Breaking God’s Heart? (Thinking Through Luke 13:31-35)

Does your heart break when a loved one chooses a destructive path? Your heart breaks for them knowing it is not going to end well. Perhaps in recent weeks your heart has been breaking while watching one nation choose the path of war against another.

When our hearts break, it is a sign that we are created in the image of God. It is another way in which we reflect God. Our Scripture Focus today speaks to God’s breaking heart:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)

Jesus had enemies who were out to get him. The religious leaders were none too happy with him, but here a key political leader also wanted him dead. With a touch of irony Jesus wanted Herod to know that he was too busy healing people to waste time in being killed by the one who was supposed to be taking care of the very people Jesus was taking care of.

Jesus, however, knew that his enemies would indeed catch up to him…in Jerusalem.

I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!

Luke 13:33,34 (NRSV)

Prophets were sent by God to help the people avoid disaster, to help them choose a good path. We often think of prophets as predicting the future, which is part of it, but they did so with a view to influencing present decisions. For example, I might say to my three sons, “if you drive down the highway at 200 km/h, you will lose your license or worse.” There is prediction about the future there, but the purpose is to effect change in the present, to make possible a better outcome, to avoid catastrophe. That is what the prophets did in the Old Testament. God sent the prophets to bring the people back to himself, to help them avoid the disasters that awaited if they insisted on going their own way. God also sent them to point out how he would be there for them when they returned. There was always hope.

We see the heart of God by the very fact he sent prophets. If I thought my sons were driving 200 km/h on the highway, I would say something! I’d say something prophetic, out of love. (Thankfully, I know the son most likely to want to reach such speeds won’t, because he is driving a Fiat 500.)

Though God spoke to his people through prophets out of love, the leaders in Jerusalem had a nasty history of rejecting, sometimes even killing, such prophets. This often happened in Jerusalem, the centre of religious life and devotion to God. The very people who were to lead people to live in the presence of God, in the very place they were to experience the presence of God, were the ones who would ignore, abuse, and kill the ones God sent to bring them back to his presence.

God not only sent them the prophets, he came to them himself, in Jesus. Knowing that he is going to be killed by the people who should be celebrating his presence, at the place where he should be welcomed as king, Jesus said:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Luke 13:34 (NRSV)

Jesus did not respond with outrage, as we might expect anyone to do, but with lament.

Lament is the language of a broken heart. Lament is an expression of love. It is the language of love when we see bad things happen to our loved ones, when we watch people make tragic decisions, when disasters unfold and wars erupt.

What is God like?

People have different pictures of what God is like. Some think God just waits for us to slip up so he can squash us like bugs. Others think of God as the supreme judge, and not much more. Some think God set the world spinning, then stepped back, not caring what happens next. Many people have an image of God, where God is heartless.

Let our view of God be challenged by Jesus here.

God is one whose heart breaks for us. God is the one who, far from creating the world and stepping back, created then spoke into the world, through the prophets. God is the one who, far from creating the world and stepping back, stepped into the world though Jesus, to rescue us from the path we were on, a path where we end up separating ourselves from God completely. God is the one who, rather than judging, condemning and squashing people like bugs, allowed himself, in Jesus, to be judged, condemned, and squashed like a bug. In doing so God showed he is for us and not against us.

God responds to our hurtful paths, not with outrage, but with a broken heart, with an offer of forgiveness and reconciliation, with love.

Our view of what God is like has a big impact on what we become.

If we view God as being very mechanical and heartless, we can become very mechanical and heartless in how faith is worked out our lives. We can become heartless even as we strive to be righteous. Many Pharisees did.

The apostle Paul was once a heartless Pharisee whose desire for righteousness led him to persecute Christians. When he met Jesus, Paul did not simply switch teams and start persecuting Jews instead of Christians. Paul’s vision of God was expanded. Paul caught a glimpse of the heart of God through Jesus. Paul changed.

The apostle John also had an expanded view of God which had a huge impact on his view on how life was to be lived:

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16-19 (NRSV)

We live, not as people who are afraid of what God is going to do to us, but as a people who know what God has done for us. We have experienced the heart of God. We have experienced love. Therefore we grow in love.

Is God’s heart breaking over us right now?

Do our life choices break God’s heart? Are we making decisions that God knows will lead to disaster? 

Could your name be substituted for Jerusalem when we read “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”? (Luke 13:34 NRSV)

Or, when Jesus says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…”, could he say “Christianity, Christianity,…” instead? Is Christianity on a path of destruction? Some would say it is while pointing to the statistics of church engagement here in Canada as evidence.

There are two paths that can be destructive for Christianity. First, there has been a rise, across the world and across all religions, including Christianity, of fundamentalism, an expression of faith that is marked by certainty over having all the answers. It often involves a disregard for science, an ignorance about history, and the subjugation of women. Second, there is also a rise in those who claim no particular religion, those who are done with organised religion altogether.

Recently I read about a key church leader in Russia defending Putin’s war on Ukraine as a way of keeping Christian values. Particularly mentioned was protection from having to hold gay pride parades, which are common in European nations but not in Russia. So, thousands of people killed in war is to be preferred to gay rights? People hear this kind of thing and say “if that is Christianity, no thanks.”

Fundamentalism can lead to a heartless God. Turning against faith altogether can lead to a Godless heart. Either way, God’s heart breaks.

Is there a better path?

Yes, we can be on a journey of faith in Jesus that is deep, that is well thought through, that is informed, that allows questions, that is not afraid of the things we can learn from science, that pays attention to what we learn from history, and that recognises the dignity of all humans. We cannot make all Christians choose that journey, so God’s heart will still break as some dive headlong into fundamentalism and others jump right out of Christianity. We can, however, choose that path for ourselves. God’s heart need not break over us for our life choices, including how we express our faith.

In Conclusion…

Does your heart break when you see a loved one go down a destructive path? God’s heart breaks when we choose a destructive path. God’s heart breaks because God is love.

Not The Right Kind of Person for Church?

Many of us cannot wait to get back to in-person worship. That being said, methinks the majority of people in Cobourg, not to mention the rest of Canada, could care less if we never get back to being in church again! There are many reasons for this, but some people don’t want to be in a church because they feel that they are not good enough, or rather they think they will be made to feel like they are not good enough. Maybe they are just the wrong kind of person, with the wrong kind of story to belong?

Maybe you feel like the wrong kind of person, or maybe there is someone in your life might seem like the wrong kind of person. There is good news in John, chapter 4, for those who feel like the wrong kind of person.

In John chapter 4 Jesus engages a Samaritan women in conversation. You can read the whole story here. People often read this story and miss the fact that this would have been a shocking incident when it happened. Keep in mind that Jesus was Jewish, and thanks to his miracles and teaching, a Jew held in high regard among many. However, when Jesus engaged in conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well he was doing something no respectable Jewish man would do in that time and place.

The Samaritan woman was not the right kind of person for a respected Jewish man to talk with. Why? Three reasons:

  1. She was a woman. A respectable Jewish man was not be alone with a woman in that day, and if he was, he should not speak to her.
  2. She was a Samaritan woman. The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along. The Samaritans were those who were left in Israel when the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom and took the “important people” away to exile. The “unimportant people” were left and they were not careful to keep racial purity. They also only recognised the first five books of what we now call the Bible as Scriptures whereas the Jews recognised the writings, like Psalms and Proverbs, and the prophecies, like Isaiah and Jeremiah. The Samaritans also did not focus their worship on Jerusalem. The “respectable” Jews in Jesus day, especially the religious Jews, really looked down on the Samaritans and wouldn’t give them the time of day.
  3. She was a loose Samaritan woman. You’ve heard of the story of the Good Samaritan, well this is the story of the not-so-good Samaritan. We are not told what the circumstances are of having five men, but Bible scholars point out that the timing of her being at the well was unusual unless you wanted to be there on your own, which you might do if you have a bad reputation.

These are three reasons why, if Jesus was trying to be a respectable Jew, he should not speak with the Samaritan. But he did. Why? If the Samaritan woman was not the right kind of person, Jesus was.

Jesus was the right kind of person, a different kind of person, in three ways:

  1. Jesus was focused on what he could give, not get. The history of humankind tells us that far too many men would have tried to taken advantage of the situation. But not Jesus. He turns the conversation to the very good thing she could receive from him; eternal life. Jesus was intent on giving life, not diminishing it.
  2. Jesus was focused on building a bridge, rather than focus on a wall. When the woman tried to change the topic by bringing up religion, rather than taking the bait and talking about the walls of division between them, Jesus continued to build a bridge in conversation. Jesus saw the possibilities in the future of this woman. Looking at the overall ministry of Jesus, he built bridges where everyone else was building walls.
  3. Jesus was not focused on religion, but true relationship with God. When the woman brought up about the differing locations of worship between Samaritans and Jews, a good respectable Jew would have pointed out why the Jews had it right, and the Samaritans had it wrong. Jesus makes mention of it, but that’s not the focus of his conversation. He is focused on her relationship with God:

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

John 4:21-24 (NLT)

Jesus calls us to follow him, which means of course that we pay great attention to his teaching. But it also means that we pay attention to what he did. The kinds of things he did, we do. So to be the right kind of people when we are with the wrong kind of people, we . . .

  1. Focus on what we can give others, rather than take from them. We do not want to diminish people’s lives by taking, but add to their lives by giving. This can be true in any relationship including friendships, family, and marriage. It is also a way of loving our enemies as Jesus taught us to do.
  2. We build bridges where there are walls. People look at churches across North America and they see a lot of squabbles over where walls should be, and how tall they should be. Who is in? Who is out? What does a good Christian look like? Who is good enough? This is not helping us connect people with Jesus. I have a confession: in 23 years or so of being a pastor I have never really cared much for church membership, who is “in” and who is “out.”. Can we not just help people connect with and walk with Jesus, even if they might seem like Samaritans to us?
  3. We help people, not to practise religion, but to connect with God. This is done through Jesus. When we focus on connecting people with religion, we focus on the rules of the church. When we focus on connecting people with God, we help them see what it looks like to honour God with their lives. The focus is not helping people become good members of our church, but helping them become people who walk with Jesus. Those who walk with Jesus and are growing in Him make great members of a church family, wherever they may be on that journey, and whether their name is on an official role or not.

While we want to follow Jesus and model our lives on him, we also want to ask; have we received the water Jesus told the Samaritan woman about? Do we have a relationship with God through Jesus? It is not about being perfect by our own efforts so that we can become the right kind of person to be accepted by God and so begin walking with Jesus. It is about experiencing God’s acceptance, then walking Jesus, as He changes us from the inside out. It is not about repenting from sin, and then when you have a good track record and you think you are good enough, turning to Jesus. It is not like being addicted to pop and saying, “when I stop drinking pop for thirty days, then I will start drinking water.” It is about seeing the water Jesus offers you now and realising it is so much better than what the world offers. It is about saying “I’d rather be with you, God, than with all that separates me from you.” It is about repenting from sin and turning to God in the same moment, experiencing forgiveness for all that separates us from Him.

We might feel like we are the wrong kind of person with the wrong kind of story. God is the right kind of God.

Have you trusted in Jesus? As the Psalmist says “O taste and see, that the Lord is good.”

But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

John 4:14 (NLT)

(The full reflection can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)