Facing Toward Jerusalem


Facing Toward Jerusalem By Wayne A. Danielson

Lenten Talk

March 6, 1991

Tarrytown United Methodist Church

Austin, Texas

Facing Toward Jerusalem

By Wayne Danielson

Luke 9:51-62.  When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.  And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?"  But he turned and rebuked them.  And they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."  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."  To another he said, "Follow me."  But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  But he said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God."  Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."  Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God."

One of the interesting things about grandchildren is that they are always changing.

You don't see them for a couple of weeks, and somehow they change into completely different people.

A case in point is Matt's little girl, Sara.

Sara is three and a half years old.

A few weeks ago she was just a baby -- or so it seemed to me.

Now, she can hold her own with her seven-year-old brother Ben.

The two were riding in the back seat of my car the other night.  Both were tired and irritable.  Ben kept poking Sara in the ribs.

Finally Sara had had enough.

"Do that again, Benny," she said, "and you're dead meat."

Naturally, I scolded¸ her for talking to her brother that way, but at the same time, I secretly applauded her performance.  She had summed up the situation in a single decisive sentence.  George Bush could not have done it better.  I admired her courage.  

Her brother admired it too, I thought.  At least he quit poking her in the ribs for the rest of the ride home.

Sara's forthright manner reminded me of her grandmother.  I can see lots of Bev in Sara.  Bev never messed around when something important needed to be said or done.

If the kids needed to get shots for measles, they got them.  If it was time to go to the dentist, they went.  If they swiped candy from Mr. Newberry's drugstore, they took it back and had a serious talk with Mr. Newberry.  No tears.  No arguments.  No excuses.  In Bev's world, problems had to be faced.  Decisions that had to be made were made.

I, on the other hand, was more likely to temporize.  I was content to think about family matters -- preferably for six months or so -- before I acted.  If a really important decision had to be made, I could think about it for even longer than that.  I always hoped that family problems would just go away.  Sometimes they did, but more often than not, they just got worse.

I'm still that way.  Indecision.  Inaction.  Procrastination.  These are the sins that bedevil me every day.

I often think how unlike Jesus I am in this.

Luke tells us,  "When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem."

He set his face to go to Jerusalem.

Jesus was far to the north in Israel.  He was safe there.  He had family and friends there.  It was his home country.  He didn't have to leave.  He didn't have to go.

But Luke says that he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

I've often wondered why he did that.

Didn't he know what was likely to happen?

I think he did.

In a later chapter, Luke quotes Jesus as saying,  "But for today and tomorrow and the next day I must go on, since it would not be right for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem."

Yes, Jesus knew what Jerusalem held in store for him in that long ago springtime.  But "he set his face" to go there anyway.

A village of Samaritans would not receive him because of his intended destination.  No doubt they wanted him to stay and teach in one of their holy places.  Jesus did not call down fire upon them, as James and John wanted him to.  Instead he kept walking south -- toward Jerusalem.

He dismissed one would-be follower by pointing out what kind of life the man would face if he accompanied Jesus.  "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head," he said.

To another who pleaded to follow him, but who wanted to go home and bury his father first, Jesus said, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God."

To a third, who just wished to say goodbye to his family, he said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God."

"My goodness," you say, "What kind of Jesus is this?"

This is no meek and mild fellow sitting in a field of lilies, is it?

No, it's not.

Jesus was not the meek and mild man we sometimes consider him to be.  Jesus was a man who could make tough decisions.  He could say harsh words to his followers.  He was God's man.  And being God's man took courage.  It took commitment.  It took a determination to put first things first in his life.  If God called him to go to Jerusalem, he would go.  In the midst of his enemies, he would proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God.  In spite of all advice to the contrary, he would set his face to go to Jerusalem even if the journey seemed certain to end on the cross. 

These verses in Luke teach us much about the character of Jesus.  But they also teach us something else.  They teach us that Jesus expected no less of his followers than he expected of himself.  Jesus wanted followers.  But he wanted followers of a certain kind.  He wanted followers who not only believed, but followers who were willing to act on their beliefs. 

"Come and follow me," these verses seem to say. "But for heaven's sake, be ready to act.  Be ready to act now, for heaven's sake."

These days of Lent call us to many things.  They call us to acknowledge our sins.  They call us to repent.  They call us to forgive.

They call us to love one another.  And significantly, I think, they call us to act decisively in the imitation of Christ.  Once long ago God called the Lord Jesus to set his face toward Jerusalem.  Jesus said yes to God.  Today Christ calls us in our daily lives to proclaim bravely and triumphantly the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Can we say yes as well?

Let us pray.

Our Heavenly Father, Lent reminds us that your Son our Lord Jesus Christ was above everything else your obedient Son.  When you called, he answered.  We would be your obedient sons and daughters too, Father.  Help us to be your heart and your hands and your mind on earth.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.