Jesus – the founder and perfecter of our faith
Reading: 2 Kings 1:1-18
Are you a Bible reader? I do hope so because the Bible is such a wonderfully rich and instructive book. Here in this short section that we’re considering this morning we find information that should help us to understand just a little bit more about:
how extraordinary Jesus is
why men reject him
how mixed up his followers can be in their attempts to follow him
There is so much to look at here, let’s get going straight away.
What a man this Jesus is!
As he continues his account of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Luke wants to draw our attention to more of the qualities that shone so brightly in his life. This little paragraph is short but in it we are presented with several important facts. Among them are these:
Brave and courageous
A willing, voluntary sacrifice
He is also:
Thoughtful and kind
Patient and Expectant
This is the man I want you to see this morning. He is worthy of your respect and admiration and he is worthy of your personal trust and discipleship. Here is a man who came into the world to do you good and he will not let you down when you turn believingly to him and put your trust in him.
But how can I justify what I have just said about him? Come with me in for a few moments and, with God’s help, I will try to show you.
Our text begins with the words:
v.51 "When the days drew near for him to be taken up,"
These words refer to the coming ascension of our Lord Jesus, that is, to his return to heaven when his earthly ministry had been finally completed. It is not a reference to a merely spiritual event but it refers to a literal physical bodily ascent into heaven:
Mk.16:19 "So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God."
1Tim.3:16 "Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory."
Now this is very interesting. Just a short while before this Jesus had begun to teach his followers that he was going to be rejected by the Jewish leaders, that he would be made to suffer and that he would be put to death. He also taught them that he would be raised from the dead on the third day. He hadn’t said anything about his return to heaven at that time. This reference to the ascension here in Luke’s gospel is the first and as far as I can tell the only overt mention of the ascension that took place before the event actually took place.
The significance of all this is that Jesus not only knew about his sufferings that were to come but he also saw beyond them to the unbounded success which culminated in his resurrection and subsequent ascension. He not only knew what lay in store for him but knew that complete victory was assured!
And yet, and yet... the sufferings were going to be very real and very serious. There was of course the horror of the brutal physicality of it all – the cruel mocking, the scourging and the indescribable agony of crucifixion – but there was worse, far worse. Jesus knew that in accomplishing his mission he would endure the absolute horror of knowing his Father turning his face away from him and abandoning him as he bore the sin of his people.
Knowing that victory was assured by no means eradicated the need for courage and bravery. Looking ahead Jesus was realistic, he didn’t courageously face an unknown future but with bravery he faced up to the most horrendous of all possible futures in the full knowledge of what was involved!
Lk.12:50 "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!"
And face up he did!
Luke tells us here that:
v.51 "he set his face to go to Jerusalem."
This expression means that Jesus acted with determination, a determination that flowed from his own voluntary choice. He was intent on presenting himself a willing sacrifice as he set about fulfilling his Father’s will and securing our salvation.
There is never a hint given that he did this reluctantly when he knew that this was the only way. Rather, as the writer to the Hebrews put it:
Heb.12:2 "Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
So Jesus "set his face towards Jerusalem" – the place where his sufferings, death and resurrection had to take place. Jesus’ mind was made up and nothing would cause him to deviate from this great salvific purpose. Again and again in the chapters that follow Luke will remind us of our Lord’s settled determination as he relentlessly makes his way to that city:
Lk.13:22 "He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem."
Lk.13:33 "Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’"
Lk.18:31 "And taking the twelve, he 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."
With such an immediate prospect confronting him it would have been so easy to have become totally self-absorbed and to think only about himself but that is not what we find at all happening in Jesus’ life.
Even in this short section we find Jesus showing concern for others. Yes, he is heading off towards Jerusalem but he will still think of others along the way. He was travelling with his disciples and he sends them ahead of him to prepare the way as he planned to pass through Samaria. He gives the inhabitants of the village every opportunity of offering hospitality as the Saviour of the World passes their way. The unannounced arrival of a group of at least 13 would not have been the easiest to accommodate so the opportunity is given to prepare – but sadly the inhabitants of this particular village weren’t interested.
Jesus refused to take offence when a welcome is not forthcoming and he would act to prevent his followers from taking rash, harsh action against the folk who rejected him. Neither did Jesus hold this lack of welcome against everyone in the region. Some months later when Jesus issued the Great Commission followers before ascending into heaven he would specifically include Samaria, the very place which now rejected him:
Acts 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
In so many ways Jesus shows himself to be a most remarkable man – do you believe in him? Have you put your trust in him?
Samaritans Reject Jesus
The first thing to which I want to draw your attention is to the straightforward fact that people do reject the Lord Jesus. That might appear blindingly obvious but it is still surprising to find that many people who show no interest in Jesus while they are alive nevertheless assume that their indifference or their outright rejection is of little importance, he will do them and everyone else good in the end.
Now this wonderful man Jesus, who had been going around doing so much good, was about to turn up in their village. He was on his way to Jerusalem and while on his way he was even planning a bit of a stop-over there! What a wonderful opportunity this gave to the inhabitants of that little village to connect with him – what conversations they might have had with him had only been a bit more welcoming and had they offered him some hospitality.
But no! They won’t receive him and along with that perhaps disappeared the opportunity of a life-time.
I wonder if some of you this morning are in danger of missing the boat too. You’ve had plenty of opportunity to put your trust in Jesus, you’ve heard plenty about him, but you simply will not receive him into your life.
Of course you’ll have your reasons... people always do. These villagers in Samaria had their reasons too for shunning Jesus – trouble was their reasons weren’t really very good. Are yours any better?
Well we know that these Samaritans wouldn’t receive Jesus but let’s look a little more closely as to why they behaved like that. In order to do so we need to understand just a little bit about the Samaritans – we’re not talking about a group of people who listen nicely on the telephone to others who might be in difficulty, so who were these Samaritans?
The Samaritans were in fact close neighbours of the Jews but there was little love lost between them. The two groups were distinct racially, culturally and religiously. Even though they shared certain views in common – both groups, for example, believed the Pentateuch to be God’s Word - it was their differences that stood out the most. The liveliest debate was over the religious question "Where was true worship to be offered?" The Jews answered Jerusalem and the Samaritans Mount Gerizim. Such was the animosity between these two peoples that it was not unknown for Samaritans to murder Jews who tried to pass through their territory on route to Jerusalem for worship.
And now some messengers arrive from the Jewish prophet of Nazareth – they want some hospitality as he’s on his way to Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
That was enough! We don’t want his sort around here, they said. And so they judged and rejected Jesus not on account of who he really was, nor because of what he was actually saying, nor because of what he had recently been doing – in fact they didn’t assess Jesus for themselves at all. They rejected him because he didn’t fall in with their views about Jerusalem!
Men are often only ready to listen to teachers who say exactly what they want to hear. These folk rejected Jesus because he wasn’t prepared to do that.
The same attitude is with us in 21 st century Britain. A wide range of folk outside the church, and sadly some within who ought to know better, are forever calling upon the church to bring its message up-to-date. What they really mean goes something like this: "Tell us what we already believe and make us feel good about what we want to do already."
Is the real reason for your rejection of Jesus a fear that he will call some of your lifestyle choices into question and that he will indicate that changes must be made in your life?
"Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem – he’s taking sides with the Jews – he’s got nothing to say to us; we don’t want him, we won’t receive him."
And so these Samaritans don’t engage with Jesus but quickly reject him.
Instead of seriously thinking things through, instead of contemplating the possibility that it was they who were wrong and their attitudes that were in need of changing, they just reject Jesus, the only one who could truly help them. Are you in danger of doing the same?
These Samaritans rejected Jesus as he was on his way to Jerusalem where he would lay down his life for sinners just like them. He was on his way to secure the salvation they needed but they weren’t having any of it because he didn’t fit in with their preconceived ideas and prejudices – I do hope you aren’t like them.
And yet, there was hope however even for the Samaritans. I’ve already referred to Jesus’ including Samaria in the gospel mission of the church. But you must know that this was the only time that Jesus was in Samaria. Sometime earlier Jesus had passed through Samaria and there he had been met with a very different reaction. He had spoken to a woman whose life was all messed up by a succession of failed relationships and he transformed her entire outlook on life. In turn she had spoken openly about him to others and they too had come to him and been convinced by their own encounters with him.
You see our cultural, racial and religious backgrounds while doubtless influencing us are far from completely determining how we respond to Jesus. If some Samaritans were ready to reject Jesus out of hand others were prepared to allow him to change their lives. Which are you most like?
James and John: two mixed-up disciples
Followers of Jesus don’t always do the right thing – and yes we are right to expect a lot of Christians – but we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that if a Christian isn’t perfect then the whole Christianity business is a waste of time.
These two disciples obviously had a high regard for their Master and were indignant when he was not treated with proper honour and respect. If they didn’t care for him they wouldn’t have been bothered by the lack of welcome extended to him. In that they did well. If you are a follower of Jesus do you have any concern for his honour? Are you offended when his name is only used as a swear word? Are you pained when his name is dishonoured? If we are too quick to criticise James and John it may be because we don’t hold Jesus’ in anything like the same esteem as they did.
James and John were however wrong in the way in which they wanted to express their disapproval – Jesus’ rebuke tells us that very clearly. But, we may ask, why did they come up with such an idea anyway?
Well, some of the answer we may well be able to put down to character. James and John had been given the nickname "Boanerges" or "Sons of Thunder". Did this mean that they had fiery tempers that were ready to fly out of control at the slightest provocation? It is a real possibility and a warning to us beware of acting under the influence of raw emotion.
If we are prone to "losing it" like this then we should however take heart. The apostle John who bore this nickname and who, along with his brother expressed such violent sentiments, was transformed through his relationship with Jesus. Such was the nature of this transformation that John is known in church history as the Apostle of love and no longer as "a son of thunder".
But perhaps there is another reason why James and John reacted as they did.
Perhaps James and John had in mind the Scriptures that I read to you earlier in the service. There, in the account in the life of Elijah, fire did fall from heaven and it destroyed two companies of soldiers who were threatening God’s representative. But why might they have this passage in mind?
Well, that event took place in Samaria too, the same region where Jesus was now. And it would hardly be surprising if James and John had Elijah in mind because they had only recently had been present at the remarkable Transfiguration event when Elijah (along with Moses) had appeared talking with Jesus about his coming "exodus" or departure from Jerusalem.
If that were the case then we have some lessons to learn.
Just because something is described in the Bible doesn’t make it automatically a pattern that we must follow. We must learn to rightly interpret biblical examples and stories and not mindlessly imitate them. If James and John thought they were following a good biblical precedent Jesus told them they weren’t doing anything of the kind.
And so we have another encouragement to think and think as Christians – there are no magical short-cuts to be expected.
Jesus was in the Samaritan village that day because he was headed from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south. He was going there to suffer and to die a voluntary sacrificial death in the place of sinners – he had not come in order to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Now if destructive fire was to be called down upon the villagers this would be at complete odds with his very reason for coming not only into the world but into that particular locality at that particular time!
Yes, James and John were asking the wrong question but they were certainly right to be concerned for the reputation of their Lord. So don’t you dismiss Jesus simply because of shortcomings amongst his followers – after all it was Jesus himself who rebuked them!
I wonder whether any of the inhabitants of that village did later become followers of Jesus. If they did I imagine they would have looked back on that particular day with a certain amount of regret at what might have been if only they had behaved differently.
I hope that none of you this morning will have cause to look back with great regret for having refused to receive Jesus when the opportunity presented itself to you.
Jesus is the most remarkable man you’ll ever meet – may that meeting be a gracious one and not one in which he sits in judgment over you. May none of you ever hear him utter to those solemn words: "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." Mt.7:23.