It’s fairly easy to pass over this statement in Luke 9 and miss what’s going on. It deserves a little reflection, however, because it is both remarkable and instructive.
In these verses the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming is reaching it’s climax, and He and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem for a final time. On the way they intend to pass through a Samaritan village where the people flat out refuse to receive him, probably because they had heard of his claim to be the Messiah. But in the minds of at least two of the disciples, such a rejection is unacceptable, and consequently elicits a strong response from the Sons of Thunder, James and John. They ask Jesus if he’d like them to put an end to those scoundrels, the Samaritans, by telling fire to come out of heaven and consume them. Always the consummate picture of self-restraint, Jesus of course rebukes them and they travel on.
Here’s what is remarkable about this brief incident. The disciples’ instinctive response is to assume that this is a physical battle, and that the Samaritan’s are the enemy. They thus conclude that to rain down fire and destroy them would bring an end to the conflict, and assure certain victory. They presume success in fighting a spiritual battle – rejection of Jesus – with fleshly arms.
The instruction is this: almost daily we are inclined to do the very same thing. We live and look on the surface. Every conflict we face is an apparent physical battle, and like a real-life game of whac-a-mole we hammer every alleged enemy that arises as though our fleshly fighting will actually prevail. We rain down fire. We heap destruction. We fight in the flesh. We miss the point.
Hear the rebuke of Jesus. I’m sure it was kind. I have no doubt it was strong. I am certain James and John got the message. And though I’m more than a little hard-headed, I’m getting it too.