken, a hen.
When I think if chickens the first thing that comes to mind for me is a character in a TV show that my kids watch. In TV show “Paw Patrol” one of the human characters has a pet chicken. To put it bluntly, however, the chicken is a nuisance. Causing more harm than good most of the time. Add to that the fact that when we call someone a chicken we are calling them a coward and you have a rather unusual image with which to image Jesus.
As strange as it may sound, however, the image of chicken, a hen, really is a fitting description of who Jesus is and what Jesus does for us. Jesus uses the hen as an image of His care and protection for us and, even more significantly, His self-sacrificing love for us.
Jesus compares himself to hen here in a conversation with the Pharisees. The Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod wants to kill him. This isn’t really news to Jesus really, however. Herod has already killed John the Baptist and Herod’s father had tried once already to kill Jesus when Jesus was just a child. Jesus knows that it is necessary for Him to suffer and die and He knows that He will stand trial before Herod when that time comes, but for now, he says, he must carry on His course healing, saving, and casting out demons as He journeys on to Jerusalem.
But as Jesus thinks about Jerusalem and His what will happen there He is filled with sorrow. Not because of what is about to happen to Him, but because of what the people are about to do to themselves. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he says, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often I would have gathered you up as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” And there it is, Jesus comparing Himself to a hen, a chicken.
Jesus desires above all things to gather his people under his wings the way a hen would gather her chicks. He desires to sweep them up under His loving wings and protect them, save them, and love them. “But you would not,” Jesus says. The people of Jerusalem would not be gathered.
Time and time again throughout history God had sought to gather his people Jerusalem back under his wings. He had sent prophets to them. Prophets to preach His Word to them. Prophets to call his people to repentance and to proclaim to them the salvation that he brings. But time and time again, those prophets had been rejected and in some cases even killed by the people of Jerusalem.
We saw play out that in the Old Testament reading we heard this morning. Jeremiah was confronting the people of Jerusalem. He called them to repentance, He called them to return to the Lord their God and be gathered under His wings, and He warned them that if they did not repent, if they did not return, that their city would be desolate, abandoned, and forsaken because of their sin. He called on them to repent and to return to the Lord. How did they respond? By trying to kill him.
Why did they try to kill Him? Because the words Jeremiah was speaking didn’t mesh with their worldview. Because the words Jeremiah was speaking were not the encouraging words they wanted to hear. Because the words Jeremiah was speaking were not a message of good news, but of judgment and they didn’t have ears to hear that.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God sought to gather his people under his wings, but they would not. And so it was in Jesus day as He sought to gather His people under His wings and save them. They would not, they would not be gathered.
This is what Jesus laments. This is what causes His sadness and frustration as He thinks about Jerusalem. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” He says, “how often I would have gathered you up like a hen gathers her brood, but you would not.”
Now, it would be easy to pat ourselves on the back here and to think that we’ve got this much better figured out then the folks in Jerusalem did. After all we haven’t killed any prophets and we are gathered right here, as we speak, under the wings of Jesus to hear His Word and receive His gifts. We would seem to be doing much better than they did!
But it’s important that we recognize that the temptations and sinful desires that brought the people of Jerusalem to the point that they were ready to kill the prophet sent to them by God lurk in our hearts as well. Even we who are gathered here today under the loving wings of our Lord Jesus are tempted to set off on our own, to leave the loving embrace of our Saviour, to make our own way, to strike our own course, and to do it our way.
What is it for you? What tempts you to leave the shelter of the Saviour’s wings? Maybe it’s to go after that pleasures of life that seems so harmless, so insignificant, so innocent, but which actually lead away from the Saviour’s care. Maybe it’s to pursue someone in anger for revenge. Maybe it’s that you’re too busy to stay under the wings. Maybe it’s that those wings seem too confining and you want some freedom. Maybe it’s that you have a problem with some of the others under the wings with you. Maybe it’s that you think you’re mature enough or strong enough to set out on your own now. Maybe these wings just seem silly, or old fashioned, or you just don’t like them all that much. What else? How else does Satan seek to lure you out?
Whatever it is, however it is that Satan seeks to lure you out, the call of the season of Lent is a call to return. Return to the Lord your God. Repent and again take refuge under the wings of His Word and forgiveness, the wings that our Lord spread over you when you were baptized.
Outside the wings of Jesus there is no hope. “Behold, your house is forsaken…” Jesus said about Jerusalem. The city that had time and time again turned its back on its God and rejected His ways would itself be rejected, forsaken. But under the wings of Jesus there is hope and life, under His wings there is forgiveness and under His wings none are forsaken.
Knowing what lay before Him in Jerusalem, knowing that He would be rejected just as all the prophets before Him were, knowing that He would die in that city like the prophets before Him did Jesus continued on His journey. He had to. It was the reason for which He had been born, the purpose of His entire ministry, the goal, the fulfillment of His mission. He had to carry on to Jerusalem.
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” they shouted as He came to them on Palm Sunday just like Jesus said they would and it seemed as if Jerusalem was finally ready to be gathered under His wings. But the people hadn’t changed and neither had we. They crucified Him there and so did we. But with His arms spread wide like the wings of a mother hen reaching out to gather in her brood, He “drew all people to Himself.” He gathered sinners, one and all, that day under His loving wings securing complete and total forgiveness of all of our sins and giving eternal life to all who trust in Him.
So it really is quite fitting, then, to think of our Lord Jesus as a hen and to add this image of Him alongside all others that we hold so near and dear.
Psalm 63 says, “In the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” We sing for joy today because of His wings are spread over us. We sing for joy knowing the fullness of forgiveness and life that His wings provide. We sing for joy because we are blessed to live under His shelter and His care, the care of a hen for her brood, all the days of our lives and into eternity. Thanks be to Jesus who gathers us in! In Jesus name, Amen.