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Jesus: Set To Go

    Jun 30, 2019

    Passage: Luke 9:51

    Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

    Category: Sunday, Pentecost


    In the Name of Jesus. Amen! God taking on human flesh (the Incarnation) is the mystery of mysteries. God makes it known so that we know it happened when Jesus came, but it is a mystery because it surpasses what we can get our heads around. We bow to the mystery. Jesus is a man, not sort-of, but completely human. Jesus is God, not kind of, but 100% God. So, when we come to these accounts in God’s Word like what we have in today’s gospel, we have a hard time imagining what it was like for our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. By the way, our Lutheran Confessions -- in the Formula of Concord Article VIII, The Person of Christ -- compare the two natures of Christ with fire and iron. Picture iron in superhot fire. In a short time, they seem as one: the iron starts to glow in the fire. At the same time, the iron is always the iron, and the fire is always the fire. Still, in this instance that the iron is glowing hot, these two cannot be divided. And – also at the same time – these two remain distinct. Nevertheless, if you observed this, you would see only one thing: glowing, hot iron. You could say intelligibly: “look at the glowing, hot iron” in the sense that there is ONE glowing, hot iron.

    This helps us. There is one Jesus, not two, but ONE, and this Jesus is the Godman, but remember the analogy: the iron is completely iron, and the fire is completely fire. So, it is true of Jesus: His humanity is complete humanity, and His divinity is complete divinity and with these two natures, He is One Christ.

    But there is another little detail that will help us with today’s gospel: in Philippians 2:7 we learn that while Jesus – true God and true man – “emptied Himself” (this is the kenosis), that is, He voluntarily humbled Himself to the extend that He knew human weakness and human limitation. So, when the well-intentioned Jehovah Witness asks you how can you believe that Jesus is God when He said to the disciples that He did not know when the destruction of Jerusalem would take place (and in this context, we can probably say that Jesus’ limitation included the exact time of the end of the world, Matt 24:37). You can answer them intelligibly: Jesus humbled Himself and allowed Himself human limitation to the extent that He didn’t know certain things and what is more, He limited Himself even to the extent that He allowed Himself to die. God’s Word answers the skepticism.

    I review this with you because we have come to the transition within Luke’s gospel, where Jesus had been traveling to spread the good news and to call people to repentance to know Him as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Here at Luke 9:51, however, He transitions. He is now headed for Jerusalem to do what He ultimately had come for: to die, to rise, and to ascend. We may therefore say simply that He was going into Jerusalem to save!

    Yet, first things first, before He could rise; and before He could ascend, He had to suffer and die. What was this like for our Savior? We are given clues later in Luke’s gospel. Luke 22:41-42: “…[Jesus] knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’” Then, at Luke 22:44 the Word of the Lord states, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

    Recall that Jesus in His self-humiliation had deliberately limited Himself from fully employing His divine powers, but this was not an utter humiliation: he spoke in the greatest wisdom; He conducted great signs (miracles); and yes, there were some things – seeing into the future – He did know and one of those things was that He knew exactly what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem.

    People of God, your Savior knew. He knew (beforehand) the suffering -- beyond our comprehension -- that was going to happen to Him. Even when we carefully study what occurred in the horror of capital punishment of crucifixion conducted by the expert executioners that were the Romans, we cannot know the level of anxiety that our Savior must have been tempted to enter. Even when this inexplicable “excruciating” – out of the cross – suffering is understood as much as we can (and it causes one to tremble at its design for maximum prolonged suffering), even at this: it was even worse for Christ. He was the only one in human history who had ever undergone this sort of execution who was sinless and in complete unity with God; and He was the only One in the history of humanity who died with the sins of the world upon Him. It was not only the Romans’ wrath He suffered, but it was God’s wrath for our sin and for the sins of the world; and His unity with The Father – and yes, this too is a unfathomable mystery – was (while the Lord was on the cross) somehow disrupted [or at least was no longer perceived by Christ] and for this reason, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsake me?” (Matt 27:46)

    The physical suffering, the mental anguish, and the spiritual darkness that Jesus knew on Calvary’s cross was something He knew was coming long before it happened to Him. For this reason, when He had prayed in Gethsemane, his sweat was tinged with blood. This is the worst kind of psychological stress when one’s very capillaries burst. This is not an exaggeration: Jesus was sweating blood.

    I remember when I was a little boy when I had to go in for inoculations. I was with my big brother (who also needed them) and I was afraid of the “big needle” that was going to go into my arm. I knew it was coming and was extremely nervous. I had serious thoughts of running away. When the nurse or doctor came in with the shot, they immediately snuck up to my side and just did it before I knew what was going on. I needed them to be sneaky that day, because I was in fact dreading it. And was this? This was just a little shot!

    This is obviously a very minor illustration. Have you ever anticipated something that just scared you? Something you knew was coming; that you dreaded? We can start to sweat, feel our hands tingle, notice our hearts beating faster, our mouths drying…we can feel the anxiety coming…we know fear.

    In my mind one of the worst examples of this (and I will try to be considerate of the young ears here) is the scene of what my dad was familiar with as a Marine on an amphibian coming up to an enemy beachhead in World War II. When they reached shore, the hatch of the amphibian was let down and all the Marines knew what was going to happen next. I will wrap up this illustration by simply saying chaos. How does a Marine feel just before that hatch is let down? In some cases, for some, the prospect was horrifying. They knew what was coming.

    Jesus knew what was coming, and as fully man according to His human nature, He had to cope with what was infinitely more terrifying than a Marine amphibian.

    And this is where St. Luke, chapter 9, verse 51 comes in: “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

    This is how the Lord faced this. This is how He faced it for you, and this is how He faced it for me. This is no small thing. For example, the people of Israel were set to enter the Promised Land, and in Numbers we hear the majority report of the spies of Israel after they had conducted their reconnaissance. Yes, the land was indeed what God said it was (they reported, “It flows with milk and honey.”), but then there was the rest of the report: “However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large…”! They saw what was before them, and guess what? They wanted to chicken out (thank God for Caleb and Joshua, Numbers 13)!

    Consider Jonah. God said as recorded at Jonah 1:2: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Jonah 1:3: “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord…”. God called and Jonah ran! In the New Testament our Lord was gaining disciples during His earthly ministry, and then the day came to take His disciples from the teaching of Christ 101 to 201. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) He went on to elaborate. Verse 56 of John 6: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Now listen to this from John 6:60: “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?’” The Lord elaborated again, but then we read John 6:66 (the contents of this verse are worthy of this numerical citation): “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

    These disciples backed out. They no longer wanted to go forward. They stopped. They deserted the Lord. Thank God that by His grace, the twelve remained (though Judas would betray Him, also turning away).

    So, both in Holy Scripture and in our life experience, we see what happens too often: we choose not to go forward in following and obeying the will of God. Our sin not only causes us to resist the good will of the Heavenly Father, but in our sin, we actively resist the good will of the heavenly Father. From this vantage point we can appreciate even more the third petition of The Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What does this mean? “The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.” How is God’s will done? “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.” (Luther, Small Catechism)

    This helps us to understand the wording in our gospel at Luke 9:51: “[Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem.” For God to “set his face” against a person, city, or region is for God to show His wrath (Just, p. 427), but in this context, Christ was not setting His face against Jerusalem (the Holy City where He would pay for the sins of the world), but was “setting His face” against [as the Catechism teaches] “every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature” that would try to resist Him on His way into Jerusalem to save us.

    Just elaborates (p. 427 of his commentary): “here Jesus ‘sets his face’ to go to Jerusalem not to show wrath or mercy to Jerusalem, but to face and overcome all temptations and opposition that would turn him aside from traveling to the cross.”

    Jesus knew what was coming, so we read in verse 51 how He prepared Himself to go through with it and not run. The first word “SET” has behind it the idea to strengthen or establish. This Jesus did. It was accomplished even before He set out for Jerusalem. He SET Himself to be obedient to the Father and to save us (even while fully knowing all that would come against Him). And then the second word “TO GO” means “to go, travel, go away; behave; [and even] die.” That is, Jesus our great Savior at Luke 9:51: set Himself so STRONGLY that He was ready to die for us, even in the face of unspeakable forces of evil plans and purposes of the devil, the world, and sin against Him! And this dear brothers and sisters is the highest love: to extend oneself this way KNOWING FULL WELL the tremendous cost to oneself. He SET Himself TO GO for you!!!

    His commitment stands in contrast to the other examples in this morning’s gospel. There are two categories of those who might have encouraged our Lord as He SET [Himself] TO GO for us; some who could have helped Him: 1) Those who REFUSED to receive Christ (Luke 9:52-56) like the Samaritan village that rejected Him. This makes our Lords commitment to you even more astounding. Imagine! That He would keep going forward even for those who rejected Him! Even this would not dissuade Him! 2) He SET [Himself] TO GO for us even in the face of would-be followers (Luke 9:57-62). Now this section deserves a little commentary. Jesus is not teaching that we aren’t supposed to bury our loved ones. We need to get behind culture here in the original context. Buls (pg 19) points out, “At Jesus’ time the Jews considered burial a religious rite which took precedence over everything, even reading the Law.” Thus, our Lord is speaking to our priorities. What is a greater priority that what the culture and the world consider to be utmost activities and urgencies? Answer: to live in faith, to share the gospel, and to love your neighbor. This is the highest priority. In our Old Testament, Elisha went back to serve those he was with and “Then he arose and went after Elijah…”. Elisha was not inconsiderate towards loved ones, but he clearly showed his priorities.

    Our priorities as the people of God are forged when we see and know and rejoice in what the Lord Jesus did for us.  Isaiah 50:7 puts it like this: “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” This is a messianic prophecy about Jesus…He SET His face like a flint – hard as a rock – to face all the resistance in the world…what singular thought filled His heart and mind? He knew – Christians that He would not be put to shame! Thus, Hebrews 12:2: “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus filled Himself with what was BEYOND the suffering; and BEYOND the cross. He held to the Truth; He held to the Ultimate GOAL that was signed, sealed, and guaranteed by the Heavenly Father.

    And such confidence as you abide in Christ Christian is also yours. Therefore St. Paul in Galatians 5:1 wrote to those first Christians in Galatia and to us today: “stand firm”!!! Galatians 5:15: “walk by the Spirit”!!! How can we possibly be so bold in Christ? Listen to Romans 8:31-34: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” These words are about you, little Christs; they are about how God in Christ to SET HIMSELF TO GO (solid as a rock) to save you; puts you into His victory, sealed through baptism, empowered by the Word, nourished through the Supper, so that by the Holy Spirit as you abide in Christ you are blessed to be SET and TO GO and to be His child, His disciple, His royal priesthood. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.