The Day Jesus Turned South
It was a crucial day in the life of Jesus. It was the day when Jesus, like Caesar before Him, crossed his Rubicon. It was the day when Jesus said, “Now, the die is cast.” It was the day when Jesus came to what might be called the most significant crossroad of His life.
Before Him, there were quite literally two highways. One led north to Galilee, the other south to Jerusalem. One led north to friends, to family, to those who admired Him and respected Him and listened to Him. The other road led south to Jerusalem, to enemies, to those who were already conspiring against Him, to those who wanted to cross Him off the earth for good. To the north was honor and long life. To the south was the cross and death within weeks or even days. To go north or to go south—the choice was His to make.
Now I ask you to notice something in this passage of Scripture. I ask you to notice that as Jesus faced this momentous decision in His life, such deep emotion welled up within Him that it showed in His face, in His walk, in the tone of His voice, in the gesture of His hand! The people who were with Him could see the tremendous tension that He felt at this moment. We read in the text: “And they were on the road going to Jerusalem. Jesus was walking ahead of them and they were amazed and those who followed were afraid.”
The verse suggests that the disciples were amazed. But why? Were they amazed because Jesus turned south toward Jerusalem. Surely not, for after all. He had told them right along that this was the direction He would choose to go when the time came. No, I am convinced that what amazed them was that for the first time they could see the terrible agony that He was experiencing as He made the decision at the crossroad.
The verse also suggests that the crowd who followed after them were afraid. But why were they afraid? They had not been privy to the prophecies of the cross which Jesus had shared with the disciples, so they would not have known the significance of His decision to turn south toward Jerusalem. Why then were they afraid? Well, I am convinced that their fear was caused by seeing the emotions which were working within Jesus. Do you know that this is the only place in Scripture where it says the people looked at Jesus and were frightened by what they saw? Oh, I tell you, this was for Jesus the most excruciating moment of his life before Gethsemane.
I know there are those who say that Jesus went to the cross gladly, almost with a smile on His face. I don’t believe that. That’s not to be found in this Bible. Why, Jesus loved life more than anyone else ever could! Who then would have wanted to cling to it more? Jesus was a strong, healthy, 33-year-old man. What strong, healthy, 33-year-old man wants to give up his life? No, I think Jesus approached the cross with sheer dread, and the dread first began to appear at the wilderness crossroad when He made this bone-crushing decision to turn south toward Jerusalem. And when the people who were with Him saw what it cost Him to do this, they were amazed and they were afraid.
But I haven’t drawn our attention to this incident so that we can be touched by its poignancy and nothing more than that. No, I believe that there are deep life changing lessons to be learned from that day when Jesus turned south toward Jerusalem.
The first lesson is this: Here, perhaps as nowhere else, we see the significance of this crossroad decision in our own lives.
There are times in our lives when we come to crossroads whose clear alternatives confront us just as they confronted Jesus. Jesus’ crossroad was at a dusty intersection in the Judean wilderness. Our crossroads may come in our home, at the office, in school, or on the job. And many times at those crossroads, we make decisions which may ultimately determine who and what we are. Robert Frost writes:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in this undergrowth,
Then took the other.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence,
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.
How true. There are those crossroads decisions in life which determine who we are and what we become.
Is there someone listening to my voice—an alcoholic perhaps who thinks back to the time when there was the first drink and who knows of what I speak when I speak of a crossroads decision? Is there a marriage partner who entered into the sacred covenant of marriage without proper thought and prayer and preparation and who now years later with a whole mountain of pain to bear thinks back to a crossroads decision unwisely made. Is there a student who wishes he could tune me out because I’m reminding him of the time when he first cheated and he thinks now of how he has to meet every examination with a “cheat sheet” in his hand? Or is there a businessman who entered the business world with the high resolve that he would never deal under the table, but who now finds himself living there, because somewhere along the way, in some crossroads decision, he chose wrong?
Ah yes, crossroads decisions can change a human life, but they can also change a church’s life. In fact, I happen to believe that this church now stands at a crossroad. We have a magnificent building and a strong congregation and we stand at the heart of a great city. Do we sit back and relax and try to enjoy it? Do we say, “That’s all well and good, but the churches on the outskirts of town are the ones that have a future.” Or do we marshal the resources God has given us and move out into this city and into our denomination and into our world with a life-changing, need-meeting ministry in the person of Jesus Christ? Do we look about us and say to ourselves, “Look at what we’ve done”? Or do we look about us and say to the world: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet?” We have reached a crossroad time in the life of this church. It’s time to decide. Are we prepared, like Jesus, to decide for God?
Now here’s a second lesson; Here, as nowhere else, we see the love and dedication Of Jesus Himself.
Think of the kind of love and dedication it required for Jesus to make the decision to turn south to the cross for our sakes. You know, I’ve been in the pulpit for fourteen years now, and yet I have to confess that I’ve never yet learned how to speak of the love of Jesus Christ without tears and stumbling words.
Better then that I should remind you of the story told by Ernest Gordon in his book, Through the Valley of the Kwai. It’s the story of a young Scotsman who was in a work detail in one of the jungle prison camps in Southeast Asia during World War II. The day’s work had ended and the Japanese guard ordered the prisoners of war to check in their equipment. When the guard took his inventory, he declared that a shovel was missing. He insisted that one of the prisoners had stolen it. He lined them all up and demanded that the guilty one step forward. No one moved. The guard exploded in rage and cried out: “All die!” He picked up a machine gun and prepared to gun down the entire line. He took aim. Just then, this young Scotsman stepped forward and said: “I did it.” The guard in near hysteria now began to beat this young man fiercely. The Scotsman never made a sound. His silence angered the guard all the more. So the guard took his weapon by the barrel, raised it high above his head, and brought it crashing down on the young man. The young man fell. The guard continued to beat him, stopping only when he had exhausted himself. The other prisoners then picked up the now dead body of their friend and marched back to the prison camp. They counted the equipment. No shovel was missing.
I think of that as I see Jesus turn south headed toward Jerusalem, a young man on his way to die. He did not deserve to die, but He would die to save so many others. He would die to save us. If you don’t remember anything else about this sermon, please remember this: The most powerful truth of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ died for me and for our salvation. If, because of this, we love Jesus—well that is not enough. We must understand that if He gave His life to save ours that means that every bit belongs to Him—not just a part of our lives, but every bit. And all because one day He turned south for our salvation. Thanks be to God for this victory.
One other lesson. Here perhaps as nowhere else, we see the nature of our discipleship.
Jesus turned south that day for one reason and one reason alone. He yielded to the authority of His Father in heaven. Now let’s be honest enough to admit that we don’t like yielding to authority. We want to fold, spindle or mutilate that computer card just because it says don’t do it. Few of us manage to hold our automobiles below 55 m.p.h. on the interstate highways. I frequently find myself tempted to write all over that space that says: “For official use only.” That’s the kind of people we are. We don’t like yielding to authority.
But we cannot resist the authority of Jesus because His life was a perfectly obedient life. Others before Jesus and since Jesus have said the same things Jesus said. The difference is that Jesus lived everything He ever proclaimed. And that gives Jesus an authority which is unique in the world.
So when I see Him turn south to die and when I hear His authoritative cry, “Come and follow me!”, I begin to realize that responding to the call is no casual matter. It’s not just a case of saying lightly: “Sure, Lord, I’ll be glad to tag along.” No, obedience to Jesus Christ is costly. It means no going back. No going back to the old life of ‘do your own thing’. No going back to a life of sin and selfishness. No going back to when we could see a world in need and not care, to where we could see God at work in human lives and turn away, to where we could sing, “The son of God goes forth to war, who follows in His train?” and pretend that we didn’t understand.
Oh, I know that there are those who say that it’s narrow-minded, confusing, even cruel to say that we come to God only through Jesus Christ. But I ask: Does our God require ceaseless reincarnation to attain perfection as the Hindus believe? Does our God force us to submit to the sometimes cruel and inhuman legalisms which the Moslems believe to be so important? Does our God demand that we give ourselves to endless rituals like the devout Buddhists? Does our God order us to throw ourselves into sick orgies or engage in senseless star-worship like the weird sects of yesterday and today? No, Our God simply says: “Give yourself completely to my Son.” Narrow? Confusing? Cruel? Quite the contrary—that’s the best news in all the world.
I remind you that He turned south that day for you. Are you ready to follow Him? Are you ready to give yourself away to Him and for Him? I can’t answer that for you. I am having a hard enough time answering it for myself. You will have to answer it for yourself. But I can tell you this. Once you commit your life to Jesus Christ, truly commit your life to Him, then you will find a joy in your life which nothing can ever take away and He will give you all the strength you ever need for the living of those days.