As I’ve been thinking about evangelism the past couple of weeks, a passage from Luke 9 came to mind. Starting in verse 51, we see that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem as the time of his death approached. And he sent messengers ahead of him, into a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him.
We see several times in Scripture the mutual dislike harbored by the Samaritans and the Jews. And we see here that, because he was going to Jerusalem, the Samaritans did not receive him. Because of his destination, they would not welcome him into their village.
When James and John saw this, they were obviously upset. They said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Remembering the judgment of God that had fallen upon Sodom and Gomorrah, they thought that this was an acceptable punishment for their refusal of Jesus.
In one sense, they were right. It’s quite clear in Scripture that refusing Jesus can only lead to one outcome. It leads only to hell. As we read in John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
However, when Jesus heard this, he rebuked them. This makes it clear to us that he didn’t feel the same way. He didn’t feel that their refusal of him merited their judgment, at least not yet.
The text in most of our Bibles doesn’t explain his reasoning for this. However, some of the variant manuscripts do provide an explanation. In addition to Jesus’ rebuke, they also include him saying: “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.”
Even though this variant doesn’t have enough manuscript evidence to be included in the text, it is consistent with another statement of Jesus. In John 3:17, he says: “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.”
As we saw from verse 18, which I cited above, this isn’t denying that there will be a judgment for those who refuse Jesus. However, when Jesus was sent by God into the world, his purpose was salvation rather than judgment. And this is what he was seeking during his ministry: the salvation of souls.
Jesus’ response to the rejection of this Samaritan village was to simply move on to another village. He moved on to another place where the people would receive him.
In considering this passage, when people today refuse Jesus, we often respond in a way similar to the disciples. We quickly become upset when they refuse the gospel. And our immediate response is one of judgment.
Obviously, their refusal of Jesus is not a good thing. And if they persist in their refusal, they will receive the judgment of God. However, in the meantime, the Lord continues to both desire and to seek their salvation.
As his people, this should be our heart as well. Even though it’s only natural for us to be saddened by those who refuse Jesus, we must bear in mind that it is still the day of grace. And, until they stand before the Lord, we must continue to desire and to seek their salvation.
When people refuse the gospel that we’re commissioned to bring, we must simply move on. We must continue in our calling. We must continually proclaim the message of salvation to those who are in need of his grace.