“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them.”
(Luke 9:51-55 ESV)
Ministry, in our current day and age, is hard. As we seek to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation and to make disciples of all nations, we find that people are unwilling to listen to us. And we find that we are often rejected.
This can leave us frustrated. It can leave us upset. It can lead us to long for the end. It can lead us to long for the return of Christ. And it can lead us to desire the judgment of the wicked.
This is what was happening among Jesus’ disciples in the passage above. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would ultimately be condemned and executed. However, he sought to minister to the people along the way.
For this reason, he sent messengers ahead of him. They entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him.
They did not receive him because of his destination. They didn’t receive him because he was headed to Jerusalem. The Samaritans, after all, not only had animosity toward the Jews. They also had a different place of worship, Mount Gerizim.
When James and John saw this rejection of Jesus, by the Samaritans, they asked him if he wanted them to call fire down from heaven to consume them. Some Biblical manuscripts refer back to Elijah, who called fire from heaven to consume the troops sent by King Ahaziah. What they wanted, then, was the judgment of these Samaritans.
Jesus responded to this question by rebuking James and John. He reprimanded them. He corrected this wrong attitude displayed by them.
Again, there is a difference in some of the Biblical manuscripts. Although we don’t find it in some translations (ESV, NIV, & CSB), we do in others (NASB & KJV). They record Jesus, adding: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.”
Jesus came into the world not to condemn, but to save. He says it this way, in John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” This, then, was the attitude he expected from his followers. And it’s the attitude he expects from us.
Although it’s easy for us to become frustrated with the response of others to the gospel, we must never seek their judgment. We must never seek their condemnation. We must continue to desire and to seek their salvation. They, after all, are a people for whom Christ died.