Rejecting Wrath

Rejecting Wrath

Grace, mercy, and peace to
you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

isn’t easy being rejected. Maybe you really wanted that new
job. You put a lot of work into applying for it. You thought
that you had a good interview, but someone else was chosen instead.
Perhaps another time, you really thought someone was the love of your
life. You would have done anything
for him or her, but he or she didn’t feel the same way, and your heart
was broken. Maybe you’d practiced real hard to make a sports
team or get a part in the play, but when the final list was posted,
your name wasn’t on it. Putting our best effort into something,
only to have someone else tell us we’re not what they’re looking
for, can hurt us. It can cut us to our very core.

Son of God was no stranger to rejection. Throughout the entire
Old Testament, one generation after another rejected God’s love, God’s
grace, and God’s promises. When God came down to interact with
His people Israel as the Angel of the Lord, or when He spoke through
His appointed prophets, His messages and warnings were just as likely
to be ignored or ridiculed as they were to be accepted.

human mother wasn’t provided a decent place to give Him birth.
An earthly king who feared Him tried to destroy Him. The people
of His own hometown tried to drive Him off a cliff for speaking about
who He was and why He had come. Even so, he persevered.
The rejected prophet; the rejected Son; the rejected Savior. Yet
he still pressed on, knowing His fate, knowing of the hate and jealousy
and anger so many harbored against Him, but always faithful to His calling.

our reading today, Jesus is rejected again, by many people and in several
different ways. They reject His person. They reject His
message. They reject discipleship.

chapter 9, verse 51 is viewed by many theologians as a major pivotal
point of this gospel. It’s where Jesus’ ministry shifts from
revelation to salvation; from epiphany to passion.
Jesus had already revealed to the disciples who He is and what He must
do. Now He sets out on the path that will take Him to the cross:

the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to
(Luke 9:51, ESV)

all know what happens when God “sets His face,” don’t we?

He sets His face against people, they are doomed to disaster
and destruction. When He makes His face shine upon us, when He
lifts up His face—His countenance—upon us, we are greatly blessed.
Here, the setting of Jesus’ face is one of resolve.

He sent messengers ahead of Him, who went and entered a village of the
Samaritans, to make preparations for Him.”
(Luke 9:52, ESV)

than avoiding the Samaritans as most Jews did, Jesus strides boldly
into their territory. It’s one of many “invasions” by Jesus
that Luke records in his Gospel account, beginning with His cosmic invasion
of the incarnation. Here Jesus sends messengers on ahead into
Samaria, not only to prepare accommodations such as lodging and food,
but also to offer His message of repentance, hope, and salvation.

Samaritans, though, reject Jesus and His message. Not only is
Jesus a Galilean and a Jew, but He also intends to go to Jerusalem,
the capital of Judea. The centuries-old animosities of ethnicity
and religion between Samaritans and Jews are far stronger than even
the opportunity to receive this great teacher and healer whose fame
had spread throughout the whole region. “He may be
the Samaritans probably thought, “but He isn’t
one of us.”

and John, indignant that these despised foreigners have insulted their
rabbi, want to take revenge. Full of themselves as they often
were, they allow their hurt pride and self-righteous anger to overshadow
Jesus’ message. They want to call down heavenly fire to destroy
the Samaritans. Perhaps they were recalling what Elijah had done,
centuries before, to Samaritans who rejected God’s messenger and message.

yet, in expressing these thoughts, James and John are rejecting Jesus’
message, too. In spite of all they’d seen and heard, they still
didn’t comprehend the will of God or the mission of Jesus.

is no doubt saddened by the Samaritans’ rejection, but He does not
stop to reason or argue with them. He is not deterred or distracted.
He does not reject or punish the Samaritans. Instead, Jesus rebukes
James and John for going off-message. Jesus had come to supply compassion
and mercy, not to seek vengeance for sins. He came to be the suffering
servant, not to be elevated to a lofty position. Jesus presses

James and John failed to understand, and what we ourselves sometimes
forget, is that those who reject Jesus and His message will not necessarily
be punished for it in the present world. Many unbelievers will
even prosper in the here-and-now, often making the faithful jealous
and frustrated.

awful, though, is the unbelievers’ fate at their deaths, and for all

were others on the road as Jesus traveled along, too. Jesus speaks
to a few of them in our text. To the first, a seemingly willing
disciple who offers to follow Jesus wherever He might go, our Savior
gives a warning:

have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has
nowhere to lay His head.”
(Luke 9:58, ESV)

gives him the unvarnished truth about the life of discipleship:
It will not always be easy. It will not always be pleasant.
You may not have a place of safety and comfort to rest from your labors.
As Christians, we will not be welcomed everywhere we go with open arms,
any more than the Lord Himself.

Jesus’ warning spooked the other two potential followers. The
second one wanted to delay his service until his father died.
The third wanted to bid farewell to his family first. To that
second one, Jesus says:

the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the
kingdom of God.”
(Luke 9:60, ESV)

not only indicates that the work of the Kingdom of God takes precedence
over all other responsibilities, but also that we are not to let the
spiritually dead impede the work we have been given of bringing spiritual
life to all who need it.

the third would-be disciple, Jesus combines some common wisdom with
a warning about remaining focused:

one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom
of God.”
(Luke 9:62, ESV)

a simple fact that no one can effective follow a straight path forward
while he is looking backwards. Any of you who’ve plowed a field,
or piloted a plane, or conned a ship know full well: You must
pick out a point in the distance or on the horizon, or a bearing to
a star, or a constant setting on a compass, if you want to steer a straight
line. Even driving a car, you need to look forward, well ahead
in the lane you are in, if you want to stay on course. Only those
who look to goals outside of themselves, to the full and final realization
of the Kingdom of God, will have the focus needed to live in Christ
and to proclaim His message.

also indicates, here and elsewhere, that just as He gave up everything
for us and for our salvation, we also must be willing to give up everything
for the sake of God’s Kingdom. We may become alienated from
family and friends who will not accompany us on our journey of faith
and service.

by God the Holy Spirit, though, we do not cling to desires of the flesh
or to our earthly possessions. Instead we shift our efforts and
devote our resources to the Lord’s work. We follow Christ, carrying
our crosses daily. These are hard things to think about.
They are harder yet to accept and believe, and harder still to live
out amid all the temptations of life.

not easy at all, and you may find yourself like those potential disciples
Jesus met on the road, wanting to pick and choose your own customized
way of discipleship. So, I might ask: What do you
accept and reject about Jesus? About His message? About
discipleship? Is your Jesus a fine ancient teacher, a giver of
timeless wisdom and moral guidance? Is He a wonderful example
of tolerant love and compassion, giving up His own livelihood to travel
the countryside, offering forgiveness, healing, and encouragement to
the fragile and the hopeless?

He the pinnacle of human development, a man so in tune with Himself
that He was perfectly obedient to an objective ethical code, showing
us that we, too, could aspire to greatness?

your beliefs in Jesus end there—or even if they only begin to wander
there—you have fallen into Satan’s trap. You will have become
a victim of the worldly understanding of who Jesus is and what He does,
which provides you no real hope and certainly gives you no salvation
or eternal life. Much of the world, especially the false faiths
that so many have come to accept as valid alternatives to the Gospel
of Christ, want a Jesus with whom they can come to terms. They
want a Jesus who says things and does things that don’t offend anyone,
a Jesus who can be fully grasped and fully comprehended.

a Jesus like that does not have the authority to forgive your sins.
A Jesus like that cannot quell or quench the wrath of a holy God that
you and I have alienated with our miserable, sinful lives.

Jesus like that cannot die to save you and give you eternal life.
Only a Jesus who is both God and man can do those things. The
Jesus that must be given to us in faith or rejected in worldliness is
the Jesus who says what He says and does what He does. There is
no compromise. There is no re-interpretation—no “spin”—for
the sensitivities of modern man, no adjustment for the social or cultural
setting, no softening of the truth for acceptability. There is
no picking and choosing of what people can and can’t agree to, or
what they find palatable and unoffensive.

are not shopping for grocery brands or negotiating a deal on a new car,
things in which we have choice and leverage. Rather, we are coming
face to face with God’s perfect will and with God’s inerrant word.
And it is sometimes difficult for us to accept a message and a life
in which we have no say other than the option of rejecting it.

came to us as the baby of Bethlehem, and we shake our heads in wonder.
He comes to us in His Word, and we wrestle with its challenges, its
complexities, and its hard sayings. He is lifted before us on
a cross, and we struggle to make sense of it. God in water?
God in bread? God in wine? God in a book? Is it any
wonder that He is rejected by so many as being unreasonable and incomprehensible?

often do the doubts creep even into our own thinking? Does God
do things this way? Could He really
forgive me all my sins, even those that still embarrass me and terrify
me? Could He truly mean that we are to place Him
above all else in our lives? With all these doubts, our rational
minds reject Jesus. Our corrupted hearts reject His message—just
like the Samaritans, just like James and John did that day, just like
most of Judea and Jerusalem would in the months to come.

Jesus didn’t give up on the Samaritans, or on James and John, or Judea,
or anyone else. In the same way, even when our minds and our hearts
reject who Jesus is and what His message says, He does not reject us.
He does not give up. He does not turn away—from you, or from
the cross that saves you.

can we who are His elect people ever fully reject Him who claims us
from all eternity. We were baptized into His death. We were
bought at a price. No one can snatch us out of the hand of our

scriptures do not record what those three would-be disciples’ final
responses were to Jesus’ invitation, but that’s not what’s really
important. Even if they finally rejected the offered discipleship,
we who have been adopted as God’s sons and daughters cannot.
As Paul wrote, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves
be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

discipleship, then, is not one of burden and inconvenience. It
is a burden of joy and freedom from the fear of sin and death through
Christ’s sacrifice for us. One of the key marks of this freedom
is our willingness to follow Christ and serve others.

we have been told that we must leave our worldly concerns behind in
order to follow Christ’s commands, it can be difficult to see how
love for our neighbor and family can be properly expressed. But
this is only difficult if we choose to make it so. Jesus makes
it simple: If we follow Him first, trusting in His death and resurrection,
then we will have both the freedom and the means to love all others.

is only when we imprison ourselves in our sinful earthly minds that
we allow our jealousies, worries, and desires to make us selfish sinners
rather than generous saints. When we reject the Savior, we also
are rejecting the Creator and the Sanctifier, and so we find it very
easy to reject our fellow creatures.

did not reject who He was, what He was to proclaim, or what He was to
do. He was everything we are not: Steadfast in His mission,
consistent in His message, and faithful to His calling even to death.
We need Him as our Savior because He alone could do what we could never
do. He alone could keep the commandments. He alone could
set His face to Jerusalem and to the cross—focused and undeterred.
Unlike the Samaritans, unlike James and John, unlike the other would-be
disciples, Jesus was not distracted. He was determined to do those
hard things at which we balk and often turn away. He accepted
the cost of following God’s will when we run from it. Thanks
be to Him that He willingly put His hand to the plow and did not look
back. Praise God that, for your life and salvation, He set His
face to Jerusalem. In His (+) holy name, Amen.