6 Pentecost Proper C8
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 9:51-62 Sermon
June 27, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
375 "My Faith Looks Up To Thee"
537 "O Master Let Me Walk With Thee"
551 "Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus"
446 "Ye Servants Of God, Your Master Proclaim"
IF I HAD IT TO DO OVER AGAIN
TEXT (vs. 52-56): "And [Jesus] sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, 'Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?' But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village."
"Oh, if I only had it to do over again!" If you're anything like me, you've probably uttered those words many times in your life. And when we've said them, it's usually in the wake of some event where we could have done something else to affect the outcome of a particular situation. We become like the football player who analyzes and re-analyzes a bad play that lost them the game. "Oh, if I only had it to do over again! Boy, would things be different!"
Many times we think about what we could have done to improve a situation, or to keep somebody's feelings from being hurt, or to even avert some sort of tragic ending. We could have acted better or differently. And actually, that's not necessarily a bad thing. We can learn valuable lessons from our mistakes. When similar situations might come our way again, we know what the results have been of our previous bad judgments, and so we respond in a better way. History has become our best teacher.
The part that I find scary however, is when I replay a situation in my mind, and I actually find some delight in thinking about what I could have done that would have been even more wrong. For example, when replaying a rather heated discussion in my mind, I can think of tons of things I could have said that would have really put that person in their place. Sometimes I wish that I could have just punched a person in their nose, rather than turning and walking away. I can think of a hundred different ways I could have gotten even with a person for something bad they had done to me, but I didn't. And so, I find myself wishing I could turn the clock back for all of the wrong reasons.
I said that this is a scary thought, because it's actually me having a close look at the sinful rot that's still churning around in my soul. I can look all nice and clean and pious on the outside, but just beneath the surface lurks the desire for a whole variety of wickedness and vice. And sometimes it's like loading a hefty bag with potatoes. Everything is being held together for the time being; but it seems that with just one small rupture, the whole mess will just start pouring out. That's the way sin can capture our lives; and when we let sin reign, then it can be messy. We might be trying to open the bag to reach for just one small potato to fling at somebody; but when we try to do that, the bag rips all the way open, and everything spills out. We just can't stop it.
Yes, I have a sinful mind that works in the wrong way too many times. And I would guess that you're no different, at least in your own unique way. This type of human attitude and behavior is something that Jesus knows about all too well.
As we look at our text for today which is our Gospel reading, we meet up with two of Jesus' disciples, James and John. Jesus has nick-named these two the "sons of thunder" which many have speculated refers to their rather turbulent temper and their capability for verbal outbursts.
Our story for today opens with Jesus heading for Jerusalem, and he is traveling with his disciples. The time of his passion and death is drawing ever nearer, and he has a lot on his mind. Even though the disciples were fairly clueless to all of the events which were to take place, they most likely knew that there was at least some trouble brewing ahead. Jesus had locked horns with some of the church officials, and anybody would know that couldn't be good. There was tension in the air.
So as they are traveling, Jesus sends James and John ahead to secure lodging for all of them in the Samaritan village ahead.
The Samaritans were only half Jewish by birth, so they were a hated people amongst the Jews. They had polluted the race by cross-breeding, which made them a totally unclean group of people. Any good Jew traveling in that area would go out of their way, even by miles to avoid going through the village. That's how much the Jews hated them.
Jesus of course breaks through a lot of the old taboos and restrictions. He regarded them as viable people with souls that needed saving, and so he goes amongst them without any hesitation. This line of thinking was something totally foreign to the disciples, who, being the good Jews they were, would have also had this same degree of hatred boiling under the surface, just like a hefty bag full of potatoes ready to burst and spill out.
But this attitude is a two-way street. It cuts both directions. When James and John went into the village, they would have been immediately recognized as Jews. And since they were traveling in the vicinity of the village, the Samaritans would have known they were on their way to Jerusalem for one reason or another.
So now it's their turn to get some revenge. All of the inns and guest houses and lodges suddenly had no vacancies for the travelers. In today's world, the Samaritan businesses probably could have been sued for racial prejudice and discrimination. Anyway, they let it be known in no uncertain terms that Jesus and his disciples were not welcome at all in their village.
James' and John's anger burned hot within them. These were not the disciples people wanted to fool with. They might have even left the town shouting threats and curses, and they could have even thrown in a few obscene gestures for good measure.
And so, James and John go running to Jesus. They're all worked up about this. Verse 54 records their question: "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" They're excited and almost gleeful when they present this prospect to Jesus. They were looking for a way to inflict punishment upon these people for rejecting them. This seemed like the golden opportunity to show these Samaritans how wrong they were, and that they had messed with the wrong people.
It's right here that we notice something of special significance. They don't ask Jesus to do it. They don't say, "Jesus, will YOU send down fire from heaven to destroy them?" They wanted to take the divine power into their own hands. They wanted to pass judgment upon the Samaritans, rather than leave it up to God. They wanted to be judge, jury, and executioner in this case.
The next verse in our text, verse 55 tells about Jesus' response. All it says is, "But Jesus turned and rebuked them..." Scripture doesn't give the exact words Jesus used. We're only told that Jesus scolded them. And that's enough. The fact that they were rebuked is clear indication that they weren't doing things God's way, but the devil's way. God didn't have this sort of thing in mind at all.
I would imagine that James and John were remembering what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah. He rained down fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed them because of their persistent sin and unbelief, and their refusal to repent.
But we need to remember that Sodom and Gomorrah was a lost cause. Nobody there wanted to repent. The raining down of fire and sulphur was the way these towns were annihilated. That wasn't really their punishment. They would have died almost instantaneously. Their punishment would come after their death when they would have faced the judgment. The fire and sulphur was a witness to the living, to those who weren't annihilated, that God indeed meant business and he had the power to carry it out. God wasn't in the business of making idle threats.
James and John did not have the power to judge the hearts of everyone in that village. Perhaps there were some people of faith there, interspersed with the unbelievers. What about them? Would they have deserved the same sort of judgment and punishment? Or perhaps God had another special purpose in mind for that village that James and John didn't know about. We can only speculate.
But we know that Jesus' rebuke put James and John in their place. They were disciples. They were students of Jesus, laboring for the Lord. They were being prepared to spread the Gospel, the good news of Jesus and the forgiveness he offered. They weren't being prepared as agents of wrath to carry out judgment according to their own ideas. By their words, they were clearly trying to do things the devil's way according to their own logic.
So why didn't Jesus want this Samaritan village destroyed? It's clear that James and John needed to be put in their place. That's something we already know. But there's more to it than that. If we look ahead in Luke's gospel, to Chapter 19, we read the story of Zacchaeus. After being chastised for associating with him, Jesus summarizes the purpose of his ministry in verse 10: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." John chapter 3 verse 17 further underscores this: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
Jesus did not come to punish and destroy. He came to seek and to save. This was a concept James and John needed to fully grasp, along with the other disciples. And it is something of which we need to be continually reminded as well. People couldn't be sought and saved if they had been annihilated. The gospel couldn't be preached in a town which was nothing but ashes and rubble.
If we were to look in the mirror, would we see the images of James and John and their attitude in ourselves? Don't we tend to develop an attitude of "righteous wrath" within ourselves? Don't we take more delight when someone gets their just desserts for a wrongful act than we do if someone repents and comes to faith? Don't we all have some very ugly things brewing under the surface?
Our way of thinking is so often the devil's way, and not God's. The Bible tells us that God does not delight in the eternal death and punishment of a sinner. Furthermore, we are told that God is the one who knows the hearts of people. We do not have the gift of divine omniscience.
The Christian is someone who has received the gift of faith in Jesus their Saviour, and has benefited from the message of love and forgiveness in the gospel. Our many sins have been forgiven through faith in Jesus our Saviour. The many times we have thought the way the devil thinks, and we have done things Satan wants to have done have all been forgiven. When we come to Jesus in faith, we can be assured that all of our many sins have been obliterated, and that we will be judged righteous and holy by God for Jesus' sake. God will not judge us according to all those times we have wished evil upon others.
So how should we act as Christians? How should we be thinking? Philippians chapter 2 verse 5 says, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." And then, James chapter 5 verse 20 says, "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins."
Jesus came to bring the gospel to the world. And we should do that too by being living examples and messengers of the forgiveness we have received.
So the next time that we want to wish punishment upon somebody, we need to remember how Jesus responded to the two sons of thunder, James and John. The next time we're tempted to start pulling potatoes out of our bag and start throwing them, we need to hear how Jesus rebuked these two and set them straight. The next time we want to do things the devil's way, we need to remember that our attitude needs to be the same as that of Jesus Christ.
Jesus saw the Samaritans not as unclean cast-offs like the Jews did, but as God's dearly loved children who needed the forgiving message of the gospel. Maybe they rejected Jesus and his entourage this time, but they would have the chance to come to faith and accept him as their Saviour as long as they lived.
And so, when we find ourselves saying "Oh, if I only had it to do over again," let's be sure we learn from our mistakes so we can respond as Jesus would have us respond, and not think about the ways we could have sought revenge or gotten even.