Fire From Heaven

Going to finish what I started in the last couple of messages..  I had made the statement that What happens at the start of his final journey to Jerusalem  is shocking,  if we will allow it to shock us.  I made this statement but never actually got to this point, so today I will get to the point.   (And all God’s people said Amen!)

Yesterday we finished up at the point in Luke Chapter 9 where Jesus, having detected the spirit of competition and power among his disciples as they argued about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of God,  set down a little child among them and said to them “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”” Luke 9:47-48 ESV.

Jesus is completely challenging their whole systems of comparing and competing, us vs them, and the disciples resist this, maybe they even resent it.   They, like us, were very committed to their us vs them framework of seeing the world.  Jesus subverts their system, their way of competing and contrasting and picking winners and losers, and the disciples don’t like it.

In my previous message, I had looked more specifically at verse 49 which comes next after Jesus shows them that greatness is not to be defined as they had thought.  “John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”” Luke 9:49-50 ESV.   Still showing his commitment to his us vs them way of seeing the world, John doubles down and tells how, despite their own failures in casting out demons earlier, they had come upon a man who was having no trouble casting out those demons in the name of Jesus Christ.  He had no trouble accomplishing what the disciples could not, but since he does not follow with us, the disciples stopped him.  And of course Jesus rebukes them and tells them “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

I’ll reiterate again, then get to the point.  You’ll never cast out many demons by sticking to us vs them because that’s the game demons play.  

Now, back to verse 51, that demarcation point from which Jesus has entered the last two weeks of his earthly ministry.

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.”

Jesus has steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, he is determined to stay faithful in announcing the Kingdom of God even though it means going through his own crucifixion to do it.  Notice that they do not go around Samaria as most Jews of the time would have, so hated were the Samaritans that they would add days to their journey just to avoid all contact with them.  But, again, Jesus refuses to recognize boundaries constructed in hostility toward others.  He does not have the spirit of Satan with him.   He goes straight through Samaria in his journey up to Jerusalem.

Now, he sent messengers ahead of him to go into Samaria to find somewhere to stay.  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.   The Samaritans hated the Jews right back, anyone who was set upon going up to Jerusalem to worship, who thought that they only had the one true God and said the Samaritans had no part in that God, even though the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all worshipped God upon their great mountain, Mt Gerazene.  The Samaritans resisted and resented this and would not receive Jews into their territory any more that the Jews wished to pass through.

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. ”.  James and John are having a tough time in Luke Chapter 9.

Samaria at the time was the same area as the Palestinian West Bank.  The geography and relationships and hostilities remain about the same to this day.  Most Jews took the long route around Samaria, Jesus goes straight through.  But the Samaritans won’t receive them, and it is an insult.

In response to this insult, James and John, the Sons of Thunder, wanted to burn them up with the fire of God.  In their desire to burn the Samaritan them, James and John cite the Bible.  Like the Bible says Jesus, you want us to burn them up like Elijah did?   Immediately James and John cite the story in 2Kings chapter 1.  You can read it for yourself, but here’s the point – when the king of Samaria, centuries earlier, sent troops to arrest the prophet Elijah, Elijah twice called down fire from heaven and burned them up, thus killing 100 Samaritan soldiers.  This is immediately what James and a John gravitate to.  We remember when Elijah let them have it.  Let’s go shock and awe on them, let’s drop the nukes, call down fire from heaven and burn them up!!!   Jesus let’s do that!!

This is what Elijah did when the Samaritans opposed him.  But guess what??!!   JESUS IS NOT ELIJAH.  The disciples clearly thought violence was on the table for Jesus. They’d been with him, walked with him, learned from him.  They knew his ways, but ultimately they still thought when it all hit the fan, Jesus would grab the sword and go to war.  They thought Jesus would resort to violence to usher in the kingdom of God, just like Joshua, like David, like Elijah.  They are wrong,  flat wrong.

Jesus tells them they are wrong with a very strong rebuke.  But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”  It was the spirit of Satan they had within them.   While fantasizing about the vengeance of God falling upon your enemies, make sure your not just fantasizing about your own vengeance and thus giving yourself over to the spirit of Satan.  This is what James, John and the disciples did.

James and John could have gone to another bible story.  Elijah had a protégée, Elisha, who had the double portion of the spirit of Elijah.  On one occasion, Elisha found his house surrounded by Syrian soldiers coming to arrest him.  When Elijah had this situation, he called down fire from heaven.  Elisha is capable of this, but does not do it.  He asks God to render them temporarily blind.  He takes them to the king of Israel.  “And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria. As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.” 2 Kings 6:18-23 ESV.  What to make of this?  Elisha had progressed beyond Elijah.  It’s a journey.  We have to stay on the journey, both individually and together in community.  Elijah’s way of dealing with enemies was to burn them and kill them.  Elisha’s way of dealing with enemies is to bless them, share a table with them and have a feast, then send them home with bellies full.  And the Syrians never again invaded.

Elijah’s way is to burn his enemies and kill them.  Elisha’s way is to bless his enemies and share a table with them.  Which one is the Jesus Way?  But the disciples had a hard time with that…

Jesus’s way of changing the world is not on a battlefield but at a shared table.  This is why we see Jesus enacting the kingdom of god from table to table.  Jesus disciples kept thinking Jesus would resort to violence, which is what Peter said in the garden of Gethsemane.   “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”” Luke 22:49 ESV.  To which Jesus says, as he always had through his entire life and ministry, NO.  Yet to this day many Christians believe, that ultimately, in the end of things, Jesus is still going to resort to violence to fully advance his kingdom.  He’s going to come down like Elijah, breathing that fire from heaven, burning all of those sinners up!!  We wait, we expect wars to come, and we think these are good because it must mean Jesus is coming.   Man, we have so missed the point, and the message, of the Gospel.  Gospel means Good News, does it not?   Why would we think Jesus bringing fire from heaven to burn up all the sinners would be Good News???

We are still infected with the spirit of Satan.

Jesus will go to Jerusalem.  He will confront the principalities and powers, and he will never resort to violence.  Jesus will allow his body to be broken.  He will allow his blood to be shed.  He will respond with forgiveness.  And forgiveness only.

Thank you Jesus.

John Lewis

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4 thoughts on “Fire From Heaven

  1. I hope that people do go and read 2Kings1 as you suggested. It is a very interesting story about a proud army sent by a proud king, who in the end were humbled by God. I am surprised each time I read it, that it took so long for the army to humble itself before God. I believe that God is a God of love, but he is also a God to be humble before for sure. I agree that there are too many Christians sitting around and just waiting for fire to rain down from heaven on their behalf so that they can dance with victory over God’s judgement/condemnation of others whom they don’t feel are “as Christian or Christian at all” as they are. That is definitely not the mind set that we are taught to have by Jesus. Every parable he gives us is about the Kingdom of God and how we are to look upon others the way that God looks upon them..we are to celebrate the redemption of others with great joy and mourn with great mourning those who chose not to be redeemed and do everything we can through the Holy Spirit to help them to know and understand the gospel. Good post. I really enjoyed it. I have always enjoyed the story of James and John wanting to call fire down from heaven…it is obvious they did not understand Jesus yet. When Jesus told them that they did not yet understand the spirit they had…I took it to mean that they did not understand that God’s spirit which was within them, would not have that attitude….they just didn’t understand that it was God’s spirit that they had yet…being made in God’s image. I found your interpretation to be thought provoking and equally true. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, good word on image bearing. We as a human race do not understand the image we are made in, the imageo dei, image of god. We don’t understand that Jesus represents us in our fully image bearing form. He is what we were created to be, image bearing creatures walking in communion with the father.

      Amen sister.

      Liked by 1 person

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