In Part 1 I noted how the twelve, like us, had a hard time accepting people outside their own spiritual circle. “Those other so-called Christians might believe in Jesus but they believe a little different than us. They don’t worship enough, or maybe too much. They don’t evangelize the way we do or pray in a way that is unfamiliar to us. They’re not strict enough in their practice of faith or they’re too strict. They have a different name on their church sign than ours, so they can’t possibly be as right as we are!”
There’s a church in our community whose sign you can see from the freeway called “The True Jesus Church.” It’s a clear message to all who pass by that there is at least one church in town that presents the True Jesus. I guess all the others worship an untrue Jesus?
As we saw last time, we don’t have a very wide welcome if we seek to shut up those who belong to a different expression of the Kingdom. But, as Luke’s adjacent story reveals it becomes obvious that these same disciples had such a narrow welcome that they prayed to burn up people who reject them and their Jesus.
52 Jesus sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them.*
*Some versions, such as the NASB, include Jesus saying, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Luke 9
“All Non-Club-Members Can Go To Hell For All We Care!”
“Burn ‘em up, God!” This takes spiritual bigotry to a whole different level! It’s one thing to prevent people from joining your ministry club, but when you wish God would just incinerate them you definitely have a smaller welcome than Jesus does! The two scenes in this chapter are different expressions of bigotry but they come from a similar place in the heart, and it’s not a good place.
I have to admit that there are some individuals that make it harder for me to pray and hope will join us in heaven. The man who seduced a married friend of mine and ruined their marriage comes to mind as one I struggle to pray blessing on! The crazed terrorists who behead men, rape women, and conscript children into their armies seldom find their way onto my “save-‘em-God” list.
Don’t forget that many Samaritans were quite receptive to Jesus when he made it clear that he wasn’t just another Samaritan hater, they came in droves to see the man who told the woman everything she’d ever done. And later Philip found Samaritans ready for the gospel. Okay, so the first time they are approached they weren’t receptive, but is that any reason to torch them?
Remember that Samaria was included in the Great Commission right after Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 1:8). Who are our Samaritans today? Liberals or conservatives? LGBT people? New Agers? Immigrants? Those who live in mansions or those camped out in the bushes on your street? You name it, anyone with a different culture, worldview, or religion. How wide is your welcome with these and/or others?
Let’s be clear. This is not to say that everyone is automatically in the Jesus Club. We’re not talking about entrance into the Kingdom where criteria––repentance and faith––do exist. But what comes before entrance is a welcome to the entrance. The welcome mat at the door, not going through it, is what we’re talking about. And until they learned otherwise, the disciples’ mat was so narrow as to barely exist. The question is, have you learned otherwise and increased the width of your welcome mat at the entrance of the Kingdom?
At this point, the disciples had no bandwidth in their hearts for Samaritans. It wasn’t just that they didn’t want Jesus to come to town, but because they believed differently and worshipped differently. It wasn’t because they were immoral or were trying to take over their country. They posed no threat their safety or national identity. It was their sub-biblical religion. Their theology was cockeyed, so rather than patiently working through all this, John and James thought the best thing would be to torch them! Not a very wide welcome, wouldn’t you agree?
You have to admit the twofold irony in this story. First, that John, the apostle of “love,” would be party to such an anti-loving proposal. Secondly, John and James, who prayed their enemies to fry, were eventually exiled and beheaded (respectively) for their faith!
Jesus indicated that they didn’t get that vengeful “spirit” from him. There’s was similar to the spirit that incites Islamic extremists to brutally murder people in the name of their god and diametrically opposite to the motivating and empowering Spirit of God.
Okay, I admit that calling down fire on persecutors can be found in the Bible. It’s not advocated, but included in the Bible in the stories of Elijah and Moses. I suppose you could find a verse for just about any excuse for bigotry you need. You’d have to do some pretty shifty stuff with the text to get there, but it can be done, i.e. slavery in this country. Not everything included in the Bible is supposed to be repeated. Some things are merely descriptive and not meant to be prescriptive.
“You don’t know what spirit you’re from!” It seems to me that many Christians have no idea from whence comes their narrow welcome, if not a downright vengeful spirit. They mistake a spiteful spirit for the Spirit of God. They think they’re being “spiritual” when in truth they provide a conduit for demons. If you think I speak in hyperbole, listen to James:
If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:14-16
When you want revenge that’s not the Holy Spirit you’re feeling. The adrenaline that comes with revenge or extreme nationalism can feel an awful lot like the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and some spiritually immature people can’t seem to tell them apart. People who hit the streets with signs expressing hate against gays or blacks or abortionists feel a rush that approximates the feeling they get in church or in prayer and they mistake it for the same thing. It’s not!
Jesus didn’t come to destroy but to save! Yes, he will judge the world someday, but this is not that day. He will do undoubtedly do his “strange work; his alien task” of judgment (Isaiah 28:21), but salvation is here and now. Today is the day of salvation. Let’s take advantage of it not only for ourselves, but for others, especially those we don’t like much!
So, how wide is your welcome?
Are your thoughts, if not your prayers, sound like: “Shut them up / Burn them up!”? Or are they more like: “Scoop them up, Lord! Bring them (and me, while you’re at it) close to your heart!”?