This week the blog is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publishers of To Seek and To Save: Daily Reflections on the Road to the Cross by Sinclair B Ferguson. They invite you to download the first three entries today!
Most of us have made journeys that have been memorable. Some have brought gladness, others sadness. Very few people we meet have never been on a journey—though I did know one of them, many years ago.
I was a minister on a very small, remote Scottish island. One afternoon I visited an elderly lady and as we talked she asked me what another place on the island was like–it was at the south end of the island, only five miles away from where she lived. She had never been there. “Let’s get into my car and I’ll take you,” I said.
“No,” she said, “I don’t want to go; I’d just like to know what it’s like.”
Neighbors told me that if a ball of string had been tied to her ankle the day she was born, with enough string to stretch for a mile, it would never have been fully unwound. The place she wanted to see had a beauty all of its own. I still wish that I had been able to take her on what would have been, for her, a memorable journey.
Jesus and his journey
I sometimes think of that afternoon when, by way of contrast, I reflect on the journey the Son of God took when he came “to seek and to save the lost”. That elderly lady was not prepared to travel for a few miles to see a place she had heard was beautiful. How different the Son of God in his incarnation.
The journey motif is present in different ways in each of the four Gospels.
John is perhaps the most dramatic. There the Son of God travels the vast distance between the world in which he is “with” or “face to face with” God to the world in which he “became flesh” and lived “face to face” with us. That is a distance beyond calculation. In Mark’s Gospel, the story is compressed into the last three years of our Lord’s life; everything seems to happen “immediately.” It is a breathless journey. In Matthew, the journey of the Son of God causes others to go on journeys: at the opening of the Gospel Magi journey from the east to Christ and at its end the apostles journey from Christ to the ends of the earth.
But it is in Luke’s Gospel that the journey motif comes into its own. Here, from the moment Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) everything takes place within the context of a single journey. The journey is the spine that holds the whole narrative together.
Exactly why Luke did this is not very clear. He was writing for someone called “Theophilus.” If Theophilus was a real person (the name means “Friend of God” and so could simply be code language for any Christian), he was probably both well off and well educated. So perhaps Luke, himself the most educated on the Gospel writers, was echoing the journey motif in classical literature (like Homer’s Odyssey, named after its central character Odysseus, King of Ithica, and in turn lending its title to any epic journey).
The disciples were on the wrong path
While Jesus’ odyssey has the city of Jerusalem as its geographical destination, it becomes clear that its real purpose is accomplishing our salvation through his death and resurrection. He came or journeyed “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He had already explained that to them (Luke 9:44), but they neither understood nor wanted to understand. En route he gave them more hints; on occasion, he would spell it out in words that could not possibly have been misunderstood, yet still the disciples “did not grasp what was said” (Luke 10:34).
It must, therefore, have been a lonely journey, and it would become lonelier still. And yet what is so fascinating about Luke’s travelogue is the sheer number of people Jesus met on his journey. Between Luke 9: 51 and Luke 24: 53 Jesus engages with more than forty individuals or groups of people! These chapters are not only a single travelogue, but they are also a series of dialogues.
Following Christ’s lead
I remember hearing a series of sermons on Luke’s Gospel that made me think there is a kind of parallel in Bible reading and preaching that I came to call (depending on where I was in the world) the “Find Waldo” Method, named after those wonderful books where the little fellow in the striped sweater is hidden somewhere in a picture and you have to find him. It struck me that in the sermons I was listening to the preacher kept asking the question “Where are you in this story?” We were looking for Waldo—and he was us!
Of course, we are sometimes like the people who appear in the Gospels. But neither they nor we are what the Gospels are about! They are about the Lord Jesus. So we miss the main point if we are looking for ourselves instead of looking for him. The primary message is not “I am like them” (although that may well be true and important). It is “Jesus Christ is like this”—and he still is. He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). It is important to see that these words are not merely another way of saying Jesus Christ is eternal, although he is. Rather they are telling us that all that our Lord was “yesterday” (that is, during the ministry described in the Gospels) he still is “today” for us.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus
What then is the “takeaway” for us when we follow Jesus on the journey?
First, we will find ourselves faced with a tremendous challenge. Despite the variety of people with whom Jesus engages, at the end of the day, they fall into two categories: those who are with him and those who are against him (Luke 11:23). There is no middle ground. We either follow him (notice the journey motif again), or we turn away from him (Luke 14:27).
But second, the more important lesson we need to learn is this: if we are going to follow him on the journey, we need to keep our eyes fixed on him—and that includes when we read the Gospel.
If you do that when reading Luke’s travelogue you will soon enough discover much more than the ways you are like the people Jesus meets. You will discover what he is like. And perhaps for the first time in your life, you will be able to give an extended answer to the question: “What is Jesus really like?” in which you are not talking so much about yourself and your experience as you are about who he is and what he is truly, eternally, and wonderfully like.
If so, the journey will have been well worthwhile.
Journey with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem with Sinclair Ferguson’s new Easter devotional To Seek and To Save. As you walk through the second half of Luke’s Gospel, you’ll meet the people Jesus encountered on the way to the cross—and prepare your heart to appreciate his death and resurrection afresh.