Speaker : John Johnstone
1. A determination to celebrate
Determination is an admirable quality, so long as the goal we seek to achieve is a noble one. The determined student studies hard for his exams, and will not be distracted by friends who want them to go out with them. A woman recovering from an accident is so determined to get back to full health again that she does all her physio, eats healthily and builds up her fitness. Here in Luke chapter 9, Dr Luke begins to speak about Jesus’ determination. He could not have had a more noble goal. Jesus is determined to go to Jerusalem, because that is where he must suffer and die, in order to save the lost.
In verse 51 we read that the time is approaching for Jesus to be ‘taken up to heaven’. This speaks of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Jesus knows the time is now much closer. The shadow of the cross is now cast over all he does. He knows what to expect in Jerusalem: humiliation, betrayal, an unjust trial, searing pain, and worst of all, unparalleled spiritual suffering as he experiences God’s just anger for sin. And yet he doesn’t head off in the opposite direction, as we might have done. He ‘resolutely’ sets out for Jerusalem. He ‘sets his face’ toward Jerusalem. He is determined to walk into the crucible.
This is his Father’s will. Jesus is willing to drink the cup of judgment. The Lord Jesus will remain obedient to the Father. We ought to marvel at Jesus’ obedience to his Father. Isaiah does in his prophecy; ‘The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.’ (Isaiah 50:5-7)
‘I always do the things that pleases him.’ (John 8:29)
Jesus will become obedient to the point of death, ‘even death on a cross.’ (Philippians 2:8)
Jesus is determined to obey his Father. And Jesus is determined to save his people. Jesus is so full of love for us that he will not be distracted from the task at hand. He must win eternal life for us. He must do what is necessary to secure our salvation. He must pay the price, even if the price is his own life. ‘For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Hebrews 12:2) Where would we be were it not for the determination of Jesus to walk this path of suffering for us? We would have no hope. Let’s celebrate the determination of Jesus, especially because as his people it is something personal – he did it for us.
2. The disciples’ folly
As Jesus and his sizeable group of followers approach a Samaritan village, they send messengers to request hospitality. However, Jesus and his followers are not welcomed by this village. They reject the opportunity and the privilege of hosting the Messiah, almost certainly based on the mutual hatred between Samaritans and Jews which had existed for centuries. The Jews saw the Samaritans as a ‘racial half-breeds’ and religious apostates, because they had inter-married with their Assyrian conquerors and worshipped God at Mount Gerizim, rather than at the temple in Jerusalem. Many Jews wouldn’t even travel through Samaria at all, lest they were contaminated by the very soil. The Samaritans then, because of their prejudice, miss out on the blessings Jesus would have brought. This is very tragic indeed.
The response of James and John to this rejection is also tragic. They show no love to the Samaritans and they completely overreact: ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them.’ (Luke 9:54) Clearly, they are raging at this village. How dare they treat us like this! They have been given special powers to cast out demons and heal the sick, and now they feel a good use of this God-given power would be to wipe the village off the map. How wrong they are.
Jesus rebukes them. He is determined to save the lost, including lost Samaritans, and has come to save, not to judge. The fire of judgment will soon fall upon Jesus himself, as he pays the price of human sin on the cross. It is fascinating to note what will happen to the Samaritans in the future; in Acts chapter 8, through the witness of Philip, revival breaks out amongst the Samaritans. We read: ‘When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 8:14-17) Isn’t it remarkable that John, who wanted to call fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans, ends up calling down a different kind of ‘fire’ upon them, that of the Holy Spirit. Surely, John must have recalled the lack of love he had once displayed.
Jesus had already taught the disciples to love their enemies. ‘But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.’ (Luke 6 vs 27-28) And he had taught them what to do in the face of rejection; they must shake the dust from their feet and move on to the next place. The disciples still have a lot to learn about what it means to love their enemies. Do you? Do you find it easy to love those who make your life difficult? May God help us not allow anger to fester within us, for our anger does not bring about the righteousness of God. It only leads to dark places.
We must see even enemies not as those we want to destroy, but as souls who desperately need Jesus. Think of those persecuted imprisoned Christians who share the gospel with the very guards who make their lives so difficult. What an example they are to us. ‘For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.’ (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)
3. A tragic rejection
Let’s just briefly note how great a mistake this village makes. They reject Jesus, their Maker and the only one who could save them, and all based on prejudice. Does that still happen today? Of course, it does! This has such a modern ring about it. In 2021, there are so many people in Scotland who reject Jesus because of all kinds of prejudices against him, and his followers in the church.
Some dismiss Jesus because they think that he is just a myth. Some are biased against him because of their religion, and they have been brought up to think of him in a certain way, perhaps as only a prophet. Some reject him because of the theory of evolution or because they think science contradicts the Bible, when of course, it does not. What is really tragic is that most reject Jesus today without even knowing the basic facts of who he is and why he came. They reject him out of their own ignorance. They do not know the message of the Bible. But let’s not give up loving them, praying for them, and witnessing to them. Remember what happened to many of the Samaritans further down the line. It is our hope that many who reject Jesus now, will come to love him one day.
Perhaps some of you here, or watching online have rejected Jesus. There are questions you don’t think God can answer, or maybe you don’t even think you need Jesus, so you ignore him. Let me encourage you to pray for God to open your eyes. If you reject Jesus, you are making the biggest mistake of your life. He, and only he, is the bread of life, who can satisfy our inner hunger, forgive our wrongdoing, and sustain both in this life and the life to come.
4. Following Jesus is costly, but worth it
Jesus and the disciples leave this Samaritan village, and on the road meet 3 different men who all claim that they will follow him. What do they have in common?
It seems that none of these men truly understand the huge cost involved in becoming a disciple of Jesus. It necessitates total and unconditional commitment. Jesus will not take 2nd place in your life, and he drives this point home to each one of these unnamed men. When we are explaining the gospel to people, it is important we tell them that Jesus is not just our Saviour, but he is also the Lord of every area of our lives.
The first man (v57) says that he will follow Jesus wherever Jesus goes. But has he really thought through what this might entail? Jesus’ response indicates that he has not. Following Jesus might mean giving up your home, your job, and letting go of things you used to hold onto tightly.
Jesus challenges the man to think closely about his claim. For many in the world today, following Jesus will mean you are thrown out of the family home. We read about this quite frequently in our prayer notes. Even foxes and birds have their own home, but Jesus did not, and as his follower you might not either. Are you prepared for that? If Jesus calls you to leave Scotland and go to be a missionary in another land, are you prepared to do that? Have you counted the cost of following Jesus? Are you willing to be hated for no good reason?
Today, we might well ask, what is most important to us, owning our home and making it as comfortable as possible, or seeking to be a spiritual blessing to others? Is life about luxury, or the lordship of Jesus? What are you willing to give up for Jesus? Jesus’ teaching is always radical!
The second man is asked to follow Jesus but wants to delay, and his request to delay seems reasonable- he wants to go and bury his father. Are we shocked by Jesus’ reply? Jesus is teaching the man that there is something much more urgent than even dealing with his own father’s funeral and that is proclaiming the good news to a lost and needy world in all their darkness. Jesus says, let those who are spiritually dead deal with the funeral, but I want you to do something more urgent. If we feel Jesus is calling us, we need to respond without delay. He takes priority. We don’t say to King Jesus, ‘I will follow you later, but there’s something I’ve got to deal with first.’
The third man offers to follow Jesus, but wants to go and say goodbye to his family. Jesus knows the heart, and must see some reluctance in this man about taking the final step to follow Jesus. When it comes to following Jesus, we must be decisive. Not even family can get in the way. Jesus knows there are many who consider following him, but cannot put Jesus ahead of their family, and end up not taking that step of discipleship. You might remember the calling of Elisha. Elisha is ‘called’ whilst ploughing in his field and requests that he be able to say goodbye to his family before following Elijah, and Elijah grants the request. Perhaps that’s why Jesus responds to the third man with an image of ploughing. (Verse 62)
If you are ploughing a field, you must focus ahead if you are going to plough your furrow in a straight line. We must follow Jesus with our eyes fixed on him. The Israelites left Egypt but kept on looking back to Egypt and it was a disaster. Lot’s wife looked back to the comforts of Sodom and that too was a disaster. If we want to follow Jesus expect to be pulled in different directions…
Jesus’ words to these men might not be the easiest to understand, but let’s hold them all together and see: following Jesus will be costly, but we must make that our key priority. Family, and material possessions must never get in the way. You cannot live for money and for Jesus at the same time. You cannot put your family first and Jesus first at the same time. Who are you living for?
What a challenging part of Scripture! Following Jesus must be what is urgent for us. Following Jesus must be what takes priority. Being a follower of Jesus is that important. But remember, we will not be the losers for it. ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’ (Luke 18:29)