Intro – James Dobson saw a sign outside a convent in SC: “Absolutely No Trespassing – Violators Will be Prosecuted to the Full Extent of the Law.” It was signed “Sisters of Mercy.” We need mercy! We often cry for justice, but what we really need is mercy. When you get Jesus’ view of the law – that it is not just our actions, but our heart that we will answer for – we need mercy, not justice. Thankfully God is rich in mercy. Paul says in Eph 2:4, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Other gods demand; our God gives. Our text today displays God’s mercy.
Luke 9:51 a great hinge upon which the book turns. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Prior to this Jesus is coming; now He is going. Prior is acceptance; now it is rejection. Prior it is acclaim; now it is humiliation. Prior it is multitudes; now it is disciples. Emphasis has been on the person of Christ; now it is increasingly on the redemptive work of Christ. He’s leaving Galilee for an extended journey to Jerusalem. Luke devotes fully 40% of his gospel to this journey as opposed to 2 chapters in Mt (19-20) and one in Mark (10). A lot is unique.
What is mercy? Mercy is God not giving us what we deserve (judgment); grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve (life). Here is mercy in action.
I. The Resolution
End of v. 51, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus is now focused on one thing -- Jerusalem. He knows what awaits Him there; it has been prophesied and He must go. Isa 50:6) “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. 7) 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.” Death awaits; but not shame. Rather, it will be the moment of His ultimate triumph, so He sets His face. Picture a runner rounding 3rd, headed for home. The end is in sight. Light at the end of the tunnel. He’s in the home stretch.
A. The Coming
Up til now, Luke focused on Jesus’ coming. More than anyone, he described the unusual birth, childhood and early ministry of Christ. The overriding question has been “Who is Jesus?” That question has been answered in many ways – through His preaching, His OT references to Messiah, His miracles. He has forgiven sin and accepted worship. Luke’s case is clearly made; this is Messiah; this is God in human form. It is an astounding revelation, backed up and locked down by irrefutable historical facts. Who is Jesus? He is God, that’s who!
The answer to that question culminated in Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ of God” (9:20), and in the Transfiguration, where Jesus’ divine nature breaks through the human veil for one brief shining moment – the Father affirming Him: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” This is resounding affirmation that Jesus is Immanuel – God with us. Jesus is God entering human history. He is the Word become flesh; He is Jacob’s ladder, connecting heaven and earth; He is the lamb whom God will provide (Gen 22); the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15); He’s the Lion of the tribe of Judah of Gen 49, the Son of David and the Son of Man of Daniel 9 who will have dominion forever. Who is Jesus? He is God delivering His people. That’s who Jesus is. If you don’t know that Jesus, then you don’t know Jesus.
Jesus cannot be written off merely as a fairytale. Tim Keller challenges, "No one has ever yet discovered a word that Jesus ought to have said. Read the accounts. You try to come up with better lines! Do you realize what kind of person you would have to be to make this up? If somebody made this up we would have to be sitting here having the same kind of discussion asking, ‘Who is this incredible person who made this up?’. . . He is always surprising you; he is always taking your breath away, because he's better than you can imagine. Why? They are the surprises of perfection. He combined attributes never seen together. Tenderness without weakness; strength without harshness; holiness and unbending conviction without the slightest lack of approachability; power without insensitivity; passion without prejudice; never inconsistent, never a false step, never a jarring note. . . . The apostles knew they were looking through the substance of human flesh to the being of God. What power could've gotten them to believe it?” He was real; that’s what. As incomprehensible as it sounds, God has become us. Thus Luke closes this section on Who is Jesus? He’s God.
B. The Going
Now He’s at 3rd and headed home, and the new question is, “Why did He come?” According to v. 51 Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” But note that Jerusalem is an interim stop – tho critical. Luke notes in Lu 13:33, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is a very critical stop, but not ultimate. Why do I say that? V. 51, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up.” Some say “taken up” is a reference to the cross. They refer to John 3:14-15, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” That is a true statement, and it is part of what is in view in Lu 9:51 talking about Jesus being “taken up.”
But Luke’s primary reference is to Jesus’ ultimate return to heaven, when His mission will be complete. What is that mission? Mark 10:45 answers: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He has to go thru Jerusalem to do that – to become the ultimate Passover lamb. But the resurrection and His ascension to the Father will follow showing God’s verdict: Mission Accomplished”!
We know that whole process is in view here because Luke’s use of Greek word αναλαμβανω to describe these events. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up (αναλημψις, form of αναλαμβανω).” Turn to Acts 1:9. Luke writes: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” This is Jesus returning to heaven. Mission accomplished. Now 3 times in Acts 1, Luke uses the word αναλαμβανω to refer to this fantastic event. It’s in vv. 2, 11 and 22. Note particularly v. 11 where the angels standing by as Jesus ascends say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? [Well, wouldn’t you be?!] This Jesus, who was taken up (αναλαμβανω) from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Thus in Luke 9:51, Luke is describing the completion of Jesus’ mission of redemption to planet earth.
So the road home leads thru Jerusalem bc His mission is to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus could not get back to heaven except by way of the cross awaiting Him in Jerusalem. And neither can we get to heaven except by way of the cross awaiting our decision. He went there to become sin for us. We must go there to repent those sins and become righteousness. He went to make payment; we must go to receive His payment. There is no other way to heaven. That is the point of that whole, critical, hinge verse. Everything hinges on the cross. Had Jesus bypassed the cross there was no payment and no hope for mankind. If we bypass it, we bypass salvation. At the cross, the lamb must become our lamb.
One day during WWII, a number of prisoners were selected for execution at Auschwitz. One begged for his life as a married man with children, but to no avail. But Polish pastor, Maximilian Kolbe, stepped forward and offered to take the condemned man’s place. Normally such an offer would have been scorned, but for some reason, that day the authorities accepted the offer. They isolated Kolbe and starved him. That’s what Jesus offers to satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God. He is the only way of salvation. It would have been folly to reject Kolbe’s offer, just like it is folly to reject Jesus.
II. The Rejection
But that is exactly what we find here – rejection. V. 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.” This is so reminiscent of John 1:11: “He [Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” People with an opportunity to know Christ are blowing Him off.
Luke tells us the Samaritans rejected Him because His face was set toward Jerusalem. That was part of a 900-year-old feud. Israel was united under David and Solomon. But Solomon died in 930 BC. His son, Rehoboam, taxed the people so heavily that the 10 northern tribes rebelled under Jeroboam. Civil War ensued resulting in two nations – Israel (or Samaria, 10 tribes) in the North and Judah (2 tribes) in the south. Jeroboam did not want his northern people going south to Jerusalem to worship. Instead he led them into idolatry. Over the next 200 years, Israel had 19 kings – all bad and all idolatrous. Consequently, God gave Israel into captivity to Assyria in 722 BC. The Assyrians invaded, intermarried and soon destroyed the ethnic identity of these Jews. The people there became the hated half-breed Samaritans and they established their own worship on Mount Ebal and Gerizim. They hated the Jews enough to turn down business of those headed to Jerusalem to worship.
The Samaritans knew little of Jesus because of their isolation. Their religion led them to reject the very one who as going to Jerusalem to do what? To die for their sins. Where He is going to make their freedom from guilt and sin and death a possibility – and they turn Him down flat. Not a pretty picture, is it?
They represent a world that rejects Jesus without really knowing who He is or what He did for them. Years ago a Bible teacher held meetings in Boston. A Harvard instructor came at the request of a friend, but he told the pastor, “You should know, I’m not really interested in the gospel. I do not believe Christ died for sins and have no need for forgiveness.” The pastor responded, “Well, I understand. In fact, I know why you’re not interested.” The young man’s curiosity piqued; he asked, “Why?” The pastor responded, “Well, you’re right here in John 3:19 where it says “the light has come into the world (Jesus did His part), and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” The man took offense, “That’s what’s wrong with you religionists. You’re always looking for evil in good people.” The pastor responded, “I’m not saying you’re evil in the sense that you’ve killed someone or stolen something. Evil is anything that keeps us from Christ. Your evil may consist of sitting in the stacks at Harvard, thrilled at the joy of discovering the answer to some problem in Shakespeare. The point is, if it keeps you from God, it’s destroying you. The world of books can be just as evil as the world of lust or robbery or murder. The world of religion can be just as evil as the world of sex trafficking if it keeps us from Jesus. Rejecting Jesus, you see, is the ultimate evil. That’s was the Samaritans. Could be you!
III. The Rebuke
Now Jas and John were incensed. V. 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?” No wonder they’re called “sons of thunder”! You have to admire their faith. They believe they can get fire on demand.
They are gutsy; they are also dead wrong. They are violating the character and mercy of God, and they are opposing Jesus’ mission. Probably they were motivated by the Transfiguration of Jesus where they had come face-to-face with Elijah. They were fully aware of II Kings 1 where Elijah on 2 occasions called fire from heaven down to consume soldiers sent to capture him because he challenged Samaria’s king for his blatant idolatry. Apparently, they now saw themselves on a par with Elijah and are eager to call down some fire of their own on Samaritans. If it was good enough for Elijah, why not them?
But they had neither the spirit of Elijah nor God. They were taking pleasure in sending men to hell. Must sin be judged? Yes – but even in the OT God said in Ezek 18:23, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Furthermore, while judgment will thoroughly characterize the 2nd coming of Christ, that was not the mission of His incarnation and first coming. John 3:17 makes this abundantly clear: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Lu 19:10 concurs in defining Jesus’ mission: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Jesus didn’t come to kill Samaritans; He came to offer forgiveness thru a gospel they had little chance to hear. James and John were way out of line. Thus Jesus’ reaction: “55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.”
Beloved, we must never compromise the message of the gospel – the forgiveness that awaits believers and the eternal separation from God that waits rejecters. But we must never take joy in that pronouncement. It must always grieve us to the depths of our being, like it does our Father. Peter says in II Pet 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Our God is a God of mercy and so must we be. He gives every possible chance for repentance before judgment falls. We cannot represent Him if we do not teach judgment, but we cannot represent Him if it does not come from a heart of compassion.
Conc – Know what I love about this story? The rest of the story! Turn to Acts 8:25. James, of course, was killed early on for His faith in Christ. But John carried on the work and ministry of Christ. Eventually that work took him back to Samaria. Look at Acts 8:25, “Now when they (Peter and John) had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” Revival broke out among the hated Samaritans. Isn’t that good? Do you suppose that John went back to this very same village where he wanted to call down fire from heaven? Very likely because now he had the mind of Christ. Compassion is everything to Him.
In Radical David Platt tells of a retired couple, Ed and Patty, now in their early 70’s. Given all the options they might have chosen, they followed an uncommon path. A few years ago they were home only 11 days between July and October. Where were they? Doing disaster relief in flooded areas of America, and in Nigeria cooking meals for the hungry in the middle of rebel fighting. Ed said that Patty goes most places with him, but she does not like sleeping under trucks in the middle of rebel fighting, so she passed on Sri Lanka! When asked why they would go to such places, Ed responds, “What else am I going to do with my retirement? I just want to tell as many people about the gospel as I can." Is that your heart -- or would you rather call down fire from heaven on the homosexuals or evil politicians or the neighbor down the street who let’s their dog run wild. We’re easily distracted. God give us a heart of mercy and compassion that matches His great heart. Let’s pray.