By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 26, 2022
Luke 9:51–62 (ESV)
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 prepare 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. 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 have been a pastor for nineteen years, for some of you that might seem like a long time since you are not that old. For others, nineteen years is nothing, its just the beginning. For me, sometimes I simply do not know. There are weeks where I feel as if I am an amateur. I will look at a passage and will realize that there is so much involved in the words that I cannot begin to scratch the surface of understanding. And then there are weeks where I will look at a passage and just know that it will cause controversy and I am just too old to want to deal with it. Lately, the second response has been coming up quite frequently. This is mainly because I am tired, its harvest season, and I just want to go home. Luckily, next Sunday Pastor Mwenitanda will be bringing a message so I can do just that.
I begin in this manner because being a Christian is not easy. No matter what you say there is someone somewhere that will take offense. Some of those people could be regarded as long-time friends, and others are just strangers that happened to hear something out of context. It is difficult to be a follower of Jesus, because we are constantly bombarded with influences from our culture, both inside and outside the church, and our own opinions and thoughts. There are moments within my week where I must check myself and consider where my thoughts and emotions are coming from. I ask myself if I am upset because of my own political leanings, my own opinions, my traditions, or because of my understanding of scripture. Then there are times where I cannot figure out where things are coming from at all, and that is when I realize that I have neglected time in prayer. And I should return back to the rhythm of life that Jesus shows us of worship, prayer, and ministry.
This week has been one of those weeks that I have struggled. I struggle because there is so much going on in the world. I care about the people of Ukraine, and I feel as if we as individuals within the western nations have gotten tired of their story, so we stop listening. And this causes me concern because I feel as if Ukraine will fall into complete occupation because we got bored. I watch the news and I hear about the investigation concerning the last presidential election and I am shocked by what has been said. Then we get rulings from the Supreme Court, and I should be excited, but I want to be honest, I am not. I am concerned. I am concerned because now we live in a world that is unknown to me. Unknown because what will our actual response be? And will we live up to tasks we claim to support?
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is an interesting phrase. It both tells of destiny and of destination. Taken up, is something that scholars argue about because it can mean different things: death, divine prophetic vision, or ascension. I want us to just stop and think about that for a moment. Scholars argue about this, and yet it does not take a rocket scientist to know that that does not matter, because they all mean the same thing. “He set his face to go to Jerusalem,” is also a phase that can be interpreted in different ways. It could mean that he decided, or that he was divinely inspired. What this is saying is there is a shift in direction.
Prior to this, Jesus’s focus had been in Galilee, not in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the center of religious thought. It was the seat of religious power. The things that happened in Galilee could be disregarded by religious leaders as just some fringe fanaticism. They could separate from it to some degree. But when Jesus turns his attention toward Jerusalem, this means that the challenges are going deeper. Jesus is about to take on the very core of their cultural understanding of life. Once this course is set, the end will soon follow. Jerusalem was the seat of both sacred and secular power. When you begin to speak truth to those in power they do not often like to listen.
We see this beginning just one verse later. Jesus was traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem. This trip required them to cross through Samaria. There had been a great deal of animosity between the people known as the Jews and the Samaritans. They both claimed to be Israelites, they both claimed to be followers of the Most High God. They both could trace their linage back to the patriarchs, but there was a difference, a difference that stretched back to the golden era of Israel. Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom. It was the center of power for the ten tribes that rebelled against the line of David. And ever since that moment there had been tension between the people of Judah and Samaria (or Israel).
Both nations claim to follow God in the traditions of their fathers, but they do it differently. The history of the Samaritans is not as widely known, and we often regard them as the godless ones because they rejected God’s anointed king within the line of David. We see that they followed the gods that were not their God and flirted with idolatry. We see this because the histories we read in scripture come from the southern kingdom. I am not saying the bible is wrong, I am stating that there is a historical skew on the scripture that we read in comparison to the history that those among the Samaria may have heard taught in their land.
It is important to recognize our bias because it can bring your interpretation into context. The Samaritans rejected the temple in Jerusalem. They rejected the supremacy of Judah over the other tribes. They rejected a great deal, and Judah looked upon their rejection and took it to heart. Their rejection was not only of political nature but of faith as well. And they did reject the faith of their fathers. We see this in the pages of scripture, often we fail to acknowledge that Judah did the same. We judge Samaria for following false gods, yet Solomon the son of David is the one that brought these things into the land, not just in Samaria but also into Judah. The failings of one side are not worse than the other, simply different.
These differences continued to drive a wedge between the groups as time went on. Each side justifying their own positions until the core central, but beliefs became secondary. The divide became so great that people were not only willing to die for their understanding of faith, but willing to kill.
Jesus sent people before him to prepare the way. This is a logical thing to do. We do not know for certain the size of Jesus’s entourage, but it is at minimum thirteen people. Likely, it would be even larger than that because right at the beginning of the next chapter Jesus appointed seventy-two and sent them out two by two. Jesus would have appointed this group from those among his disciples, not just random people walking around in a city. The group coming into this city could have been over a hundred. To secure lodging and food for a crowd that size requires logistical work.
Last Thursday, June 16th, the International Soccer Federation FIFA announced that Kansas City would be one of the host cities for the 2026 World Cup. This is a fantastic opportunity for our community, but it also comes with a significant risk. Thousands of people will be making their way to our city, and we must accommodate the influx. This will require investment in hotels, restaurants, greater soccer facilities for practice and games. Companies will need to make sure our cellular towers are updated, and the broadband internet is expanded to accommodate an entire world’s desire to obtain news about the games instantly. And we have four years to make that happen. Billions of dollars will be invested in our community, jobs will expand, and it is exciting. But there is a problem, most of us do not care about soccer. Some of us do not even know what FIFA is. There might even be a few that may not even know that soccer is a popular sport, let alone know that it is the most popular sport in the world.
Kansas City must prepare for the World Cup games, and Samaria has just been visited by forerunners of Jesus announcing the arrival of Jesus’s disciples. Imagine your response to the World Cup and liken it to this. The people of Samaria have faith and follow God in their understanding of the God, but they could care less about Jerusalem. We live in in the Chief’s kingdom here in Kansas City, we are worried about the next Super Bowl. Why should we care about a silly soccer game in four years? Why should Samaritans care about Jerusalem’s teachers?
We see this story through the lens of Judah, we identify with Judah, we are grafted into the faith traditions of Judah because our Lord came from the line of David, who was and is the king of Judah. We can understand the focus on this southern nation, and its offspring. But we need to remember that the Messiah was not just for the Jews. The teaching was that all of Israel would return from exile, this includes Samaria. And when all of Israel returned from exile then all the nations would return to the Most High God.
Samaria rejected Jesus and his disciples. We look at this as being a terrible thing but remember it would be like an American and a German debating about football. What exactly would they be talking about? Every German would be speaking about soccer and most American would be talking about American Football. It is two vastly different games. Samaria rejects Jesus because they are not concerned with promoting the religion of their enemy. Why would they want to entertain people that would just reject the legitimacy of their faith and deny their own value as children of God?
I want us to look at this from a different perspective. What did they reject when we look at this passage? Did they reject Jesus, or did they reject Jerusalem? What does this say to us?
“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?’” This statement links us back the early history between the divided nations. It speaks of the prophets and the judgement of God for rejecting his leadership. James and John look at this history and the present moment as similar. They know that God had chosen Judah and that Israel turned away from God. And they are liking this situation to that early rejection. God allowed Elijah to call fire down from heaven, so in their mind they should do the same. But their mind is not on God but their own nationalist pride.
They forget that the Messiah was to unite the tribes and the kingdoms once again. They forget that the reason Jesus has his face set for Jerusalem is because they are also rejecting the good news. They are blinded by their own opinions and ideologies, and they are failing to see the humanity before them. Does God hate Samaria? Does God hate the Greeks and the Romans? Does God hate? No. Those distinctions are constructs of the human mind. It is true that God chose to reveal himself through Israel, Judah, and the line of David, but this does not give them any greater status, just a different purpose.
Jesus looks at James and John, and he rebuked them. This is not a mere chastisement, but more serious. I might get after my children when I discipline them, but I do not rebuke. This word refers to divine judgement, or wrath. James and John wanted this for the Samaritan city, and Jesus turns that passion to them. He does this for a reason. They were in sin.
“The Zebedees are wrong about discipleship: disciples are not commissioned to commandeer God’s role as judge, but to serve the Son of Man, whose face is set to Jerusalem.” They did not understand what God was wanting to accomplish. Jesus would not accomplish God’s will through force and violence, but through weakness, even suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. James and John had their mind in the things of this world and not the things of the kingdom of God. And because of this they were responding in kind. They wanted to use the tools and means of this world to accomplish what they thought God wanted. They bookended their desires and statements with scripture and made great references, but they missed the entire point. God does not want to condemn the world but to save it. God does not want to burn the world to the ground, but he wants all to have an opportunity to turn toward him. And yes, I know that Revelation says that God will judge the world, but that is not for us, but him. God’s judgement is not our task, judgement is not our purpose. We are commissioned for one thing and one thing only to encourage the world around us to come into the kingdom.
I want us to think about that for a moment. We are not commissioned for God’s judgement, but to encourage the world to embrace the kingdom of God. We work for admissions, not security. Now I want us to dwell on that. I want us to check our responses to the news considering this. For too long we have been working in the wrong department. We have been attempting to call fire from heaven and when God has not responded in the ways we pray we build the devices of hellfire and launch them ourselves. But as we work within our world, as we vote, pray, support, and encourage have we been admitting or judging?
James and John were two of Jesus’s closest friends. If tradition is correct John was and is the disciple that Jesus loved the most. He was the one disciple that was given the privilege of seeing the whole story to the very end. And John was rebuked, he was treated as if he was the offspring of Satan, because he made a simple statement in religious and nationalist pride. He defended Jerusalem against Samaria, he denied the image of God in them because of a reaction made in ignorance.
This should cause us all to pause. How often have we made a judgement of someone, or some organization based on incomplete information? How often have we made a judgement based on our understanding instead of listening to their explanation? How often have we…no the real question is how often I. James and John’s statements are tame compared to the thoughts that have come to my own mind, and Jesus spoke to them as if they were demons from hell. What would Jesus say about my self-righteousness? Would He be glad about my celebrations of political victories or military defeats? Would He back the ideology that I support?
The truth is that Jesus is not concerned with the things of the world. He told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world and if it were then the people would rise. We want to make it of this world, but God is concerned with other things. That is what the next section is about. Jesus condemned his closest friends and then as they walk to the next village, he explains to his disciples what it means to be a disciple. Two come to Jesus requesting a place, and one Jesus asks. They all look at the cost and weigh the options and we are not told what their decisions are, but it infers that they turned away. The first looks at the possible rejection and poverty of living a life of serve to others instead of personal gain and he falls silent. The next is bound by his culture and is unwilling to be seen in dissent. And the third needs to have approval before moving forward.
None of these things in themselves are wrong. It is good to have material possessions and to have security. It is good to honor our parents and to live in peace within our culture. It is good to have the support and approval of our friends and family. But do these things come before our God? We might see these two sections of verses as being two different thoughts or teachings, but they are the same. Where is our allegiance and where is our faith? Is our allegiance to our nation more important than honoring our God? Is our race or heritage greater than the creator of all things and through whom all blessing flow? Is our culture more important, or our security, our finances, or our reputation?
Jesus is calling us, to move forward in faith. Looking forward to the prize set before us. What is that prize? What is it that we are to set our face to? Our glory is in Jesus. The one unique son of God, who came down from heaven to be born of a virgin. Who was reared within a family, in a community and among friends. Who labored along side his kin and his community for twenty years before he did anything resembling ministry. And then when the time had come, he was anointed by John by the waters of the Jordan to proclaim the true Gospel. That God so love the world that he gave his one unique son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life in his name. And he proved that by setting his face to go to Jerusalem when he suffered the injustice of the kingdoms of men, was crucified, and was buried. He lay in that grave for three days and rose again with the keys of death and hades in his hand. And he stands before the judge this very day, advocating for each of us.
Where is our allegiance? Where is our faith? Is it in empires and kingdoms that rise and fall, or is it in the one who conquers death? We have a job, each one of us that are called by name by the creator of all things, to go into all the world and bring it under God’s dominion or kingdom. We are not sent as judges, but as ambassadors offering the world a different peace. Will we look back to the powers of the world, or toward Christ?
 James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2015), 299.
 James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2015), 298–299.
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