This week, some portions of the Christian Community will observe a forty-day period called Lent.  Originally, this forty-day period, nearly eight weeks, was referred to in Latin as Quadragesima and was a period symbolic of Jesus forty-day fast in the wilderness.  Centuries later this time was remained Lenz, meaning the “spring season.”  Regardless of its name, Lent has been a time in which many Christians engage in practices of fasting and self-denial, most simply avoiding indulgent desserts and sweets. As a rule, Baptists do not observe Lent. In fact, some of the early Baptist-minded people took to eating sausage to make the beginning of Lent as a symbolic manner of breaking with the Roman Catholic Church.   When I was a child and Lent would come, my parents would ask, “What are you giving up for Lent this year?”  I would say, “School.”  I was told to pick something else. 

Baptists generally follow the “regulative principle of worship” that says we should practice only what is explicitly commanded in the New Testament.  When it comes to fasting and self-denial Jesus commands that we do it in secret much like we talked about last week when it comes to giving.  Jesus said of fasting, “16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).  So, if you wish to observe some form of fasting over the next forty-days, feel free to do so, just do it in secret.

Having review the history of Lent as originally symbolic of Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness, is there something we might do over the next forty-days that is commanded in Scripture?  If we look back to Jesus’ wilderness experience, we find some advice from Jesus.  In the Gospel of Matthew, we read, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’  Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:1-4). Jesus’ answer was built upon the words of the Hebrew Bible in Deuteronomy 8:3 “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  Jesus’ teaching is clear.  Jesus wanted us to know the word of God, the story of God.  If we want to do something spiritually profound over the next forty-days, we will gain infinitely more from reading God’s word than from foregoing a slice or two of our favorite pie.

In that vein, I thought we could spend our time over the next eight weeks looking at Jesus’ words as he came to seek and conclude his public ministry.  The Gospel of Luke provides for us a turning point for Jesus and thus a starting point for us.  Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke, verse 51, says, “51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).  In the King James Version of the Bible, this passage reads, “51 And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 KJV).  Today, I think the King James Version gives us the best insight. 

Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  What does this mean?  Jesus had been to Jerusalem before this moment in his ministry.  What did it mean then that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem?”  In the Old Testament, to set one’s face was often the word given by God to His prophets. We find in the book of Jeremiah the prophesy was given to the city of Jerusalem.  In Chapter 21, verses 9-10 we read, “He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him. 10 For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the Lord” (Jeremiah 21:9-10 (NKJV)).  In the Book of Ezekiel, the prophetic phrase, “set My face,” appears 13 times in the form of a judgment.  It would seem then that when Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, Jesus was acting upon a divine command as though he had been dispatched to Jerusalem with fierce determination. Luke conveys that Jesus understood that a day of reckoning and judgment was to come in Jerusalem.  As we will see in a moment, it appears Jesus disciples believed that the time for God’s power against those who would oppose Jesus had come.

          Picking up again with our New Testament reading today, “51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face.  And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him.  53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” (Luke 9:51-54)

          Jesus and the Twelve were on a journey, a journey that would end in Jerusalem.  It was a journey in which Jesus was sent by God to render judgment on Jerusalem.  For a brief moment on this journey, the group was nearing the lands of the Samaritans.  The Jews and Samaritans despised one another.  Nevertheless, Jesus sent two or more of His twelve disciples ahead into the next village, a Samaritan village, to seek a place to stay. As we read, when the villagers found out that a group of Jews, and a Jewish prophet no less sought shelter, the villagers rejected Jesus disciples request for shelter and food.  Luke added that the rejection was “because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.”  These Samaritan villagers believed that Jesus was only a prophet for the Jews and that Jesus only interest would be in Jerusalem.  These villagers believed, without hearing from him, that Jesus had nothing to offer them and so they rejected Jesus.  Not much has changed in 2,000 years.  Most people who reject Jesus today do so without ever hearing from him.  They reject Jesus through the message brought to them by Jesus disciples.  We need to think about that for a moment.  People reject Jesus not because of what he says or might say to them.  People reject Jesus because of what Jesus’ disciples said to them.  The moment Jesus’ disciples went into that Samaritan village, they were the closest thing to Jesus those people ever met.  The villagers rejected the disciples and thus Jesus.  For the next person you meet, you might be the closest thing to Jesus they have ever met. What a terribly frightening and wonderful opportunity each encounter presents.  Knowing God’s Word and imitating Jesus then becomes a necessity not a nicety.

          In today’s New Testament story, we read that, “54 And when His disciples James and John saw this [the rejection of Jesus], they [James and John] said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them [the Samaritan villagers], just as Elijah did?’” (Luke 9:54).  Now there are a couple of judgmental Christians for you!  James and John, as Jesus would call them, the Sons of Thunder, were outraged that at this moment in time, the Samaritans would dare to reject Jesus.  There must be judgment upon them for the time of judgment had come.  James and John understood Jesus’ focus had changed from teaching, preaching, and preparing for the final act which they believed would be the restoration of the throne of David over all Israel.

          We see that to James and John’s offer of judgment upon the Samaritan villagers, Jesus rebuked them, and said, “‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village” (Luke 9:55-56). Jesus was on a divinely inspired commission to bring a message to the city of Jerusalem.  It was a prophetic message meaning there was an opportunity in the present for people to choose life and avoid judgment in the future. It was and is a message of hope not destruction of people’s lives.  Although Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem for this final encounter, He never wavered from his commission to bring the good news of the kingdom.

          We also read today from Luke, Chapter 10, that after this encounter with the Samaritan village, “The Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He [Jesus] said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ 12 But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city” (Luke 10:1-12 (NKJV)).

          Jesus sent 70 disciples them “two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go” (Luke 10:1). There we are again, the face of Jesus reads prominently.  Jesus had his face set on Jerusalem and Jesus sent the 70 disciples into the Jewish villages “before His face.”  The 70 were to express the presence, the face of Jesus, to the villagers ahead of Jesus arrival.  Those villagers who rejected the message of Christ, the promise of the coming kingdom of God, would fair no better than the inhabitants of Sodom who were utterly destroyed by the judgment of God.

          Luke made clear the tension and urgency of Jesus’ ministry had been heightened.  Discipleship in Jesus was not confined to just following Jesus.  Discipleship now meant following and presenting the face of Jesus to others.  The need to choose salvation sooner rather than later was now imperative.  The outline of church with Twelve apostles and 70 commissioned disciples was also now beginning to take some shape.  The ministry of Jesus was beginning ahead of the final act and all of it was being done before the face of Jesus.

          The ministry that Jesus commissioned was one that started with prayer. Jesus said, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).  Our ministry must begin with prayer.

The ministry of Jesus is about love, not conquest, “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3).  Our ministry must be about love.

The face of Jesus is not about buy allegiance as some kings did. Jesus face was about bidding of peace. “Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house’” (Luke 10:4-5).  Our ministry must be about peace.

The ministry of Jesus is one that expects rejection but even in rejection reminds those who rejected Jesus that they did not reject a person but the kingdom of God.  “10 But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you’” (Luke 10:10-11). Our ministry must be about proclaiming the good news even after we are rejected.

          We are heirs to this same mission and the same call to be the face of Jesus to others.  Over the next several weeks, will be walking along side Jesus as he heads towards Jerusalem. I hope that in doing so we might know his face better and his ministry that he has commissioned us to carry out. It is going to be an extraordinary journey of discover as we come to know that the kingdom of God is here. Amen and Amen.