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  • Pastor Jim Gronbeck (Retired)

“A World of Tyrants”

I think the Gospel really hits home for our world this week. The scene opens with the Pharisees running to Jesus with the word that King Herod is looking for Him because He wants to kill Jesus. This seems quite disingenuous on their part, because they were trying to get rid of Jesus themselves. Jesus didn’t take the bait and flee, but rather He sent the Pharisees away with a message for Herod that no prophet will be killed outside Jerusalem. Jesus has work to do and He will not let Herod, the Pharisees, or anyone else get in His way.

The world is dealing with a much more dangerous Herod these days in Russia’s Putin. We all know the horrific things he is doing in Ukraine, waging war against a sovereign, peaceful, nation. Putin is guilty of murder, destruction, and war crimes against the Ukrainians. It is encouraging to see the world opinion rising up against him—even in Russia the pastors and churches are voicing opposition to the war and calling for it to end.

This is not easy for those pastors to do. According to a report in Christianity Today, recently passed amendments to the Russian criminal code establish up to a 15 year prison sentence for making ‘fake’ claims about the violence in Ukraine. Russia wants it called a ‘military operation,’ not a ‘war.’ Calling for anti-war rallies could get someone five years of hard labor. Russian Christians have been understandably nervous about speaking out, but lately there have been some who are speaking out. Some Russian pastors and other Protestant leaders wrote an open letter saying, “The time has come when each of us must call things by their real names, while we still have a chance to escape punishment from above, and prevent the collapse of our country,” they wrote. “We call on the authorities of our country to stop this senseless bloodshed!”

The Ukrainian Christian churches are understandably upset with the Russian Orthodox Church who has been supporting Putin so far. They have been quoting people such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth who spoke out against the Nazi atrocities and they are using the OT Prophets to add to their point. They quoted Jeremiah 18:7-8 to say that the nation that turns from its evil ways will be spared. Cain and Abel were also mentioned.

The world is a dangerous and sinful place, filled with tyrants like Herod, Putin, and others. There is danger and there are problems and evil people in this country as well. As Christians we must deal with these issues and these people, standing up for what we believe is Scripturally and morally right. The Gospel speaks to the tyrants and evil of the world as they affect the lives of God’s people.

It is interesting to see how Jesus uses the image of the vulnerability of chickens to speak of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, having “set His face” to go there a few chapters ago. He knew the fate that awaited Him there—He would face crucifixion and death but He would not be deterred from accomplishing God’s plan of salvation. He deflected the warning from the Pharisees about Herod by declaring that Herod basically had no power over Him. He would continue to do the work God had given Him until He finally entered the Holy City to seal His fate and win the victory God had planned. Jesus continues His ministry, not running from Herod or Satan, because it is necessary to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to all who will listen. We learn here that it is God’s doing and God’s mission, and no one will be able to change Jesus’ mind or disable God’s plans.

It’s important for Jesus to go to Jerusalem because that is historically the arena where God contends with a people which are often set against God’s Kingdom. Jesus mourns over Jerusalem as the place where the prophets—agents of God’s message of reconciliation and love—are killed by a people who were not willing to listen to God’s pleas for their repentance.

Jerusalem, then, becomes the setting and place for the redemption of God’s people, the accomplishment of God’s mission of reconciliation and love. Through Jesus’ words we can hear God calling to all His children to return to God in repentance to find the nurturing love and the protection from evil that God is offering.

As we walk with Jesus through the Season of Lent, we too, hear

Jesus calling us to return to God. Return to His gentle, nurturing, forgiving love and to be protected from the evils in this world under the out-stretched arms of our Lord Jesus on the cross. Return to find the sheltering grace to support you in times of distress, anguish, temptation, fear, and anxiety. The people of Ukraine are encouraged to find in Christ the shelter and safety of the God who has come to die for them. In times of upheaval, of war, of the mass migration of people to the safety of other countries, God provides. God gathers and protects through times such as these, to bring His people under the safety of His mighty care and keeping.

Once again I have brought the African ebony-wood cross with the image of our Lord hanging on it into the sanctuary to remind us what the Season of Lent is all about. We call this place a sanctuary to remind us that here we can find the peace and respite from our daily lives and be nurtured with God’s Word of reconciliation and grace. Here we are fed with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here we find the peace and strength to be renewed and to go out into the world as people who bear the Good News of Christ’s love to others.

We too are vulnerable. We are vulnerable to the wiles of the Evil One and susceptible to the temptations that Satan places in our path. We can see this sanctuary as God’s place of refuge; a place of strength and renewal. Dr. David Tiede, in writing about this passage says of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, “The Messiah is caught up in God’s passion, love and judgment, and the struggle of wills is far from completed.” We face our own struggles and temptations each day and often enough we succumb to those temptations. We often place our need for security in the things of this world and attempt to trust our own abilities to save ourselves.

The struggle for Christians is ongoing, but we are claimed by our Lord in the waters of our baptism and we find shelter in the out-stretched arms of Jesus on the cross. His death is our death. He died for us and the victory won on the cross and on Easter morning is our victory as well. We will not be abandoned or forgotten by the One who loves us this much.

The struggle for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine continues, as it does for those in Russia living with the oppression and deceptions of Putin’s govt. Jesus calls us all to find our strength, our safety, and our peace in Him. He gives His children the ability to go out into the world knowing that we are His and that we are saved by His grace through faith in our Lord Jesus.



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