‘I have set my face like flint . . .’
Sermon for Palm Sunday 2014
[2 Kings 9]
Behold the Servant of the Lord!
(Spectators or participants?)
Whilst I have been contemplating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem this past week, one story form the old testament has consistently come to mind – that of the anointing of Jehu as King over Israel, and instrument of God’s judgement against the house of Ahab. Briefly, the prophet Elisha sends one of the company of prophets to Jehu with instructions to anoint him King. The prophet takes him aside privately, anoints him and declares his mission, to wipe out the line of Ahab and the priests of Baal. Then he flees. Jehu then takes his men and sets off to Jezreel, the city of Ahab’s line. As he approaches – the watchmen say ‘Look! There is Jehu! Send someone out to see whether he is coming in peace!’ As each emissary reaches Jehu’s advancing army, he is told – ‘what do you have to do with peace? Fall in behind me!’ And so it goes on – an almost terrible intensity of purpose as the annointed one, the instrument of God’s judgement approaches the city
An intensity which is seen in Jesus. 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. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. Luke 9:51-53 There is something about the manner of Jesus as he sets his face, flint like towards Jerusalem, that causes people to draw back. In Jesus, the long heralded Servant of the Lord, there is utter focus, intensity of purpose – Isaiah says 4 The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. the Servant of the Lord awakens to hear that which the Lord God has to say – he is sustained by these life giving words and so he sustains others – Jesus says, ‘my food is to do the will of the one who sent me’ – When Satan tempts him in the desert with bread – he replies ‘man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’. Jesus in his humanity knows the sustaining of the word of the Lord.
This is what he lives for – The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards.
And Jesus does not rebel, he does not demur, He is obedient – even to the point of death, the death of the cross
I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near
As Jesus comes to Jerusalem, his purposefulness is evident. In the words of the Psalmist ‘Behold it is written of me in the scroll of the book. I have come to do your will O God’
Singleness of purpose – the one who fulfils his own words – ‘seek ye first the Kingdom of God . . .’ Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the instrument of the judgement of God, coming Only to do the will of his Father.
And what of us?? Through Lent we have been reading together John Kirkby’s book about the establishment of Christians against Poverty. As people have mentioned to me, there are many times when humanly speaking it seems as if the game is up – usually because the financial resources have dried up, but throughout John remains committed to what he perceives to be God’s call on his Life – the way in which he is anointed to serve the purposes of God, and God has mightily vindicated that trust.
I think of Andrew Scott at Brockville – from times living from day to day, not knowing where the next dollar might come from, but as he has consistently told me since I first met him – this is what God has called me to, so here I stay. The issue is not the money, it is my obedience to God’s call. And like the story of John Kirkby, God has vindicated his servant. From nobody, in three months Andrew now has 16 people reading the BIble in a weekday study group – there have been numerous adult baptisms – there is little or no money – but there is obedience and so there is life.
When we speak of the blessing of God upon us, I think very often we misunderstand – what is the Life that God blesses? It is the life of faithfulness to his purposes. If we desire to serve God – God will honour that and through that conduit of faithfulness produce fruit to his glory. The one who lives for the glory of God, sees the glory of God.
We have lived for too too long with a narrative that says – God blesses our lives if we are ‘good’. The truth is that God glorifies himself in the one who is focused to live entirely for the purpose of the glory of God. The more clearly our life together is focused on the purposes of God, the more clearly His glory is revealed.
We have lived too long with a narrative that says, this is all about us and our happiness – whereas it is entirely about God and His Glory. That is the purpose of our very existence. The Image of God – revealing God’s glory in and through the Creation
This surely is the Truth revealed in Jesus. ‘The one who honours me, says the Lord, I will honour’ – ‘How will I honour him? By glorifying myself in him’ There is no greater blessing than for God to reveal his glory through us. Even in death.
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus emptied himself, and thus became the place wherein the glory of God might reside – therefore God highly exalted him – to the glory of God the Father.
And what of us?? Through Lent we walk with Jesus, with him we fast pray and give alms. We search our hearts and pray for the Grace to continue the journey with Jesus through Holy Week. Unlike those first disciples, we know where this story ends – and Jesus’ gracious invitation is that Holy Week is not for us a spectator event, but one we participate in. It is in truth the renewal of our Baptism – we are included in the death of Jesus that the Life of the risen Jesus might be revealed in and through us – to the glory of God the Father.
As he walks into Jerusalem with but one purpose in mind, we lay aside all other concerns and set out also to die with him. Last week we heard the story of Lazarus – and early on in that long story we hear Thomas say ‘Let us also go with him, that we may die with him’ These are the words of faith. Thomas speaks the words of the one whose life Is Jesus, who desires one thing, to hear and do the will of God, even unto death.
I began with that strange story of Jehu – it might sound a very very odd parallel. Jehu, the anointed instrument of God’s judgement against the house of Ahab. Yet there are powerful parallels, except in one key aspect where the true nature of the King of Israel is revealed. Jehu rides towards Jezreel for Judgement with a mighty army and riding in his chariot. Jesus, with similar intensity of purpose, His Face set like Flint, comes also to the city for judgement – that Jerusalem, all her people and as we shall see all of humanity stands under the judgement of the Living God. And the King comes, but not upon a chariot to kill and destroy – but ‘humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’. The violence of the Kings of Israel thrown into stark contrast with ‘The King of the Jews’, who is ‘gentle and humble of heart’.
As Jehu approaches Jezreel he says to those who come to ask if he is for Peace, ‘What have you to do with peace? ’ Jesus also declares, I have not come with Peace, but with a sword, but the execution of Judgement will fall upon him.
Jehu says to those envoys ‘Fall in behind me.’ And so Jesus, face flinty with purpose of the Servant of the most High God, says to us, ‘Fall in behind me’ ‘Let the same mind be in you, as was in Christ Jesus’ – the one who emptied himself that the Life of God in all its purposes and all its glory might be revealed in the world.
This is the reason for the existence of the Church – This story of Holy Week is Our story – we are a people born from above with one purpose and one purpose only – to be those vessels for the Glorifying of God. As with Our Lord, We lay down our lives, the world in its violence and hostility to God’s just and gentle rule is judged. God’s glory is revealed.
‘Let us also go with Him, that we might die with him – for God’s glory, that the Son of God may also be glorified’