Summary: A look at James and John and how they desire to judge the Samaritans and how God treats us with grace and mercy
James: Calling Fire Down from Heaven
Primary Purpose: Jesus purpose was not to condemn, but to save.
On a recent Sunday morning, members of a church in Oklahoma noticed a shabbily-dressed man wandering near the church, poking into garbage cans. The man finally came to rest on the church steps. His pants were worn, his cap and coat dirty, and his shoes old and worn.
A few church members commented about “that old bum”. the morning service started, and after the special music the members were surprised to see the “old bum” wander in the door and start down the aisle. Someone whispered “Look, there’s that old guy coming inside!” Another said, “There he is. . .He’s the guy who was sitting on the steps.”
The man walked right up to the front of the church and walked behind the pulpit. Then reaching to remove his cap and a wig, the “old bum” revealed that he was in fact the church pastor. He proceeded to preach his message on compassion for humanity and the sin of the unconcerned.
This pastor said that only two members had even bothered to speak to him in his “bum” disguise. One person offered to buy his a meal, and another invited him to come into the church. “I was amazed at the reactions,” the pastor later commented, “No one got made, but they had their eyes opened to “who is your neighbor.””
Jesus often swam against the current of his culture in his time. He treated women and Samaritans like real people instead of with contempt like many Jewish leaders. He tolerated the tax collectors and zealots and prostitutes who came to hear him speak. In this story, we see Jesus again break with tradition. He is traveling across Samaria again. Most Jews would have considered the entire area unclean and pass well east of this area on the other side of the Jordan River. But, Jesus goes straight through towards Jerusalem. It is because he is headed toward Jerusalem that the Samaritians there treated the apostles and Jesus with contempt.
Samaritans were usually a mix of Jewish and Gentile descendants. They had intermarried after the Assyrian attacked Israel and carried off most of the people into exile. The Samaritans had established their own customs and their own place of worship on Mt.Gerizim. They had just as much hatred for Jesus as the Jews had toward them. This is why in v.53 it says they didn’t welcome him. They weren’t just indifferent-- they were hostile.
James and John (Sons of Thunder) become indiginant with the way they are treating Jesus. They know that Elijah once called fire down from heaven in this very part of the country. They are appalled. They are angry. They feel justified in their anger. This is why they asked “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
They wanted to judge, Jesus wanted to save.
They wanted to demand their rights, Jesus gave them mercy
They responded in anger, Jesus responded in grace.
We should well consider what would happen if God treated us the way we deserve. God’s ways are ways of grace. That means “unmerited favor”. In order words, He treats us in ways we don’t deserve.
1. Jesus shows us the impartiality of God. God loves the Samaritan who spurned him as much as he loves the Jews. John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world. . . .” He loves people regardless of race, financial status, social status, male or female. God loves us all equally and calls us to do the same.
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the cast system that was dividing the people of India.
So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.
Scripture teaches us that “Whoever shall call upno the name of the Lord shall be saved.” No partiality. No difference. Anyone who is willing to come and repent of their sins and turn to Christ will be saved. (See Romans 10:11-13)
2. Jesus treated the Samaritans with grace. Clearly He did deserve to be treated better. James and John had been with Jesus on the mountain of Transfiguration. They had heard the voice of God speak from the clouds. They had seen Jesus resurrect a dead person. They had seen miracle after miracle. They probably though, if Elijah was justified to call fire down from heaven, then surely this is justified to God. They are probably thinking of the story about Elijah in 2 Kings 1:9-14 where Elijah calls fire down from heaven not once, but twice. He does it till the 3rd captain of the guard comes with his hat in his hand, ready to be respectful and humble. It isn’t that Elijah was being disrespected. God often allowed that to happen to his prophets without fire from heaven. These men were showing contempt for God. The Samaritans here were showing contempt for Jesus. They were treating him like a second class citizen. But, Jesus told them that this was not a part of His mission. He told them that this was a time to save, not to destroy. v.56 and John 12:46-47