Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
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 toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “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.”” (Luke 9:51–62, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Waunita and I have been thinking about selling one of the cars we have. The truth is we have one more car than we actually need. Selling the car reminds me of the times we were going to buy one. Buying a different car is always an adventure, there’s the searching, talking with car salesmen, driving, and dreaming. All of it to find just the right one, the one that fits our family, the one that's going to do what we need. But there is always the ultimate question… How much does it cost? How much do we have to pay? It doesn’t matter how much a car we buy costs, I always get the feeling I’ve paid too much. Usually the night after is one of tossing and turning… wondering if I could have gotten another $100 off. How much does it cost?
That’s what today’s Gospel lesson is all about, cost. How much does it cost? <<pause>> How much did it cost for Jesus? The text begins by saying that when the “time approached for him to be taken up to heaven” It is speaking here about more than just his ascension, it is talking also about his being lifted up on the cross…) Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” A literal translation would be that “he firmly set his face.” He was determined to go, nothing would turn him from the path that he had put himself on. No cost was too high, and Jesus full well knew the cost. Only a page back in Luke's Gospel Jesus spoke of his suffering and death to the disciples in very plain words, he said that he “…must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed…” Jesus knew the cost. Jesus knew that there would be distractions on the way, Satan was out, roaming around like a lion, seeking to devour him, trying to thwart God’s plans, but Jesus wouldn’t allow that. He was going to Jerusalem to suffer, he was going to Jerusalem to be crucified, he was going to Jerusalem to die. He knew the cost of his plans full-well, and the cost was very high, indeed.
It happens right away, too. Jesus sends his disciples to prepare a place for them to stay in Samaritan town, on the way to Jerusalem. But, they didn’t want him to stay there. You know that the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t like each other, but in general in Luke’s Gospel they are spoken of very well. Here, however, they reject Jesus “because he was going to Jerusalem.” It has to do with the primary difference between the Jews and the Samaritans. It’s the difference of a mountain. The Jews held that the only proper place for sacrifice to God was Mt. Zion, which is the Temple at Jerusalem. The Samaritans, believe the only proper place for sacrifice to God was at Mt. Gerizim. You may remember the Samaritan woman at the well and her discussion with Jesus. She said, “…Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” This was a strong point of disagreement between Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans know that Jesus is a least a prophet, and now he is going to worship in Jerusalem, they reject him because, in their eyes he is rejecting their worship on their mountain. They believe Jesus is acting as if their worship amounts to nothing. Jesus is not distracted. He is determined to go to Jerusalem, but his disciples have other ideas. They make a connection between Jesus and Elijah. The want to call down fire from heaven to obliterate the town for rejecting them, just like Elijah did on Mt. Carmel. Jesus rebukes them… the text says … and they went to another town. Jesus is not side tracked. He has set his face toward Jerusalem and that is where he is going.
Now, we get an interesting turn in the text. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters three men who want to be disciples. Jesus uses these encounters to show what his journey to Jerusalem is all about. …to show how much it cost for Jesus to have “set his face toward Jerusalem.”
One of the would-be-disciple says, “I will follow you where ever you go.” This man has committed to following Jesus, but does he know what it costs to really follow him? Does he really know what it costs to follow Jesus where Jesus is going? Maybe he is caught up in the excitement of the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, the singing of psalms, the talking, and the laughing. But, Jesus wants him to see the whole picture. Jesus statement gets straight to the heart of the matter. “Foxes and birds have a place to live,” says Jesus, “but not me.” His calling, his mission, meant that he wouldn’t have a place to stay. He would, at times, even be rejected just as he was rejected by the Samaritan village (and even his home town). And especially on this visit to Jerusalem, he would be rejected, he would suffer, and he would die a shameful death, a death that by tradition wouldn’t even offer him a place to lay his head in death. Even though Jesus was buried… crucified criminals weren’t often buried, but the corpses were left in the open as an example to others. “There is a cost to following me.” Jesus said. “Are you really sure you know what you are saying?”
Jesus turns to another, “Follow me!” he says. While the previous man declared that he wanted to follow Jesus, this man is asked by Jesus to follow him. “I will follow you Jesus,” the man replies, “but first, let me bury my father.” It is a perfectly valid request, especially for Jews of the day. They had an obligation to take care of their parents, especially in death… to prepare the body, to mourn, etc. Jesus reply to him seems harsh. “Let the dead bury their own dead. You preach the Kingdom of God.” What Jesus is asking is difficult. The cost is very high. He places discipleship above family obligation. Jesus places himself above family ties. Jesus is saying that sometimes following him means leaving your family behind. “Let the spiritually dead, bury their own dead.” Let the world do things as it has always done them. Don’t become so tied up in worldly things that you forget what is important. The cost of following me is putting the things of God first.
And then another commits to follow Jesus. “but first let me say good-bye.” “You can’t plow a field looking backward.” Jesus says. You can’t pay attention to what needs to be done in the future while holding on to what has happened in the past. You farmers, will understand this well. Some of you know better than others what it means to have crooked furrows. If you are not thinking about what needs to be done, if your daydreaming, or you fall asleep, before you know it you’ve got a real mess, and when the corn grows up, you won’t be able to deny it. Everyone will see your handiwork. Jesus is saying to this man, “You can’t live in the past and do what is necessary for what I have called you to do. The cost of following me requires looking ahead to the task at hand not looking back to what has happened in the past. If you can’t do that, then you’re not fit for the kingdom.”
I don’t know if these men followed Jesus or not. Would you have followed him? Each of these men was confronted with the cost of becoming a disciple. Jesus wanted each one to know exactly what it cost to follow him, exactly what it meant that he had set his face to Jerusalem. God’s plan for him wasn’t easy, in fact for a mere human it would have been impossible. God’s plan was that Jesus, his only son, would go to Jerusalem to die. Jesus followed the plan. He did the impossible, he reconciled the whole world to God according to God’s requirements. He paid the cost. He was crucified, bled and died, willingly. That was the task that he set his face toward.
Being a Christian means being a “little Christ.” To follow after Jesus means to do what Jesus did. It means giving up on the things the world thinks are important. it means holding him above everything, even our family. It means keeping our eyes fixed ahead and doing what has been given us to do, not living in the ‘glory’ of the past. It is a difficult task, in fact, for human beings it’s an impossible task. For us it costs too much. But, that is the reason that Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. He knows how we are affected by sin. He knows how we place God’s will below our own. Because he knows the task is impossible for us, he did it himself. He set his face toward Jerusalem for us. He paid the cost of keeping God’s will for us. He paid the cost on the cross for us. So when we set our hand to the plow, we do the work of being a disciple…. we do share our faith with our children… we do tell our neighbors what Jesus means to us… we do visit a friend in the hospital… We do come to worship and bible study… we do care for the families he has given us… because he paid the cost for us and we have set our face toward him.
That is exactly what Luke is talking about in this text. Being a disciple is being like Jesus, setting our face to the tasks that have been given to us. Doing them because of what he did for us, and the price he paid.
Dear Christian Friends; Sometimes it feels as if what God asks of us is too difficult. We’re afraid of what it means to be a disciple. We are afraid of the cost. But being a disciple doesn’t mean that we will always do what God expects. It doesn’t mean that we live perfect lives free from fighting with our spouse or children, and using every opportunity to tell people about Jesus. We are going to fail. What it does mean is putting our trust, setting our face, firmly on him, especially when we fail. Trusting in the cost that he paid for our sins.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.