Please read Luke 9:49-56 - Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem
Ask the Holy Spirit for help in understanding God's Word.
v49. John’s questions.
The scene of Jesus speaking with the disciples, with the child standing in the middle of them all, is still open before us. In responding to Jesus' teaching that the 'greater one' is the one who humbles themself, and with a servant's heart receives and acts upon his word, John raises an incident that had taken place on their 'twos' preaching tour. Having heard what Jesus has just said, John is having doubts about whether or not he had done the right thing in trying to stop a man who was casting out demons in Jesus' name. It may seem like a strange response, but the linking thought in John's mind is Jesus' use of 'in my name', because the man had been casting out the demons 'in Jesus’ name'. So, if Jesus is saying that the doing of things in his name is what is important, then the question arises – were they wrong then to tell the man to stop? Note, the "we tried to stop him," probably indicates that they had failed to do so. This is certainly something different. Jesus had not empowered this man to do what he was doing as he had with the Twelve, Luke 9:1, and yet the man, because of his faith in Jesus and his grasp of the power in Jesus' name, was able to cast out demons. Just for the sake of clarity, John is not raising this because he is personally jealous of what the man is doing. If that had been the case, Jesus would have addressed that immediately. If anything, John is jealous in a good sense – for the name of Jesus. He wants to make sure that anyone who was either not directly appointed by Jesus or closely associated with him, was not taking Jesus' name and misusing it. He is concerned about people roaming the countryside, giving the impression that they are working on Jesus' behalf, in case some of them might be charlatans.
V50. Jesus replies.
Jesus understands where John's question is coming from, and he tells John that they should not have tried to stop the man. Jesus' reasoning is straightforward; if someone is not against you, they must be for you, whatever approach they take. Jesus teaches on the reverse position in Matthew 12:30, "Whoever is not with me is against me." So, what do we take from this? We take the point that what matters is the heart. Others may do things that we may not fully understand, but if they are truly and passionately in Christ, we must stand back and let them serve Christ. Trying to restrict or restrain true lovers of Christ who are seeking to serve him in a way that is consistent with his revealed way, is not our place.
V51. The Samaritan village's refusal.
We leave behind the window into the thinking of the Apostles and enter through the eyes of Luke into a new season in the life and ministry of Jesus. I say through Luke's eyes because the other gospels do not present this to us in the way that Luke does. There are parts of it which are similar to passages in Matthew and Mark, but Luke's focus is defined by the statement that Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem." Now, we need to be careful because such a phrase could lead us to think that Jerusalem and the Cross are just around the corner; they're not. Yes, they are making their way to Jerusalem, Luke states the fact a number of times (Luke 9:51,53; 13:22,33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11,28), but it will be about a year before that will happen. Trying to plot the course they took is not straightforward. Initially, it seems that they are going the direct route through Samaria, Luke 9:51ff, but later on, i.e., Luke 19:1, we find him in Jericho. In Luke 10:38, Jesus is in Bethany, a few miles from Jerusalem, but in Luke 17:11, he is between Samaria and Galilee. There are several views on this. Some think that there were two or three journeys (according to Leon Morris, one of the commentaries I am using for this), others believe that the journey is a compilation of material drawn together by Luke from throughout Jesus' ministry. I take the view that this journey was not just about bringing an end to Jesus' Galilean ministry and getting to Jerusalem, but rather about what is happening along the way as they travel to Jerusalem and all that it will hold for them. And in that respect, it reflects life in many ways. Often we can be fixated on getting to a point, whether it be the big staging posts in life; when I get a job, when I get married, when we have our first child, when we get our own home, when we get the kids through college, when we get the mortgage paid off, when I retire. Or the smaller ones; when I get a new car, the next vacation, the new kitchen, ... Life is not about getting to the staging points as soon as we can, although being mortgage-free is always a good goal to work towards, but rather journeying through life itself. We can become so consumed with the attainment of goals that we miss out on life lived in Christ itself.
The big picture issue is that we are now entering a period in Jesus' life when he will be concentrating, although not exclusively so, on teaching the disciples. Not that it is just Jesus and the disciples who are making this journey. We have already met several ladies accompanying them, Luke 8:2,3, and there is no reason they stopped doing so. The party is at the border of Samaria, and the intention, as per the usual practice of Jews, is to travel through the province towards Jerusalem. The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was real, but not sufficient to get in the way of the commerce that would come to the Samaritan villages along the way from Jewish travellers. Although, sometimes the Samaritans were not averse to making life difficult for the Jews going through their territory. A party of Jesus' size would have been a welcome sight for any village, given the revenue they would generate. It was courteous, though, and to a degree common sense, that a village would be forewarned of the impending arrival of such a group of people, so that food and accommodation could be prepared. And so, Jesus sent messengers ahead to inform the village that they would be coming. On this occasion, there wasn't the usual financially motivated, moderately affable, welcome. This wasn't because of the size of the party. Villages like this would have been used to large groups of Jews making their way from the North, through their province to Jerusalem, for the annual Jewish feasts and festivals. So, what was the issue this time? Well, it's not what, but who. The Samaritans are less than friendly; in fact, they refuse to receive them because of Jesus. It is about Jesus. It's difficult to understand what is meant by the phrase "he set his face to go to Jerusalem." So, is it because Jesus Is going to Jerusalem that the Samaritans act as they do; but given the above, that doesn't really make sense? I think, and I am not foisting this thought on you, but I see it as the first sign of opposition to who Jesus is and what he will do, even if it is being exercised by people who don't know why Jesus is going to Jerusalem.
V54. James and John request.
James and John, the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17), are incandescent with rage. They want to call down from heaven on the village. It could be regarded as quite a presumptive thought on their part, that they could say the word and God would just destroy a village full of men, women, and children. It does speak though to the fact that they had taken note of what they had seen on the Mount of transfiguration, namely the glory of Christ, and were jealous to protect him as they saw best. Maybe it was the fact that they had seen Elijah at the transfiguration of Jesus that reminded them of how he had called down fire on the fifty men of King Ahaziah, 2 Kings 1:10, that they made this request. Of course, they had just been confronted with the truth that whoever speaks in the name of Jesus can do extraordinary things. So maybe their request, albeit wrong, doesn't seem as far fetched as it first sounds. In fact, maybe it would befit us better if we were to stand up to the blasphemous use of the name of Jesus more often than we do. By that, I am not suggesting that we seek their remedy, but rather take a mental note of their zeal for the name and honour of Christ.
V55,56. Jesus' rebuke.
Jesus doesn't give time for the thought to settle; he turns instantly and rebukes them. Their zeal may be commendable, but their proposal is not. There is a statement of what Jesus is supposed to have said in the margin, but this is only included in some manuscripts and probably best left where it is, i.e., in the margin. The point is made – Jesus is not happy with what they are suggesting, and led the party to another village.
We need to take care that we are not only zealous for Jesus' name and honour, but that we manifest that zeal in a Jesus-like manner. We cannot excuse our poor behaviour based on what we are doing if it is for a cause.