The Road to the Cross – March 5, 2017, the First Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 53, Luke 9:51-56
March 5, 2017
In our scripture from Luke, we are highlighting this turning point in Jesus’ ministry. We read this quick little passage from the end of Luke 9. “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” As I said, that was a turning point, a milestone, in Jesus’ ministry. It was the beginning of the road that would lead him to the cross.
That’s what I want us to think about as we begin this season of Lent. I’d like us to look at various mileposts and events along that road. I’d like us to see some of the things that led Jesus to the cross and to see how they affected us today.
One of the things we’ll see a long the way is that Jesus had a series of confrontations with the “powers that be.” But, as one author pointed out, the closer he got to the cross, the more Jesus began to have problems with his own people! As I said last week, his disciples were seeing and hearing all these things for the first time, and it wasn’t always easy. And very often they just didn’t get it!
So Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. And as he did, I want to remind you that there were two images of the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. There is the “Conquering King” Messiah, which the Jewish people were very interested in! And then there is what has been called the “Suffering Servant” Messiah. We get that image in Isaiah 53. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that made us whole. With his stripes we are healed.”
Do you know that passage? And more importantly, do you think Jesus knew that passage? I think there’s no doubt he did. And more and more he told his disciples that such things were going to happen to him. He gave them that image of the Messiah. And of course that made them “nervous.” He was to be the “suffering servant.”
As Jesus told them about that, as he told them what was going to happen to him, I believe he had this scripture in the forefront of his mind! What we are saying today is that Jesus knew where his ministry was headed. He knew his mission on this earth. And this story today is the time and place that he made the decision to follow that mission. This was the turning point. He set his mind to go to Jerusalem.
Of course the reason that was a problem with that was that Jerusalem was the “epicenter” of the controversy surrounding Jesus. Jerusalem was the capitol city. It was the center of the Jewish religion. And it was the site of their holiest place – the Temple. And because of that, it was the place of pilgrimage for all of the faithful. Throughout the ages, when the people celebrated Passover, they ended with the words, “Next year, in Jerusalem.” In the time of Jesus, it was expected that all good Jews would celebrate there at least once in their lifetime.
So, one of the biggest problem the religious leaders had and would have with Jesus was the crowds. There would be many people there! And it seems Jesus was timing his visit to coincide with Passover. Historians tell us that Jerusalem was one of the most populous cities on earth during that festival!
So, it’s clear that Jesus knew the risks! He knew the danger of going to Jerusalem! And so did his disciples. It’s clear that they didn’t want him to go! John’s gospel always fleshes out these stories a little more. And in John, we find Jesus telling his disciples he is going to Bethany, which is right near Jerusalem. This was when he was going to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead! And they try to talk him out of it. “Jesus, you know they would stone you if you went anywhere near that place!” But he was determined! And in a moment of utter frustration, Thomas says, “Then let us go also that we may die with him!”
Now, just so you know, there have been some people over the years who have believed that Jesus didn’t intend to be crucified. They would look at this passage and say that it was his intention to go to Jerusalem in order to reach the many people who would be there for the Passover. Some have said that was his intention in going, and that everything took a wrong turn. But, when it happened, God made a good thing out of a bad situation. But I don’t believe that for a moment. I do believe God made a great thing out of something bad. But I believe the atonement was no accident! It wasn’t just a wrong turn! It was always part of what Jesus knew he had to do!
And I think you’re with me on this. The message of this passage is that Jesus knew what he was doing. And he knew what was going to happen to him. He told that to his his disciples at several points. And we know it from our perspective, which is always the best – we know better than the people in the stories. We know that everything that was going on in his ministry was all going to come to a head in Jerusalem.
We also know from the story we will read just before Easter, that it was his intention for all of this to come to a head! Jesus didn’t slip into the city unnoticed. He wasn’t incognito! (He wasn’t disguised – like Clark Kent wearing his glasses!) Jesus organized a grand procession – a triumphal entry into Jerusalem! And of course, that made things worse!
So, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. And as we prepare our hearts for Easter, as we think about Jesus, and what God did for us through him, we can remember that at the heart of the atonement, there was intention! We can know that what Jesus did, he meant to do! Yes, it was difficult. It was agonizing. It was controversial. It was all those things! (And more!) But it was intentional!
And as we move down our own road toward Easter, I’m hoping that we can put ourselves into these stories. I’m hoping we can think about how we might have reacted to Jesus along the way. And I’m hoping we can remember the great irony, that he was put to death by those he came to save! God sent him to forgive their rebellion against God! And he came to forgive our rebellion!
So, think today of Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem. Think of the love he had for the world, and the love he had for us. Think about his mission here on earth, his mission to secure our redemption.
Eternal God, we are amazed at your Grace, and we are humbled by your steadfast love. As we look at the life of Jesus, help us to know that we are part of his story, that all he did, he did for each of us. Help us to love him more, to follow him more closely, and to strive to be like him. This we pray in his name, Amen.