Don Carson: Jesus’ resolve to head toward Jerusalem #TGC13

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My notes from Don Carson’s session at TGC13′s national conference, “His mission: Jesus in the gospel of Luke.” (All notes are paraphrased.)


Every gospel is organized a little differently; this is something that we sometimes miss in a “bitty” reading of Scripture. In Mark’s gospel, for example, gives us examples of Jesus’ miracles scattered throughout Scripture. Matthew meanwhile, picks up on these miracles and puts them all in chapters 8 and 9.

In our passage tonight, is another ordering that is unique to Luke. Luke is telling us in his ordering of his gospel that he is going to Jerusalem to die. Everything in Luke’s gospel that takes from Luke 9:51 onward is taking place of the looming shadow of the impending cross.

That’s what this structure means. It’s a hint how to read the book. So I’m going to run through this passage before us (Luke 9:18-56) and show you a couple of things that will help you to read this book in light of the cross.

I want to make two assertions that rise from reading the book of Luke carefully. The first is this:

In his own time, Jesus is the misunderstood Messiah. But the reader sees what his contemporaries did not see: Jesus is resolved to go to Jerusalem to die and rise again.

We’ll see how this works out in five sections of this chapter:

1. Jesus is God’s Messiah but this Messiah will suffer, die and rise again. 

In Caesar Philippi, Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is; Peter says he is God’s Messiah. What Peter is confessing is that Jesus is God’s Davidic King whom God promised. But Peter did not mean what we mean when he made that confession. Peter doesn’t have the category of a Messiah going to the cross to die.

What Peter meant is not all that the Bible teaches—what he says is the truth and he’s blessed by Jesus for speaking the truth; but it’s still not full Christian truth. And this is pointed out in verse 21 when Jesus strictly orders them to tell no one. And the reason for that is that what the crowds understood by Messiah is a cluttering up of expectation—of dominion, of kingship. That’s why he works to reorient their understanding of what Messiah means.

But there’s no way they understood this. How do we know? When Jesus is crucified, they are shattered. They still have no category for a crucified Messiah. They were probably looking at each other saying, “Deep, deep. Jesus says deep things you know.”

But they didn’t understand.

And Jesus doesn’t let it go—he tells them, “Anyone who wants to be my disciples needs to pick up their cross too.” How’s that for seeker sensitive?

Jesus uses this extreme language because death to self is painful. Meanwhile they’re still thinking of triumphalism.

Jesus is God’s Messiah, but this Messiah will suffer, die and rise again.

2. Jesus stands in line with Israel’s greatest God-endowed prophets but he utterly outstrips them. 

In the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear, speaking to Jesus about his “departure”—his Exodus. They’re talking about what will take place in Jerusalem.

Peter, never slow to stick his foot in his mouth, says, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for you.”

Sometimes when we don’t have a clue what to say, the best thing to do is to keep our mouths closed. Peter didn’t really understand who Jesus was. But God wouldn’t let him off the hook. So God speaks from a cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen—listen to Him!”

Sonship has a lot of different categories in Scripture. Sometimes it’s bound up with kingship, but sometimes sonship is bound up with what would be later called the doctrine of the Trinity. And it’s bound up with the doctrine of the incarnation.

Moses doesn’t qualify. Elijah doesn’t qualify. The privileged disciples don’t understand.

3. Jesus alone has total power over the sick and the demonic, but he is about to depart.

To see the power of this passage, you need to read it leaving out verse 41. We see there his power over the sick and demonic. But in verse 41 we read, “You perverse and faithless generation, how long must I put up with you?”

Some passages are blistering to read. This one tells us that Jesus must have had a really hard time being with us. The disciples didn’t really have faith—they could handle the light stuff, but as soon as it’s hard, they turn tail.

I’m looking forward to going home. That’s what he says.

4. Jesus announces his impending betrayal but makes it clear why selfish people cannot follow him.

In verse 43b he tells the disciples that he is going to be betrayed and handed over to the authorities and they still couldn’t get it. The reason they couldn’t get it, the deepest reason, we find in the next verses where we see that they’re having an argument about who is the greatest.

Can James and John sit on your right and your left? They’re trying to get to the top; they’re not thinking about suffering. So Jesus takes a child and puts him before them.

Sometimes we’re told to receive Jesus like a child, but in this case he tells them, “whoever receives a child in my name…” He says, “I want to see how you welcome a child.” This passage isn’t saying Jesus is a cypher; it’s telling them to stop sucking up to Jesus and receive a little child.

They don’t get it. They’re thinking about the scramble for power.

5. Jesus heads toward Jerusalem to be killed, but he forbids killing the Samaritans who refused to welcome him. 

Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, to complete his Exodus. In some ways this is a relief. He’s leaving a messy situation. In other ways it’s joyful anticipation—he gets to return to the Father in glory. In other ways, though, it’s sheer terror—leading to the garden of Gethsemene and the cross.

When traveling to Jerusalem, he chose to go through Samaria, a land with no love lost to the Jews. And when they refuse to welcome him, the disciples ask if they can call down fire to kill everyone—not knowing that they would abandon Jesus in Jerusalem.

  • Should Jesus have called down fire on them for abandoning him?
  • Should he have done so to the crowds who called out “crucify him”?
  • Should he have done it to you and me?

In one sense yes; he’d be in his rights to do it. But he doesn’t–he is steadfastly resolved to go to Jerusalem.

That’s the first plank: In his own time, Jesus is the misunderstood Messiah. But the reader sees what his contemporaries did not see: Jesus is resolved to go to Jerusalem to die and rise again.

But there’s another plank that starts out similar to the first:

In his own time, Jesus is the misunderstood Messiah. but the Reader sees what his contemporaries did not see: Everything Jesus did is done under the looming shadow of the impending cross.

Jesus has three volunteers to come follow him—all of whom he turns away. He turns away those who are half-hearted or who are unwilling to face certain costs. In some Bibles these verses are called the cost of following Jesus.

But remember, now, that we are reading it in the shadow of the cross—what does it add?

It adds that if we are to follow Jesus who will take up his cross, we too must take up ours.

Think in Luke 10, when Jesus sends out the 72 and they come back thoroughly delighted. “Jesus, we have power over demons.” And Jesus tells them, “Do not rejoice over power over unclean spirits—rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus tells them to rejoice in their election, not their ministry.

Near Lloyd-Jones’ death, Iain Murray had the cheek to ask him how he felt to be on the shelf. Lloyd-Jones responded, “Rejoice not that the spirits are subject to you; rejoice that your names are written in heaven. I am content.”

These words are powerful, but they’re even more powerful in light of the fact that Jesus is headed to Jerusalem toward the cross. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven—what is the reason for their rejoicing? What grounds do they have? It’s that Jesus’ face is set to Jerusalem, and these are Christians whose names are written in heaven because of Jesus’ impending death on the cross.

Or what about the parable of the good Samaritan? Popular expositions say, “If you want to be a Christian, love your neighbor.” Jesus ends it with “go and do likewise, after all.”

The text is structured in two dialogs—the first question from the expert in the Law, and a second from Jesus.

When Jesus says, “do this and you will live,” some people take it as Jesus saying, “this is how you get saved.” This isn’t how the Lawyer interprets it, and it’s not how Jesus interprets it when he quotes them elsewhere.

This lawyer’s question is “How do I inherit eternal life?” And Jesus quotes “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind soul and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do that and you’re in, no problem.”

Does anyone really do that? If those are the standards for getting in, we’re all damned. And Jesus tries to expose the lawyer’s utter ignorance by saying, “Are you serious? Go ahead, try it.” That’s why the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor.”

Self-justification is one of the themes in Luke’s gospel. Justification is the act of God declaring sinners to be just because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Self-justification is sinners declaring themselves to be just.

That’s what’s going on here with the lawyer’s question. And Jesus exposes the man’s pathetic excuses and after the parable is unpacked, he asks, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the one who was robbed?”

The parable is straightforward in that context, but remember—this parable is on the way to the cross.

Who is the ultimate good Samaritan?

The Samaritan is one who takes care of a man who’s beaten and bruised, who can’t take care of himself; his generosity has saved him from death and from slavery. And the qeustion is, “who is acting like a neighbor?”

The ultimate Samaritan, who comes to broken people, who binds up their wounds, who frees them from slavery from sin and death is Jesus.

This isn’t Jesus point, but you can’t help but see it in the way Luke has structured things.

Let me conclude:

Away then with anything trying to drive a wedge between Jesus’ teaching and the cross. For a long time there have been books trying to focus on the teaching of Jesus—and without exception, those books don’t understand the teaching of Jesus. When you read the gospels slowly and carefully, you can’t see them outside the looming shadow of the cross. If you have Jesus teaching without the cross, you have nothing but a load of moralism.

Away also with all attempts to say Luke isn’t interested in the atonement. Luke is saturated with the atonement.

Above all, we cannot rightly read Luke’s gospel without reflecting long and hard on Jesus’ resolve to head toward Jerusalem. Are you among those who like to sift and choose between Jesus’ teaching? If you do, you’ll wind up with attempts to self-justify.  Or are you among those who think of Jesus in merely therapeutic terms, as though he were the AAA man—a very nice man who, when you’re broken he fixes you? But Jesus’ fixing is much more radical.  Or are you a Christian who reads your Bible in bitty ways—a verse a day keeps the Devil away?

All these verses take us to the cross, the resurrection and the ascension.

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Jesus resolved to go to Jerusalem.

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