In motorcycle operation classes, instructors teach students to avoid obstacles in the road by focusing on the direction they want to go and not on the barrier. Wherever one’s eyes are trained, his body and vehicle will follow. The natural tendency is to look at the obstacle. But if a driver points his face toward the hindrance, he is more likely to hit it. To avoid obstructions, he must set his face to the open path. The Bible references this practice in a figurative sense. Luke 9:51 says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem” (ESV).
The words for “set his face” in the original language mean “to resolve or fixate one’s face.” This figure of speech refers to positioning or orienting one’s face firmly in a specified direction. With unyielding determination to complete the final, excruciating leg of His mission, Jesus set His face on the open, unobstructed path—“the joy that was set before” in heaven at God’s right hand—and He “endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV). Luke’s resolute picture of Jesus Christ locked on target, finishing His mission, echoes Isaiah’s description of Israel’s suffering Messiah: “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).
Flint is a very hard stone referenced throughout the Bible to symbolize strength, determination, and hardness. In Isaiah 5:28, flint is used in a simile to describe the toughness of horses’ hoofs. The word flint is also used figuratively to express the hardness of an impossible task (Deuteronomy 8:15; Psalm 114:80) and the inflexibility of uncompromising determination (Ezekiel 3:8–9).
Luke 9:51 marks a pivotal point in Luke’s Gospel. From here forward, the road to Calvary comes into sharp focus (see Luke 13:22; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28). Some have dubbed this long segment “Luke’s travel narrative” (Luke 9:51—19:27). Jesus Christ would endure His most challenging days of humiliation, disgrace, and betrayal on His journey to the cross to die for our sins. His road to heaven would pass through barriers of Gethsemane, Golgotha, the grave, and the guarded tomb. The Lord would face arrest, torture, and agonizing death. Isaiah predicts His suffering: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6; cf. Matthew 26:67; 27:26; Mark 15:19; Luke 22:63). Rather than turn away or back out, Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem. No enemy or obstacle would deter Him from accomplishing His purpose. He had set His face like flint.
Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s purpose for His life. Obedience to His Father’s will was central to Christ’s life and mission (Matthew 26:39; John 4:34; 6:38; 14:31; Hebrews 10:9). He came to suffer and die, offering His life as a sacrifice for sin so that all who believe in Him might be saved and granted eternal life (Isaiah 53:3–10; Matthew 1:21; Luke 19:10; John 3:16–17; 1 Timothy 1:15; 2 Timothy 1:10). If Jesus had not set His face to go to Jerusalem in selfless obedience to God’s plan of salvation, He would never have accomplished the redemption of humanity (Romans 5:18–19; John 17:2–4).
Christians are called to continue Christ’s mission on earth today (Matthew 28:19–20; John 14:12; 20:21). The apostle Paul teaches us to avoid stumbling blocks on our route by keeping our eyes on the “eternal prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27, NLT). Paul oriented his face toward the finish line in heaven: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12–14).
As Christ set His face to go to Jerusalem, believers must overcome the obstacles of sin by fixing their gaze on Jesus, who is seated beside God in heaven: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:1–2, NLT).