“Following Jesus to the Cross” (Luke 9:51-62)
Today Jesus says to us, “Follow me.” “Follow me,” he says. “Come, be my disciples.” “OK, we say. “Yes, Jesus I will follow you.” But do we know what we’re getting ourselves into? What all will following Jesus entail? Shouldn’t we know that before we answer too fast, “Yes, Lord”? Well, today we will hear what it will involve. For the truth of the matter is, we are “Following Jesus to the Cross.”
That’s where Jesus himself is going: To the cross. That’s what it says in our text, the Holy Gospel from Luke 9. It says, “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Now just on the surface, that sentence doesn’t sound too “crossy.” But when we know the context, it most certainly is.
First of all, this part about Jesus being “taken up.” It speaks of Jesus’ return journey, back to the Father. The Son of God came from the Father, sent on a mission–he came down from heaven, for our salvation, he took on human flesh–and now he, Jesus, will be returning to the Father. But where will that journey take him?
Our text tells us: “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Now again, on the surface, that doesn’t necessarily sound like it will involve a cross. In fact, it would be easy for his disciples to think just the opposite. After all, Jesus has shown himself to be the Messiah, the long-promised deliverer, who will restore Israel to its former glory and even take it to new heights of glory. That’s the common expectation of what Messiah will do. So for Jesus to go to Jerusalem–well, that’s just grand! That’s where we would expect the Messiah to go. To Jerusalem, to take up his throne there, and to rule in greatness, grandeur, and glory.
Go, Jesus, go! Go to Jerusalem. Gladly we will follow you there! Maybe we disciples will get some places in your administration, one on your right, one on your left–sounds wonderful! Cushy jobs, nice income, power, authority, all the perks. I like it!
Well, maybe not so fast. Jesus has been talking lately about what’s going to happen, but it doesn’t sound too much like what we would expect for the Messiah. He said, about himself: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” We don’t know what he means by this “being raised” business, but being rejected and killed doesn’t sound very good at all! Then another time he said, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” The disciples don’t understand what this means, either, but it doesn’t sound good. Sounds rather ominous, in fact.
Nevertheless, Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem. That’s where all this bad stuff will go down. Jesus knows it, and yet he sets his face to go there. To “set one’s face” speaks of determination. And indeed, your Savior is absolutely determined to go there. It’s the mission his Father sent him on, and it is necessary for him to go there to accomplish it. There is no other way, other than the way of the cross.
So if you are going to follow Jesus, first of all it will be to his cross. It comes with the territory of being his disciple. And you know what? It’s a good thing! On the surface it looks like just the opposite. But really, it’s the best thing that could happen. Because only by going to Jerusalem, only by going to the cross, could Jesus achieve your salvation–and the salvation of the whole world. Jesus’ determination means your deliverance. This is how you are delivered from your burden of sin and guilt–by Jesus taking it up for you and carrying it to the cross.
Otherwise, you would be sunk, toast, doomed–however you want to put it. Your sins would condemn you, condemn you to everlasting damnation. For you and I have broken God’s commandments. We have not loved God as we should. We have not loved our neighbor as we ought. That’s sin, and it comes with consequences. The law condemns us. Our just punishment would be death under God’s judgment, condemned to hell for eternity.
But Jesus goes to the cross. Jesus goes to Jerusalem, he sets his face to go there and to suffer there. He does this for your salvation. He is determined. Nothing is going to stop him. And give thanks to the Lord that he doesn’t stop! For by his going to Jerusalem, Jesus accomplishes everything you need: Forgiveness for your sins. Cleansing and righteousness to stand before God, in good standing. Jesus reconciles you back to God. You are accepted and acceptable now. In Christ. Through Christ. Jesus gives you your “in” with the Father.
And not only so, when Jesus goes to Jerusalem and suffers death for you, there’s even more in store: Resurrection. That’s what that “and on the third day be raised” means. Jesus really meant it! It’s no figure of speech, it’s the real deal! Jesus literally was raised from the dead. Bodily, physically. The disciples got to see him, up close and in person, got to touch and handle his risen body. The resurrection is a reality. Not just for Jesus, but also for all who trust in him.
That’s you. You trust in Jesus. You’ve been baptized in his name. So Jesus shares his resurrection and his righteousness with you. You’ve been redeemed, set free, brought into God’s family. You have an eternal home awaiting you, a home with God and his people forever. What good news this is! It couldn’t get any better!
This sets everything else in perspective. Any sufferings we might endure in this life–we know they are far outweighed by the glory that is in store for us. We have peace with God now. Our heavenly Father is watching out for us, he knows our needs and provides for us. Jesus is risen and ascended and is seated at God’s right hand, interceding for us. The Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, the gift given in our baptism, so that we will continue steadfast in the faith and in Christ’s church. We’ve got all this going for us, so who or what can be against us? And even if they are, God is for us. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
And with all that in mind, with all that established as a sure thing, now we can hear what following Jesus will mean for us, in terms of our going to the cross. Yes, as disciples, we too will take up a cross and follow our Master. It will mean, at times, deprivation. It will call for dedication. It could even mean death.
Following Jesus can mean deprivation. A would-be disciple comes up to Jesus and says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus says to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Following Jesus is no guarantee of financial prosperity. Indeed, it could mean the opposite. Deprivation. But your heavenly Father will take care of you. He knows your needs, the basic necessities of life. He clothes the lilies of the field and feed the birds of the air. Are you not of more value than they? And you have riches much greater waiting for you in heaven. You have a home waiting for you that will far exceed anything you can imagine.
Following Jesus to the cross will also call for dedication. To another would-be disciple Jesus says, “Follow me.” The fellow wants to delay, put it off, he has other priorities he wants to tend to: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus responds, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yes, when Jesus calls you, this is not something to put off for a more convenient time. Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart.
Yet another person says to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” But, but–there are no ifs, ands, or buts about the call to discipleship. Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re in this for the long haul. It will not always be easy. It will often be tough. People will disappoint us, even people in the church. Adversities will come. Trials and tribulations. But don’t let these things dissuade you. Don’t let them pull you apart from Christ and his church. Following Jesus to the cross will mean sticking with it, through thick and thin. But you’re following Jesus, and that makes all the difference. Your Good Shepherd will be there with you, leading you all the way. Through good times and bad, even through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus will be there with you. And he will comfort and strengthen you.
So go ahead and follow Jesus. This is the same Jesus who set his face to go to Jerusalem, to endure the cross for you, so determined was he to win your salvation. And if Jesus was that determined, he will give you the determination you need to follow him. He will help you through any deprivation you may suffer. He will give you the dedication to follow him your whole life long, no matter what comes your way.
“Follow me.” Jesus is calling you today. Following Jesus means following him to the cross. But that’s the best place to be. It’s the place where sins are forgiven. It’s the place that leads to resurrection. It’s the place where you learn reliance on God’s promises, and God always delivers on his promises. And he will deliver you. Truly, following Jesus in faith is the only way to go.