June 30 2013 Sermon
Luke 9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Today we continue our study of the Gospel of Luke. We are in the 9th chapter. In verse 22, Jesus had told his disciples that he was going to suffer many things. He would be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and he would be killed, and on the third day be raised. This had to take place in Jerusalem, because that is where prophets are appointed to die.
Then he told his disciples, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me….” There is a cost to be a follower of Jesus.
Now, a few days later, we come to our text beginning in verse 51: This is the turning point in Jesus’ life. This verse is where Jesus begins the final phase of his ministry. He turns his face toward Jerusalem and begins the final journey of his life toward the cross.
We continue following Jesus on his journey in verse 51 which says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up…” Let’s go back to the original language and examine a few specific words: The expression “drew near,” literally means, “fulfilled.” The days were being fulfilled for him to be taken up. Imagine an hourglass when you turn it upside down and the sand starts filling up the bottom portion. The bottom was now about full. Time was now up. God’s plan of salvation was all taking place according to his timetable. It was nearing that all important day God had set before the creation of the earth. This tells us God is in charge of time and he determines the timing of everything that takes place in our lives. Now his plan of salvation was coming together, all the pieces were falling into place. Like a divine jigsaw puzzle, God’s plan of salvation was just about complete and on time.
What time was drawing near? The time for him to be taken up. “Taken up” was a technical term for crucifixion; the day he was to be lifted up on a cross and suspended in the air above the earth. Literally, it was now time for him to be crucified in God’s plan to save us.
So, he set his face to journey to Jerusalem. He made his face strong, meaning firm and unchanging. He was resolute about going to Jerusalem to suffer and die for us. He was totally aware of the torture and humiliation he would endure. But He was determined to face and overcome all temptations to turn away. For he knows that the cross is the only way to save mankind, and out of love he would not flinch from his mission. Now Jesus himself was denying himself and taking up his cross for your sake. His journey to the cross begins right here in verse 51.
Verse 52 literally reads: “he sent messengers before his face… to prepare for him.”
They entered a village in Samaria. Now the Samaritan people were an ethnically mixed race. Part Jew and part other pagan nations imported into the region by the Assyrians after they had invaded Israel. They had a religion built on their own translation of the Books of Moses, called the Samaritan Pentateuch, said the true temple was on Mt. Gerizim, instead of on Mt. Zion. Therefore they did not accept anyone who was headed toward Jerusalem to worship God. So they refused to allow Jesus and his disciples enter their village. This is just the first of many times Jesus would be rejected and scorned on his way to the cross.
The disciples of Jesus were offended, and feeling as any of us would have felt, they were angry and wanted to get even. “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” they asked. Perhaps they were thinking of Elijah when God sent fire from heaven to consume his enemies.
But, Jesus rebuked them for not understanding who he was and they went on to another village. In rebuking them, he rebukes us, for we have the same attitudes. We react the same when people offend us. When we meet other sinners, such as the sexually immoral, homosexuals, gang members, prostitutes, liars, and gossipers we have the same attitude. However, Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3), and those who are his love as he loved. One does not know Jesus if he does not have mercy on his neighbor and does not forgive the one who offends him. We are taught to pray, “Father, forgive us, as we forgive those who sin against us.” If we are unwilling to forgive, neither are we forgiven. These disciples were a second stumbling block Satan put in the path of Jesus, hoping to foil his mission of forgiveness and salvation.
Continuing along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Yea, sure! St. Peter said the same thing, just before denying him. This brings us back to the theme of following Jesus on his journey. But now we see the radical nature of discipleship. Now what it means to deny yourself and take up your cross. It means complete and total commitment to Jesus above all other things. It is about the First Commandment: you shall have no other gods before me.
Jesus responds to the man: foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to recline his head. This means that to be his follower you must be ready to give up everything, even house and home and all worldly comforts and conveniences for the gospel. This is extreme discipleship. But this is the requirement.
On a deeper lever, this describes what Jesus has done for us. Foxes have holes. Jesus called King Herod a fox just a few days before this. God provides not only for animals, but even for evil men and unbelievers. In his love he gives even sinners a place to lay their head, a home, a bed, some physical comforts.
The birds of the heavens have nests. The literal meaning is tents or tabernacles. This is the same word used by John when he says of Jesus, “the word became flesh and tabernacled (or tented) among us.” (John 1:14). God provides food for the birds though they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns (Mat 6:26). God sends the sun and rain on the good and the bad. But Jesus humbled himself lower than the foxes and birds. He even assumed the guilt of sinful men. So He had nowhere to lay his head. But look at the word “recline his head.” In Greek it has the same root as the word for bow your head. Jesus had nowhere to bow his head except, St. John tells us, while on the cross he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. The only place for Jesus to bow his head was on a cross when he give his life for your salvation.
The next two conversations are similar. They both show us the requirements for discipleship, and they both show us what Jesus has done for us. One man says, “Let me first go first and bury my father.” His first loyalty was to his father, not to God. Now that is not bad in itself. It is a good thing to be loyal to family and indeed the Fourth Commandment requires it. But it does not supersede loyalty to Jesus. “What does it profit man if he gain the whole world and loses himself?” You must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow. That is radical commitment to Jesus. That is the requirement to be Jesus’ disciple. Let no earthly tie or bond get in the way. Jesus himself is the example: he left his Father’s house, his glory and status, and set his face on Jerusalem, and nothing could deter him from going through with his suffering and death.
The third and final conversation is similar: I will follow you, but first let me go take leave from my family. Again Jesus points out that discipleship means Jesus is the first priority and requires a radical commitment. Nothing in all the world can before Jesus. This is what the first commandment is all about: have no other gods before me. And Jesus responds, “If you put your hand to the plow and look back you are not fit for the kingdom of God.”
That pretty much sums it all up for all of us: we are not fit for the kingdom of God. For who among us can ever fulfill the extreme requirements for discipleship? Who ever has? Not one of us. We might ask, “Did any of these three men do what Jesus said and follow him in the end?” We will never know, for that is not the question. The real question is not what they did, but what will you do? Will you deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus? Are you ready to make the radical commitment to Jesus that he asks for? I dare say, none of us are. We are, therefore, not fit for the kingdom of God.
But in all these things, Jesus did do them. He did not waver from his goal. He continued the journey through suffering and death without flinching. He set his face on the cross. He suffered rejection by men, and even by his own family, friends and disciples. But he did not waver. He gave up all he had, family, house, home, bed, a place to lay his head. He gave up his glory in heaven, his reign over the universe, his throne to come down to our level and make his nest, his tent, with us. He didn’t have a place to bow his head, except on a cross to give his life for you.
Because that was the price our salvation required. That was the price he had to pay to buy us back for God, to redeem us from the fiery wrath and punishment of God, and set us free to become God’s children.
Though we are not fit for the kingdom of God, by his suffering and death he makes us fit. Blood was shed. A body was killed. And sins were forgiven, our sins, your sins, my sins. He takes us for his own in baptism and makes us fit for the kingdom in Holy Communion. He calls us to be his disciples in baptism, and when we fall short of radical discipleship, he cleanses and heals us with his body and blood.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow. And Jesus did just that for you. So, set your face on the cross. For it is by the cross that you are saved and made fit for the kingdom of God. Amen.