Text: Luke 9:51-62
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning in our Gospel reading Jesus sets off on a journey. This journey is no ordinary holiday, however, it is a journey to Jerusalem. Now that is something that the people of Israel had been doing for a long time, going up to Jerusalem. Jesus had done this many times before. Maybe you remember the story of how Jesus went to Jerusalem with His family when He was 12 years old and ended up being left behind by His family as He sat in the temple talking with the teachers. This journey to Jerusalem is one He had made many times before and it is one that the people around Him made all the time. But this journey was going to be different.
Jesus was not going to Jerusalem for a religious festival or to visit family or just for a holiday. He is going there to be arrested, tried, sentenced, crucified, die, and rise again. He is on a mission. You get that sense in our text today it says, Jesus “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” You get a sense of determination from those words, a kind of intense focus on the task at hand. Jesus has been healing people, preaching, and teaching around Galilee (up in the northern part of Israel) for a few years now, but now it is time for His work to be completed so He turns and journeys south to Jerusalem.
In the gospel of Luke this journey is a big deal. It starts here in chapter 9 and continues for the next 10 chapters until chapter 19. The journey is really stretched out and along the way Luke never lets us forget that Jesus is on a journey and that the journey will end in Jerusalem. Luke emphasizes this journey so much and stretches it out because this journey Jesus goes on is one that we are invited to join as well. Not in a literal sense like it was for the disciples, but in a spiritual sense as we journey with Jesus to Jerusalem to see what He will do there and see what it means for us.
Really our whole lives as Christians could be considered a journey. Before they called themselves Christians, the earliest Christians often called themselves “the Way” or “people belonging the Way” or “followers of the Way.” These people understood that as Christians our time in this world is a journey, a journey through the wilderness much like the people of Israel after God rescued them from Egypt when they wandered through the desert for 40 years. It is a long journey, a slow journey, maybe sometimes a convoluted and confusing journey, but it remains a journey. It’s a journey of taking up our cross and following, a journey of daily dying and rising with Jesus, and a journey looking forward to our own empty tomb.
As Jesus sets out on His journey in our text this morning we see right away that it will not be a smooth and simple trip. There will be rejection of Jesus and lots of people who don’t understand what this whole journey is about. We also see that the people who are trying to join Jesus on His journey are having some trouble too. There are a lot of distractions along the way that threaten to derail Jesus’ followers from following Him all the way to Jerusalem.
First, we see Jesus being rejected by some people from a village in Samaria. They don’t like that Jesus is heading to Jerusalem. They just don’t like Jerusalem very much, they have their own holy city instead. But the real issue here is not the Samaritans who reject Jesus, the issue is how they become a distraction for the people following Jesus. James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples get distracted from the journey with Jesus by these Samaritans. They see how these stupid Samaritans have rejected Jesus and they want to do something about it. “Do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them?” they ask Jesus. They want revenge, they want to right the wrong that has been done, they want justice, and has distracted them from following Jesus. They look back rather than keep their eyes on Jesus and where He is going.
Next a man comes up to Jesus and volunteers to follow Him on this journey wherever He goes. But Jesus warns Him that this will be no easy journey: “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but Jesus, the Son of Man, has no place to lay His head.” Another distraction, the comforts of home. It seems that this guy isn’t quite ready to give up house and home to follow Jesus.
Then Jesus invites another man to follow Him, to join the journey. This man agrees to go, but first he needs to bury his father, then he will follow. Again, a distraction. His eyes turn away from Jesus and looks back home.
Finally, one time someone wants to follow Jesus but first they need to go home and say goodbye to the family at home. One more distraction. One more time looking back. And then Jesus says these difficult words: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This journey with Jesus needs all eyes forward. Back in the day before tractors with GPS, when you plowed a field with an ox and plow, looking back would mean crooked furrows and bad plowing. On the journey eyes need to be forward, fixed on Jesus. One time when I was riding my bike I looked back behind me for just a moment. At that very moment my front tire hit a large rock that was sticking up out of the trail and my wheel turned 90 degrees. I flipped over my handle bars and fell on my shoulder. Eyes need to be forward or we lose our focus, we lose Jesus.
Jesus says this to us too. If we as Christians are living lives following Jesus, if we are journeying too, our eyes need to be on Him; no looking back. That is tough, there are distractions everywhere, all around us, that threaten to take our eyes off Jesus. Just think of all the things that can distract us in church on a Sunday morning. How often do our minds wander from listening to the Word of God to all kinds of other things? It happens all the time.
The distractions might not even be bad or sinful things. Look back at those people in our gospel reading who have trouble following Jesus. One guys wants a home. That’s not a bad thing, but it can distract us from Jesus. Another guy wants to bury his father, again, not a bad thing, but it does distract from Jesus. Or the last guy, he just wants to go home and say goodbye first, but once more it distracts from Jesus. In our lives too, lots of things that are good and healthy and right distract us from Jesus. Family, work, home, friends, fun, and so much more. Things happening all around us, good things, but distracting things.
And then there’s the bad stuff, the anger, selfishness, frustration, bitterness, envy, pride, sinful desires of all kinds. This is the kind of distractions James and John struggled with when those Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus. If the other stuff were not enough all of this is out there distracting us too. Who can keep their eyes on Jesus all of the time with all of this going on!?! Not you, not me, not anybody. And what does Jesus say about that: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Ouch.
But here’s the thing. Jesus isn’t not journeying to Jerusalem in order to give us some kind of challenge to try and live up to so that we can prove that we are fit for the kingdom of God. Jesus is not inviting people to follow His on His journey so that they can show how faithful and undistracted they are. Jesus sets His face resolutely, firmly, intensely towards Jerusalem so that He can go there to make us fit for the Kingdom of God.
We look back, and around, up and down all the time. Our focus is not perfectly fixed on Jesus the way it should be. We are more like the people of Israel wandering around out there in the wilderness than we would probably care to admit. For forty years they grumbled, complained, and missed the point about what God was doing for them and we do the same things. But Jesus’s focus is fixed on the cross for us. He eyes are directed towards the city of Jerusalem and His fate there because on that cross He will save us and our wandering eyes and our distracted minds from certain destruction. He will rescue us with His own death in our place and then rise again to show us the end of our journey. He sets His face towards Jerusalem and does not look back because His eyes are fixed on us and on saving us.
Our journey through life as Christians is not based on our ability to follow along or pay attention, it is based on Jesus who walked the way for us through death to life so that we might not die eternally. Everything about us is unfit for the Kingdom of God, but Jesus makes us fit for the Kingdom and has made a place for us in that Kingdom. This means that as we journey through this life following Jesus in our own imperfect and distracted kind of way, we rely on Jesus and His forgiveness for us, because He walked this way for us already, all the way to the cross. He is the Way and because of Him our journey has an end, a glorious end, an eternal end, a heavenly end. Amen.