Text: Luke 9:51-62
Date: Pentecost V (Proper 8 ) + 6/27/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
Face it, you’re done. Face it, you’re toast. Face the facts. Face the music. Face up to reality. When we are asked or ordered to face up to something it usually means confronting or admitting something negative, something you’ve done wrong, a sin, a complex of things that have led to a moment of judgment or awakening.
The Bible talks about God’s face. He can either set his face against you in His wrath and judgment, or He can “bless you and keep you, and make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, and lift up His countenance upon you, or look upon you with favor, and give you peace.” God’s people are taught to pray in the psalms, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger” (Ps. 27:8-9). And it is the Christian hope that, on the last Day, “They will see [God’s] face” (Rev. 22:4).
Today we hear the beginning of the second half of St. Luke’s Gospel with the simple statement, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Then He sent messengers “before his face” to prepare for His arrival into a village of Samaria, but they did not receive Him, “because his face was journeying to Jerusalem.” Finally, He speaks of Himself and of any who would follow Him with an analogy of keeping the eyes of your face in front of you and not looking back. May these words enable us to face the challenges to faith to continue our journey of faith with Jesus.
When we are told to face the facts, it is usually something negative we need to confess, to accept responsibility for, to own the consequences. When the Bible speaks of God’s face it speaks either of His wrath or His grace and blessing toward people. When today’s Gospel, however, speaks of Jesus “setting his face to go to Jerusalem” it is speaking of what He came to endure on our behalf and for the salvation of the whole world. For there, in Jerusalem, He will face all of God’s wrath against the sin of the whole world, and take it upon Himself as the world’s scapegoat, the sacrificial offering as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and therefore also death and the threat of hell. This is what the phrase means that the days were drawing near “for him to be taken up,” looking through the Cross and resurrection to His ascension into heaven. Up until now Jesus began His ministry in Galilee. But now He set His face, He focused on His goal and destiny to be accomplished in Jerusalem. At His transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear speaking with Him about his “exodus,” meaning the same thing, His sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension. He is the Suffering Servant of the prophet Isaiah who says,
The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. (Isaiah 50:5-7)
You know that the Jews hated the Samaritans and the feeling was mutual. It was so much so that, though the easier route from Galilee to Jerusalem was through Samaria, most Jewish travelers would go out of their way to avoid even setting foot in that territory. Jesus, however, deliberately goes through Samaria. Jesus, after all, is the world’s only redeemer. Eventually all, including the Samaritans, would have to receive Him if they were to be saved. On this first occasion, Jesus sent some messengers ahead of Him (literally, “before his face”) to prepare for His arrival, “but they did not receive him, because his face was journeying to Jerusalem.” Sinful prejudice went both ways. Nevertheless, recall Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), and the one leper who returned to give thanks, “and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:16) as indicators of the light of faith reaching out to them. And, of course, there is Jesus’ description of the disciples’ witness to the world after His resurrection, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
At that rejection the disciples James and John came up with a truly bizarre suggestion, asking Jesus if He wanted them “to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them”! Where did they get that idea from? Well, from 2 Kings 1 where Elijah called down fire from heaven against his enemies. The connection was their conviction that Jesus was at least a prophet like Moses or Elijah. Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples reflects the fact that judgment for rejecting Jesus comes later, at the Last Day. For now, as Jesus said to Nicodemus, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3:17). Just as long as the world continues in this present age, there remains the call and opportunity to preach the Gospel to unbelievers in the hope that all may repent and believe and be saved.
It may seem a change in subject, then, with the last section of today’s Gospel speaking of three would-be disciples offering to follow Jesus, but on their own terms. Yet the point is that our journey of faith will bear similarities to Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem. We will encounter many things that will make the journey difficult. We will bear rejection as He did. Finally, we will bear the cross as He did, that is, by repentance and faith we face up to our sin. It is not by nails in our hands and feet, however, but by means of the washing of regeneration of the Holy Spirit, by Holy Baptism that we are buried with Christ into death and arise to new life. Daily we return to our baptism so that daily we “die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).
The call to follow Jesus means to leave the world behind. As I contemplated these words my mind went back to high school and college when I first began to hear the radical call of Christ. It was a great challenge to hear the words of Jesus, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37). The call of discipleship cuts even into the most intimate family relationships. Blood is thicker than water, and the blood of Christ than any other. The way of the new life in Christ is not easy. For it means the death of the old man, the old nature, and requires following on the road that leads through the cross, through death, and finally to resurrection. It is to be noted that St. Luke does not tell us of the response of any of the three would-be disciples, which simply highlights the more important question of whether you will respond in faith and continue on the journey with Jesus or if you will be distracted and lose your place in the kingdom.
I’m told that one of the latest inventions for farmers is the use of GPS or Global Positioning Systems in their tractors that enable them to plow perfectly straight furrows in their fields, or as one of the ads says, it gives farmers “sub-inch autosteer accuracy for planting, tillage, spraying, land leveling and harvest” When Jesus says, “No one having put his hand on the plow and still looking at the things behind is fit for the kingdom,” it’s obvious as when you turn your head and look back while plowing (or mowing the lawn!) you are sure to make a crooked line. It’s hard enough to plow in a straight line looking forward concentrating on the task at hand. Here is a picture, first, of Jesus’ own journey toward His goal in Jerusalem, but then also of the journey of faith for all who would follow Him. How does the book of Hebrews say it?
Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2).
Face it, there is no other way to eternal life, to joy, to peace, to the Lord’s face to shine upon you than to look, to receive and to walk with Jesus.