O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
He Set His Face
He Set His Face
Based on Luke 9:51-62
Preached on June 26, 2016
No Recording Available
Fellow baptized saints, the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up. Taken up. That means - be crucified, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven. We say it every week in the Creed, but it can be easy to forget. This was His mission. His purpose. He came to be “taken up,” and to take us up together with Him. To take you up. And so our text says - He set His face resolutely to go to Jerusalem. He set it. Locked it in. His gaze was like a laser beam, zeroed in on Jerusalem and His appointed hour to suffer and die. Target acquired. It’s salvation time.
His journey took Him through Samaria, so He sent messengers ahead to prepare for His coming. By this point you would think they would be excited to have Him. He was the going concern. Like a prophet celebrity. But the Samaritans refused Him. We don’t want you Jesus, because your sights are set on Jerusalem. Sounds like a turf war right? Sort of. Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerazim, not in Jerusalem – and the Samaritans and Judeans were at odds over this. Here Jesus is focusing on saving mankind and the Samaritans are trying to drag Him into their worship wars. They don’t know Jesus is headed to Jerusalem for their salvation. All they can focus on is their own local dispute.
But this is how it is, isn’t it? Anything but the cross. Anything but Jesus going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. You see Jesus, you can’t go to Jerusalem because we’ve got this really important thing over here that needs your attention. Reason after reason after reason why it can’t be the cross. They might even sound like “good reasons.” But you know what this is like, don’t you? In your own life of faith? Have you ever noticed that nearly everything in your life at one point or another will try to make you take your eyes off Christ? I mean - Anything but Jesus. Anything but time with the Lord. You see, I can’t spend time reading my Bible because I have this really important thing over here that needs my attention. I can’t go to church. I can’t attend Bible class. It happens to all of us. We have reason after reason after reason why Christ isn’t first – but all it shows is our misplaced focus. Much like the Samaritans all we can see is our local situation.
What do you think will Jesus’ own disciples fair any better than the Samaritans or us? No. Of course not. James and John, the “sons of thunder,” the hot-headed fishermen wanted to call down fire and brimstone from heaven. Do a Sodom and Gomorrah number on them. That’ll show them. “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” If ever there was an episode that makes the apostles look bad, this is one. They’re supposed to be in the Gospel business, and here they are, acting as if heavenly fire obeyed their beck and call!
Here again we’re no different, are we? We forget, when we look on the world, especially those parts of the world that do not share our confession much less our “values” and opinions - that these are people for whom Jesus died. He set His face to Jerusalem for the Samaritans as well, even for those who turned Him away and slammed the door in His resolute face. You can walk down the streets, any street at any time of any day, and look in the face of any random person, be they young or old, well-dressed or not, friendly looking or completely sketchy, and you can truthfully say to yourself, “Jesus gave His life on the cross to save that person.” He set His face to the cross of Jerusalem to save this person. So maybe they’ve been rude to you, or ignored you, or slammed their door in your face. Maybe you’re afraid of them. No matter. Jesus died on a cross to save this person.
It isn’t for us, as it was not for James and John, to call down fire from heaven to consume those who seem opposed to us. “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” The same fire and brimstone you call down on others, they very well might be calling down on you. Mutually assured heavenly destruction. That’s not why fire from heaven exists. Fire from heaven is for God’s judgment, not our petty squabbles. And God determined to judge the world in His Son. In Christ. Jesus’ grim determination to go to the cross reflects His consuming desire to seek and to save the lost. He goes to call down the fire of heaven – but not onto others – not onto those who beat Him and mocked Him and spat on Him – No – He goes to call down fire on Himself. He goes to save them.
Jesus turned and rebuked James and John. There would be no fire from heaven. It was not for them to call it, much less suggest it. And past these distractions from Samaritan and disciple alike - they went on to another village.
On the road, three would-be disciples stepped up and submitted their “disciple” application to Jesus. It wasn’t unusual for people to approach a rabbi seeking to be one of his disciples. But all three had a little hitch, something that held them back, something that kept their commitment from being whole-hearted. What we like to call our “reasons.”
“I will follow you wherever you go,” one says. Does he know where Jesus is going? Is he following the resolute gaze? Does he realize the trajectory? Cross. Grave. Jesus clues him in, that his road has no comfortable rest stops, no comfy pillows under your head at night. At least the foxes and birds have homes to go to, but the Son of Man, God’s anointed One, the Christ, has no place to lay His head.” His tomb won’t even be His! It will come from a stranger. His head will be laid in the dust – on the cold hard stone of the tomb – and not even that will be His. It will be yours. Jesus and His kingdom don’t belong in this world. They are not from this world. They don’t belong in this world. And they certainly are not staying in this world. It is time to be taken up. Time to save people from this world and its sin and death.
Another applicant says, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” It was the honorable thing to do. The right thing. The compassionate thing. But this Jesus with His face fixed on Jerusalem seems to have no compassion for a grieving son who only wants to bury his father. “Let the dead bury their own. You go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” But He’s saying more than meets the eye. They’re going to bury Me you know. I’m going to be buried now. In Adam’s death. Death is about to meet it’s match in Me. Death doesn’t get the last say here. I do. My kingdom- that I bring with My dying and rising.
A third says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my house.” A simple goodbye. What could be so wrong with that? Maybe a little going away party. A cake or something. Jesus says, “No one who takes up the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Any farmer will tell you that. You can’t plow straight looking over your shoulder. You can’t plow ahead while you are pining for the past. No more reasons. It is nothing but cross time.
Tough words? You bet they are! Jesus means serious business. HIs words are urgent, hard, edgy, demanding. His claim on the disciple is radical. It’s all or nothing. No halfway disciples. There are no compromises here. His face, remember, is fixed toward Jerusalem. And each of these three disciple wanna-bes, each in their own way, diminishes the cost that Jesus is about to pay. What does it mean to follow Jesus? To follow HIs rules? Well, He doesn’t have any, really. Moses had rules and we can’t keep them. The last thing we need is rules 2.0. We won’t keep those either.
To follow Jesus is to go the way of His resolute gaze. To follow Jesus is to die and rise with Jesus. To lose your life in order to save it. To become least in order to receive greatness. To become as nothing in order to receive everything. To die in order to live.
Do you know what Jesus had in His vision as He set His face to Jerusalem? It wasn’t the cross, though His vision was certainly cross-focused. It wasn’t the suffering He was to endure. It wasn’t death. It was you. It was the joy of saving you. His focus was like that of a lifeguard venturing out into the dangerous waves and currents with only one thing in his or her focus. You. The person who is drowning and in need of aid. That’s Jesus, who for the joy, that is the joy of your salvation, that was set before Him “endured the cross, scorning its shame.” The cross was the focal point through which He had to bring everything. But the focus of His gaze was you. He came to rescue you.
Beloved, look back. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Jesus had His Jerusalem so that you would have your Jesus, a focal point. Life presents you with a whole bunch of rabbit trails, all sorts of things to worry about, all kinds of things to distract you from the one, needful thing – and that is to die and rise with Jesus. Like a sailor setting a course in the storm, or like a runner pushing toward the finish line, fix your eyes on Jesus. His cross, His resurrection. His life. His Baptism, Body and Blood. That’s where the action is. That’s where the life is. That’s where forgiveness is. That’s where He is for you. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr