6th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 9:51-62 Sermon 
July 8, 2007

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
187 “Open Now Thy Gates Of Beauty”
479 “I Need Thee Every Hour”
463 “Saviour Thy Dying Love”
520 “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”


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.”

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine Emailed me an interesting story, which I’m going to share with you.

A man was being tailgated by a stressed-out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.

The tailgating woman hit the roof--and the horn--screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection.

As she was still in mid-rant and fully using obscenities, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, finger printed, photographed, and placed in a holding cell.

After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects. He said, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, making obscene gestures to the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. Then I noticed the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Follow Me to Sunday School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated 'Christian Fish' emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."

Now I don’t know how true this particular story is, but I know that sort of scenario does happen. In my 36+ years of driving, and the hundreds of thousands of miles I’ve logged during that time, I have encountered my share of idiots behind the wheel. I know how frustrating that can be, and I have stories that I could share in that regard.

Now I haven’t reacted as violently as the woman in the story did, but I’ve muttered my share of choice words and wished some rather unpleasant things. I’ve found myself wishing that I was behind the wheel of a military “deuce and a half” instead of my car when someone blows a light or a stop sign in front of me. That way, I could just plough right into them and do some major damage instead of slamming on my brakes. Or I would like to have found the car in the Creighton Hospital car park that drug the edge of their bumper almost the entire length of my car, and perhaps taken my key and made a nice deep long scratch the entire length of their car.

Of course I’ve never done any of those things, nor have I even come close to it. But I have a wicked inventive mind when it comes to concocting appropriate punishment for others, and what my sinful heart would like to do.

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 temper and what we would call anger management issues.

If somehow we could have them materialize in our current society, and we’d put them behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, they’d probably be good candidates for incidents of road rage.

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 fostered this same degree of hatred.

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. They 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.

If we would place them in a modern situation, they might have asked, “Lord, this person ran a stop sign in front of us. Do you want us to plough into them and mess up their car; perhaps even send some of them to the hospital?”

This was their line of thinking. There is also something else significant here. 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 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 that God indeed meant business and he had the power to carry it out.

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?

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.

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?

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 tell somebody to go to hell, 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.

May our attitudes always be the same as that of Christ Jesus, so that we will do things according to his will, and not go the way of the devil.