Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the place where He would be “taken up,” that is, be crucified bearing the sins of the world on this shoulders, and be raised to life on the third day, and be taken up to the right hand of the Father. All for you and for your salvation. And so He goes forward resolutely, with His eyes fixed on the target Jerusalem – the place of sacrifice, where God had caused His name to dwell.
The Samaritans would have none of it. Their place of worship was not Jerusalem but Gerazim. They had their own notions about where God was to be worshipped and where sacrifices were to be made. They even had their own version of the Bible, one that made Samaria the place to be. Why bother with Jerusalem when you can go to Gerazim? Why bother with the preached Word and Sacraments, and with that crazy congregation and all those boring, difficult hymns, when you can sit at home with your Bible and have it your way? Surely it doesn’t matter so long as you “believe in God”!
Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem. There is only one place where the Lamb could be sacrificed. God said so. There were no alternatives, no convenient options, no having it your way. When it comes to forgiveness, life, and salvation, it’s God’s way or no way.
To get from Galilee to Jerusalem, one had to go through Samaria. There was not option there either. All roads led through Samaria. Jesus sent His disciples as His ministers on ahead of Him to make preparations. Get the people ready for the coming of Jesus. He had come for Samaritans too, like that sassy Samaritan woman He once met at the well, the one who had had five husbands and was no shacked up with number six. She too was included in Jesus’ mission that takes Him to Jerusalem by way of Samaria.
The Samaritans wanted nothing to do with Jesus, because His face was set toward Jerusalem. They wanted Jesus on their own terms, and so they get no Jesus at all. Remember this the next time you are tempted to roll your own Jesus. He is entirely for you, but only in the way He gives Himself to you. You may want another Jesus or another way. You may think you know better, or what is best for you, but you don’t. You don’t know, and in your native sinfulness you can’t know. Follow your heart in the way of salvation and you will be wrong every time.
The Jesus the goes to Jerusalem is the crucified and risen One, the same One who says “make disciples by baptizing and teaching,” who says, “take and eat, this is my Body and my Blood given and shed of you,” who says, “the sins your forgive are forgiven.” He is the One present in His church, which is His body, by way of His Word and His Body and Blood. Any other Jesus who comes by any other way is not the One who died and rose to save you, no matter how “religious” He may seem, no matter how “good” He may make you feel.
The Samaritans rejected Jesus; He did not reject them. His going to another village is only in response to their refusal to welcome Him because He was going to Jerusalem. James and John, the “sons of thunder,” as Jesus nicknamed them, wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume those Samaritan ingrates. Give ‘em hell, Jesus. Give ‘em the old Sodom and Gomorrah treatment. That’ll teach them.
Ever catch yourself saying the same thing? “He’ll get hell for that. She’ll burn for what she did.” Even those who no longer believe in hell believe that what goes around comes around, or as my high school chemistry teacher ingrained in us: “Kiddies play, kiddies pay.” James and John presume the authority to judge and the power to call down fire from heaven, though Jesus never gave them such authority. “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” He warned them. “Condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” That doesn’t mean that we close our eyes to the sins of others and ignore it, or that we don’t judge sin to be sin. It means that we don’t judge the sinner; that is for God alone to do.
Jesus instead rebukes James and John. Luke doesn’t tell us what He said to them, and so it’s none of our business. Suffice it to say that you are not given to call down fire from heaven, even on those who reject you on account of Jesus. The way of the disciple is the way of the cross, the way of Jerusalem.
Elijah learned his lesson the hard way. He had just come off of a spectacular victory over the false prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel where fire from heaven consumed 450 of them at Elijah’s prayer. Flush from that, Elijah goes back to Jezreel and meets up with Queen Jezebel who says, “What you did to my prophets, I’m going to do to you.” It was business as usual for Jezebel.
Elijah’s depressed, in the throes of a prophetic career crisis. We ministers are prone to the same thing. You preach the Word to seeming no effect, and you begin to wonder – does the Word really work? Luther quit preaching for a year for the same reason. Elijah goes back to Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai) to have a little “one on one” time with God. A little pity party. “I’m the only one left, and they’re trying to kill me too.” There’s even a mental complex named after Elijah. It’s the one where you think you’re the only one left, the only one who is faithful, the only one who gets it right. No one else sees it as clearly as you do, no one else is as pure as you are. You’ve broken fellowship with everyone else in the world and now it’s just you and your wife at the kitchen table having communion and she’s beginning to look a bit suspect too.
Elijah hides in a cave, probably the same cave that hid Moses as God’s glory passed by. And there’s a great wind and an earthquake and a fire, all that good Sinai stuff. But the Lord wasn’t in any of that. Not as YHWH. And then there was a whisper. Not a still, small voice in Elijah’s head, the way some people speak of it. A whisper. God doesn’t have to yell to get our attention. And Elijah gives God his little pity speech again. “I’ve been zealous, faithful, true. Your people have broken your covenant, torn down your altars, killed your prophets, and now they’re trying to kill me too.” Poor Elijah.
And God says, “Go. Go back to Damascus. Install Hazaal, king of Syria, and Jehu over Israel, and Elisha to succeed you. And oh, by the way, I have seven thousand faithful in Israel who haven’t bent their knee to Baal.”
The way of the cross seems lonely at times. “I’m the only one who believes.” There are always seven thousand somewhere. You don’t know their names, you wouldn’t recognize their faces. They are the communion of saints of which you are a part. We have no idea how many there are. It doesn’t matter, we are not alone on this way of the cross.
Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem. This was His to do alone. Jesus alone is faithful in His mission, the whole way. Only He is able to claim this. Perfect, sinless, holy, doing the will of His Father who sent Him not to condemn but to save the world. With the world in mind, He looks toward Jerusalem.
There are those who would follow Him, not knowing where He was going or why. One said, “I will follow you anywhere,” not knowing that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die. “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, the Son of Man doesn’t even have a pillow on which to lay His head.” The One who made heaven His home is homeless on the way to the cross so that you might have an eternal home with Him. Another said, “Let me first bury my father,” an honorable task. “Let the dead bury their own,” Jesus says. Burial is not His concern; resurrection is. He is going the way of death and burial Himself, so that He might raise the dead in His resurrection. Another says, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.” But Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
You can’t plow a straight line looking back over your shoulder. Any farmer will tell you that. Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt in the desert, a monument to those who would look back from the way of salvation. Jesus fixed His eyes on Jerusalem, on the cross that was set before Him. He did not look back at what was, but looked ahead to what was to come. He alone is “fit for the kingdom” on His own terms.
Jesus goes this road to Jerusalem alone. Yes, He is surrounded by disciples, but the way is His alone. The cross is His alone. The salvation of the world is His alone. He is faithful Israel reduced to one Man. He is faithful humanity reduced to One. He put His hand to salvation’s plow and for the joy set before Him, the joy of saving you from sin, death, the devil, the condemnation of the law, He endured the cross and scorned its shame. For the joy of your salvation, to have you as His own, His fixed His gaze on Jerusalem.
Your gaze is fixed not on Jerusalem, but on Him. There is nothing for you to see in Jerusalem, and nothing there for you. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of your faith. He has brought you out of slavery to sin and self into freedom. He has rescued you from the works of the flesh to yield the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-discipline. True freedom. Freedom won by a cross and a tomb. Fix your eyes on freedom.
Fix your eyes on Jesus in your Baptism, washing away your sin, renewing your life.
Fix your eyes on Jesus in His Supper, giving you the hidden gifts of His Body and His Blood, the fruits of His cross.
Fix your eyes on Jesus, who by His blood and His perfect life and death makes you fit for His kingdom.
Fix your eyes on Jesus, who fixed His eyes to Jerusalem to save you.
Glory be to Jesus