To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
What keeps you from accomplishing your goals? Joanne was a writer, or at least she tried to be. But life was hard. Her marriage was short-lived and the divorce came at only 13 months. At least she had a daughter to show for that broken relationship, but that meant providing for a baby on the unsteady income of an aspiring writer all on her own. It wasn’t working. So Joanne was supported by government aid, but that didn’t seem to help that much. Living in a cramped apartment with a toddler, penniless and jobless, Joanne wondered what the point was. When she was trying to get her novel about a boy wizard published, she couldn’t afford a computer or even the cost of photocopying the manuscript, so allegedly she manually typed out each version of the 90,000 word novel and sent each copy to a different publisher. Then she faced dozens of rejections, until one publisher picked up her story because the CEO’s eight year old daughter fell in love with it. The book was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Joanne you probably know better as author JK Rowling. Since then, the Harry Potter series has won countless awards, been developed into blockbuster movies, endless merchandise, and even a theme park. And today, J.K. Rowling’s net worth is estimated at $1 billion (yes, that’s billion, with a “b”).
What keeps you from accomplishing your goals? The internet is replete with stories like that one – about people who overcame incredible adversity to accomplish some great things, at least in the estimation of the world. It’s what makes for a great story. The protagonist basks in the glory only after making it through the tough times. But you probably know, maybe from personal experience, for as many JK Rowling stories as there are in the world, there are countless times as many stories that speak only from silence and apparent failure. Too many whose tales are untold because they didn’t accomplish what they set out to – the obstacles were just too great. When obstacles and opposition come, it’s easier just to pack it in, give up, go home, lick our wounds, and lament. If that describes your life experience, I’ve got good news for you today. But it’s not an inspiring story about a rags-to-riches best-selling author, and it’s not a pep talk for you to get out there and achieve your dreams. Actually, this good news is about a riches-to-rags Savior who wouldn’t let anything stand in his way to love you, to forgive you, and to make you a promise that he’ll always keep.
Jesus was making his way through the towns of Galilee on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. But apparently, he wasn’t making that trip quickly enough for the liking of some. At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” Was this a fair warning from friendly Pharisees? Or was this a roundabout way of telling Jesus, “Go peddle your wares someplace else. We don’t want to hear it.” Whatever their motivation, Jesus knew their hearts, and sent them with a message. “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” Jesus checked his day planner and informed both the Pharisees and Herod, that there simply wasn’t any time for him to squeeze in their veiled threats; not even an afternoon appointment for them to push him off track from reaching his goal. Instead, he doubles down on his resolve to save. In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
When I read this gospel lesson, you might’ve been thinking it was pretty straight-forward. It didn’t seem like anything all that special happened, right? No one was healed, no miracle was performed, no profound teaching, right? But if this gospel lesson isn’t a shining example of the unfathomable love of Jesus, I don’t know what is! Picture it – Jesus has just been informed that not only is the religious establishment against him (Pharisees), but apparently also the political powers of the day (Herod), and to top it all off, Jesus, you won’t find safe haven in the Holy City of Jerusalem – they’ll just keep doing what they always have done – killing the prophets and stoning those sent to them. Jesus knows all of this! But what does he do? He keeps going! Boy, the Son of God has some stubborn feet that refuse to be stopped! Not the Pharisees, not Herod, not even a city like Jerusalem – historically and currently hostile to who Jesus was and what he was doing – none of it would stop him from pressing forward for you and me. He knew what lay ahead for him, and he kept going, so that on the greatest third day of all, Easter Sunday, he could reach his resurrection goal. Nothing would keep him from reaching his goal. And what was Jesus’ goal? Saving you!
What keeps you from reaching your goals in life? We could probably cite a laundry list of obstacles that stand or stood in our way – not a good enough education, not enough money, didn’t have the opportunity that he did, wasn’t born into the right family like she was – the list goes on and on, and some of those forces outside of your control can be legitimate hindrances. But I’m not here today to talk about you achieving your earthly goals. What keeps you from reaching your goals in your spiritual life? If I can say it that way…We trust in the Holy Spirit to work through the Word of God, and we believe Jesus when he says, Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it. But sometimes “listening to the word of God” and “the Word of God is powerful” become little more than a stock phrases so worn by use that the color and impact is gone. I say it all the time – the Word of God is precious, the Word of God is powerful - but in reality, just about anything keeps me from listening to it, much less speaking it to someone else. We know it and we say it and we believe that God provides, and God provides generously to us so that you can be generous on every occasion, but is there really enough to go around? Having a family and supporting the work of the gospel and looking to the needs of my neighbor gets kind of spendy – brass tacks, I know which two out of those three I’ll cut out. Pray continually, is Paul’s admonition – but I’m busy. I talk a big game about belonging to a church that preaches and teaches the word of God in its truth and purity, but when the first wind of opposition comes blowing my way, I high tail it out of danger and into my comfort zone – asking questions like, Do differences in teaching really matter that much? Can’t we all just get together – we’ve got bigger fish to fry?!
What keeps me from achieving my spiritual goals, if I may ask it that way? We want to blame it all on outside forces, but that’s just not true. What keeps me from achieving my spiritual goals? I do. The rationale piles up faster than laundry – I’m too tired to hear the word of God today; I’m just at too busy a stage of life to look to my neighbor; I like what I have and I don’t see why I should give or share; I’m too amused by the entertainment of this world; and at the end of the day, I’m too in love with the gods of my own making.
Into a world of people like us, Jesus came. Jesus keeps talking. His stubborn feet keep walking. And as he thought about the many who would reject him, his reaction isn’t necessarily anger – it’s sorrow. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! It was for sinners like us that Jesus came in the first place. It was for our salvation that Jesus kept going. Jesus knew that Jerusalem and the people of Israel had a track record of kill[ing] the prophets and ston[ing] those sent to them, so it raises the question - why keep sending them? Why would God line up messenger after messenger and prophet after prophet to face certain rejection and even death? To top it all off, why send your one and only Son into such a hostile place to face such a terrible end? Which raises another question - why would anyone want to kill the one who came to save their life, the one who wants to have an eternal relationship with them, the one whose sole desire is to draw you close to him so that he can protect you through the storms of life and usher you into his heavenly kingdom? Why would God put up with it? Quite simply, for two reasons: 1. His word and promise are true. 2. His love for you knows no limit. God would stop at nothing, not even sacrificing his only begotten Son to make you his own. Jesus’ death wasn’t going to be a sneak attack springing from the hardened heart of Herod or the plots and plans of the Pharisees. Jesus death and resurrection wasn’t the end result of some sinister plot that had been brewing for a couple years; it was the eternal culmination of salvation’s story, born from the very heart of God himself.
So great is his love, so firm his resolve, so stubborn his feet that he keeps walking and keeps talking and will keep going until those stubborn feet are nailed to a cross and that always inviting voice is finally silenced in death. For our sins of failing to gladly hear and learn the word of God, Jesus made the word and will of God his entire life. For my sins of wanting to hold on to what I have, thinking that my stuff defines me, Jesus gave everything – his perfect life on the cross, his holy blood to cover me, and his righteousness credited to my account. For my failure to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, Jesus kept his focus on a murderous city called Jerusalem; on a cross on Mount Calvary; on an empty tomb three days later. For all our failures to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus kept a laser focus on one thing – saving you, and he wouldn’t let anything stand in his way to love you, to forgive you, and to make you a promise that he’ll always keep.
Do you see what happens when we remember the unbelievable love of Jesus that led him to the cross and empty tomb? We are equipped and empowered to live in a world where the devil and our own sinful flesh wants nothing more than to keep us distracted. The world tells you, You’re too busy to go to church, to have family devotions, to read your Bible! And you respond – there is nothing more precious to me in this whole world than the Creator of the Universe who speaks straight to me through his word. The devil makes all the sense in the world, Look at how much everyone else has – you’ll never get there if you keep giving it away! And you respond – I have a Savior who gave up everything for me, and I rejoice to give him my labor, my love, my life, my all – because it’s all his! Your sinful flesh says, You’ll never amount to anything unless you start looking out for #1! And you respond – I don’t think so…because there is nothing more beautiful, nothing more noble, nothing truer, greater, or praiseworthy remembering and praising the Savior who wouldn’t let anything stand in his way to win my salvation. Jesus overcame every obstacle – King Herod, the Pharisees, and the sinful heart beating inside this chest. Jesus let nothing get in his way to save you!
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.