As the time approached when Jesus was to be taken up into heaven, he determined to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51 (CEB)
It is Easter week, and we are familiar with the sequence of events: The Last Supper, the garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal by Judas, the trial and torture, the crucifixion, and ultimately, the Resurrection. However, the journey began earlier than this sequence of events.
It could be said that the journey to the cross began before the earth was created (Revelation 13:8), but at this moment, the focus intensified. Jesus, undoubtedly, began to feel the weight of what was before him and there would be increasing isolation because, at this point, his followers could not grasp what was to come.
The phrase “he determined to go” literally means “to set one’s face.” This was a fulfillment of the words of Isaiah: “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” Isaiah 50:7 (NIV).
From the beginning of his life, Jesus had journeyed to Jerusalem many times. Beginning with his dedication in the temple and the prophetic words spoken over him by Simeon and Anna. Also, when he was 12 years old, he stayed behind and was found in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, and asking them questions. But this trip to Jerusalem would be unlike any other.
Many people go through life without ever having a set purpose or determination. They have a laissez-faire attitude that reveals aimlessness or even fatalism, but Jesus knew who he was and the purpose of his incarnation. He was: “…the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (NIV)
Do not misunderstand. Even though Jesus knew who he was and what his purpose was here on earth, he still had to overcome the temptations and the weaknesses inherent in human frailty to complete the mission. After the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, John’s Gospel gives us insight into the struggle within Jesus:
“Even though I am torn within, and my soul is in turmoil, I will not ask the Father to rescue me from this hour of trial. For I have come to fulfill my purpose—to offer myself to God. So, Father, bring glory to your name!” Then suddenly a booming voice was heard from the sky, “I have glorified my name! And I will glorify it through you again!” John 12:27–28 (TPT)
Again, days later in the garden of Gethsemane the conflict within continues: ‘Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”’ Matthew 26:38–39 (NIV)
Jesus could have given up. He could have decided that we were simply not worth the suffering and pain, but he was determined to go all the way to the cross. At this time of year, we contemplate what Jesus endured on the cross, but it was his steadfast determination to go to the cross that made it possible.
Let us briefly look at some of the obstacles that Jesus had to overcome on his way to the cross.
- His closest followers had their eyes on power and authority and were vying for position. (Luke 22:24-27, Matthew 20:20-21).
- There was the praise and hero-worship of the crowds wanting to inaugurate him as king. (Luke 19:36-38). They were looking for the reestablishment of an earthly kingdom.
- There was the constant opposition from “religious leaders.” They wanted to destroy Jesus. They taunted him and they worked to discredit him, claiming among other things that he “cast out demons by the power of Satan.” They were always looking to entrap him.
- The people were unaware of their need. (Luke 19:41-42). Jesus was making the greatest sacrifice conceivable, but most people were oblivious to their need. It can be discouraging to not be appreciated.
- Finally, he was betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends. First, there was the betrayal of Judas and then Peter denied even knowing Jesus, and at the foot of the cross, only John, among the disciples was to be found.
Do not take what Jesus accomplished on our behalf for granted. To use a contemporary expression: “The struggle is real!”
Jesus looked beyond the agony and torment of the cross to the “joy which was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). What Jesus accomplished on the cross serves as our example and inspiration. We do not have to bear the cross that Jesus bore, but we are called to take up our own cross and follow him. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:3 (NIV).
It was the determination and steadfast obedience to the father which enabled Jesus Christ to go all the way to the cross for us. We must draw inspiration from his example and in turn, be an example to others: “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” Ephesians 5:1–2 (NLT).