Saturday, March 23, 2013

He Set His Face

As Holy Week is this coming week, it's sometimes interesting to take a look at the chronological events leading up to this week.  At some point in time before his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus made a conscious decision to begin the journey to the holy city.  Luke 9.51 says that Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem."  That's an interesting phrase: "set his face."  What does it mean?  It communicates an intense feeling purpose and resolve of the one whose face has been set.  The phrase is used only one other time in scripture, in Isaiah 50, and in the context of Isaiah's resoluteness to continue on in his prophetic duties in spite of the persecution he was facing.  Isaiah says, "I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.  But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame."

In other words, Isaiah was resolved; he was committed; he was ready and willing to do what must be done to accomplish what God had set out for him to accomplish.  He will not be turned back on his path because he has "set his face" toward being obedient to God.

This is the kind of resolution that is communicated in Luke 9 when it says that Jesus had "set his face" to go to Jerusalem.  Why the dramatic statement about traveling to the nation's capitol?  Mostly, I suspect, because Jesus knows what is going to happen when he gets there, and it's not going to be fun.  To go to Jerusalem requires resolution, because that is the journey's end.  Although Jesus knows this to be true, he will press on, and that's what we learn by reading that he "set his face."

And so, as Jesus begins his intentional walk toward Jerusalem, he continues to do what he does: ministering, preaching, healing, etc.  On the way to Jerusalem there is a Samaritan village where Jesus wants to stay, presumably to preach, teach, heal, etc.  The Samaritans wanted no part of Jesus, however, and basically told him to keep walking down the road.  Now, the cultural tension between Jews and Samaritans was deep and wide, and it was no secret that there was little love lost between the two people-groups.  But this was not the reason the Samaritans did not receive him.  Instead, verse 53 says, "But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem."

So that was it.  It wasn't the ethnic and racial discrimination that existed; it wasn't the fact that the two groups were miles apart religiously, even though they shared much of the same religious history; no, they were put off simply because Jesus' face "was set toward Jerusalem."

Why didn't they like that?  A few reasons, probably.  First, Samaritans believed that God was to be worshipped on Mount Gerezim in their region, while the Jews believed God was to be worshipped in the temple, which would have been an abominable thought to Samaritans.  What good could there be in Jerusalem?  None, according to the Samaritans, and so no reason to go there or associate with anyone on their way there.

Secondly, it was probably widely known in the region who Jesus was, what he was up to, and who his friends and enemies were.  Word about each of these topics probably traveled fast, and so the Samaritans probably knew that Jesus had made many religious enemies.  They also knew that those religious enemies of Jerusalem were headquartered in Jerusalem.  Jesus, marching into Jerusalem - the lion's den - was asking for trouble.  Who would want to follow a guy that was marching towards what, for all the Samaritans knew, would be a religious war, potentially leading to violence and even bloodshed?  Not many people were likely to follow a man to his end.

None of this deterred Jesus, however, although James and John were so offended by the rejection by the Samaritans that they literally wanted to burn them alive.  Jesus' reaction is to simply go "on to another village," presumably to preach, teach, heal, etc.

What can we learn from Jesus' resoluteness?  I think it's important to note that Jesus was resolute in his obedience and to what he knew God had for him to do, despite what it would cost him.  Isaiah was resolute in his prophetic duties, even though it meant he would be flogged, have his face spit in, and his beard plucked out.  Tradition even tells us that Isaiah was sawn in two as a result of his preaching.  But he could take it because he had set his face, and he would not be put to shame, because there is no shame in obedience to God.

Have you ever known that doing something would cost you?  Really cost you?  Maybe a relationship, or maybe something physical and tangible, but you had to go through with it because you knew it was right?  Because you knew it would honor God, even if it meant losing something you cared about?  Because you knew that to not do so would be sin?  If so, then you might have the tiniest grasp on what Jesus was feeling as he "set his face" toward Jerusalem.  Jesus just wasn't going to lose relationships as a result of his obedience; nor was he just going to lose something physical or tangible.  He certainly was going to lose both of those things, but add on to those the fact that he would also be receiving the wrath of his Father for the sins of all those who would believe.  And yet, he set his face.  We have a remarkable Savior!

Neither would Jesus, even if he was rejected by a Samaritan village.  Neither should we feel as though we have been put to shame when we face trials of many kinds, because these trials lead to steadfastness in the faith.  Or, put another way, trials lead to a "set face."

As we enter Holy Week, we can praise Jesus for his "set face," and ask for the grace to set our own face to obedience in like manner, especially in the face of rejection and difficulty.

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