Luke 18:31-43 "Towards Jerusalem"
Jesus starts his journey to the Cross this morning. This is a strange starting place to be sure. He had been in Galilee before doing incredible healings and preaching to thousands.. He had crossed down through Samaria, where he had healed lepers and promised eternal life. And, he is now coming to and through the town of Jericho. If you were to look on a map of the region, you would have to ask yourself why would Jesus go to Jericho, as it is out of the way if you are on your way to Jerusalem. Jericho is far to the east in fact. This is a very roundabout journey indeed.
As we know, Jericho is significant to the history of Israel. We all may recall that it was in Jericho that Joshua had his first victory in conquering th eLand of Canaan after the Hebrew slaves left Egypt, and after having been in the Sinai desert for forty years.. We can read about this in the Book of Joshua 6:1-27. You may remember the story of the priests marching around the city and blowing the trumpets seven times and shouting as loud as they could so that the walls fell as the Lord had said. Rahab the harlot that had helped Israel's spies before was saved. It is really a great story about how the Lord will lead His people to victory through faith.
In the mind of the people following Jesus, one could imagine that God was about to do the same miracle over again. Maybe this time the walls of Jerusalem would come down. They were excited about the prospect of the ancient lineage of David being reestablished over Israel and the Roman overloads being pushed out in a moment of glory. That is also the expectation of the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem that we celebrate now as "Palm Sunday." We can read about that in Luke 19:28 and on. And, I love the line in verse 40 there that says that "even the rocks and stones would cry out" if the people were silenced. Even rocks obey God's commands as they did in Jericho in Joshua's time and now again in Jesus' time.
In our reading for today, and what is echoed in Chapter 19 is that Jesus' coming to Jerusalem is really not a happy time. As the prophets of old have said, the Son of Man will be betrayed, flogged and killed. When we look at the Prophet Isaiah's writings in the 53rd Chapter, we can hear the "Suffering Servant's Song," as it is now referred to. "He was despised and rejected by others. . . ."
Everyone is traveling up to Jerusalem in Jesus' day not realizing what the prophets have actually told of this time and the rejection of the Son of Man. Now, you have to imagine one more thing today as these disciples and other followers are walking up the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. This is a little gruesome. This is when my sermon gets the NC-17 rating. The Romans had been killing rebellious Jews en masse. For every Imperial mile of that road from Jericho to Jerusalem there was at least one crucified body of a Jew still hanging on a cross. As the path from Jericho to Jerusalem is about the same distance as from Waimea to Lihue, 20 miles, they would have walked past twenty Roman executions as a warning not to start any trouble in Jerusalem.
Now, when I go down to swim at Salt Pond, the first thing I do is I look for the warning signs. I really do not like it when I get all dressed out to swim and then see the jelly fish. It is much nicer to catch the sign before I park, or even nicer when I hear it announced on the radio or online that the water is not safe. I am really happy for that because then I do not even waste the gas driving down there. Thank God for the warnings we get in our lives! I like to take them seriously. I think about all those people who died rebelling against Rome. Not just the Jews, but the Germans and the Scots, etc. The Roman Empire collapsed on its own. Jesus already knows that. Jesus cannot be too happy about all these people following him at this particular juncture. He knows that just like Jericho, Rome will eventually fall. In fact, it becomes the very seat of the Christian faith eventually. Jesus must be thinking, "All these others who are lining up to suffer and die need not do it. I will just go and die on the Cross and the victory will be won."
But first, before any of that can come to pass, and already in the shadow of the cross that is warning Jesus not to go to Jerusalem along that road, Jesus knows what has to happen. Jesus will have to suffer. The Son of Man will prove to the world that He is in fact fully human as well as God as He lays down His life for us.
You know, deep down in our hearts we all know that one day our lives will come to the point of suffering unto death. The time just before death, when we are faced with our own mortality most, is when we are most human and at the same time most dependent on our spiritual faith. The author and playwright J. M. Barrie has his character Peter Pan say “To die would be an awfully big adventure.” This as he is tied to a rock about to be drowned. Tinkerbell saves him of course.
Then the most amazing thing happens to Jesus. He hears a voice. There a man is crying out at the top of his lungs. Others are telling him to be quiet, but this only makes him cry out more. Jesus stops. He interrupts the whole plan of death and resurrection to hear a man cry out for mercy. Jesus is never too busy saving the world to stop to save the blind beggar. We know from another Gospel that this blind beggar’s name is Bartimaeus. We might as well call him by his real name.
I love this idea. How much more distracted could a man be than being in a time of facing his ultimate demise–as Jesus was–and yet Jesus stops for Bartimaeus. Do you ever think that God is too busy to hear your prayer? Do you think that God is only about just corporate salvation and not about the individual like you and me? Let me tell you from this story it is clear that God will stop for you! The people around you might not want to hear from you (as Bartimaeus was rebuked by the crowd) but the Lord himself will call you to him.
The Lord does send people and help to you when you cry out to Him. Once there was a doctor who developed an experimental cure for cancer. His name was Dr. Stephens. He was invited to speak at a medical conference. As he was flying there, word came that the plane needed to land at another airport due to weather. He went to the ticket agent and was told that there would not be another flight through until the next day. However, it was suggested that he could simply rent a car and drive to his final destination as it was only three hours away by car and the roads were still open.
He started off without a hitch. However after two hours of driving he realized that he was lost and that the storm was making driving very difficult. He decided that he would look for some kind of place to stop and ask for directions. He was in a very rural area and had to drive some distance before he found a house with a light on the porch. As he pulled off onto the long driveway he noted how old and dilapidated the house appeared.
He knocked on the door and a disheveled woman answered and invited him in out of the cold. He asked about his final destination but was told that the radio had said that the road was now closed. He did not know what to do. Realizing the situation, the woman invited the doctor to stay with them the night at least until the storm subsided. She sat him down for what was left of a meal that had been prepared hours before. He was grateful while he ate. He noticed that while he ate the woman had gone into a room off to the side. He could hear her speaking in the other room.
When she came back out, he asked who she had been speaking to. She confessed that she had been praying over her daughter who was ill. The doctor inquired about the illness. “It is a rare incurable form of cancer,” the woman replied. “There is now perhaps one last hope for her. I have heard of an experimental treatment that would be our last hope. I was praying that somehow we might be able to go to see that doctor who had developed the treatment. His name is Dr. Stephens.”
“But, dear lady, I am Dr. Stephens,” he replied. As it turned out, that woman’s prayers did more than bring the sick child to the doctor. Somehow God decided to bring the doctor to the child. The treatments were started and the child is being cured so far.
In this story and the story of the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, we see that God chooses the individual over the crowd. Dr. Stephens does not lecture to the crowd, instead he helps a child. Jesus does not play to the parade of followers he has; he helps the blind beggar. Jesus is not about the crowd. He is about your heart, helping you in your life.
The funniest thing about the triumphal entry into Jerusalem is that when Jesus finally gets up to the Temple, he looks around and then leaves because it is late in the day and the gates are closed. The whole trek from Jericho to Jerusalem was never about some triumphal entry of the Son of David. It is more important that Jesus enters our hearts than some stone gate on a mountain. He does not care about the politics of it all–he just wants to heal us one by one.
In this is the example of how we are to live now–before our final resurrections. Go against the crowd–shout out for Jesus to heal your life. Let Jesus triumphally enter your hearts.