Luke and the Inhospitable Samaritans and the Not-So-Hospitable Disciples


Luke 9:51-56

Up to this point in Luke’s Gospel, the writer-physician had been following Mark’s Gospel closely.  But now, with this division, Luke breaks and goes his own way.  Chapters 9-19 have no parallel in Matthew and Mark, although a many of the incidents Luke records are found in the Synoptics.

With 9:51, Jesus begins His journey to Jerusalem.  It’s a crooked road that got Him there, with many much-loved and familiar teachings being given along the way.  The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son and The Rich Man and Lazarus are among the parables Jesus gives in this section.

It has been observed that a small blade of grass may indicate which way the wind is blowing or in what direction a river flows.  In other words, very often a seemingly insignificant event may in fact have a major significance.  Such an event occurred in verses 49 and 50–

Master, said John, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.Do not stop him, Jesus said, for whoever is not against you is for you.  (Luke 9:49-50 NIV84)

Consider the attitude of grace exhibited by Jesus in allowing a stranger to “use His Name” and the grudge held by the disciples in wanting to forbid him from doing so.  These two verses represent that insignificant blade of grass, showing the the bent of the hearts of the disciples and that of our Lord.  In the following verses a stark contrast is drawn between the attitude of Jesus and that of His disciples.

1.       Jesus’ devotion

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.   (Luke 9:51 NIV84)

Jesus’ absolute determination is revealed in this verse, and it startles us.  He was a determined Man on a journey to fulfill His mission.  His mind was made up.  He WILL go to Jerusalem so He can eventually return to His Father.  Nothing from here on in will stop Jesus, not even the inhospitable Samaritans.  This verse suggests a number of things:

   Every movement in the life of Jesus, including this journey to Jerusalem, was according to God’s plan and purpose.

   Jesus was fully aware of what was to come.

   Jesus’ will was in complete agreement with His Father’s plan. 

   Even as Luke wrote this Gospel years after Calvary, he does not refer to Jesus’ impending death, but to His Ascension.  Luke knew that the Cross  was merely a “steppingstone to the crown.”

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:1, 2  TNIV)

Jesus was determined to get to Jerusalem, not because it was such a wonderful city to visit, but because the only way He could return Home and to His Father, was by way of Jerusalem and the Cross.   It’s not that the Cross was unimportant, but our Lord’s attention was focused beyond it.

The NIV’s “as the time approached” means literally “the days were filling up,” that is, we might say “the time was winding down.”  The countdown had begun.  It was only a  matter of time before Jesus would encounter His destiny, the destiny that was God’s will, a destiny Jesus fully embraced.

2.  Samaritan bigotry

but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.  (Luke 9:53 NIV84)

Jesus alerted the Samaritan village that a group of some 13 people was approaching.  Maybe they were looking for lodging or for food.  But the Samaritns didn’t care.  They weren’t at all interested in having these men visit their village. 

The Samaritans were “half-breeds,” and practiced a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and paganism.  When Israel fell to the Assyrians centuries earlier, the invaders carried away most of the ten tribes into captivity, replacing them with pagans from the east.  These pagans intermarried the few Israelites that remained, and their offspring became the Samaritans, named after the capital of the northern kingdom, Samaria. 

There had been a long-standing feud between the Samaritans and the Jews.  The Samaritans had their temple on Mount Gerizim, but because Jesus was heading to Jerusalem and “His Father’s House,” they would have nothing to do with Him.  Essentially there were three other reasons for this:

   Because Jesus would not  honor their works.  The Samaritans had “made up” their own religion, a mixture of “the best parts” of a number of religions, including Judaism.  How many people today do exactly the same thing?  They invent all manner of customs and traditions that make them feel good about themselves as they try to excuse their sins and serve God at the same time. 

   Because Jesus will not follow them.  The Samaritans had made up their minds to worship God their own way, in a place determined by themselves:  atop Mount Gerizim.  Because Jesus would never condescend to worship God in any man-made way, they would have nothing to do with Him.  The self-righteous religious person invents ways of approaching God based on what HE thinks God wants, not on what the Bible says God wants. 

   Because Jesus chooses His friends carefully.  Jesus didn’t hang around with just anybody.  Sure, He dined with “publicans and sinners,” but for the purpose of converting them, not to fellowship with them.  Jesus was on His way to the Cross, then Home.  The Jews would have nothing to do with the Samaritans and vice versa, but Jesus was willing to associate with anybody IF it meant winning them over.  But to the Jews and the Samaritans, Jesus was an offense; His cross was an offense to them both.  Jesus offends a lot of people today.  He offends a lot of religious people today

3.  The disciple’s intolerance

When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?   (Luke 9:54 NIV84)

Jesus knew what He was doing when He nicknamed James and John “the Sons of Thunder!”  These two brothers may or may not have had red hair, but they often showed their dispositions.  Here we see those fiery dispositions on full display; their dislike for the Samaritans and their loyalty to Jesus collided and resulted in their sincere but humorous question.  

Their question showed they were indeed loyal to Jesus but it also showed they had faith in God, or maybe in Jesus, who they tought would surely answer their request even as God had used the  prophet Elijah to call fire down from heaven in the Old Testament.  Ungracious and zealous as they were, their questions shows three things–

   Faith.  They obviously wouldn’t have asked if they hadn’t believed it was possible.  Their question may seem funny to us, but to them it was serious; they seriously believed that if Jesus willed it, they could call fire down from Heaven.   Do we have that much faith?

   Zeal.  We can fault them, but how many Christians have this much zeal when the character of Jesus is impugned? 

   Ignorance.  Their hearts may have been right, but they were so wrong in their attitude.  They were ignorant and they reacted and spoke in ignorance.  The “heart” should never trump the “Word” of God nor the “will of God.” 

4.  Jesus’ rebuke

Jesus wouldn’t let James and John get away with their intolerant, ignorant attitude. 

But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.   (Luke 9:55 KJV)

This verse has caused some controversy over the years.  The KJV makes it twice as long as the NIV does because it adds, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”  Some translations choose not to include that phrase in the body of the text but place it as a footnote or in italics off to the side.  In all likelihood, Luke did not write it, a scribe probably did, thinking he was adding “pizzazz” to what Jesus had said.  But, really, the important word in this verse is “rebuke.”  It’s a stern word and would have caught James and John completely off guard.  These men were zealous, but ignorant.  In their zeal, they misspoke and came off sounding like bigots, not  followers of Jesus.

A lot of Christians today are just as zealous and just as ignorant.  They say all manner things about God and even to God, but their words betray their lack of knowledge.  How serious an offense is this “lacking in knowledge?”  Consider–

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.”  (Hosea 4:6  TNIV)

Praying in ignorance has always been a problem in the Church.  Some may be familiar with this prayer–

 Lord, bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife; bless us four, and no more.  Amen.

The Lord rebuke people with such attitudes!

5.  Jesus gracious explanation

Here’s an example of wisdom at work, and why Jesus is the Messiah and not James or John.

For the Son of man is not come to destroy mens lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.   (Luke 9:56 KJV)

Or, it’s always better to just go to another village than to call down fire! 

Besides, it wasn’t Jesus’ purpose to destroy anybody, but to save them.  To put it another way, the purpose of the Incarnation was to save men.  Consider the Samaritan village.  Certainly they may have rejected Jesus, but had the disciples made any effort at all to win them to Jesus?  Had the Gospel ever been preached to them?  Had they ever been given a chance to believe?  The answer must be “No.”  James and John had to no right to want to see that ignorant village destroyed.  Their’s was a fleshly desire for revenge.  And that’s why Jesus used such a stern word as “rebuke.”  And He had to remind them of just why He came – not to hurt, but to heal.

Many people read this story and see only the fault of the Samaritans.  But they were just lost souls; they needed a Savior to find them.  James and John are really the ones at fault here.  They knew Elijah had called down fire from heaven, but Elijah didn’t do so out of a spirit for revenge.  Jonah once acted just like James and John and God corrected him.  It’s always God’s way to wait and to be patient.  Remember the words of Peter–

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  (2 Peter 3:8, 9  TNIV)

Think about it.  God waited 120 years while Noah was building his boat before He sent the flood in judgement. He waited some 40 years after the crucifixion before Jerusalem was destroyed, also in judgment.  Yes, God is indeed patient.  This was something James and John needed to learn, and something we Christians would do well to remember because our mission in the world today is the same as our Lord’s back then:  do seek and to save those who are lost, not to destroy them.

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