In the last essay we studied Luke 9:37-50, a unit that contains the final events of Jesus’ Galilean Ministry. In this essay we are studying the first part of the large section 9:51-19:27, which contains Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to die. It often is referred to as Luke’s travel section. But before we begin that study, I want to talk a bit about the travel section as a whole. To begin, there is no doubt that Luke intentionally structured his Gospel with this lengthy journey of Jesus to Jerusalem as a key element. After all, throughout the section Luke constantly reminds his readers that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to die. Let’s look at the passages. You may want to look up the passages as I read them.
In 9:51, he writes, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” In 10:1, “After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” In 13:22, “Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” In 13:33, “Yet today, tomorrow and the next day, I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” In 17:11, “On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.” In 18:31, “Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.’” In 18:35, “As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” In 19:1, “He entered Jericho and was passing through it. In 19:11, “As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem.” And in 19:28, “After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.”
Now the reason this journey to Jerusalem section is important is because Matthew and Mark do not have this structure. If we did not have the Gospel of Luke, we would assume that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem that led to his death was fairly brief. I probably would be teaching you that it was a normal three-day journey. Yet Luke has placed about a third of his Gospel in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to die. Questions or comments?
Matthew and Mark do have much of this material in Luke 9:51-18:14 in their Gospels, but it is scattered throughout them rather than gathered together as in Luke. And parts of it they do not record at all. On the other hand, Luke does not have any of the material in Marl 9:41-10:12).
Verse 51 is a transition verse. “To be taken up” refers to Jesus’ coming death, resurrection and ascension. The time appointed by the Father for Jesus to die and rise again has nearly come. So Jesus sets his face, that is, he resolves, to go to Jerusalem where it will occur.
Now then, the first sub-section in the larger journey section, 9:51-11:13, deals with the meaning of permanent discipleship. And the first segment in that sub-section is 9:51-56, in which the disciples learn that ministry sometimes involves rejection.
There were two ways to travel to Jerusalem from Galilee. One was a direct route south through Samaria. The other was to cross the Jordan and go south on the other side of the Jordan. Many Jews would have done the latter in order to avoid the despised Samaritans. But Jesus took the direct route through Samaria. As I mentioned earlier, it normally was a three-day journey, but on this last journey to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples meandered around southern Galilee and Samaria ministering on the way, and they took much longer.
Jesus sent messengers ahead (v. 52), presumably to make advance arrangements for hospitality. Such a large group could not expect to make hospitality arrangements on the spur of the moment. Furthermore, Samaritans would not always be open to giving hospitality to Jews. In the case reported on here, they were not willing to provide it (v. 53).
Well, as you can see, James and John got bent out of shape by the rejection and offered to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans. It is an interesting but impossible to answer question as to whether or not James and John thought they actually could do that. At any rate, Jesus rebuked them for putting forth the idea (vv. 54-55). And they went on to another village, where apparently, they did receive hospitality. As you can see, Jesus did what he had taught the disciples to do when he sent them out two by two. He didn’t get angry at rejection, but shook the dust from his feet and went on.
Moving on, in verses 57-62, Luke tells us about three would be disciples he met on the way to Jerusalem. The first would be disciple (Matthew tells us he was a scribe) told Jesus that he would follow Jesus wherever Jesus would go (v. 57). The implication is that the man was interested in joining Jesus’ traveling group. Jesus responded by telling the man that his band was homeless. The implication of Jesus’ response was that the man should count the cost, because poverty was a real possibility. Nothing is said about what the man did; but it is clear from the story that discipleship involves a willingness to give up the comforts of home and face possible poverty.
In the second encounter, Jesus took the initiative and asked a man to follow him. The man expressed a willingness to follow, but he said that he needed to go and bury his father first. Now if the father actually was dead, religious duty required the man to bury him. Even priests, who normally would not be allowed to touch dead bodies, were permitted to bury a close relative (Lev. 21:1-3). I suspect that this was a situation where the father may have been fairly old, but not yet dead. Jews felt a religious and cultural obligation to stay with their parents until they died. So the man probably meant that he would become a disciple after his father died.
The implication from Jesus’ point of view was that the man’s delaying the decision until after the death of his father probably would have resulted in his never making the decision to follow Jesus. Jesus’ response to him was “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Jesus may have been referring here to the spiritually dead rather than the physically dead. But in any case, Jesus’ point seems to be that discipleship requires a commitment that trumps family duty.
The third person Jesus encountered wanted to be a disciple, but like the second man, he had a reason to delay it, though it was a less serious reason than the previous man (v. 61). He simply wanted to return home before following Jesus to say goodbye to his family. In the Old Testament, when Elijah called Elisha to follow him, he permitted Elisha to go home first to say goodbye to his parents (1 Kings 20:19). But Jesus’ response to this would be disciple was, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Whatever else we may take from theses encounters, it is clear that Christian discipleship bears a high cost. In the first encounter, we saw that it is a life of possible poverty, and therefore a prospective disciple must count the cost. In the second encounter, we saw that discipleship is a life of exclusive commitment, and individuals must seize the opportunity to make that commitment when it comes. And in the third encounter, we saw that it is a life of forward movement. We must not look back with regret.