“But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.”
Well, that seems like a petty reason to reject Jesus! To understand what this means, especially to us, it’s always wisest to look at the larger context. At the beginning of Luke 9, Jesus sent out the 12, which is, in itself, a step up in the process of discipleship to which Jesus calls His disciples. After they have returned, He recruits them to help Him feed a hungry world (the feeding of the 5000), and then Jesus ups the discipleship ante again. He asks the disciples who they say that He is. No sooner has Peter made his profession that Jesus is the Christ of God than Jesus immediately begins to speak of His death and resurrection. Matthew and Mark’s Gospels record how Peter responds so contrarily to Jesus’ teaching that Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Though Luke doesn’t record that part of the incident, it’s the same rejecting response that Luke is ultimately interested in. To make plain that it is not only the Master but also the disciples who must suffer, be rejected, and be crucified (in a manner of speaking), Jesus begins to teach as well that “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”
Having thus dropped this bombshell on the disciples, Jesus proceeds to be transfigured before the three closest disciples, confirming the kingdom and power and glory of Jesus, but also perplexing the disciples in the utmost. “Let me get this straight,” I imagine them thinking. “You can feed 5000 men from a few loaves of bread and a few fish, you can restore people to life, and you are the Christ, the Messiah. But you’re also going to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed? And now you’re as blinding as the sun?”
After the Transfiguration, Jesus again predicts His death, after which the disciples commence arguing about who the greatest in the kingdom will be. I told you they were confused!
And then we come to the part I really want to focus on: “But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.” Who’s the “they” in this passage? It’s the Samaritans, the same Samaritans who were the half-breeds to whom Jesus showed so much compassion and love, even when no other Jews would. The same Samaritans from whom He chose the good guy in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
When Jesus passes through Samaria on His way to Jerusalem, what is the response to the Samaritans to Him? They rejected Him or “did not receive Him” because He was going to Jerusalem. The Samaritans, having developed their own place of worship and own rituals, apparently didn’t think too much of the fact that Jesus was going down to Jerusalem instead of staying with them.
When His disciples James and John (two of the three who had seen Him transfigured) saw this, they were indignant and asked if they should command fire to come down from heaven. They’re mad at the Samaritans for rejecting Jesus.
Now the really intriguing thing to me is that I think it’s the also disciples of Jesus Christ who are the ones who reject Him because He’s going to Jerusalem. The disciples don’t reject Him because they think Samaria is better or because of Jerusalem itself: they reject Jesus as He goes down to Jerusalem because the road to Jerusalem is the path to the Cross.
It was Peter, the Rock, and not just the Samaritans, who rejected Jesus because He set His face to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die there. It’s the would-be disciples who ask to bury their dead parents and other things before they follow Jesus. It’s the would-be disciples who ask to first bid farewell to the guests at their house.
But it’s not just the Samaritans or would-be disciples or disciples of the 1st century who reject Jesus because He went to Jerusalem: it’s also His would-be disciples in the 21st century: it’s us.
Be honest: what’s your first thought whenever Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”? Can you honestly say that you joyfully and immediately want to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem? When Jesus says that it is not only He Himself who will give up His life but that we also must give up our lives to Him as a living sacrifice, are we still willing to follow Him? Or do we turn on the excuse-making machine that we keep warmed up for just such an occasion?
Aren’t there times, after Jesus has commanded us to leave everything and follow Him, when we still argue about who’s the greatest? And don’t we still often walk away sad, like the rich young ruler, because of what the Master has commanded us to do? Before we point the finger at those foolish Samaritans and disciples, we’d better dig that thumb that’s looking back at us out of our own eye!
Jesus has set His face to go to Jerusalem, and He’s commanded you to follow Him there. His Cross must become your Cross: He who gave up His life for you did it so that you might be able to give up your life to Him.
But it isn’t all the Cross, is it? We must go to Jerusalem with Jesus first, but that didn’t become His permanent home, did it? For after He went to Jerusalem to be crucified, He was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, where He now lives. And after we go to Jerusalem with Jesus to crucify ourselves as living sacrifices, He will raise us up with Him and make His home with us.
Jesus is leading us on the glory train to heaven, but the next stop is Jerusalem. Who’s coming with Jesus?
Prayer: Father, as you led Your Holy Son Jesus to set His face to go to Jerusalem to do Your holy will, I ask for an increase of Your Holy Spirit in my life that I, too, might be willing to obey You in all things. Keep me from making excuses, and encourage me by Your Spirit that I might not turn back from what You have called me to do today, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Point for Meditation: What excuses have you been making for not following Jesus in particular ways?
Resolution: Resolve to follow Jesus to Jerusalem today. What is one difficult, sacrificial thing that Jesus is asking you to do? Resolve to do it today.
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