By Pastor Michael Cofer
Today, Tomorrow, the Third Day ( 2/21/16)
In most stories you can pretty easily separate the heroes from the villains. It helps keep the action clear. It helps you know who to root for, to sympathize with, and to emulate. In the old westerns if you wore a white hat, you were a good guy; if you wore a black hat, you were probably bad. And if the Bible was made into an old-time western, what color hat would the Pharisees wear?
But the gospel reading today opens up with a most peculiar scene: the Pharisees come to warn Jesus of a plot on His life. Pharisees are Jesus’ most frequent and devious opponents. Just saying the word “Pharisee” makes me feel kind of… angry, I suppose.
So, when the black hats come to warn Jesus, it’s easy to regard their words with some skepticism; it is possible that these particular ones are just looking to keep Jesus out of Jerusalem. Then again, this isn’t a story of one-dimensional, moustache twisting villains. The Bible is full of real people, with real feelings, and real concerns. It might be that, while most Pharisees would like to see Jesus silenced, murdering an innocent man might have been too much for them.
I suppose we’ll never know what prompted their warning. Whatever their motivation it is clear that they understood the stakes – probably more so that Jesus’ disciples. If Jesus goes to Jerusalem, Herod will have Him killed.
But why? Why does Herod care about this wandering rabbi? It isn’t as if Herod is all that concerned about doctrine. He doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the worship life or religious practice of the Jews. So why would he care one way or another about Jesus?
Because Jesus isn’t just a teacher. He isn’t just a spiritual leader. He is, as the inscription on the cross would later read, the King of the Jews – and more than that. He is the King of the Universe. And as such, He doesn’t bow to the likes of Herod.
When Herod looks at Jesus, he sees a rabble-rouser, a disturber of the peace, one more in an endless train of rebels and revolutionaries. He sees a magician, doing parlor tricks to manipulate the backward Judeans into propping Him up. Herod sees a threat to his throne and probably (if things go far enough) a threat to his own life.
And Herod was wrong about Jesus on every point.
So, the message Jesus sends back to Herod is not a threat. It is not an argument. It is a simple statement of fact, delivered with prophetic certainty. “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”
He is unafraid to die. In fact, He makes clear that He has to go to Jerusalem because that’s where he is supposed to die. The threat of death was supposed to keep Jesus out of Jerusalem, but it instead confirms Jesus’ purpose.
And, this scene really discloses the heart of Jesus to us in a clear way. As He mourns over Jerusalem, you can hear how agonized He is over their rejection of Him. Jesus longs to gather them under his wings. He wants to cover them and protect them in the shelter of His very body and life. This is a tender affection, and a deeply serious one.
But what is most telling is that He knows that the people of Jerusalem that He longs to save are the very people who will kill Him. What does that say about Jesus? Can you imagine a love like that – willingly laying down your life to save the very people who so despise and reject you that they will kill you?
And that’s the kind of savior we have. Loving the unlovable. Redeeming the unredeemable. Giving His all – literally His all – for people who would not and could not ever repay Him.
From the sound of things, Jesus is only a couple days away from Jerusalem. “Today, tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” But you and I who have the benefit of knowing the whole story might hear those words a little differently.
While Jesus might have literally meant that He’d arrive in Jerusalem in 3 days time, He is speaking as a prophet – and when a prophet speaks prophecy, it often has multiple fulfillments that grow greater and greater each time. So when we hear Jesus say the words, “on the Third Day,” our ears should perk up and our thoughts should turn toward the empty tomb on Easter morning. After all, the cross wasn’t the goal. If Jesus was dead today, then you and I would have no hope. The goal is the resurrection. The goal is our salvation and eternal life for all who find shelter under his wings.
And if that is true, then how he describes the path to the tomb should help us see the cross in a new light. “I will keep on driving out demons and healing today and tomorrow and on the third day…” I don’t usually think about the cross quite in this way, but what a compelling way to think about Jesus’ death! This isn’t a passive act – on the cross He is driving out demons; He is purifying his kingdom, pushing out all of the occupying forces, liberating the promised land. On the cross He is healing – not the temporary ailments of body and mind that last only for a time. He is healing the wounds that endure for eternity. By His wounds He is healing the souls of men.
If Jesus knew that His resurrection was where He was headed, and that the road to the empty tomb must pass through the cross, then there is no force on earth that can stop Him from completing His mission. He came to lay down His life as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin, and then to take up his life again to break the power of death. His goal wasn’t Herod’s throne; His goal was the throne in heaven.
But you might look around at the world today and ask, “This is it? Jesus is all done? He’s reached His goal and… now what?” Now we look forward to an even greater fulfillment of Jesus words. Today, tomorrow and the after-tomorrow.
Jesus’ sacrifice is complete. His resurrection is complete. But His work continues. The salvation He accomplished through the cross and empty tomb is working their way to the ends of the earth. He is still healing, because disease and despair and the wounds of a fallen world persist. He is still driving out demons, because they still antagonize and oppress. His words were “today and tomorrow.” His day, and in the days to come. But we also look forward to a day on the horizon when He will return in glory and when His victory over sin and death is made fully manifest.
On that day everyone, no matter what they professed in this life, everyone will say “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Every knee will bow – even those who rejected Him. But for us who know and love the Lord, we will bow in joy rather than fear. We will welcome the coming King.