Sunday, February 3, 2019

Preparing for His Arrival

This morning, I want you to set out with me on a journey. But in order for us to begin this trek, we need to reorient our minds. Imagine for the next few moments that you are not surrounded by brick and mortar. You are not sitting next to others in their nicest clothes. You are not situated in comfortable pews in an air-conditioned building. Forget for a moment that you are in this worship center. You are not in Tyler, TX or even America! In fact, you are of a different time!

Imagine that you are with the son of Joseph and Mary as He approached a tiny Samaritan village. Smell the scents of the Palestinian countryside…The sheep, the goats, the fig trees. Look around, and see the sites of first-century Samaria…The arid, dry landscape, The rocky plains, and Jesus.

You have followed this wandering rabbi for some time now. You’ve seen water turned to wine. You’ve seen this man raise a little girl from the dead. And most recently, you were with Jesus as He ascended a mountain and was transfigured before your very eyes. He didn’t look “human” anymore. He looked almost like an angel, or even a god.

As you awoke this morning, you didn’t realize it, but something was different! The demeanor of this Man was different. He has made a decision. A decision that will change not only His life…Not only your life…But the life of every creature of creation.

This morning, as Jesus awoke, He set out on a final journey! A journey that would lead Him toward death. But a journey that would also lead Him and you to life. On this morning, Jesus set out on a journey toward Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51-56 begins the longest section of Luke’s gospel. It begins here in Luke 9:51, but does not end until chapter 18. From this point forward in Jesus’ ministry, He has a singular goal in mind. To get to Jerusalem!

But to be honest, I have a hard time following this journey of Jesus toward Jerusalem…Because it seems hard to follow His path geographically.

If Jesus is presently in Samaria, it seems pretty obvious which direction He needs to follow to get to Jerusalem. South! But you’ll notice that once He leaves Samaria, He goes all over the place before He reaches Jerusalem…In many different directions…

In a couple of chapters, we read about Jesus being in Bethany—very close to Jerusalem But then after that, He is back up north of Samaria in Galilee again! One thing seems obvious—this journey that Jesus finds himself on is not a straight shot toward Jerusalem! But, what does the text mean then? 

Luke says very plainly, “Jesus set his face resolutely toward Jerusalem…” As if He packed up His bags and never stopped again until he had the Temple in sight! But, we can see from the text, that the journey Luke is describing is something different. Not a geographic journey. You cannot follow the path of Jesus and His disciples from Samaria to Jerusalem with a longitudinal map. But make no mistake, Jesus does invite us to take this journey with Him!

So, how do we join the crowds?  How do we get in step with Jesus as He sets out toward His goal?

There are several clues within Luke’s text that uncover the meaning of this journey. The first of these comes with the simple phrase: “Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem”.

The first readers of this text would recognize Luke’s allusion to the suffering servant in Isaiah 50:7:

“Therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; He who vindicates me is near.”

The meaning is clear. The journey that Jesus is setting out on is tinged with rejection.  Just as the suffering servant sets his face like flint toward suffering…So also, Jesus, sets His face toward rejection. And the foreshadowing this phrase provides does not have to wait long for realization…Even as the journey begins, Jesus receives His first hint of rejection from the people of Samaria. 

Until Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, He, along with His ministry, was widely accepted. But once he set out on this journey, everything changed. And it began with these Samaritans.

The Samarian rejection can, of course, be taken two ways. First, the Samaritans rejected anything to do with Jerusalem. Their center of worship was in Samaria on Mount Gerizim. They resented those who felt one had to worship in Jerusalem. So, when they find out Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, they did not welcome them.

But I think something else is going on theologically with this text. I believe Luke wants his readers to see that human beings have a tendency to reject the Jerusalem journey for different reasons. You see, those who “set their faces” toward Jerusalem will suffer the same rejection as Jesus and His disciples. And for many people, not only Samaritans, that is a sacrifice we are unwilling to make!

Nonetheless, some of us who walk casually on this journey are more than willing to criticize those who do not follow! Some are like James and John…Some of us feel we are so close to Jesus…We are in the inner circle…We know how this journey works…We know where Jesus is going, and we are glad to follow! But the reaction of these two friends of Jesus show us that they did not in fact understand the journey.

Being the good, fine, upstanding followers of God that they were they asked Jesus, “Should we call down fire from heaven and destroy them?” You see, they remembered the story of Elijah in II Kings. In that setting, fire came down from heaven to destroy over 100 people who refused to give that prophet of God the honor he deserved. But on this and other occasions, those following Jesus would realize that this Prophet was even greater than Elijah!

Fred Craddock brings up and excellent point about this response of James and John:

“Jesus’ disciples remember quite well scriptural precedent for calling down heaven’s fire, but they have forgotten the recent words of Jesus: when on a mission, accept the hospitality offered you. If none is extended, shake the dust off your feet and move on.  Is it not interesting how the mind can grasp and hold those Scriptures which seem to bless our worst behavior and yet cannot retain past the sanctuary door those texts which summon to love, forgiveness, and mercy?”

I think Craddock is right, and I think it all boils down to this reality: not many of us understand what this journey is all about!

If you notice, every person in this story has something in common. The Samaritans have been cordial to Jesus until they realize He’s going somewhere they do not approve of.

Those closest to Jesus are willing to set out on the journey, but as we quickly realize, they have their own agenda about how to get it started! I believe this journey looks very attractive to those who want to bring their own map. But before we put on our sandals and follow this rabbi, we need to know some things…This journey does not call down fire on our enemies. This journey does not promise to be easy! Church, whether we realize it or not, this journey is not about us!

I think that many of us a long time ago stood up to follow Jesus on this road. As Jesus passed us by on the countryside, we jumped to our feet, “Pick me! I’ll go! Jesus, I’ll follow You on Your journey!”

But for whatever reason, many of us have not really followed in the footsteps of our Leader! We’ve taken our own paths. Here is the truth of it: I believe instead of following Jesus on His Journey to Jerusalem. Toward suffering, toward selflessness, toward powerlessness, toward death. Many of us have followed wondering, “What is in this for me?”

What kind of journey are you on?

If you’ve never heard these words before, here them now…loud and clear! Church is not about you! Church is not about your comfort level! Church is not about you getting your way all the time! Church is not the country club where it all centers on your cordial and engaging relationships with one another!

The Kingdom of God is bigger than you! And if you find yourself constantly concerned about these things…About your comfort, about the way you like to do things, about YOU! Let me say as plainly as I know how to say—it is time for you to repent!

The Journey that Jesus is discussing here in Luke 9 is concerned with everything opposite of the “Me Mentality.” It considers others better than itself. It is concerned with sacrifice and selflessness. The first question a true journeyman asks is not, “How will this affect me?” But instead, “How will this impact the Kingdom of God?”

Jesus’ journey that began here in Luke 9 did not end with the people proclaiming Him King of Jerusalem. It ended with His sacrifice. It ended with His death. 

Church, what kind of journey are you on?

I want that one question to guide our thoughts this spring. This is the first lesson in a series entitled “Setting Your Eyes toward Jerusalem.” We will follow Jesus this spring as He made this historic journey. Hopefully, by the end of the spring, we will have a better understanding of what this journey was all about.

Notice one more thing Jesus says to His disciples as their journey began…After Jesus set His eyes toward Jerusalem, He gave his disciples a task. He said, “Go into the Samaritan village and prepare for my arrival.”

Church, that is what we are doing here: Preparing for His arrival! Preparing for His arrival means many things: Preparing for a life of rejection, suffering, and cross-bearing. Are you willing to set your eyes toward certain sacrifice?

We began this morning by asking what kind of journey Jesus was on. Perhaps the real journey Luke has in mind is that of the reader. Perhaps the heart of this message involves all of us who are being drawn to join this pilgrimage first undertaken by God’s Son. I look forward to seeing where this journey will take us this spring.

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