Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fire from Heaven

Man is, essentially, incurably arrogant, at least in his flesh.

There's a story in Luke 9 about Jesus on His way to Jerusalem. It begins in verse 51:

The time was coming closer for Jesus to be taken to heaven. So he was determined to go to Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead of him. They went into a Samaritan village to arrange a place for him to stay. But the people didn't welcome him, because he was on his way to Jerusalem. James and John, his disciples, saw this. They asked, 'Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?'

Ah, James and John. The Sons of Thunder. Their attitudes were known to get the best of them from time to time, and here, we see evidence of that again. They are walking with a Man they are pretty sure is the Messiah. To this point, they have seen Him heal countless numbers of the blind, deaf, lame, afflicted, demon-possessed. They have been in a storm-tossed boat when He spoke to the wind and calmed the waves. They've seen Him split loves of bread into multiples of thousands, with plenty left over. 

And they want to know if He wants them to call down fire from heaven for Him. 

I have to be honest. It takes a lot of hubris to ask a question like this. It takes first a lot of confidence in yourself that you would have the power or authority to call down fire from heaven at all. And second, it takes a reasonable assurance that fire from heaven is the appropriate response here if you'r going to be the one to suggest such an idea to God on His own behalf. So James and John here are pretty high on themselves and pretty sure in their judgment. 

What's interesting is that we don't really know Jesus' answer to this. Luke simply says, But he turned and corrected them. So they went to another village. That's it. Don't you want to know what Jesus said?

It would be fun to play this out the same way Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. It would be humorous to watch Jesus egg them on, taunt them a little bit. Yeah, He'd say. You go ahead and call down that fire. Go ahead. Come on. Are you calling yet? Well, maybe the line is busy. Oh, Sons of Thunder, where is this fire you seemed so sure of? After all, we know Jesus is not beyond this kind of snark. This is as good a time as any for it. I mean, if the brothers are going to stand there and pretend they have a unique connection to God the Father when God the Son is just an arm's length away. 

Or maybe Jesus just gave them that look. You know, that incredulous face that says, Did you really just say that? Maybe that little twisted mouth and those wrinkled eyebrows were all it took for James and John to understand. Maybe Jesus gave them that look and there was a half a second of silence before all three parties busted up laughing and Jesus directed them to another village. 

As fun as it is sometimes to see snarky Jesus, particularly when He's taking on the Pharisees, this second scenario is probably closer to the way He deals with friends. 

So why am I telling this story? Why pick a random, short scene out of the heart of Luke and give it this space? Because I think this story teaches us a few things about James and John and, by extension, us. And I think it speaks boldly to one of the ongoing struggles of Christians in our day. Stay with me for the next few days as I hash some of these ideas out. 

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