When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51–56)
In Luke 9:51–56, we learn how not to understand Palm Sunday.
To set his face towards Jerusalem meant something very different for Jesus than it did for the disciples. You can see the visions of greatness that danced in their heads in verse 46: “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.” Jerusalem and glory were just around the corner. O what it would mean when Jesus took the throne!
But Jesus had another vision in his head. One wonders how he carried it all alone and for so long.
Here’s what Jerusalem meant for Jesus: “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” (Luke 13:33). Jerusalem meant one thing for Jesus: certain death. Nor was he under any illusion of a quick and heroic death. He predicted in Luke 18:31–33: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him.”
When Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, he set his face to die.
The Time Had Come
Remember, when you think of Jesus’s resolution to die, that he had a nature like ours. He shrunk back from pain like we do. He would have enjoyed marriage and children and grandchildren and a long life and esteem in the community. He had a mother and brothers and sisters. He had special places in the mountains. To turn his back on all this, and set his face towards vicious whipping and beating and spitting and mocking and crucifixion, was not easy. It was hard.
We need to use our imagination to put ourselves back into his place and feel what he felt. I don’t know of any other way for us to begin to know how much he loved us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
If we were to look at Jesus’s death merely as a result of a betrayer’s deceit and the Sanhedrin’s envy and Pilate’s spinelessness and the soldiers’ nails and spear, it might seem very involuntary. And the benefit of salvation that comes to us who believe might be viewed as God’s way of making a virtue out of a necessity. But once you read Luke 9:51, all such thoughts vanish.
Jesus was not accidentally entangled in a web of injustice. The saving benefits of his death for sinners were not an afterthought. God planned it all out of infinite love to sinners like us, and he appointed a time.
Jesus, who was the very embodiment of his Father’s love for sinners, saw that the time had come and set his face to fulfill his mission: to die in Jerusalem for our sake. “No one takes my life from me,” Jesus said, “I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
[This post is taken from John Piper’s book, Love to the Uttermost, also available here.]