Luke tells us that as Jesus contemplated the time when He would be taken up to heaven, He began to resolutely set His face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). This one statement is a critical hinge in a series of transitional events in the gospel of Luke as he leads us from a time of Messianic popularity, power and authority in Galilee and begins a crescendo of struggle and suffering in anticipation of the cross that awaits Him in Jerusalem.
By the time of Peter’s pronouncement of Jesus as the Messiah in Luke 9:20 we have seen this man who teaches with authority and power. He recognizes and resists Satan with Scripture and is focused in prayer and solitary meditation; but, He is not troubled when interrupted with the needs of people. He heals sick people with a touch of His hand or when they touch the hem of His garment. He speaks with authority to nature and the demon world and they immediately obey His commands. He raises dead people and can feed thousands at a time. He is followed by a train of men and women disciples with a core group of twelve men, three of whom are taken under His wing for specialized training. At important times in His ministry He speaks with the ancient prophets–Moses and Elijah–and God speaks to Him with words of affirmation that everyone present can hear.
If anyone ever demonstrated the fulfillment of Jewish Messianic expectations, Jesus fit the bill. With His power over nature, his ability to heal the sick and wounded, to raise the dead and to feed the masses how could anyone help but recognize that the kingdom of God was, indeed, at hand? Surely, the time has come…!
…Except He kept doing these strange things that left the religious people scratching their heads. What prophet eats and entertains with people who do not follow the Law or traitors to the nation of Israel (i.e., sinners and tax collectors)? How can He justify breaking the Law of Moses, working on the Sabbath Day, and still claim to be a righteous Jew? How can he let a known prostitute touch His feet, wash them with her tears, dry them with her hair and anoint them with perfume and be sent from God? If He were truly a prophet of God…if He were truly the Messiah….He would know better than to do these things! And yet, He knows the Scriptures and His words resonate with the ring of truth when He speaks about the nature of God and His kingdom.
The task of reshaping people’s understanding of the kingdom of God and pointing them to the way of the cross now becomes the central focus of Jesus’ ministry before his mission is complete (Luke 9:51). We know that his own disciples did not yet fully understand, even as He was about to ascend to heaven at the conclusion of Him ministry (Acts 1:6). Just in chapter 9, Jesus has referred to His own death twice (Luke 9:21-22, 43-45), He’s spoken of His followers and their challenge to take up their crosses on a daily basis (Luke 9:23), before they could possibly understand or comprehend the gravity of the events yet to unfold.
He begins by telling them of the radical nature of following Him which must take precedence above everything else, choosing to be wholly and totally dependent upon God. Even family responsibilities and the best of relationships must get in line behind following Jesus (Luke 9:57-62). As the disciples learn this principle more of them find that their ministry begins to meet with greater levels of success, including the ability of cast out demons (Luke 10:1-24). But the path of love leads them to understand the value of people who are in need, hurting and broken as illustrated by the story of The Good Samaritan (10:25-37). Furthermore, while preparations and possessions were important at the moment, the time Mary had spent at Jesus’ feet would last a lifetime: “it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).