Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. (Luke 9:51-56)
Thinking Ahead Of God
Zeal is a commendable attribute for anyone to possess and to use in the furtherance of the work of God. Great men of faith have used their spirits to guide the people of God out of Egypt, through the wilderness and conquer a land promised by the Lord. David shows his passion for truth by standing in the valley of Elah against the great giant Goliath. The prophets of old faced insurmountable odds against a rebellious people but they did not waver in their dedication to preaching the power of righteousness and repentance. Jesus gathered around Him an unusual group of men that would be considered misfits in the Jewish world but would become His voice in carrying the message of grace to the world. They did not immediately fall into this role. There were many times the apostles missed the mark to the work of God through His Son Jesus Christ. As the disciples enter a Samaritan city to tell the people that Jesus was coming they were met with derision and apathy. This was an affront to reject a teacher who had come into their towns to teach. Not receiving Jesus was a great insult and when James and John heard how the city had reacted they responded in kind. Hearkening back to a day in the life of Elijah they asked the Lord to rain fire upon these vile sinners. They were familiar with the story of Ahaziah the king of the northern tribes of Israel during the divided kingdom. He had fallen through the lattice of his room and injured himself badly. Instead of seeking the counsel of a man of God the king sent messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron. The Lord sent Elijah to tell the messengers that Ahaziah would not recover from his wounds because he failed to seek God. In response the king sent messengers to bring the prophet to the palace. Elijah called fire down from heaven and killed the first two groups of fifty soldiers who came to arrest him. James and John thought this same act needed to be carried out to this city that had insulted their Lord. They wanted Jesus to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did.
The greatest mistake men make with God is to believe they know better than Him. Thinking ahead of the will of the Lord is where man finds his greatest fault. James and John were full of great zeal. Jesus called them the “sons of Thunder.” There is a time and place for such enthusiasm but when it goes beyond the will of the Lord it becomes a liability. A village of Samaritans had rejected the offer of Jesus to come and teach in their midst. The people were not ready for His teaching. They were not wicked like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah whom the Lord destroyed. Nadab and Abihu died from fire from heaven because of their rebellious hearts. Elijah rained fire from heaven on the soldiers who came from Azariah by the power of God. The Samaritans did not deserve the ‘fire from heaven kind of judgment’ as James and John suggested. Jesus understood the character of the people and knew they needed time to be prepared to receive Him. His work was not to come and kill every soul who insulted Him, rejected Him or turned away from Him. The wisdom of man was to seek vengeance on those who opposed the Lord at any level. Jesus came to save men and to give them life through His death. The Father is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and the people of God should remember that. Lost souls need to be saved not burned to a crisp.
James and John were zealous but for the wrong purpose. They failed to understand the will of the Father and presumptuously suggested an avenue of wrath against a people that needed to know the mercy of God. What became of the city is not known but Jesus died to save men from the perdition of eternal death. It is easy to judge souls today as unworthy of the grace of God and secretly desire for the wrath of the Lord to come down upon them like fire from heaven. Does Jesus need to remind the church today its mission is to bring lost souls – folk like the Samaritans, or the immoral woman at the well and despised tax collectors like Zacchaeus along with insolent men like Saul of Tarsus – to the mercy and forgiveness of a loving God? There is a time for open rebuke as Jesus poured upon the Pharisees and scribes in the Temple message. But let not the spirit of the ‘Sons of Thunder’ invade the mission of the church to decry the misguided souls of a Samaritan village to damnation until all efforts have been made to save them. Disenfranchised sinners who wallow in the mire of immorality, lust, evil and wickedness need the saving message of a risen Christ just as much as the middle-class average family who seems to have it all together. Jesus died for all people – including a Samaritan city.