A sermon on Luke 13: 31-35
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
March 17, 2019
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Frenemy.” “Frenemy” is a word that I had never encountered until not too long ago. It is just like it sounds—a combination of two words: “friend” and “enemy.” The dictionary—yes, there really is a dictionary definition of frenemy—defines it as “a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.”
I first heard the word in relation to the reality TV series “The Simple Life.” (Anyone remember that show from the early 2000’s?) As you may recall, “The Simple Life” revolved around the misadventures of wealthy socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. The premise of “The Simple Life” was to follow the pair getting their hands dirty doing real jobs like shoveling horse manure on a farm, working as hotel maids and making hamburgers at Sonic. Inevitably they made a mess of everything they touched and got fired from every job they had. Unbelievably the show was a huge ratings success when it debuted. But then there was trouble in paradise…
Paris and Nicole had known each other socially before the show started filming. They had gotten along just fine. But the friendly camaraderie was not to last. By the end of the third season, they were sniping at each other more often than not. They had developed an obvious distaste for one another’s company and for working together. (Hard to imagine that two spoiled rotten, privileged and obscenely rich princesses would actually not be able to get along, isn’t it? Who would have thought it, right?) As the entertainment tabloids all dutifully reported, Paris and Nicole had become “frenemies.”
The word has since been picked up and used in relation to a number of other well-publicized spats between popular entertainers. Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian…Taylor Swift and Katy Perry…Cardi B and Nicki Minaj…Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez…that is just a few of the stars that come to mind who have been described in the media as frenemies. It seems that stars being frenemies with one another is now an expected part of the celebrity-driven culture in which we live. I don’t know about you, but I am cynical enough to believe that a LOT of these supposed “feuds” are not the result of any real personality clashes or issues. I suspect that these “beefs” are being staged for no other reason than to keep these celebrities in the news…publicity stunts…to make sure that they retain their portion of the spotlight…When you read about them in that light, celebrities make themselves look ridiculous and silly when they act as frenemies… Just sayin’…
Today’s text in Luke 13 begins with an odd exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. As you probably remember, the Pharisees were highly regarded Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They were looked up to by all the people. They were well-known for their scrupulous devotion to the law and for the preservation of the Jewish religion and customs during the time when the Roman occupation threatened the nation of Israel’s very existence.
But you also no doubt remember that the Pharisees are notorious in the gospels for opposing Jesus at almost every turn. As early as Luke 6:11, we are told that the Pharisees were plotting against our Lord. They would criticize him, try to trap into saying anything that would prove that he was a phony, and they would eventually work with others to have him crucified. It seems that the Pharisees could not wrap their minds around the idea that simply adhering to the Old Testament laws and regulations would not—and could not—make you right with God. For them, such teaching struck at the very heart of what they understood what it meant to be a member of God’s chosen people. They were good, devout people…they were sincere…they were just sadly misguided…
So verse 31 begins, “Some Pharisees came to [Jesus] and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’” Some commentators on this passage have suggested that this is perhaps the only place in the gospels where the Pharisees as a group receive a favorable mention. After all, at first glance, they appear to be concerned for Jesus’ well-being. They are warning Jesus of Herod’s desire to murder him. Some have suggested that perhaps we should rehabilitate their image. Whatever their intentions, all of a sudden, it seems that the Pharisees had inexplicably become the frenemies of Jesus…
Far be it from me to disagree with Bible scholars who have studied these things many more years and in much more depth than I have. But I do not think that these Pharisees approached Jesus with this news because they had our Lord’s best interests at heart. I doubt that they were interested in the Savior’s personal safety.
What I think is happening here is one of two things—or maybe both together. First it may be that the Pharisees are warning Jesus to get him to tone down his message.
Jesus had come to Herod’s attention because he was attracting a crowd and creating controversy. He was stirring up the people. He was declaring that he had come to bring a new kingdom into existence—the kingdom of God. Now that would have immediately alarmed the Roman officials. They were the ones who held the reins of power and they demanded full obedience to Caesar…and only to Caesar. They were not going to sit idly by while yet another Jewish rabble-rouser was using religion to raise up another rebellion against them. It would not be the first time that such a thing had happened in Israel. It seemed like it occurred about every generation or so. In fact, history tells us that armed insurrections in Israel against the government happened on a fairly regular basis once the Romans took power.
So…the Pharisees might have reasoned, if Jesus would just tone down the rhetoric, then maybe Roman fears would be allayed. The threat of bloodshed in putting down another rebellion would pass without incident. And not coincidently, Jesus’ message to the people would be less appealing to the crowds that followed him. That was the Pharisees’ goal, after all—to get the people to stop following Jesus. That is what they really desired…
Of course Jesus was NOT going to tone down his message—not for the Romans, not the Pharisees, not for anyone else. Not one little bit. He was going to keep on proclaiming the message of the coming of the Kingdom of God in their midst. No threat from Herod—or from anyone else for that matter –was going to dissuade him. If that was the Pharisees’ goal, then they were sadly mistaken…
Or perhaps the Pharisees were hoping for a second—and even better—outcome. Perhaps they were hoping that such news would make Jesus afraid—that this threat against his life would cower Jesus into silence. If they could make him afraid, perhaps the Pharisees thought that Jesus would be stop all this preaching and healing. Then he would return to his hometown of Nazareth, go back to being a carpenter, and melt back into the obscurity from which he came. There—problem solved. No more Jesus. And then, things could go back to the way that they had always been.
Well, that was not going to work. The Pharisees had obviously forgotten what Jesus had said earlier in chapter 9. In that teaching, Jesus stated, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very soul?” (Verses 24-25) If scaring Jesus into silence is what they hoped for, then they had sadly underestimated our Lord. There was no way that was going to happen either…
Instead, Jesus replied with an answer that showed his defiance in the face of this not-so-subtle threat. He also gave the Pharisees a message to send back to Herod that was a bit cryptic in nature. (He had a habit of doing that throughout the gospels…) Jesus told them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way…’”
Jesus begins by calling Herod a “fox.” Probably due in no small measure to the influence of animated Disney movies, we tend to think of foxes as cute, wise, and crafty animals. But in Jesus’ day, they were regarded in a more negative light. Foxes were a nuisance because they are destructive animals. They were known to ruin vineyards by burrowing in them, destroying and uprooting grape vines in the process. And foxes are scavengers, feeding on the carcasses of dead animals. Animals that lived off of carrion were considered to be unclean by the Jews. Thus, when Jesus referred to Herod as “that fox,” it was no compliment…He was calling him a bottom feeder…a scavenger…
Then in essence, Jesus goes on to say, “Listen here! Tell Herod that I have the power to cast out demons. And I have the power to heal every kind of disease that people bring to me. Let him know that I am not afraid of him or anyone else. I am going to do the things that God has called me to do. I will do them today and will continue to do them tomorrow and will only stop when I have completed my work. And not a minute sooner.” Jesus finishes his reply to Herod with a veiled reference to his crucifixion when he concludes that he must be on his way. He says that his goal is to go to Jerusalem because it is improper for a prophet of God to be killed anywhere else but Jerusalem. Jesus was putting Herod on notice that he was not going to cut his ministry short…
In this story, we see our Lord display a lot of courage in the face of his frenemies. The word “courage” has at its root the Latin word cor, which means “heart.” Therefore, to live with courage essentially means to live from the heart. It is the willingness to embrace the truth of who we are in our hearts—to embrace both our strengths but also our vulnerabilities.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a 20th Century Lutheran pastor and theologian of great intellect and spirituality. He ministered as a pastor and seminary professor in Germany during the early years of the Nazi regime. But he was strongly opposed to Hitler and was later implicated in a plot to assassinate him. He was arrested on April 5, 1943. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in various concentration camps until he was executed by the direct order from the highest levels of the Nazi government. Tragically he was executed only a few days before the camp in which he was imprisoned was liberated by American forces.
While Bonhoeffer was a prisoner, his guards took a liking to him. They thought that he was a man of unusual strength, composure, and courage. He thought about this, and he realized that there was a difference between what they thought of him and what he felt about himself. He wasn’t so sure, though, at the end, as he seemed to be. As he struggled with what we would now speak of as his identity, he offered up this simple prayer to God, “Whoever I am, I am Yours. Amen.”
“Whoever I am, I am Yours.” This prayer is the essence of what it means to live with courage—to live from the heart—to live authentically before God and before others. It is a prayer that speaks to the emphasis of the season of Lent—this time of self-examination and reflection upon the life of our Lord Jesus leading up to his death and resurrection. It means to resolve to live our lives with all our problems, with all our failings, with all our warts, all our doubts, all of our pretentions—whatever they may be—and to live them unto God.
Jesus lived the most authentic life that has ever been lived on this earth. There was nothing false about him. There was nothing phony about the way that he lived. Jesus lived from the heart—a heart full of grace, a heart full of compassion and a heart full of the love of God. And as we experience the Risen Christ in our lives, we too are called to live that kind of life. We are called to live from the heart—with that same kind of courage that he displayed. And not only that, but through the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives, we are empowered to live that same kind of life. We receive the courage sufficient enough to face whatever life throws at us.
In John 16:33, Jesus told his disciples, “Take courage; I have overcome the world.” And because he did, we can too. We too can overcome by living our lives courageously—by living from the heart—and by offering up all that we are to God each day.
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
 C. Douglas Weaver, A Cloud of Witnesses—Sermon Illustrations and Devotions from the Christian Heritage (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 1993), 149.