"A Set Face"

LUKE 9:51-56

19 Jan 2014

 

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            I try to avoid a number of things.  Snakes.  Enclosed spaces.  Telemarketers.  Ponzi schemes.  Jury duty.  Rush hour traffic.  Baked beans.  Some relatives.  Phoenix in July and Fairbanks in January.  I could go on, but I'll only mention one more because it relates to our scripture passage for this morning.  I also try to avoid the person who has just returned from a trip and asks, "Would you like to see my slides?"  Unless I'm about to travel to the same place and want all the tips I can get about that locale, more often than not, I rather avoid the experience.  Another exception is the travel guru Rick Steves.  I'll watch just about any travel show he has to show us.

            Well, this morning and the weeks to come, Luke has some Rick Steves travelogue slides to show us ... slides of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem.  Turn with me to Luke 9:51 and let's begin reading together.

 

            When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 

 

            Those words, "he set his fact to go to Jerusalem" mark a major turning point, a seismic shift, in Luke's gospel.  From this moment on, the focus will more and more become about Jesus' inevitable rendezvous with the cross.  Prior to this Jesus has spent his time up north in Galilee ... preaching, teaching, healing ... but now he's headed south to Jerusalem, to his appointment with the cross. 

            And that leads me to the first of three things I want to say about this passage. First of all, keep in mind that this passage is a story about destiny.   We might think it's a story about geography ... Jesus' route to Jerusalem ... but its not.  It's a story about destiny.  Jesus "setting his face to go to Jerusalem" is Lukes way of saying that from this point on in the story, Jesus death will cast a shadow over what happens from now on, however, even though Jerusalem casts a big shadow over the rest of the next ten chapters, Jesus did not head straight to the city.  Jesus took the scenic route to Jerusalem rather than the direct route to Jerusalem.  He detoured quite often from the main highway.  So, it's going to take awhile for Luke to get Jesus to Jerusalem.    In fact, he won't arrive in Jerusalem until chapter 19.  It will take Jesus ten chapters to get there.

            "Setting his face to go to Jerusalem" is also Luke's way of reminding us that Jesus death was not an interruption of Gods plan; rather, it was part of the plan all along.  It's Luke's way of underscoring that Jesus was not a helpless victim, but willingly embraced his destiny of suffering, rejection, death and resurrection.   The cross would not come as a surprise to Jesus.  It would be to the disciples.  Even though he's talked about it already and will talk about it again, the disciples will fail to get it.  Apparently, they only heard what they wanted to hear, and even though Jesus knew the cross lay in his future, and had predicted this to his disciples, it got filtered out somewhere between their ears and their brains.

            I'm told that husbands sometimes tune their wife out.  A wife may be talking, but the husband may not be listening until a key word is said, a trigger word is uttered like "Best Buy" or "electronics" or "power tools" or "golf" or "fishing" and then the husband tunes back in.  Apparently, talking about suffering and dying were not trigger words for the disciples because even though Jesus talked about it, the disciples did not hear it. 

            Turn with me to Luke 18:31 and look at the heading of the section ... "A Third Time Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection."  Listen to what he says to them.

 

            Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem (and there's the destiny again.  In fact, a statement about heading to Jerusalem will appear eight times between chapter 9 and 19), and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon.  After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again."  But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

 

            The cross did not take Jesus by surprise.  He knew it was his destiny.  It did, however, catch the dense disciples by surprise.

            So this is a story about destiny.  It's also a story about rejection.  Verse 52.

 

            And he sent messengers ahead of him.  On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 

 

            After Solomons death, the nation of Israel split into two separate countries: the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel.  The citizens of Judah, with their capital in Jerusalem, eventually came to be known as the Jews."  The citizens of northern kingdom came to be known as "Samaritans" a reference to their capital city Samaria."  Over time these Samaritans developed their own customs, moral code and religion, based on a mixture of Hebrew and pagan traditions. The beliefs and practices of the Samaritans often put them at odds with their Jewish neighbors.

            As the Jews began to resettle Israel following the Babylonian exile, the Samaritans were squeezed into a central territory separating Judea and Galilee.         Most Jews traveling between Judea and Galilee would go days out of their way to avoid the Samaritans.

            Those Jews either brave or foolish enough to travel through Samaritan territory often encountered suspicion or outright hostility.  That hostility was particularly fierce towards Jews making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The historian Josephus relates an account of a large number of Jewish pilgrims actually being murdered by bands of Samaritans.  Despite the risk, Jesus traveled through Samaria and sent an advance team into a Samaritan village to secure lodging.

            The sending of the advance team was a prudent gesture.  Most villages were small, with a population numbered in the dozens.  The unexpected arrival of a dozen or more guests could place a strain on the villages ability to extend hospitality.  The results of that thoughtfulness, however, was disappointing.  The villagers of Samaria did not want anything to do with a group of Jews headed to Jerusalem.  They refused to extend hospitality to the travelers. 

            Being rejected is never fun.  I think, however, of a recent graduate who made it fun.  This graduate was getting frustrated with his inability to land a job, despite going to dozens of interviews. Finally, he dashed off the following letter to one of the companies that had rejected him:

 

Dear Hiring Manager,

 

            Thank you for your letter of March 1.  After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me a position in your department. This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters.  With such a varied and promising field of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

            Despite your companies outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position in your department this August.

            I look forward to seeing you then.

            Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.

 

            Thats one way to handle rejection!  And we see another in our passage.  I draw your attention to verse 54.

 

            When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?  But he turned and rebuked them.  Then they went on to another village.

 

            Finally, this is a story about letting things go.  I find it somewhat humorous, that sweet, gentle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the disciple to whom he entrusted his mother Mary after his death, the disciple who rested his head on Jesus' shoulder at the Last Supper, is one of the two disciples ... his brother being the other ... who wants to bring fire down on the Samaritan village.  Jesus had sent them out earlier, telling them if a village rejected them they were to shake the dust off their sandals and move on, they were to let it go.  But apparently, as is often the case, these disciples let their innate passions take over.  So angry were they at the reception Jesus had received from the Samaritans, that they were ready to let out all of their stored-up national hatred of the Samaritans on this little village.

            I am in no way justifying their behavior, but this angry response to the rejection shows us a warmer side to James and John.  They were only trying to protect the one they loved.  Someone can treat me poorly, but if someone treats Trudy poorly, that's another story.  I find myself getting very protective, big brotherish, papa bearish.  Like James and John I want to wipe that person from the face of the earth.  James and John, and me with Trudy, are simply being protective of the one we love, but there was, there is, a better way.  Jesus had tried to teach them that on the Sermon on the Plain, all that stuff about loving and praying for your enemy, and Jesus needed to remind James and John about that.  I'm sure that was a part of his rebuke of them. 

            There's a sports term may apply here.  Maybe you have heard it.  It's "quick release."  It's a prized trait in a quarterback when opposing lineman are about to tackle him.  How quickly can the quarterback release the ball, get the pass off?  It's a prized trait in a jump shooter on a basketball team.  He or she gets the shot off quickly before the defender can block it.  They have a quick release.  That's what Jesus taught James and John to do in the Sermon on the Plain.  It's what he taught us to do.  "Let it go quickly."  Move on. 

            And Jesus is not just speaking theoretically.  Jesus knew what rejection felt like. When he preached his first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, things went well in the beginning.  But after he was finished, the people ran him out of town. They even tried to run him off a cliff, but he managed to escape. That was the first time Jesus experienced rejection for what he was trying to do for God, but it was not to be the last.  Jesus knew how to accept rejection and move on.  He did it here.  When faced with opposition, he went to another village and preached there.  He did not just say, "I quit."  Jesus found a way to move on.  We need to do so as well.  And when we do, we are following Jesus, whether we know it or not.