As you are aware, the Church across the globe is journeying towards Easter in the season of Lent. I know for many of us, Lent is often misunderstood and/or quickly dismissed. Yet Lent is not about abstaining from caffeine or purging sugar from your diet. Lent is to be preparation for the celebration of Easter. There is no celebration of the glory of the resurrection without the humility of reflection and repentance. Lent is an invitation to greater, deeper celebration through greater, deeper preparation. The glory of the resurrection will shine all the brighter in the firmament of humble reflection and repentance. Luke 9.51-53 offers great help to prepare us for Easter’s celebration.
“When the days drew near for him to be taken 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 preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set to Jerusalem.”
Up until this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus spent the majority of his time in Galilee, in the north. Luke 9.51 marks a decided turning point in Luke’s gospel account. Verse 51 serves as the banner that flies over the rest of Luke’s gospel until Jesus at last enters Jerusalem, in the south, in 19.28 to commence what we now refer to as Holy Week. Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem in Luke 9.51 and Jesus enters Jerusalem in Luke 19.27. There are three things I want to highlight for us for the sake of assisting us prepare to celebrate with a deeper resounding and more abundant joy come Easter morning.
Jesus set his face to Jerusalem because it was there he was to die.
First, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and ultimately to the cross was intentional. Notice the language Luke uses—“he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” But why? Jesus set his face to Jerusalem because it was there he was to die. He set his face to Jerusalem because the cross was there. The language Luke uses is fascinating. He set his face. Luke is reinforcing what he recorded just a few verses earlier in Luke 9.44 when Jesus says, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men” and in Luke 9.22, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed…” The Son of Man must suffer and be killed. He must. There is no escaping it. It has been previously ordained and appointed. Therefore, he set his face to Jerusalem. Jesus’ death was not ultimately the doing of those who killed him. Jesus did not ultimately die by the plans or will of men. Jesus died as it was appointed him by the Father. This is the emphatic testimony of Scripture. It had been proclaimed from old by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53.10: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him, he has put him to grief.” Peter preaches in Acts 2.22-23:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God…”
Elsewhere, Paul declares in Romans 3.25 that God put forward Jesus as a propitiation by his blood. The death of Jesus is ultimately God’s doing. Let that sink in. It sounds so scandalous that it hardly seems believable. But it’s true. Jesus says in John 10.18: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own accord.” Is this not marvelous? Jesus, willingly, in obedience to the eternal plan and will of the Father, set his face to Jerusalem and journeyed to the cross to die that you and I might live! He signed up for this! He did not involuntarily endure it. He set his face to die!
Jesus, willingly, in obedience to the eternal plan and will of the Father, set his face to Jerusalem and journeyed to the cross to die that you and I might live!
Second, the glories of the resurrection and ascension are realized only through the humility of the cross. What is amazing about this text is that it first looks beyond the cross to the day of Jesus’ ascension and then notes that Jesus set his face to the cross. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The way to the glory of the ascension was through the humility of the cross. The apostle Paul knew this well when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 4.17: “For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Compared to the glory that is waiting to be revealed, the sufferings of this present life are light and momentary. This is not to make light of sufferings. This is not to belittle affliction. It is to make much of glory. Jesus’ death on the cross was not less gruesome or less violent because he understood the days of his glorification were drawing near. The soldiers did not treat Jesus kinder and gentler or use less painful techniques of execution. But the glory waiting on the other side of the suffering of the cross was such a joyful weight upon Jesus that it is as if the cross were light and momentary. The weight of glory that was coming made the humility of all the troubles and trials and sufferings and afflictions of the cross as light and momentary. But there was no crown of glory without the humility of the cross.
Compared to the glory that is waiting to be revealed, the sufferings of this present life are light and momentary. This is not to make light of sufferings. This is not to belittle affliction. It is to make much of glory.
Third, as followers of Jesus, we must journey with him through the humility of the cross to the glory coming when he returns to make all things new. There is no option. We will either follow him through the humility of the cross or we will not follow him at all. We cannot follow Jesus into the glory of resurrection if we do not follow Jesus into the humility of the cross. We deceive ourselves if we think that we are following Jesus yet refuse to follow him to the cross. This is Luke’s point when he says in verse 53: “But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” The people did not follow Jesus because Jesus was going to the cross to die! They must have thought, “I’m not going there! I’ve got a nice, comfortable life right here, and it’s not worth forsaking to follow this maniac to die. I don’t want to die. I want to live.” Is this not too often the cry of our own hearts? Do not we ourselves reject Jesus because he beckons us to follow him on the way to the cross—to forsake everything, to count it as loss to follow him and to follow him to death? The cost and demand of following Jesus is massively high. Just a few verses later in verses 57-62, Jesus responds to someone saying to him, “I will follow you wherever you go,” by saying:
“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.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet 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.”
Following Jesus demands that we forsake everything. Following Jesus means we set our face toward Jerusalem—that we set our face to die.
How then, do these points help us in our Lenten preparation so that we will experience deeper and greater Easter joy? I have two thoughts.
First, marvel that Jesus set his face to die. Just stand amazed. Simply wonder at the profundity of the reality that Jesus set his face to die in obedience to the Father’s eternal plan. Let that absolutely overwhelm and consume you—that while you were a sinner, while you were an enemy of God, while you remained under the wrath of God, while you were cast off in exile, Jesus set his face to die.
The resurrection bells will ring with a glorious resound for those who know well the silence of their own hopeless and helpless estate apart from Christ.
Second, journey with Jesus to the cross by humbly remembering during this season of Lent the cost of the glory Jesus obtained for you. Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, by whom, for whom, and through whom all things were made suffered and bled and died for your sin. Remember often and be humbled knowing that your sin is so vile and so detestable before the holy and righteous Judge of all the earth that the only sufficient means to atone for it was the crushing of Jesus. We have all been exposed and laid bare at the cross. We cannot hide from Calvary’s judgement—we have been found to be frauds and fakes deserving of everlasting torment for our rebellious treason. But here is no celebration of the glory of the resurrection without the humility of reflection and repentance. The joyful Easter celebration will be fueled by humble Lenten preparation. Let us then journey to the cross with Jesus and remember our shame and our unworthiness and humbly repent. The resurrection bells will ring with a glorious resound for those who know well the silence of their own hopeless and helpless estate apart from Christ. May we, desiring greater and deeper joyful celebration on the resurrection morn, set our face to greater and deeper humble repentance on the Lenten road.