This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on July 4th, 2010. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Justin 7/4/10.
Introductory Story: my family used to watch The Andy Griffith Show. In that show, Andy was the sheriff of little Mayberry, and his deputy was Barney Fife. Barney was zealous for law and order, and he knew all the statutes and town ordinances. He longed to see evildoers punished. Barney carried a gun, but due to several mishaps, Andy decreed that Barney could only carry one bullet, and it had to be stored in his pocket, not in the revolver. It was only to be loaded into the revolver in dire emergencies. But Barney really, really wanted to load up that gun and shoot some bad guys. He would get so excited about the chance to load the gun that he’d usually drop the bullet, or fire the gun into the floor accidentally, etc. Andy, who only rarely carried a gun, would then usually defuse the situation in a gentler manner.
Jesus’ disciples in this story remind me of Barney Fife. Their request to call down heavenly lightning on the inhospitable Samaritans is like Barney asking “can I load the gun now, Andy?” Their motives don’t seem entirely wrong: they know that Jesus and his message are of supreme importance, and that rejection of him and his messengers is like rejection of God’s kingdom. But in their zeal for Jesus, they interpret a slight as an occasion for vengeance, and lose sight of his real mission. (AND WE ARE LIKE BARNEY, TOO…)
Jesus has been traveling, teaching about the kingdom of God, and demonstrating the kingdom’s presence by healing, and training the disciples by sending them out on short-term mission trips of their own, teaching them (and us!) what to expect. But now his time of being “received up” is drawing near. (a reference to his coming death & resurrection and his return to his Father). Jesus knows that the divine plan is moving toward its goal, and he “sets his face toward Jerusalem.” (This Hebrew expression means he was firmly determined to go there, despite opposition). He predicts to the disciples (more than once) that when he reaches Jerusalem he will be killed by the religious and political leadership. But he is still determined to go! The expression about “setting his face to go,” often used of prophets who faced persecution, depicts a Jesus who had to face his natural, human fear of death and pain, and had to conquer that fear in order to go on.
He is rejected by the Samaritan village, and not even for a good reason: they don’t really understand who he is or what he is about; they just know that he is a Jew who’s going to worship at the Jewish holy site instead of the Samaritan holy site, and they’re not going to help him on that journey.
How is Jesus going to respond? The disciples want him to respond with fire. The Samaritans have missed their chance to accept God’s Son, and he could demonstrate his power by destroying them. But he rebukes the disciples to show that the time for irreversible judgment has not yet arrived (as he had already told them in Luke 9:5). God the Father, Son, and Spirit has a much bigger plan in mind; as Jesus said in John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” His victory over misunderstanding and rejection will not be won through lightning bolts, but through a gracious sacrifice of his life. (Importantly, he gives Samaria a 2nd chance after his resurrection: specifically sending the disciples there in Acts 1:8…they [including some of the ones who wanted to blast the Samaritans in this story] go there in Acts 8 and there is a great revival with many people coming to believe in him….all that would have been lost, had he just blasted them)
We often experience snubs, mistreatment, rudeness, opposition, and rejection. Sometimes (infrequently) it’s because we are followers of Jesus. More frequently, it’s ambiguous, like the rejection by the Samaritans here…mostly just a case of people being inhospitable and prejudiced. We could react as the disciples did: assume the worst motives on the other party’s part, put on our Barney Fife righteousness-police hat, and load up our revolver (which might look like writing the other person off in our minds, berating them with harsh words, gossiping about them, etc). Or we can react in the much harder way, the path of Jesus toward Jerusalem: patiently absorbing the offense, forgoing vengeance (which we leave up to God), working for the good of the offender, offering them grace (perhaps just by walking away).
None of us is capable of following Jesus perfectly on this path that leads through rejection into glory. We are generally much more concerned, like the disciples in verse 46, with wondering “Who will be the greatest?” (our correct answer: Me!) In the end, none of the disciples followed Jesus all the way; all either betrayed him, fled, tried to protect him by killing, or denied knowing him. But that is why he set his face toward Jerusalem, and overcame the fear of death and pain. He went there to die for the sins of overzealous defenders and ignorant rejecters alike, to create a new people (Jew, Gentile, and Samaritan, united across old dividing-lines) who would be known by their graciousness and love. He is still at work now, through his Spirit, transforming us into such people.