First Mennonite Church
March 19, 2023
Jesus Resolved to Face Jerusalem
Text: Luke 9:51-62
There is in each of the four Gospels a moment, decisive moment, in which Jesus felt the hour had come in which he must go to Jerusalem for the last time. In Matthew, it appears in chapter 20:17-19, and in Mark, it is chapter 10:32-34, and in John, it is in chapter 12:23-26. Today, we will look at Luke’s version of that decisive hour.
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
The Cost of Following Jesus
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
In Luke’s narrative flow, Jesus was at the cusp of his ministry. He, not only selected his 12 and trained them, but had also commissioned them to practice ministry. Jesus had not only given evidence of God’s power and presence through and with him in words and deeds, but had just come down from the mount of transfiguration, where a voice had once more attested, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (9:35). Jesus had also given evidence God’s absolute power was operating through by calming a storm, raising the dead, by healing the sick, and by casting out evil spirits. His works and words had the crowds spellbound that they sought and followed him everywhere he went. Yet, down in Jesus’ heart was the awareness of the ultimate purpose for his coming, the hour for him to depart and go back to the Father. In chapter nine, verse 31, during the transfiguration, Luke says that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and “were discussing his departure.” Therefore, here, we are told Jesus discerned that that hour had drawn even closer.
Jerusalem was where that departure must take place. Jerusalem was the city that killed the prophet sent to her by God. Jerusalem was the seat of political and religious power and which, according to Jesus’ announcement to his disciple, were the forces behind his arrest and subsequent death.
The King James Version has a more literal translation of verse 51, where it tells us what Jesus did: And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knew what awaited him there. By what he had told his disciple will happen, Jesus knew how deep in darkness the wickedness of the human heart could be. He knew evil was brewing up the bitter cup he must drink. Jesus knew that the unavoidable had drawn closer, despite every good work he was doing. Down deep in Jesus’ heart was the Divine clock ticking and indicating to him it was time to go to Jerusalem one last time. Thus, as reflected in Hebraism in verse 51, Jesus “fixed his face” to go to Jerusalem.
We should remember that from a merely human point of view, what awaited Jesus in Jerusalem is everything we as humans would want to avoid. Thus, it should not surprise us Peter’s great concern for Jesus when Peter learned of Jesus’ ultimate fate. In Matthew, Peter rebuke Jesus and said, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (16: 22). Peter could not grasp how or why someone as kind, innocent, and loving as Jesus should end up crucified as a criminal. But, as we will see later, not even John nor James could tolerate Jesus being slighted or rejected. This protective and defensive attitude towards the name of Jesus and his cause is still shared today by those who love him. And we will be reminded of the dangers this attitude can be.
What was in store for Jesus in Jerusalem was pain, humiliation, and death at the hands of men. However, when the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews was encouraging his brothers and sisters who were facing persecution and abuse, he reminded them of what Jesus did. Thus, he wrote: Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Considering these two perspectives side by side, Jesus’ passion is a paradox, a seemingly contradictory event. The cross was a bitter cup Jesus had to drink, yet at the same time, beyond the cross, as Isaiah says, “After he has suffered, He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied (53:11). Hebrews says, joy was set before him, thus he endured the cross, scorning its shame.
As Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem from Galilee, going through Samaria would have been the shortest route. Therefore, Jesus sent messengers ahead of his arrival at this Samaritan village. In those times, major towns and cities were guarded by walls, with gates as points of entry into it. These gates were guarded to ensure that strangers or bandits do not enter the city and cause trouble. But in this case, Jesus was denied entry because he did have not intentions of staying except for the night. But we should also remember that differences in religion must have been a contributing factor as well. Jews and Samaritans had divergent views about the Bible—that is what is included in the Hebrew Bible and what’s not. The Samaritans’ Bible consisted of only the five first books of the Hebrew Bible, which are called the Book of Moses, while the Jews considered what is for us the Old Testament as their Bible. There were many other differences besides the cultural prejudice the Jews had against the Samaritans.
Maybe, the Samaritans realized that Jesus was on a mission and they wanted nothing to do with it. Maybe, the Samaritans wanted Jesus to stay with them for a few days to heal their sick and hear his teaching, but Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem. So, Jesus was refused hospitality. And that did not please John and James. So, they asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” They knew Elisha had done that in the past. “To call fire from heaven” is to ask God’s immediate judgment upon the Samaritans.
The disciples’ attitude reflected a zeal, a protective attitude for the wellbeing of Jesus against anything and everything that rejected or denied service to him.
But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Some later Masoretic texts add to verse 55: and said, “You do not know of what kind of spirit you are; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.”
Every year around Christmas and Easter Sunday, questions about Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection are discussed on public platforms. Some people question whether there ever existed a man called Jesus. Some others try to prove how irrelevant his teachings are for this modern age. Still yet, others question the authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection. Some years ago, some claimed to have found the skeletal remains, which they said, were Jesus’. While it is at these particular times in the year when foundational Christian beliefs are questioned, there is an ongoing view that secularism poses an ongoing challenge to our beliefs year-round. In the evangelical world, many resist some laws because they are contrary to Christian beliefs and see them as an assault on the faith. That is why there are various, so-called, “Christian” organizations set up in defense of the faith. These, like Peter, John, and James cannot suffer the idea that Jesus, his name, or his cause should face opposition. This “Christian” attitude of trying to defend Christ and the faith from “aggression” run the risk of going against the spirit of Christ. In one way or another, these groups want “to call fire from heaven” to destroy the adversaries of Jesus.
The three short accounts of would-be followers are reminders of the danger there is in following Jesus. Each of these three would-be followers wanted to follow Jesus on their own terms and timing. The first would-be follower was oblivious to the real cost of following Jesus. The other one wanted to follow, but only after burying his father. Maybe after receiving an inheritance, the following would be easier. And the third promised to follow, but first wanted to go back home to bid farewell to his loved ones. But Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” When you and I put our hand on the plow, that is, when you and I commit ourselves to follow Christ, looking back to the things we must leave or onto the sides to those that oppose Christ and our calling, is not fit for the service of God’s kingdom.
Christian discipleship, that is, following Jesus, requires fixing our eyes on carrying the cross. Following Jesus means being crucified with him, that is, we no longer have control over ourselves or what can happen to us. Christ did not defend himself, because he was completely surrendered to do the will of the Father.
The Lord reminds us that following him requires determination to face the cost of the cross he offers each of us. We do not need to defend Christ or ourselves from the outside world. Jesus said it clearly: “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? Or what will a person give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26). Amen!