When the days were coming to a close for him to be taken up, he determined to journey to Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead of himself, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him. But they did not welcome him, because he determined to journey to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village (9:51-56 CSB).
We have seen the hindrances of pride and a party spirit to a gospel attitude, an attitude of good news to others. Next we turn to the hindrance of poor theology.
The still learning apostles had a frightening outpouring of misinformed zeal. They had much to learn about the attitudes of Jesus Christ and how to live in conformity with his gentleness, love, compassion, goodness, and kindness. We all need to be growing in these constantly.
This event occurred in a context of opposition to Christ. The time was approaching for his ascension. (How rarely has the church thought of our Lord’s ascension into glory. I can safely state that Christians know much more about the feeding of the five thousand than they do about the ascension.) But in order to reach the time of glory, Jesus had to walk the road to the cross: “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11). Therefore, Jesus headed to Jerusalem to die on the cross for sinners. This is the turning point in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus was intent on doing all that was necessary to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
However, because he was heading for Jerusalem, the Samaritans would not welcome him. They were mired in ethnic prejudice. Hatred runs very deep in human hearts. For example, I need look no further for an illustration of this than the utterly horrific political hatred continuing in this serious time of world crisis. Tear down the other side; hinder progress for the sake of political gamesmanship! Such true hate-speech is deplorable. What the Samaritans did angered James and John. They were zealous for Jesus and wanted him to be honored by people. But what kind of zeal did they have? They very sadly went in a wrong direction.
So then, they asked Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven to destroy Jesus’ opponents. At the very least, you could say that they were confident! They were sure that God would answer their request to protect Jesus’ honor. But this is a tragic-comedy! Do you get this picture? Two lowly fisherman are asking the Son of God if he wants them to call down from heaven. In one sense, it must have been hard for Jesus to keep a straight face. Of course, you and I probably never have an exaggerated idea of our own greatness, do we? The problem is that this was not funny. They were talking about judging people to eternal destruction.
Jesus sternly rebuked them. Luke simply states that Jesus turned and rebuked them. Did he say something like the textual variant in the footnote suggests? He may have. Perhaps he plainly said, “Have you men been listening to anything I’ve said? Be quiet and follow me.”
Whatever Jesus said, the point is clear. They didn’t understand his mission to save sinners by dying on the cross to propitiate God’s wrath. They were in a wrath mentality. Tell me, which do you read more of in the four Gospels: Jesus calling down fire from heaven and destroying town after town in Palestine or Jesus tenderly revealing God’s love and mercy?
The disciples did not understand the spirit or attitude of Christ and his better covenant. They were still living under the law, and the smoke and thunder of Sinai still motivated them. Jesus was taking them to another mountain called Golgotha, where he would satisfy God’s holy wrath against sinners. He had told them twice that he would be delivered into the hands of men. Yet at the first instance of opposition, they run back to the old mountain Sinai.
I’m not trying to be hard on James and John. I would not have done any better. But what troubles me is to hear Christians nearly 2,000 years later talking with an old covenant attitude. The world doesn’t treat us Christians as kings, and immediately someone is calling for God’s wrath to fall on them. Forget revenge! That dish is so spicy and hot that only God can handle it. Instead, get busy doing what the Lord Christ wants you to do. Tell all people everywhere the good news of the gospel; pray for your enemies.
Action Step: Tell people compassionately, “You are making God angry by your rebellion against him. In spite of that, there is good news. God so loves rebellious people that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for their acts of rebellion. Now why will you perish forever under God’s wrath? Turn to Jesus and receive mercy for his sake.”
Action Step: God what us to be zealous for him, but our emotions must be guided by God’s truth. Where do you need to change your emotions according to God’s word?
Grace and peace,