Jesus, Our Source of Eternal Comfort
by Seminarian Jordan Peiser
Text: Luke 13:31-35
Hens often gather their children under their wings to protect them from danger and comfort them. But that tendency is not limited to animals. Parents will hug and comfort their children when they are afraid. Perhaps the child has had a nightmare, or a storm has led the child to worry, or they are sad and anxious because of problems with friends and school. Wings offer protection from danger and comfort in distress. And so it is no wonder that Jesus picks up on this imagery when talking about Jerusalem.
The power and accusation of sin have been tormenting the people of Jerusalem. They were made subject to the forces of the pagan Roman empire, and their religious rulers offered them little comfort. Instead, their religious rulers created more laws and regulations to protect God’s law. Do not eat, do not touch, you do not owe your parents anything if you give it to God, the list goes on. And when God sent prophets—like Jeremiah—to proclaim the Lord’s mercy and judgment, the leaders of the people killed them. That is why Jesus mourned over Jerusalem. He longed to offer comfort and console the people, but their leaders would not listen.
Although His people would not listen, that is exactly what the Lord Jesus wanted to do. He wanted to take His people under the shelter of His wings. Notice the possessive language. Jesus still refers to the people and leaders of Jerusalem as “His.” Even in a moment of lament and judgment, the Lord calls out to His people and wants to save them. He wanted to comfort them and to bestow His peace upon His people. Through every moment of life, that is what He wants to do for us. Each week we come to Church, and Jesus approaches us in the Divine service. We bring our anxieties, our conflicts at home and at work, and our sins and place them before the Lord calling out for His grace and mercy. And the Lord brings us healing and restoration. That is why Jesus did not take the Pharisees’ warning to leave Judea.
The Pharisees told Him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” But Jesus is not dismayed, and He does not run from death. He knows that Herod has no power over Him, and Jesus also knows that the Pharisees don’t really care about what happens to Him. Herod and the Pharisees both want Jesus out of the way. For the Pharisees and Sadducees whose lives are lived by the synagogue and the temple, Jerusalem is the center of their faith and livelihood. And for Herod, Jerusalem is the capital and where his small political influence is the most dominant. As far as they are concerned, Jesus— the man who claims to be the temple and who is recognized by many as a new and better king David, is a clear threat to their political, religious, and social standing.
But Jesus is not interested in the political games that Herod and the Pharisees are playing. Jesus knows that He is going to Jerusalem to die at the hands of the Romans and the religious leaders. And so He replies, “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.’”
Jesus was going throughout the cities and villages in Israel, healing the sick and casting out demons. People were crying out to Him for mercy, and He heard their prayer, felt their pain, grieved with them, and granted them healing from physical and spiritual afflictions. But, as powerful as these acts were, they were not the “course” that Jesus was set to run. Jesus uses the same words here that he will use in John’s account as His last words from the cross. What the ESV translates as “complete” could also be translated as “finished”; the word carries the sense of something which “leads to a goal.” Jesus’ ministry and miracles have been leading to something greater. Jesus’ incarnation would reach its goal as He ran His course to the cross and the tomb. And then, after three days, when His course was finished, He rose from the dead, visited His disciples, and ascended back to the Father.
The miracles were meant to demonstrate Jesus’ divinity so that the prayer of the Psalmist could be fully and completely answered, “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” The Lord Jesus is the God of our righteousness, who gives us relief from our distress. Jesus’ relief for the suffering soul is first, and foremost, seen in His death and is fulfilled in His resurrection on the third day, which is an assurance of our own resurrection to eternal life. That is why He lamented over Jerusalem. He loved the city and its inhabitants and desired to save them, to suffer with and for them, and liberate them not from a political threat but from the ultimate enemies of sin and death. He wanted them to also have assurance and life in Him.
And so, when Jesus, with anger and sadness, cried out, “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 were not willing!” He is lamenting the rejection of His people, not because He is some kind of a jealous spurned lover, but because He is the loving brother of the faithful. He saw the people of Israel and knew that they were struggling, lonely, and “like a sheep without a shepherd.” And so He came into the world, a world filled with lonely, struggling, dying people in need of relief from their distress and in need of salvation. Jesus cries out because Jesus’ heart is filled with the deepest sadness over Jerusalem’s history of rejecting the love and promise of the Lord. But that history also demonstrates that the Lord’s love is persistent. No matter how faithless Israel was to the Lord, the Lord would continue to send His messengers to them. Until, finally, our Lord Christ became incarnate, worked miracles, preached, and finally died for the people of Jerusalem and for the whole world.
Jesus was preparing to stretch out His arms in a loving embrace to receive and accept all who will be called to Him in faith. In fact, these words have found their fulfillment in our own lives. The Lord gathered us under His wings, “as a hen gathers her brood” when we were Baptized. In our Baptisms, He called, gathered us, and sheltered us from the power and accusation of the devil who daily seeks to remind us of our sins and condemn us for those things that have already been forgiven. In the Lord’s Supper, we feast on the body and blood of Christ, which was pierced and poured out for us. Jesus was wounded for us, so that “by His wounds, we might be healed.” In that sacrament, we take refuge in the wounds of our savior, just as baby chickens take refuge under the wings of their mother hen. This does not mean that our trials and pain will cease. But, the refuge and comfort we find in the Church, among our fellow believers, and in the Lord’s gifts are a promise that the Lord has not left us alone and will never forsake us.
So when you are struggling with this week’s burdens when you are doing everything you can to survive. When you have consulted the bank, called an attorney, tightened your budget, received an alarming medical diagnosis, gone into counseling or rehab or therapy, turn to Jesus. Our Lord is waiting for you with open arms. He is waiting to hear and listen to your cries for help and to show you that you are not alone. That is exactly why He had to go to Jerusalem. Jesus went to Jerusalem so that He might bring forgiveness of sins and comfort to those in need of His salvation and healing. When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, He knew what He would do to heal and restore them.
That is why Jesus’ lament ends with a prophecy of His return to the city. Jesus said, “Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Jesus promises to come to them, to those who would receive, and to those who would crucify Him. Many of the residents of the city and people who were in the city for the Passover would receive Him with loud shouts of “‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” But Jesus also knew that He would be rejected by many of the leaders and residents of the city. Jesus knew that as the greatest prophet and as the Son of God, His destiny was to go to Jerusalem to die.
He would be tried on false charges, condemned as a sinner, and handed over to the Romans to be beaten, mocked, scourged, and crucified. And as His arms were nailed to the cross, and He was lifted up from the earth, He began to draw all people to Himself, in the comforting embrace of His nail-pierced hands. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” His final words from the cross would be an echo of His words in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. He would cry out, “it is finished.” He has begun to “complete” His course. His course would include the resurrection on the third when He would rise again with “healing in His wings.”
After His resurrection, His wings— the nail-pierced hands— would again be raised in a blessing when He would see His disciples and proclaim, “peace be with you.” On that day, He gave them— and the whole Church— the authority to proclaim the Lord’s forgiveness. Now when we are burdened by our sin, we can hear the words of a called and ordained servant of the word who proclaims the grace, and comfort of the Lord and assures us that our sins are forgiven.
We have grief and distress here and now, but even in our trials, grief, and pain, the Lord provides us with His presence. Our trials may not come to an end, we may still be in anguish on earth, but Jesus loves us and knows what it means to suffer. He does not leave us but invites us to take shelter in His wings and among our fellow Christians. So, go ahead, pray for your neighbor, welcome the stranger who comes into Church, reach out to the sick and homebound members of the congregation. And demonstrate the Lord’s love to those around you. Jesus has loved us and comforted us, so let us comfort one another. And each week, as we come to the Divine service with all of our anxieties and problems our Lord Jesus— the God of all peace and comfort— invites us to His altar where we receive His body and blood, and the assurance of eternal life in Him.
In the name of Jesus, who comforts us in our distress. Amen!