Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1267
August 14, 2016 Luke 9:51-62
Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“He Set His Face”
Journey to Jerusalem
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 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?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.
Jesus spent three years walking around Israel teaching, preaching, performing miracles, and in all that he did, he revealed the kingdom of God. He challenged the status-quo of religious establishment, he welcomed sinners to repentance, and he gained disciples in the twelve but also many more who followed him in those three years and beyond. Today, on the sabbath, we carry on this tradition of following Jesus in our worship, in our focus on the gospel, and in our devotion to follow his commands.
In Luke 9 Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem for the last time. The text says Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke gives us the phrase of Jesus' determination to go to Jerusalem to fulfill his mission on the earth. He set his face. He demonstrated, by his action, a determination unlike anything we might ever know. His determination is based on solid conviction. Jesus is now focused, fully trusting in the Father. He is compelled by the Spirit to soon utter the words, “It is finished”. He is trusting that the Father’s plan of redemption will come to fruition. With the phrase of setting his face, Jesus begins the journey that amazes us, a journey to suffering and death. We know from the prayer in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus sought to find another way if possible, but just as he had set his face to go to Jerusalem, so to had he set his face to do the will of His Father.
I want to spend some time on the thought of Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem and the importance of the face. The face is a vital aspect of the person for the life that is reflected in the face. We use phrases all the time that show how important is the face. Embarrassment, guilt, pleasure, pain, joy, love, confusion, all these and many more are things we can often tell just be looking at a face. You cannot tell these things elsewhere in the body. Maybe nervousness from shaky knees or sweaty palms, but never the number of expressions that can be found in the face. I believe this is because the face is the reflection of life in the human person and also in God Himself. It is why the Bible says that we cannot see the face of God and live. Moses was on the mountain and the book of Exodus tells us Moses wanted to see God's glory.
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20)
There are theories as to why we cannot live if we see God's face. Some say that God's face reveals all his glory and if we saw that it would be too much to contain. Another commentator says that we cannot see God's face because it would be the end of our life in terms of our freedom, once you've come face to face with God you have no choice but to love him. And God doesn't want to take that away from us. (T. Fretheim) What matters for the sake of our topic this morning is that the face is crucial to reveal the person, or in this case, even God.
On the other side is the passage from Numbers 6:22-27,
22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
When God turns his face toward us there is life and grace and peace. It would probably not be advisable for us to look, but God can turn his face toward us and bring blessings. Hear the prayer of the Psalmist:
8 You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” 9 Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! (Psalm 27:8-9)
Or look at the consequence when God turns his face away,
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30 When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. (Psalm 104:28-30)
If God were not shining his face upon us, life would be in much greater jeopardy.
It is in the face that we see life. Think of a baby who sees his mother's face and smiles. Think of seeing the face of a friend you have not seen in years. Think of seeing the face of the one you love. Think of seeing someone's face whose smile lifts your own countenance.
Sometimes we say that we know how someone is feeling simply by the look on their face.
One of the most interesting things about being in Israel was seeing the terrain and the position of Jerusalem in the land. Most of the time in Jerusalem we were looking up. Even on the Mt. of Olives which had some elevation, I felt like I was looking up to Jerusalem and certainly as we walked the streets of the old city, it felt like I was always looking up. High walls to see, things hanging high in the market, walking up or down the hills, always looking up. When Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, I really think that he began looking up. He opened his face and his countenance toward Jerusalem in such a way that changed his countenance. He became even more focused. I don't know if any of you watch the talent shows on TV, The Voice, X Factor, or America's Got Talent, but one of the contestants I remember most was a 12 year old girl who was going to sing and before she began she was all smiles and a bit nervous, but when the music started and the camera shot switched back to her face, she looked different. She was focused, all business, her countenance had completely changed. She was ready to sing and nothing else mattered. I think that is what the disciples saw in Jesus. His countenance changed, his face was different, in a good way, as he focused completely on his role as Messiah on his way to Jerusalem.
Let me comment on one more part of this text, the rejection by the Samaritans. Samaritans rejected him because his focus was Jerusalem. You see, there was tension and problems among the people of the Middle East in Jesus' day just as it is today. The Samaritan woman at the well was quite receptive of Jesus as were the people he encountered during that story, but not here. Why? Because Jesus was going to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life and thought and faith. Samaritans were rejected by Jews because they were considered impure. So the Samaritans probably felt at much disdain for Jews as Jews felt toward Samaritans. Nothing much has changed – feelings for certain people in and around Israel are still fraught with hostility.
We see how vital it is to see one’s face and when it is said of Jesus that he set his face to go to Jerusalem, it means much more than simply aiming in the right direction. His life is directed toward his goal of redemption for the world. His focus is whole and complete. I imagine that the disciples saw something in Jesus even more incredible than what they had seen the three years previous. His life was aimed at his purpose. Imagine if our life could be so focused to a revealed purpose! We are so often unsure about our purpose, or at least a particular purpose for life. But even what we do know about our purpose in life, things like glorifying God, following Jesus, or being a servant – even then our focus wonders.
One of the verses I find helpful is from Psalm 16,
To set the Lord always before us could just as easily be understood as setting our face to the Lord. This is a great description of discipleship. Let's look at the rest of our passage from Luke.
Journey to/with/in Christ
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 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.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
“I will follow you wherever you go.” Will you set your face to Jerusalem? What awaits Jesus but a cross and crucifixion? Will you follow me to your death as well? Will you set your face to giving your life for Christ's sake? Discipleship involves setting our own faces. It involves a certain focus for our lives. Notice what Jesus says in verse 62, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” If we look back, we are turning our face in the opposite direction. Our challenge in discipleship is to set our face to Jesus Christ, to journey to Jesus Christ, and we find that we are journeying with Jesus Christ, and as we mature we journey in Jesus Christ.
There are a lot of influences in the world to tempt us to look back and set our face in the wrong direction. We like to think that we can confidently state our focus to follow Jesus wherever he goes, but we know that so often we turn our faces to the things of the world. We look back and give some excuse for why we cannot follow Jesus in a given situation. The challenge is to learn from Jesus the great determination to do God's will. As he set his face to go to Jerusalem, so too are we called to set our faces to go to/with/in Jesus Christ. We spend our lives learning and growing into this understanding of what it means to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Let us renew our determination to set our faces to Jesus. Look to Jesus, the perfector of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2) Amen.