Have You Set Your Face?

By Mark D. Roberts

February 1, 2021

Scripture – Luke 9:51 (NRSV)

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.


In Luke 9, Jesus “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. That wasn’t just a physical destination, however. Jesus had a clear, guiding sense of purpose. When he “set his face” he chose definitively to go to the place where he would suffer and die. Jesus lived with purpose. Do you?

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


As I was reading along in Luke 9, a phrase in verse 51 grabbed my attention. It was not the phrase “to be taken up,” though this is a curious way to refer to what would happen in the last days of Jesus’s life on earth, including his ascension. The phrase that stood out to me was “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

This expression in the Greek original of Luke represents a Hebrew idiom that literally meant “to position one’s face in a certain way.” That saying had a literal, directional sense, as in Genesis 31:21, where it says that Jacob “set his face toward the hill country of Gilead” because that was his destination. But this expression also conveyed a sense of purpose or resolve. Jacob was not just traveling accidentally in the direction of Gilead. He was going there intentionally and with purpose.

Thus, in Luke 9:51, we learn that Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. Though he had focused his messianic work in Galilee for a season, the time had come for him to minister in Jerusalem But, as in the case of Jacob in Genesis 31, Jesus was not merely heading in the direction of Jerusalem. Rather, he was going there quite intentionally in order to preach the good news of the kingdom of God in that center of Jewish cultural and religious life. Moreover, Jesus knew that in Jerusalem he would “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). His prophetic vision was matched by a deep sense of purpose. He knew that he must undergo what would happen to him in Jerusalem. It was an essential element of his messianic work. So, as we read in The Message version of Luke 9:51, Jesus “gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.”

The question I want to ask you is this: Have you set your face? Do you have a strong sense of direction, not so much for your travel as for your life? Is your life guided by a deep, abiding purpose that motivates you and sustains you?

My friend and De Pree Center colleague Tod Bolsinger has recently published a book called Tempered Resilience. Though he does not use the phrase “set one’s face,” Tod frequently mentions the critical importance of purpose for leaders who seek to be resilient. For example, he explains that “the sense of calling or purpose is critical to leadership resilience in both Christian formation and organizational leadership literature.” Yet it’s not just any purpose that matters. “Christian leadership that flows from the center of our being,” Tod writes, “must begin in aligning our motivations with the purposes of God.” This is true, not just for acknowledged leaders, but for all Christians. “To be a Christian,” according to Tod, “is to be personally engaged in and have as one’s life purpose the mission of Jesus Christ.”

As we “set our face” in the direction of Christ’s mission, our particular paths will be distinctive. Some of us, like me, for example, will exercise our purpose as pastors and parents. Others will live with purpose as inventors, painters, technology specialists, managers, entrepreneurs, teachers, carpenters, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, and the list goes on. No matter what we do each day, no matter our particular callings, we are all called to the mission of Jesus Christ. May God give us the grace to “set our face” in this direction.


Would you say that you have indeed “set your face” in a particular direction for your life? Do you have a clear sense of purpose for living?

If so, how does your purpose inform your daily work? Your relationships? Your dreams for the future? Your use of money? Your civic life?

If you do not have a strong sense of purpose for your life, are you willing to ask God to help you develop one?


Set aside some time for reflection. See if you can write down in relatively few words your basic sense of purpose. You may find it helpful to do this with your small group or with a close friend.


Lord Jesus, today I’m struck by how you “set your face” to go to Jerusalem. Yes, that was your physical destination. But it was so much more. You were going to Jerusalem because you knew your ultimate purpose. You knew it was necessary for you to suffer and be crucified. Thank you, Lord, for living in light of this purpose.

Help me, I pray, to “set my face” in the direction of your mission. May my life be shaped and guided by your priorities, your vision, your truth, your love. Help me to live under your kingdom in every part of life, whether I’m at work or home, at church or in my neighborhood, in the grocery store or the polling place. Amen.

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: A One-Track Mind

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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