Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8C, 2016
Text: Luke 9:51-62
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul refers to Christmas as the fullness of time when, in order to redeem the human race held in bondage under the Law, God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman and live under the Law Himself. But the incarnation itself does not procure our salvation. There is an end to Jesus’ ministry—not a stopping point, but a goal. As such, the purpose of the incarnation is not simply that the Son of God become true man, but that the Son of God through becoming man and living in perfect obedience and dying under the curse of Man’s sin would restore true life to man in the Kingdom of God. Therefore the fullness of time, which marks the beginning of our Savior’s incarnation, develops and grows until the days are fulfilled for his being taken up. The telos, the goal, the ultimate purpose of the incarnation is not fully seen in the infant flesh of the Christ child lying in the manger, but in the flesh of the First-born from the dead ascending into glory to receive the dominion which Adam forsook when he rejected God’s order for the lies of the devil.
It is now, as those days of His being taken up are fulfilled, that Jesus sets His face to go to Jerusalem. Now it is true that Jesus could have ascended into heaven from anywhere, but it is also true that Jesus did not take on flesh to receive a kingdom for Himself, but in order to restore us to the place we were meant to have in God’s Kingdom from the beginning. Jerusalem, which sits on Mt. Zion, is the natural place for such salvation to be accomplished. Isaiah has long before prophesied:
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it. (Isaiah 2:2, ESV)
Mt Zion may not have the greatest elevation, but it is, theologically speaking the closest place on earth to heaven.
The people failed to build a tower on the plains of Shinar to reach into heaven, but Jerusalem is the place where God came down to dwell among His people. It is fitting then that Jesus would accomplish reconciliation between God and Man before the eyes of the World on the hillside outside of Jerusalem, and it is fitting that He would be received to the Father’s right hand from the same.
Yet Jesus does not enter glory without first enduring suffering. Therefore as the days are being fulfilled for His being taken up, Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem as He begins the journey through the cross and grave back to the Father’s right hand. In doing so, He fulfills the Word of the prophet Isaiah:
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
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. (Is 50:5-7; ESV)
In Jesus’ resolute turn to Jerusalem, we see not just His resolve, but His love, mercy, and forbearance as well. He goes to Jerusalem for you, and for me, for your neighbor, for the disciples, the Jews, the Romans, the Samaritans, for every Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve born in this weary world of sin and death. So now does the rest of today’s Gospel lesson make sense to you?
The Samaritans would not receive Jesus into their village because He set His face toward Jerusalem and they were enemies with the Jews. James and John respond by wanting to call down fire from heaven. But how could Jesus, who has just set His face toward Jerusalem to redeem man in order to bring Man into paradise, call down the very fires of judgment He was laboring so to spare us? Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is the ultimate humanitarian mission. Jesus has come to bring mercy, and though He will not force anyone to live and rejoice in His mercy, neither will He turn them over at this time for destruction. How could Jesus, who momentarily withheld torment from the demons by sending them into swine, not give the Samaritans until the fulfillment of the days for mercy in order that some might come to repentance and escape the wrath to come?
As Jesus journeys to the cross and grave on His way toward being taken up, He encounters three men. Through the pen of St. Luke, Jesus’ converse with these men asks us if we will journey with Jesus. Remember, Jesus makes this journey in order that we may be where He is. He joins us in order that in our flesh He might restore us to the Father. He is patient with us, as He was with the Samaritans. He longs for us to be with Him in paradise. He knows that the day when He will be taken up is drawing nigh. And He desires that you be taken up at the appointed time as well. But the Path to Paradise, the Route of Reconciliation, the Road to Redemption is a single way. If Christ does not enter into glory without losing everything, without suffering and dying, then do not expect to follow Him to heaven without bearing your own cross.
Many will say to Christ, “I will follow You wherever You will go” because they know that He is bound for paradise. But Jesus tells us what that means now: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”
So you want to follow Jesus to heaven? Good, so does the rest of the world. But will you give up the things of the world to follow Him there? Foxes will seek out a suitable place to make a den. The birds of the air labor all day busily making their nests. Many people make their home a castle. But Jesus lives as a pilgrim. Jesus knows no home here below because He has set His face toward His Father’s House. He calls you to do the same. Wherever you live, treat that as a way station on your pilgrimage to heaven. St. Paul understood this when He wrote:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:7-14; ESV)
If you would follow Jesus to heaven, count everything as rubbish; a better translation would be filth. The word Paul uses can refer to a half-eaten corpse, manure or human excrement, as well as the scraps that are scraped off the table after a feast. Now if you are taking a journey to paradise, a couple of things you can leave behind are a half-eaten corpse and yesterday’s dinner. Those don’t make it into the suitcase. But that is Jesus’ point, as well as Paul’s. The Son of Man has given up everything on His journey to Jerusalem where He will be taken up. Let us also give up everything, count it all as loss, in order to be found in Christ and be brought with Him into Paradise.
The second and Third men both cite family obligations for delaying following Jesus. But without nullifying the Fourth Commandment, Jesus says that not even this should keep us from following Him. Family is indeed a gift from God, as are the houses and apartments in which we live, but in the balance of where your heart is, these things must always go up when measured against Christ and His call to follow Him.
Our text closes with a solemn warning: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
How often has the devil tempted you to look back? How often has he tricked you into longing for the comfort or the life of one who is not bearing the cross?
- You don’t have to go to Church today.
- You don’t have to invite that person to church.
- You can save all your money for yourself; you don’t need to be charitable.
- A little lying, cheating, and stealing won’t hurt you.
In so many ways and more we are tempted to look back in envy on the way of the world. In so many ways we turn around and walk out of the field.
And so we thank God. We thank God that today is a day of mercy and not judgment. We thank God that Jesus doesn’t call down fire upon us, but calls us who have rejected Him time and time again to follow Him. And what we have such a hard time leaving behind He takes from us. For the Journey to Paradise is done carrying a cross alone, and the cross is placed upon you in Baptism both upon your forehead and upon your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. And as the cross of Christ is placed on you, your sins and evil desires are taken from you by Christ, who has already died for them and to them.
So you see, by virtue of your Baptism you are journeying with Christ through Jerusalem and on to Paradise. For Mt. Zion on earth held a shadow of the Father’s House. But the Mountain of the House of the Lord is described by Isaiah the Prophet as the place where
…many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,[a]
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Is 2:3; ESV)
So this is Jerusalem. You have ascended the mountain of the Lord. His word is placed in your ear and into your heart. Christ has brought you through death and resurrection by joining you to His pilgrimage in Baptism. He draws you to the place where heaven and earth meet as He feeds you with His glorified body and blood under the bread and the wine. You cannot take any step closer to heaven than what you receive this day, and yet You are given the promise that this is but a foretaste of the feast to come and Christ who comes to you today will also bring you where He is when You are taken up at the fullness of time. So really, what is the world compared to that?
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria