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
The disciples were having difficulty understanding Jesus’ seeming obsession with suffering and dying. He had begun to disclose to them the details regarding the fate awaiting Him in Jerusalem, and they were not thrilled by what they heard. In fact, Jesus had just told them, “Listen to me and remember what I say. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies” (Luke 9:44 NLT). And Luke indicates that this disclosure made no sense to the disciples. They were incapable of grasping its significance because it had been “hidden from them, so they couldn’t understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about it” (Luke 9:45 NLT).
But despite the inability of the disciples to comprehend the true nature of the Messiah’s mission, Jesus was fully aware of His Father’s plans and committed to carrying them out. And Luke subtly reveals the determination with which Jesus went about His divinely ordained task.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51 ESV
In doing so, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy concerning the obedient servant found in Isaiah 50.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
and I have listened.
I have not rebelled or turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me
and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
from mockery and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
determined to do his will.
And I know that I will not be put to shame. – Isaiah 50:5-7 NLT
Jesus was not an unwilling or helpless participant caught in the overwhelming flow of God’s grand redemptive plan. He was the fully committed and wholly dedicated co-author of this divine rescue operation. He knew what awaited Him in Jerusalem and He was totally prepared to carry out the assignment He had willingly taken on. And John makes it clear in his gospel that everything Jesus did was out of humble submission to His Heavenly Father and according to His own will.
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” – John 10:18 ESV
“I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” – John 14:31 ESV
After an extended stay in the northern region of Galilee, Jesus was preparing to make the fateful return to Judea and the city of Jerusalem. This change of plans probably thrilled the disciples because they believed it would be in the capital city of Israel that Jesus would finally reveal Himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. It was in Jerusalem that King David had ruled and reigned, and it would be in Jerusalem that the heir to David’s throne would declare His kingship and deliver the people of Israel from their bondage to the Romans. With His return to Jerusalem, the disciples were hoping that Jesus would finally get down to business and use His divine power to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6 ESV).
But Jesus had other plans. He had come to conquer sin and death, not the Romans. His incarnation had far greater implications than the national renewal of Israel. The apostle Paul explains the full import of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT
When the disciples became aware of Jesus’ change in destination, they would envision a throne and a royal crown. But Jesus knew Jerusalem would be a place of rejection, suffering, and death. The only crown awaiting Him would be made of thorns, not gold. And instead of ascending to a royal throne, He would be lifted up and nailed to a wooden cross. But the disciples were oblivious to all of these things. While they were still naively hoping for a coronation, Jesus knew Jerusalem would be the place of His crucifixion. Yet, He set His face to go there.
To reach Jerusalem from Galilee, Jesus and His disciples would have to pass through the land of Samaria. This region was occupied by the descendants of Jews who had remained behind after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians. While many of their peers had been exiled to Assyria, these individuals were forced to fend for themselves and ended up intermarrying with other people groups. When the Israelites returned from their captivity, they declared these people to be half-breeds who had abandoned their Hebrew heritage and set up their own sacred site for the worship of Yahweh. The Jews considered them to be unclean and impure and would have nothing to do with them. That is why it was particularly upsetting to the disciples when Jesus had struck up a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).
So, it must have shocked the disciples when Jesus sent a few of them into Samaria to arrange for accommodations. It was one thing to pass through Samaria, but it would have been unthinkable to spend the night there. Yet that is exactly what Jesus intended.
He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. – Luke 9:52 NLT
The disciples who had been given this distasteful task would have been even more upset when they discovered that these unworthy Samaritans were unwilling to have Jesus stay in their village. James and John were particularly upset and offered to “call down fire from heaven to burn them up” (Luke 9:54 NLT). Their rather harsh reaction is almost humorous when you consider that the disciples had been unsuccessful in their attempt to cast out a demon. What led them to believe that they had the power to call down fire from heaven? But their reaction reveals the intensity of their hatred for the Samaritans. These men deemed the Samaritans’ treatment of Jesus as a sin worthy of death. But Jesus didn’t share their animosity. Instead, He rebuked the two “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), and made plans to stay in another village.
What the disciples failed to understand was that Jesus had just illustrated the rejection He had been talking about. Even the Samaritans refused to accept Him. They would have been aware of all the miracles He had performed throughout Galilee and it is likely that they would have longed to see Him do something similar among them. But when they heard that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, they rejected Him. They shared the same sentiment as the woman at the well, who had boldly told Jesus, “you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped” (John 4:20 NLT).
They viewed Jesus as a false worshiper because He was headed to the wrong sacred site. But little did they know that, unless Jesus went to Jerusalem, there would be no way for anyone, Jew or Samaritan, to gain access to God. Jesus Himself was about to become the door through which all men had to enter if they wanted to worship God.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:7-9 ESV
As they made their way to another village, someone in Jesus’ retinue stated, “I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57 NLT). But Jesus warned this well-meaning individual that there was a high cost to following Him. He had just been rejected by the Samaritans. In doing so, they had denied Him a place to lay His head. But that was nothing compared to the true cost of discipleship. Following Jesus was going to require significant sacrifice. So, when Jesus invited another individual in the crowd to follow Him, this man responded, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father” (Luke 9:59 NLT). It would appear that this person wanted to delay his discipleship commitment until his father had died and he had received his inheritance. There is no indication that the man’s father was already dead. He was simply asking for a deferment. He was not quite ready to risk losing his future inheritance by following Jesus. But Jesus declared that there was something far more important than riches and temporal reward.
“Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:60 ESV
Discipleship required sacrifice and commitment. There was work to be done. The good news regarding the kingdom of God needed to be declared. Because without it, all were facing a fate worse than physical death. They were doomed to experience eternal separation from God the Father because of their sin. But Jesus had come to provide a means by which sinful men and women could experience new life, the forgiveness of sins, and a restored relationship with God as citizens of His kingdom.
Finally, a third person accepted Jesus’invitation to follow Him but with one caveat.
“Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” – Luke 9:61 NLT
And Jesus rather bluntly and unsympathetically responded, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NLT). Jesus was attempting to teach His disciples that the kingdom of God was all about the future, not the past. Burying the dead, saying goodbye to relatives, debating over worship sites, and living with a preoccupation on the here-and-now would render a disciple unfit for the kingdom. Jesus had come to offer something new. He was not presenting a slightly improved version of the present, but a whole new future based on His sacrificial death on the cross. Following Him would be costly, it would be well worth it. Jesus wanted His disciples to consider the cost and, later on in his gospel account, Luke records these sobering words from the lips of Jesus.
“If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost.” – Luke 14:26-28 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.