Summary: When we set out with Jesus, we can hardly begin to understand what paths He might lead us down to get to our destination. It is not always what we think, but we must implicitly trust Him.
A TURNING POINT IN THE MINISTRY OF JESUS
“When the days were being fulfilled for the receiving up of Jesus, He set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).
There is a sense of divine destiny about this statement, yet what does it mean? At first we are reminded of the ascension of the prophet Elijah, which is book-ended in similar language (2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 2:11). Yet for Jesus there was another raising up before His ascension = His resurrection (Mark 9:9-10); and another before that = His crucifixion (John 12:32-33).
This is the kind of Spirit-led constraint which is replicated in the journeys of the Apostle Paul (Acts 20:22) – but for him, he found that all roads also lead to Rome (Acts 23:11). When we set out with Jesus, we can hardly begin to understand what paths He might lead us down to get to our destination – it is not always what we think, but we must implicitly trust Him. Jesus knew where He was going, and what path He must take, but was determined nevertheless to walk that road for our salvation (Luke 13:33; Luke 18:31; Luke 19:28).
This was the narrative turning point of the Gospel of Luke, and hereinafter the road always leads to Jerusalem – and we are being invited to join Jesus on the journey (Luke 9:59). Now we must begin to understand what Jesus means when He says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). The ‘cross’ would no doubt involve rejection (Luke 9:53), but Jesus had already briefed the disciples on what to do in that event (Luke 9:5).
A certain Samaritan village refused to receive Jesus because “His face was set to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:52-53). James and John seem to have momentarily forgotten the drill when they asked Jesus permission to call down fire upon them (Luke 9:54), just as Elijah had done (cf. 2 Kings 1:10-14). As we journey, we must consider what spirit we are of, and recognise that fiery judgment does not belong to the gospel era (Luke 9:55-56).
A certain man approached Jesus and promised, “I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57). It is perhaps in view of Jesus’ recent rejection by the villagers that He warned this would-be volunteer not to expect the comforts of home along the way. In this respect, on this journey, even the Son of man had nowhere to lay His head (Luke 9:58).
“Follow me,” said Jesus to another (Luke 9:59). The request that the man be allowed first to bury his father may seem reasonable enough, but even the legitimate ties of family and the duties of convention should not hold us back from following Jesus (Matthew 10:37). Jesus’ curt response, “Let the dead bury their dead” (Luke 9:60) speaks to the man’s spiritual condition, and warns us to prioritise our commitments (Matthew 6:33).
Another volunteered, “I will follow you BUT first let me go and say goodbye to my family…” (Luke 9:61). Again the excuse seems reasonable enough: after all, had not Elijah (perhaps reluctantly) permitted the ploughman Elisha to return and bid his folks farewell (1 Kings 19:20)? Jesus warns us at the beginning of the journey not to look back at the furrows already ploughed, but to set our eyes ever forward to our destination (Luke 9:62).
When we lay down our own conditions for following Jesus, we are putting our eternal souls in danger. Looking back is for those who are yearning to stay in the place they are leaving (Genesis 19:26). ‘Remember Lot’s wife’ (Luke 17:32).