My friend recently shared with me the tale of his new hen house. He has four egg-laying hens. Being an exceptionally handy guy, he built what he thought was a sturdy coop to protect the chickens from raccoons and other predators. Predators, however, have two things going for them: 1) they work at night, and 2) they never give up.
One day, after discovering only one and three-quarters of a hen left alive in his coop, my friend reinforced it, doubling down on lumber and chicken wire. His wife bought more hens to fill out the brood. But predators never give up. Eventually, he moved his remaining hen and some replacement chicks to his garage, rehoming them in dog kennels. He was confident they would finally be be safe there – but one morning someone forgot to close the garage door. My friend learned that sometimes predators also work in daylight.
When I saw him this week, my friend told me he’s just completed an HGTV-worthy renovation of his chicken coop. He believes it is truly predator-proof now: reinforced and secure. Always an artist, he even included an old salvaged lead-pane window in the hen house. After several hundred dollars in construction costs – which now puts the price of his eggs well north of twelve dollars a dozen – my buddy is confident that his hens and chicks are finally safe. I’m not so sure – not because I doubt his abilities as a builder – he is one of the most skilled I know – but because I know one truth: predators never give up. They will be back.
And were I a fox, I would try that lead window first.
Let’s read Luke 13.31-35.
The Fox Devours / The Hen Protects
In almost the same breath, Jesus calls Herod a fox and himself a hen. The fox comparison makes sense – a sneaky and deadly predator that devours. That describe Herod very well. But the hen comparison is a little troubling for us. We want Jesus to be an eagle – or a lion, a tiger, or bear – but He calls himself a hen. But He isn’t a hen, is He? Can a hen raise the dead or calm a torrential storm? Jesus is reminding us that, even though He commands all power as the God of wonders who spun the galaxies, He is choosing the path of humility and is a Messiah who is gentle and humble in heart. The tender imagery of a hen protecting her chicks while a fox roams about the chicken run serves both to warn us of the dangers we face as God’s children, and the tender mercies of a protective , loving God. So the fox – Herod – devours, and the hen – Jesus – protects. And the chicks? Tragically, they reject the hen’s protection, leaving themselves vulnerable to the fox’s appetite.
In today’s scripture we have the opportunity to step back and see the big picture, like looking at a ball game from the cheap seats way up in the stands. Luke is giving us a narrative milestone, giving us a sense of where we are in this story of Jesus, and hinting at what is to come. Our amazing carpenter-turned-rabbi began healing and teaching in the north, in the little region of Galilee, then He expanded His ministry outward, into the broader towns and villages that round out Israel, and now, Luke reveals that Jesus is making His third-base turn, heading for a game-clinching play at Jerusalem.
O Jerusalem! What a glorious city! O Jerusalem! What a wicked city! Beloved of God, Jerusalem. Rejecting God every chance she could get, Jerusalem. Blessed to be called by the name of the Lord, Jerusalem. No more obedient to God’s ways of righteousness than all her unjust and cruel neighbors, Jerusalem. A place where those who were once slaves were free to shine the light of justice to the world: Jerusalem. The place where God’s supposed people instead brutally exploited widows and orphans in their distress: Jerusalem.
Jesus later weeps over Jerusalem, not because she is so beautiful, but because she is so cruel. Tourists today weep at the sight of Jerusalem, the same sort of sentimental tears any adventurer might be inspired to shed by seeing, for example, the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef. But Jesus’ tears over Jerusalem are different. They are not the tears of a sightseer, but of a lover who has been cheated. God loved Jerusalem faithfully, but she scattered her affections, offering them to nearly anyone else she could find. It is no trivial matter for Him to say to Jerusalem, finally: “We’re through.” “You keep the house – it’s desolate anyway.”
As her king, Herod was the first citizen of Jerusalem. And he represented everything that was wrong with her. Although Herod had little respect among the common people because of His eager compromises with Rome, he was still Jerusalem’s primary leader and first political representative.
In name, Herod could claim to be one of the chosen children of the law under Moses. In practice, however, He did whatever he wanted, casually crashing through every one of the ten commandments. He was a pretender, a politician who said what people wanted to hear as he slipped daggers in their backs. Herod was a liar and a cheat who observed Jewish rituals just enough to cause those who doubted his provenance to question whether he might perhaps be a son of the Law.
But he was no such thing.
False leaders, like foxes, lie in order to deceive, if possible, even the elect. A fox-like politician is good at fooling God’s people into thinking he is one of them, even though his actions clearly demonstrate that he is the enemy of Christ. We are sternly warned in the scriptures to be on guard against the anti-Christs who claim to know Him, but whose deeds strain to erode the kingdom of God. Sly and sleek, these foxes want only one thing – to sink their teeth into the lambs who are gentle and humble in heart; to devour those who are meek, and to trample the poor in spirit.
There is a special connection between the way Jesus sees His approach to Jerusalem and Psalm 118, which we read in part this morning, and which Jesus quotes at the end of luke’s passage. And Psalm 118.8-9 reminds us not to put any trust in politicians, but rather in God:
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”
Love and Rejection: in Three Acts
Jesus uses powerful “three-day” imagery here to explain His mission. The first two days represent healing and truth, but the third day is a day of reckoning – and in this case, rejection. These aren’t three literal 24-hour days, because we know from the rest of Luke that Jesus spends a whole week in Jerusalem before being crucified. Here in Luke 13, When Jesus uses the word “day”, He could be describing the phases of His ministry. The first “day” (or phase) of His ministry was marked primarily by miraculous healings. The second “day” (or phase) was when Jesus shifted his emphasis from healings to ever-more bold teaching about repentance. And finally, the third “day” of Jesus’ ministry represents the season when he is rejected and killed – a day which His enemies meant for evil, but which He transformed into a day of redemption for the faithful through His atoning sacrifice on the cross and victorious resurrection.
Those three days are like acts of a play, and it seems to me that each of us has been cast in a leading role in the sme play in our own lives. The question is, are we the hero or the villain? The good guy, or the bad guy? The protagonist or the antagonist?
See if you can find yourself in this oft-repeated plot line of the people of God:
Act One: A Day of Blessing
The Lord is always the initiator of blessing in our relationship with Him. He reaches out to us before we reach out to Him. He protects and rescues us when we are in need. He provides for our every need, even when we turn our backs on Him. Day one of our relationship with God is a day of blessing – when the hand of God is extended in grace toward us in order to bless us.
This was the story of Israel: when they were enslaved in Egypt, God heard their cry and blessed them by setting them free. This is also our story. When you and I were far from God, He reached out to us and offered His unfailing love and protection. This is Act One - the Day of Blessing.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.”
Act Two: A Day of Truth
After a day of blessing comes a day of truth. What happened after God rescued the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt? He spoke the truth to them: He gave them the law and the commandments through Moses.
People love to expose “the truth” about others, but hate to be exposed to the truth about themselves. After we happily receive His blessings, Jesus affords us no such luxury as avoiding the truth. He speaks it to us even when it stings and cuts to the heart. He bluntly calls our sin exactly what it is, and doesn’t buy a single one of our excuses. He holds us accountable for our own behavior, and refuses to let us place blame on others for the shameful things we do. He shines a light on the dark corners of our hearts and does not turn the light away.
The truth we need to hear usually hurts. It feels more like stone than bread. But the Second Act in every journey of faith – the Day of Truth – is unavoidable.
“The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.”
Act Three: A Day of Reckoning
Now, Act Three could break one of two ways, but it will always be a day of reckoning – the day we decide whose side we’re on: the Lord’s or our own. Israel made her choice. Even after receiving God’s blessings in Act One, and receiving God’s truth in Act Two, she turned her back on Him and went her own way in Act Three. The prophets warned her not to turn her back on the God who loved her, but she still didn’t listen, and her day of reckoning was a hard day indeed. She chose to rebel and reject God, and God therefore rejected her. If we choose to rebel and reject God, we will be left to sleep in the desolate bed we’ve made. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The day of reckoning does not have to be a day of rebellion and rejection: it could be our day of redemption instead, when we accept the truth and repent, turning from the deeds of darkness to the light of His day. If we repent of our sins and receive His fantastic offer of redemption, we will experience even greater blessings than we could imagine. The choice is ours: which path will we choose?
“Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!”
What About Today?
Each one here has experienced Act One - the day of God’s blessing. He has smiled on you and given you more than you could ever ask or imagine.
And each one here has also experienced Act Two - the day of God’s truth. He has turned on the bright lights, the truth that we need to hear about ourselves, truth that hurts as it heals.
And now each one of us is at a crossroads: Act Three: the day of reckoning.
Jerusalem wanted to be blessed, but refused to be humble and obey the truth of God spoon-fed to them through Moses and the prophets. We’re not much different. Just like Jerusalem, we love it when He saves us, but we balk when He calls us to humble obedience.
Jerusalem was undeniably happy to call Jesus “savior”, but in the end refused to call Him “Lord.”
What about you?
The good news is that we always have a chance to make today a day of redemption. It’s not too late to call him Lord. It’s not too late to gather under the shadow of His wing. It’s not too late to hear His voice, to soften our hearts, and to choose to make today our own day of redemption.
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion”
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”