The Journey to Jerusalem: Single-mindedness (Luke 9:51-62)
In what ways have we allowed ourselves to get distracted from following Jesus “daily.” Maybe we are worked up by the politics in DC. Maybe we feel like James and John, wanted to bring God’s fire of judgement on this earthly realm in light of rampant unrighteousness and rejection of everything Jesus stands for. Here too we heed the call not to confuse the splendour of this earthly Jerusalem (wherever we live on this earth) with the true glory of our true home, the presence of God for eternity.
Maybe we are losing this sense of urgency and the finite nature of our lives. How it is our main life priority to believe in the good news of our forgiven sins and then to share it with others. This past week, the loss of a larger-than-life athlete is a fresh reminder of how this realm is not home. As the nation grieves (including this Lakers fan), how comforting to know Kobe and his daughter were devout Christians. Before boarding that fateful flight from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to Thousands Oaks, reports indicate they had attended a church service. You and I never know when the time will come. The urgent call to follow Jesus remains as real then as it is now.
A closer look at Luke 9:51-62
As we now turn our eyes toward Lent and Easter, we begin a new series out of the Gospel of Luke. We catch up with Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ life at the most critical turning point in Luke 9:51, where he deliberately strengthens His resolve to go to Jerusalem. The text talks about the fast-approaching (and planned) time for Jesus to be “received up/taken up.” In the immediate context of chapter 9, it means His sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection (Luke 9:21-22; Luke 9:44). This abrupt transition thus creates a sense that Jerusalem is the place where Jesus will suffer on behalf of others (Luke 22:37 = Isaiah 53:12) for the forgiveness of our sin.
In fact, this theme of forgiveness of sin is one of the major thrusts of the book. There are over 20 occurrences in Luke where forgiveness of sins is specifically addressed; see Luke 5:20). The book of Luke is not reading materials for the “righteous” but for sinners (Luke 5:32). “The Son of man came to seek and save the Lost” (Luke 19:10). Luke wants us to take a long hard look in the mirror of our lives and ask, ‘so Pastor Tom, how righteous do you think you are?’ Story after story, this “orderly account” (Luke 1:1-3) drives the same point ‘Lord, open our eyes so that we might see how lost we really are.’
The first installment on this journey from ‘the city of destruction’ (Jerusalem where our Lord was crucified; Revelation 11:8) to the ‘celestial city,’ the Heavenly Jerusalem, our true home (Hebrews 11:9-10; Galatians 4) speaks of Jesus’ single-mindedness. This outlook is conveyed through several quick illustrations in Luke 9:51-62. Every incident points to the need for us to embrace this same dogged determination (not unlike the journey of ‘Christian’ in the Pilgrim’s Progress)to stay the course on our journey to the Celestial city. The first example teaches us that we don’t look to this earthly realm for vindication and judgment but we embrace in love and compassion those who reject us (Luke 9:52-56).
Just like the above saying says, simply move on with your life! We are not building a kingdom for ourselves on this earth (see Luke 9:46-48) but we follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and on that path we pick up and carry our cross daily (Luke 9:23). The following illustrations (Luke 9:57-62) all get to the same point of single-minded focus. First, there is no real home here on this earth because our home is in heaven, the heavenly Jerusalem. So in this sense, we don’t have anywhere to lay our heads either (Luke 9:58). We are spiritual pastoral-nomads, just like Abraham was. Second, the urgency of the task to proclaim the Good news of the Kingdom is real; there isn’t even time for this would-be follower to bury his own father! (Luke 9:59-60). By saying this radical and extreme thing, Jesus prioritizes what is important for us: put the gospel over everything and everyone else in your life. Of course there are plenty of teachings in the Scripture that support the idea we should take care and love our families and others. So like every Scripture we read and apply, a sense of the context must prevail in the way we apply it. But we also don’t want to dull the impact of the moment either. Jesus jolts us out of our spiritual slumber and apathy and reminds us of what our true priorities are: the proclamation of the gospel to the (spiritually) dead (Luke 9:60). In the moment of this extraordinary and unique encounter with the incarnate God, yes, absolutely, this no-name guy can’t fall back and drop Jesus to attend to other matters. Let others bury his own dad! He needs to get on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus. I suspect most of us won’t be confronted with this sort of dilemma in our lives, but the call to radical followership is the same for everyone who confesses Jesus as his or her savior.
The final encounter is one that equally jars you and me because not even the great prophet Elisha was held to this standard (1 Kings 19:20-21). Yes, he burned his yoke and sacrificed his oxen to follow the prophet Elijah (an oft-present figure in the gospel of Luke) but at least he could go back to kiss mom and dad before he went on to become a minister. Here in the story, the would-be disciple isn’t allowed to even do that. To “plow” in God’s harvest demands total focus and perseverance (Luke 9:61-62). Such is the call of Jesus upon us. Truly all or nothing. May the Lord guide us as we journey to Jerusalem. And let’s make sure we’re headed to the right Jerusalem. As the narrative will show us, it’s quite obvious Jesus and His followers got the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem confused. If history of the Christian church is a guide, his followers through the ages have been prone to fall for this confusion just the same.