“When the days drew near for him to be taken up,
he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51, NIV)
And so begins what is often referred to as “Luke’s Journey Narrative,” a lengthy section of Luke’s gospel that tells us about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem where his destiny is fulfilled and our salvation is secured. For the past several weeks I have been preaching a series of sermons on The Journey, looking at what we are called, as Christians, to do as we follow God’s path for our lives. This section of Luke’s gospel (9:51-19:28) includes some of the best-known stories about Jesus’ life. Many of these stories are told in the other gospels and set at different times than where Luke places them; some of the stories are only told by Luke. The point is that Luke is much less concerned with the accurate chronology of these events and more concerned about presenting a cohesive narrative that paints a vivid picture of the path Jesus follows and calls us to follow. For Luke, it is about the journey.
Luke saw our Christian life as a journey with Jesus. It is a journey that challenges us, causes us pain, walks us through suffering, and leads us to the glory of salvation. It is why Luke closes his gospel with the Walk to Emmaus story where, after Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, the disciples once again encounter Jesus on the road…walking beside them. The image is clear: Jesus never leaves us, he is always walking beside us along our journey, and he has already been wherever we are going.
As Jesus leads his disciples on this final journey to Jerusalem, he teaches them all they need to know to carry on his mission after he’s gone. The fact that Jesus led them to Jerusalem stands in contrast to their sending out from Jerusalem at Pentecost. The disciples’ witnessing ministry is centered at Jerusalem, but it travels throughout the world and transcends the boundaries of the Temple and traditional religious practice. This is a journey of challenge, change, and progressive upheaval of the status quo. It is a clear witness to the fact that following Jesus Christ isn’t easy and that it involves much more than standing still. It is a journey that calls us forward every day and challenges us to respond to Jesus in ways that often make us uncomfortable.
Simply accepting Christ as Savior is not enough. When we accept Jesus, our lives our transformed and our behavior should change to reflect this transformation. We move away from the thoughts and deeds of our past and move forward along the path that God lays out for us. It is never about doing something to make ourselves worthy of salvation; we can’t do anything so righteous as to earn this gift. It is always about responding to what Christ has already done for us. The response is the basis for our journey as Christians. As we move forward we stop doing things that displease God and try to do those things that God wants and expects from us. This is the essence of the word “repentance” that Jesus calls us to – turning away from one thing and turning toward a better thing.
One of my favorite Scripture verses is Jeremiah 29:11 – “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm; to give you a future with hope.” God has a plan for each of us; God has already laid out the journey that He wants us to take. That journey will takes us many different places, but in the end it will lead us straight into His arms for all eternity. This is the journey that Jesus leads us on in the gospel. Through his stories and challenges, Jesus makes it clear that we have choices to make that will either keep us on the path or lead us off into the weeds. Each lesson Jesus presents, every parable he tells, offer us clear instructions on how to make the right choices. Admonitions such as: “Follow me,” “Go and proclaim the kingdom of God,” “Do this and you will live,” and “Go and do likewise,” are not idle words – they are clear commands to change our behavior.
Jesus forces us to look in the mirror and see ourselves as we are and as God intends us to be. We are called to change our attitudes, modify our behavior, and treat one another as the children of God we all really are. We are challenged to view every decision we make through God’s lens and do our very best to discern God’s will; this really means that we are to stop making selfish decisions based only on our desires. We are told to do the work of God’s kingdom on earth without regard to our personal comfort, always thinking of the other person before we think of “me.” These are not easy choices and they are often painful for us.
I pray that we can all develop a clearer picture of the journey God has mapped out for us and that we will learn together how to make that journey as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.