A Face Like Flint: Palm Sunday 2013

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As believers in the Lord Jesus, we have to learn how to see Him as our substitute in all things, and not just in His death on the cross. Jesus did not just die in our place (although He did do that), He also lived in our place. The sacrifice of Jesus was for us, but so was the obedience of Jesus for us. The blood of Jesus was for us, but so was His courage.

“And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

“I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God will help Me; Therefore I will not be disgraced; Therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed” (Is. 50:6-7).

As we consider this text, and the courage of the Lord Jesus, there are four events we should keep in mind together. The first occurred earlier in this chapter (Luke 9:31), when the Lord was transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah. One of the things they discussed on that mountain was the “exodus” that Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. The second event is this one—the Lord, when it was time for Him to be “received up,” set His face steadfastly in the direction of Jerusalem, which was to be the place of His passion. The third event is His triumphal entry to Jerusalem, the event that we are marking on the church calendar today (John 12:13). The fourth event was His agonized prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32). The Lord knew what the Scriptures had prophesied, He knew the Father’s will, He had set His face already to do that will, and He was willing to go.

Our passage from Isaiah concerns the suffering servant, who is the Lord Jesus. He knew the abuse He would receive from the authorities in Jerusalem. His face would be abused—beard plucked out. But He refused to hide His face, and in His courage He set His face like flint in order to pay the price for your salvation and mine.

The Lord Jesus had a sense of His calling from the time He was twelve (at least). This was confirmed to Him at His baptism, when God spoke from Heaven, and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. But remember that we confess that He was not only fully God but also a true man. Indeed, He was the true man. This meant that He felt and fully experienced the gradual approach of a day of dread. He knew what was coming, but when it was a week away instead of years away the burden was much greater. The Lord Jesus required courage, which He displayed, and the Lord Jesus had to carry the burden, which He did.

He spoke with Elijah and Moses about the great exodus He would accomplish. He resolved to do it, setting His face toward the cross at Jerusalem. He empathized with the rejoicing at His triumphal entry—He supported it and did not think it out of place. Incidentally, it always bears repeating that we have no biblical basis for supposing that the crowd with the palms and the crowd crying out crucify Him! were the same crowds. This was not about the fickleness of the masses.

Christ is everything to us. He lived His entire life as a public person, as the last and final Adam. Everything He did was for us and to us, and God imputes to us all of His obedience, and not just His obedience of suffering on the cross. Theologians distinguish this by calling one His passive obedience (His suffering obedience on the cross) and His active obedience (His entire life of faithfulness to God). All of this is imputed to us, credited to us.

It was not just necessary for the people of God to pay for their sins. It was equally necessary for them to fulfill the vocation that God assigned to us. This is why Jesus identified with us from the first moment of His ministry (in His baptism). This is why He fasted forty days in the wilderness (remember forty years in the wilderness?). This is why He was tempted there. Who else was tempted there? This is why He invaded Canaan as the greater Joshua, and undertook a great warfare there, expelling demons. Christ is Israel, and Christ is Israel, finally doing it right. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

Let us bring this down to particulars. Every Christian is called to take up the cross daily (Luke 9:23). But this is not a solitary cross (although it will often feel solitary enough). It is not solitary because Jesus invites us to take up the cross in order to follow Him with it. He promises, in the next breath, that whoever loses his life for the sake of Christ will save it (Luke 9:24).

If we are believers, we are in Christ. If we are in Christ, then our crosses are within His cross. We are never alone in what God has apportioned to us. If we are called upon to show courage, then our courage is located where it must be located—inside His courage.

Courage is needed when you don’t think you can do the work anymore. Courage is required when the pain continues to go on and on, and you don’t know what to do with it, or where to put it. Courage is required in the face of uncertainty—perhaps you are threatened by a diagnosed illness, or financial troubles. Courage is required when your reputation is threatened by those who would slander you—not because your work is deficient, or because you have been dishonest in any way, but because you identify with Jesus Christ. Now identifying with Jesus does bring this kind of hostility. But identifying with Him also brings a great and glorious blessing. Why is that? Because His courage is given as a gift to you. The one who gives you this blessing of high-heartedness is the one who set His face like flint in order to go to Jerusalem to purchase you out of the slave market of sin.

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