Posts Tagged 'Fire from heaven'

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.


1 Kings 18:1—39

This chapter of Kings ranks among the most spectacular of all the chapters in the Bible.  We all know the story of how Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and called down fire from heaven.  The odds were in Elijah’s favor:  it was Elijah against the 450 prophets of Baal!   The odds are always in the believer’s favor no matter how lopsided the contest may appear.

The chapter opens either in the third year of Elijah’s stay with the widow of Zarephath or during the third year of the drought and famine; scholars are divided.  It doesn’t really matter for the drought and famine were running their course and the people of Israel were hurting.  During most of this terrible natural disaster, God was completely silent; Elijah had no word for the people.  We might say that Yahweh had bypassed His prophet and was speaking to the godless nation through the barren, parched fields and the cloudless skies.  God was speaking loud and clear, and His message was one that called for confession and repentance.   God speaks to people in many different ways; by His Word, or the words of a sermon, or through some circumstance of life.

In this chapter, we are given a graphic picture of the faithfulness of Elijah in six areas.

1.  He was ready to obey, verses 1, 2

After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.

By now the effects of the drought were severe.  Times were tough for all the citizens of Israel, and King Ahab was fit to be tied.  In spite of the certain danger that lay ahead of Elijah, the man of God obeyed the command of God to “go and present” (literally “show himself”) himself to Ahab.  Previously Elijah was told to “hide himself” from the king, and now he was commanded to do the exact opposite.  God is nothing if not unpredictable!  We would do well to remember this; only a fool would try to anticipate how God would work in any given situation.  God’s ways are fresh and unique and always exactly what may be needed.

It is amazing that Elijah obeyed so quickly; to obey God meant putting himself in front of a firing squad, so to speak—

Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the LORD ?  (verse 13)

Despite the danger, Elijah forged ahead, reminding us of Proverbs 28:1—

The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

2.  He was bold, verse 18

“I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals.”

Only one with total confidence in God could speak this way to a powerful king!

Elijah went before King Ahab, and the king, trying to show his superiority over this mere prophet, greeted him with an accusation—

When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”  (verse 17)

Ahab was probably accusing Elijah of being behind the drought and famine.  Calling Elijah “the troubler of Israel” is typical of the sinner’s blindness.  It is next to impossible for a person to admit that they are a sinner and as such deserving of judgment and punishment from God.  This kind of person would rather see the faults, imagined or otherwise, in others.  Such is the case with Ahab.  In fact, HE was the real troubler of Israel; judgment was being visited upon the land because of him and people like him.  Elijah made this very clear in verse 18.  How this must have galled Ahab!  How this blunt indictment must have incensed the king!

In Ahab we see what a real “troubler” is to the Body of Christ:  a believer who has forsaken the Word of God.  Every backslider is a “troubler” in the Church.  Remember Achan?  His secret sin brought grievous trouble into the whole camp of Israel.   Ahab and Achan and people like them today bring to mind the words of John—

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.  (2 John, verses 9—11)

It is always the “liberals” in the Church; the ones who think they are so progressive in tolerating what has always been intolerable in the Church, namely sin, who accuse the “conservatives” in the Church; those of us who actually believe in the Bible and its doctrines, of being “divisive.”  In fact, it is they who are dividing the Body of Christ.   It is not accurate to say that the Church has always “debated” the acceptance of homosexuality, for example, or any other sin.  It is only in recent years that the liberals within the Church have sought to legitimize their sinful agendas in the guise of Biblical Christianity, thus driving a wedge into the heart and soul of the Church.  If the Church of Jesus Christ is derided and mocked it is not the fault of so-called “conservatives,” but rather those wolves in sheep’s clothing.  People like Ahab and Jezebel.

3.  He was decisive and he called for a decision

In the face of a man full of hatred and violently opposed to God and God’s people, Elijah issued a command!

Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.  (verse 19)

We wonder why Ahab would go along with such a challenge, but we need to understand his mindset.  To him, his god, Baal, was being challenged.  Baal was angry.  Baal was withholding the rain because of Elijah.  To prove to Elijah and to the people of Israel that Baal was all-powerful, he had to meet the challenge; he had no choice.

When the people had all assembled on Mount Carmel, he did not give the prophets of Baal an opportunity to put him on the defensive.  Instead, he issued another command: he demanded that the people make a decision—

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”  (verse 21)

The spiritual situation in Israel at the time was dire.  The people were attempting to make a place for both God and Baal in their lives and they were suffering for it.  This kind of religious dualism, so prevalent in the Church today, is destructive; it cripples whole churches when it is allowed to flourish.  The people had to make a decision.  What Elijah challenged the people to do was exactly what Joshua challenged his people to do centuries earlier—

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  (Joshua 24:15)

God demands this kind of single-minded devotion from His Church today.  Being a Christian is an all-or-nothing proposition.  You are not allowed to mix and match your beliefs or Christian-ize your sins.  This was the decision Elijah had confronted the Israelites to make.

4.  He let God prove Himself, verses 23, 24

Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.

A person of faith is never afraid to risk all on the honor of God.   To the wavering group gathered in front of him, Elijah proposed a test that actually had its roots in an incident back in Leviticus 9—

Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.  (verses 23, 24)

So, really, what Elijah was proposing was nothing new, and here we have an excellent illustration of what faith really is.  Faith is not, as some people think, groping around in the darkness, hoping to find what you are looking for.  In back of faith are facts; facts as enumerated in the Word of God.  Know the Word of God—as Elijah obviously did—and you will have the kind of faith that moves mountains!

5.  His prayer was powerful, verses 36, 37

“O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

This is certainly not the longest prayer in the Bible, but it is one of the greatest.  Notice first that Elijah did not invoke the familiar phrase:  “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” when addressing God; he used the name “Israel” instead of “Jacob.”  Why?  “Israel” is the name that was given to one nation, not to twelve tribes.  This was a personal prayer for the people of Israel.  He pled with the covenant God of Israel to prove that He alone was still God in Israel and the Elijah was really His servant.

There was no fuss or muss in this prayer; no wasted words.  Elijah knew what he needed and he simply asked God to come through for him.  He did not, however, make it easy for God to answer the prayer by doing most of the work himself; he wanted there to be no doubt that when the answer came, it came from God and God alone.

There were four components to this prayer:

  • Make it known that You are God;
  • Make it known that I am Your servant;
  • Make it known that I have done everything according to Your Word;
  • Make the hearts of the people turn back

Really this prayer was a call for the vindication of God’s own honor, and it was answered immediately—

Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.  (verse 38)

Heavenly fire fell and consumed not only the wood and sacrifice, but the stones, the dirt, and even the water!  The pitiful prophets of Baal did not stand a chance.  They spent almost a whole day wailing and crying out to their god to perform.  And Elijah took just two verses.  There was no contest at all.

This was like a day of Pentecost for Israel!   If you are a true believer then you should expect God’s power to fall all the time.  What stops heavenly “signs and wonders” in our lives is simple:  unbelief and a lack of faith.

5.  He brought others to confession, verse 39

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD -he is God! The LORD -he is God!”

There are those who would attribute the people’s response to the demonstration of God’s power, manifested in the fire from heaven.  The people’s response ought to be attributed, however, to the faithful obedience of ONE man.  Had Elijah not placed his full faith and trust in God, none of these people would have uttered such a positive confession of faith.

The influence of a genuine believer is powerful and can never be underestimated.  When we live by faith, when we are bold in our witness, when we courageously stand up for our faith in the face of both the enemy and the undecided, and when we allow God to work through us, we will see the lives of those around us change.

Some of us may wonder why we don’t see God’s power manifested more in our lives.  Perhaps it is something as simple as us letting Him.  Let’s stop singing the dreadful old hymn, “Jesus use me, O Lord don’t refuse me,” and let’s stop thinking about what we may do and actually do the work Christ has called us all to do. We have all received our commissions in the service of the Lord.  Will we be as courageous and as inspirational as Elijah was when he fulfilled his?

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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