Jesus patiently pursues his mission.
Jesus was moving towards Jerusalem (v.22) but he was still in regions governed by Herod who had responsibility for both Galilee and Perea (an area to the East of the Jordan). It is here that this latest incident takes place.
It all comes about because some Pharisees tell Jesus of threats to his safety emanating from Herod.
But who was this Herod and what was he like? What do we know about him?
Well, he was a nasty piece of work. He was irreligious, weak and worldly. He was a proud yet pathetic man who was dominated by his passions and by his latest wife. There are plenty of people just like him in the world today.
Herod Antipas belonged to the family founded by Herod the Great whose greatness lay not in his achievements but in the inane flattery he enjoyed. The family was corrupt and vicious where morality had little if any role to play; it was a morally bankrupt background in which to be brought up and Herod Antipas fitted right in!
He became infatuated with the wife of Philip one of his half-brothers. So he sent his own wife away in order to be free to seduce Herodias. Herodias was actually the daughter of another of his half-brothers so when he married her he was marrying his niece! Thus he broke God’s law twice in one act. Herodias would continue to dominate him and exercise a negative influence over him; Herod’s own influence was generally negative as well.
When John the Baptist had stood up and condemned Herod’s marriage he was first thrown into prison and then beheaded. It can be a dangerous thing to call into question a person’s right to be married to whomever they might choose – it was then and it is becoming so again in our own day.
It was from this Herod that some Pharisees now tell Jesus to flee – Herod was not afraid to have blood on his hands and so the threat was, on the surface at least, a credible one.
But did Herod really want to kill Jesus? And if he did, did the Pharisees really want to help Jesus escape from his clutches? After all everything we know about the Pharisees is that they were opposed to Jesus and had for some time been involved in plotting his demise.
Herod was a complex person – but then again aren’t we all?!
When John had been alive he had openly condemned Herod for his offensive marriage to Herodias. In doing so John had successfully pricked Herod’s conscience and yet Herod didn’t seem able to keep away from this man and frequently wanted to listen to him (Mk.6:20).
When Herod heard talk about Jesus he had a similar set of mixed reactions. He was intrigued by what he learnt but once again his guilty conscience was pricked – for Jesus reminded him of what he had done to John the Baptist.
Consequently Herod tried to see Jesus – Lk.9:9. Later in the gospel record when Jesus had been arrested and handed over to Pilate we find that that Herod was still interested in seeing the man from Nazareth. Luke tells us:
Lk.23:8 “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him.”
In the light of this I think it quite unlikely that Herod literally wanted to kill Jesus. But Jesus did prick his conscience and maybe having one dead prophet on your conscience was probably quite enough for Herod. I think he simply wanted to get Jesus to move out of his jurisdiction. With Herodias around Herod knew he wasn’t fully in charge!
The Pharisees were probably willing to collaborate with Herod – if Jesus would only move openly to Judea or better still Jerusalem they would be happier after all their influence was centred on Jerusalem and they’d be able to move against him more easily there!
Jesus Sends a Message
Jesus’ response strongly suggests that he realised that the Pharisees were not acting in a friendly way towards him out of the goodness of their hearts. In fact his reply suggests that he knows they are in league with Herod and so he sends them back to Herod with a message.
We need to be aware that while we might like to put on a good front that will perhaps deceive others when it comes to dealing with Jesus he reads us like an open book. Don’t try to fool him – it won’t work and you are the only one who will be the fool!
The essence of Jesus’ reply is that he was busy and he was busy in doing all that the Father had given him to do. That work was progressing well but he hadn’t yet completed it though the end was indeed in sight. And what was more he was determined to continue until everything had been accomplished.
And what was that work?
Well it was good work whereby he:
• Was casting out demons
• Was curing the sick
Was it the kind of work that merited the death penalty? Was it the kind of work that deserved death threats? I know the answer to that and so do you.
Jesus’ presence in Herod’s domain wasn’t a threat, certainly not to Herod’s subjects; he was doing good to those who needed his help, his salvation.
But Herod’s “threats” and efforts to get rid of him would not have any effect upon Jesus: his mind was made up and had been all his life, he was determined to do his Father’s will, and he wasn’t about to start dancing to Herod’s tune.
Jesus refused again and again to allow himself to be reoriented by the pressures that men tried to bring to bear on him. How glad we should be that he never wavered but instead fulfilled all righteousness as he did everything the Father wanted him to do!
The church too comes under pressure to fall into line with what society wants, or at least in line with what certain members of society want. The church has to follow her Master – he knew what the Father’s will was and we must know it too as it is revealed in the Bible; then Jesus stuck resolutely to it and so must we. Oh that those of us who profess to be followers of this man from Nazareth might be similarly determined not to dance to the devil’s music in our day! We must follow him, not with rose-tinted spectacles imagining that everything will be smooth and comfortable, but with the realism that recognises that such obedience cost John the Baptist his head and brought Jesus to his cross.
The second thing to note from Jesus’ reply is the way in which he referred to Herod.
Jesus despised him!
This man Herod may be a governor but he has forfeited all claims to honour and respect and Jesus offers him none:
“that fox Herod” he says.
Now maybe that doesn’t sound too strong to us. In our day, to refer to someone as “a fox” suggests little more than that he is crafty or wily. But in Jesus’ day it meant that and more: it meant Jesus was calling Herod both wily and worthless!
Later after having been arrested Jesus was taken to Herod for questioning and do you know Jesus would not speak a single word to him, not one!
It seems as though Jesus held him in utter contempt.
Does that sound too strong to you? I wonder.
In truth Herod was utterly contemptible. He set aside common morality; he flouted God’s law; he used his position to try to silence criticism; he fawned upon his wife and allowed himself to be manipulated by her into killing a man he personally knew to be godly and righteous. The ultimate reason for which Herod had John executed was simply a misguided attempt to save face. He had made a stupid promise and he was too proud to back down!
How many people exclude themselves from Christ’s salvation and from the blessings of heaven itself because of their own twisted pride? Is it your pride that keeps you from coming to Jesus?
More than that he had frequently gone to John the Baptist and had had so many opportunities to repent and change course in his life but he had refused them all. Oh yes, he wanted to see Jesus but for no other reason than that he wanted to see a spectacle – he wanted Jesus to perform a miracle in his presence for no other reason than for the kudos of being able to say he’d seen a miracle.
Herod was shallow, weak and worthless. He had missed out on the wonderful opportunities he had had and now the Saviour has nothing good to say of him. How dreadful it was for Herod though he didn’t seem to realise it at all. And how dreadful it will be for us if the Saviour looks on us and arrives at the same conclusion!
Herod had so much of what people today aspire to:
• Position and status
• Power and wealth
• A licentious lifestyle
• The ability to suppress criticism
• The ability to quieten a troubled conscience
But what did he gain from it all? He missed out big time. Don’t be like him. Don’t chase the perverted values of a dying world but put your faith in a Saviour who will give you worth and value in this life and save you in the world to come.
Jesus heart beats for Jerusalem
Jesus ended his message the Pharisees were to transmit to Herod with a reference to Jerusalem. The Pharisees had spoken about Herod’s threats (real or imaginary) to kill Jesus and Jesus was very aware that death awaited him. Only Jesus’ death would not be death at the hands of a Herod. Jesus knew that the appropriate place for him to die was at Jerusalem, or more precisely on a hill just outside the city walls in a garden called Golgotha, Calvary.
Jesus knew that his life would end there but it would only be brought to an end when he had completed his mission. He knew that he could not be touched until “his hour came”, an hour which had been scheduled by the Father as he planned the salvation of the world through his only begotten Son.
As Jesus mentions Jerusalem he cries out in sorrow concerning that city and its inhabitants who represent perhaps the whole of the Jewish nation. And with that cry we are made aware of the great compassion and tenderness of the Saviour. Hear what he says:
Lk.13:34 “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!”
Jesus had visited Jerusalem before this and had reached out in compassion but we are not to imagine that he is merely referring to the personal visits he had made during the time of his incarnation. It was he who had sent those prophets to the city, indeed it was he who had sent all those who had been sent, and through them he was extending his gracious offers of help and salvation. They had been genuine offers too! Jesus had never simply gone through the motions but had sincerely longed to provide the protection and safety that the inhabitants needed in their times of difficulty.
The picture he used was a tender one. A mother hen is out with her chicks and some storm clouds blow over. Large raindrops begin to fall and her chicks are in danger. She spreads her wings – they’re not much good for flying but they serve well for protecting her brood – and calls her chicks to her before seeking safety with them all.
Jesus declares here how ready he was, how ready he is, to gather the people to him in their time of need. He would receive them – it wasn’t a problem for him, he was able to do so, ready to do so, all those who would go to him he would receive. But there is another problem and it is not with him but with them. He would but they would not!! See (v.34)
If Herod had had his opportunities so had the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the offer of salvation made was real, it was genuine and it had been made in a warm loving compassion. But, like Herod, the inhabitants of Jerusalem representing the entire Jewish nation had in their great majority rejected the offer. The Messiah had been announced to them and they rejected the announcement; the Messiah had come to them and they had not received him. The opportunity was passing – how important it is for us to realise that today is the day of salvation, now is the appointed time, now is the day in which we must be saved.
For Jerusalem the end was approaching and the end was already being pronounced: the opportunity once lost will be gone for good. Jesus declared they wouldn’t see him until they declared: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Now those words would be shouted out by his followers on the day of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem but you do you know how the Pharisees responded as they heard others crying out in that way:
Lk.19:39 “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
The majority would not “see” Jesus with this understanding until his return in glory and then... it would be too late.
Friends, Jesus went about doing good. He came to destroy the works of the devil and demonstrated that as he cast out demons as he healed the sick and as he taught the truth that would set men and women free.
He was opposed, he was threatened; attempts were made to intimidate him, to make him change his plans, but he rejected every endeavour to turn him from the way the Father had chosen for him. His determination to obey his Heavenly Father proved exceedingly costly to himself as he experienced betrayal, rejection, condemnation and execution at the hands of those whom he had come to serve. He never swerved but pressed on to secure the salvation we need.
And now is the day of your opportunity. What will you do with it? Will you respond to him as he graciously invites you to turn to him in repentance and in faith and in him to find rest for your soul? Or will you cling to the shadows and goes on living a life cut off from God?
Jesus will have you today – will you have him?
To God be the glory.