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.
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.” (Luke 9:51-62 (ESV)
“But the people did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.”
Jesus had traveled through Samaria in the past. It was there in a town called Sychar that Jesus spoke to a woman at Jacob’s well and converted a whole village. Then as now, he was taking the unpopular route. The text of John four hints that Jesus took that route to hide from Pharisees on his way back to Galilee. Pharisees who were upset that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John. One can guess that with his face set toward Jerusalem, Jesus was again taking the unpopular route, trying to avoid the crowds, find solitude and quiet in the company of friends as he faced his impending death, the sacrifice that he would make for the sins of the world, for the sins of Samarians that would reject him here.
His face was set toward Jerusalem. It’s the turning point in the gospel of Luke. His ascent to Jerusalem takes up a third of Luke’s gospel. His earthly ministry was coming to an end, and taking on a different stage. Up until now, he could be mistaken for just another wandering rabbi. He had some good sermons. He healed the sick. He was popular. But Jesus knew this was not enough. It was not enough to wander around aimlessly teaching right from wrong, telling people to love their enemies and turn the other cheek, teaching them that to hate their brother was to murder their brother, that to lust after their neighbor’s wife was to commit adultery with her.
No, that wasn’t enough. The law awakened sin, even when Christ preached it. Perhaps, especially when Christ preached it. It awakened envy and hatred in the Pharisees who could no longer hide behind their pretense of righteousness. It would awaken despair among those who wanted to follow him when they had everything in order when they had buried their fathers and would no longer anger their parents with conversion. But today is the day of salvation, and you never know if you have tomorrow. It wasn’t enough, it still isn’t enough.
We know the law. We know right from wrong. Does it stop us? I mean how hard is it to swallow pride at the family dinner table and sit down with that brother of yours, that sister of yours. We all know families are supposed to be held together by love, but most often are torn apart by hate. Jesus knew it too. Brothers who plotted to kill and collaborated with Pharisees before his hour had come. But it would be the love of Jesus that would set his face toward Jerusalem. It was there that he would overcome their hatred with love as he died on the cross. This is what it meant that he had set his face toward Jerusalem.
The Samaritans rejected him because his face was set toward Jerusalem. They did not like pilgrims going to Jerusalem. Their temple was in the hills above Sychar. It was there the sacrificed to the Baals they named Lord and God. The pilgrims going to Jerusalem were a constant reminder that they worshiped a different and false God. Even Jesus would tell them that salvation came from the Jews, that what they worshiped in Sychar was something they did not know. They called him God, but we know that it is demons who hide behind the idols of golden calves. So they rejected Jesus because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
But it was not only Jesus they rejected but James and John, the sons of thunder, who followed Jesus. So incensed they wanted to call down fire and brimstone on the village from heaven. Everything is possible for those who have faith. They would curse those who rejected Jesus.
How often? How often does this thunder roll from the hatred in our own hearts when we too are rejected for following Jesus? How often when we try to forgive and it is thrown in our face perhaps in the form of mashed potatoes slung across the thanksgiving table. How often when we set our face toward Jerusalem with Jesus do we find we are still yet sinners weak with a lust for power and glory in the face of those who would take advantage of our attempts to be forgiving and kind? How often do we find ourselves lashing out with fire and brimstone? Do we call down curses from heaven in a long tirade of hateful words? Do our fists fly with the fury of Mount Vesuvius? Do we hear the rebuke of Jesus?
He set his face toward Jerusalem because teaching the law was not enough. Some early manuscripts, but not the earliest include the rebuke of Jesus, what he said: “You know not what spirit’s children you are. The Son of Man has come not to destroy souls but save them.” Whether or not Jesus said this at that juncture or not is rather irrelevant. (Though it bears striking resemblance to what he told the woman at Sychar about worshiping what you do not know.) It’s true on its own. The Son of Man, Jesus Christ came not to destroy souls but to save them. And this is why teaching the law was not enough. This is why he set his face toward Jerusalem. That James and John, and as well as the souls of the Samaritans would not be destroyed by the law, but saved by the love of Christ who died on the cross to atone for the sins of the world. Yes Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem for you children of thunder, that fire from heaven would fall upon every man like sacrificial salt in baptism through which we all receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and are buried into Christ’s death that just as he rose from the dead to the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.