In the weeks leading up to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, you see a change in his demeanor. There’s more sadness, he’s perhaps more confrontational yet less optimistic that people are going to get it. The crowds dwindle, his disciples argue more, and the religious authorities seem to be painting a big target on his chest. Though individual lives, and many of them, have been touched and changed, on the whole not much has changed in Israel. The crowds that flocked to him now seem to spurn him, now that he’s not entertaining them with miracles all the time and has begun talking more and more about suffering, persecution, sacrifice, and even death.
All that would be OK if he’d talk about it in the context of throwing out the Romans—everyone knows that revolution and war involve sacrifice and death, but we can handle that as long as you promise victory in the end. But Jesus keeps saying things like, “"My kingdom is not from this world.” What do you mean, not from this world? What other world is there? And so people start peeling away. Early in his ministry John the Baptist asked Jesus a question from prison: Are you the one, or should we look for another? And more and more people are looking for another. More and more the disciples are becoming prime examples in missing the point. They jostle for position, anticipating the time when Jesus will become king and start handing out jobs in his administration. They are sure they will all be in his cabinet, but who will be chief of staff? Who will be secretary of state, and who will have to settle for Health and Human Services? And I’m sure all of this is exceedingly frustrating to Jesus. After all this time, all his teaching, and it’s like nobody was really listening. They all heard what they wanted to hear.
One time I gave a talk to a group of good God-loving Christian guys, and one of my key points was about equality in the Christian home, that the husband being head of the household didn’t mean greater privilege and getting to make the final decision but was about servanthood and the responsibility to serve first and sacrifice first for the family. And afterward a couple of guys were slapping me on the back and telling me what a great job I did and how they agreed that the problem with the Christian family was that men weren’t asserting their authority in the home. And I thought, “Were they listening to me, or were they in some other room listening to a guy who looked like me but was saying the exact opposite of what I was saying?” They heard, but they heard what they wanted to hear.
That’s so frustrating, and I’m sure Jesus felt that same frustration. But in spite of it all, Jesus never quit, he just kept going. And as I look at the final weeks of Jesus’ life, there are a lot of characteristics you can see, but none stick out to me more than his dogged determination. There’s a turning point in Luke’s gospel, right around the end of the ninth chapter, where it says that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. It’s a picture of dogged determination, of unrelenting focus. There’s a showdown coming, and rather than turn away, Jesus sets his face, leans into the wind, grits his teeth, and refuses to be distracted, dissuaded, or derailed. He is absolutely determined, and he is relentless in his march toward Jerusalem. And then in Luke 18:31-34 we read:
Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again." But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Seriously, they didn’t understand what he was saying? OK, granted sometimes it’s difficult to understand some of the cryptic passage of the Bible–but not this passage. Here Jesus speaks plainly. He doesn’t employ apocalyptic language, or use a parable with a hidden message. He says, “I’m going to Jerusalem. I’m going to be mocked, insulted, criticized, spat upon, and beaten. After that, they are going to kill me. I’m going anyway.”
They hear what they want to hear, and when they don’t hear what they want to hear, they hear nothing at all. Just babble. Stuff that doesn’t make sense. Nonsense. That’s why Jesus repeatedly said, “The one who has ears to hear, let them hear.” It takes more than ears to really hear.
It took courage for Jesus to go to Jerusalem, knowing that it wasn’t just a possibility that he would die but that it was a certainty. And it takes courage for us to hear what he says and do what he says. It takes courage to be a follower of Jesus.
And really good hearing.