Jesus steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 9:51). He sent messengers (James and John) into a village to prepare for him (Luke 9:52, 54), but the people would not receive him (Luke 9:53). The folks in Samaria held only to the Torah for their Scriptures, and because they celebrated the same three great feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) as the Jews at Jerusalem, they refused to extend their hospitality to Jesus and his disciples (Luke 9:53). They would not have celebrated Hanukkah or Purim, which aren’t mentioned in the Law, and which had meaning only for the Jews who worshiped in Jerusalem. Therefore, what Luke 9:53 tells us is that the Samaritans took offense, because Jesus seemed to prefer the Jews at Jerusalem over them, because he made it obvious that he intended to celebrate the next great feast of Leviticus 23, the Passover, at Jerusalem and not with the people of Samaria.
James and John, the sons of thunder (Mark 3:17), wanted to call fire down from heaven to consume these adversaries. We often criticize James and John for their enthusiasm to judge folks who refused to receive Jesus, but is what we do, when we preach Christ, so different from their reaction to the Samaritans? We offer Christ to others hoping that they would receive him. Perhaps we even expect that he will be received. So, when we meet with a ho-hum attitude or an outright rejection, we tell our audience that they will spend an eternity in the fires of hell, if they die without Christ! Isn’t that what we preach? Is what we do so different than what James and John desired to do to the people of this Samaritan village who would not receive Jesus?
What did Christ say? “You know not what manner of Spirit you are of!” Christ claimed he didn’t come to destroy men’s lives but to save them (Luke 9:55-56)! Although we claim Jesus saves, we often manipulate the Gospel to mean something other than good news. Is it possible that we have come to Christ already believing certain things about him, just as Jesus’ disciples did (Matthew 16:21-23; cf. John 12:34)? Are we so different today from what these men were who lived in the first century AD?
I think folks today like to presume we know better than Jesus’ disciples. We reason that we have the Holy Spirit, but the disciples didn’t. Therefore, we know better than they knew, and we do better than they did. We criticize what they did, and we blindly fail to recognize the very same characteristics in ourselves. It is as though we agree with the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:29-30), namely that just as they concluded they wouldn’t have killed the prophets as their father’s did, had they lived in their father’s day, so we tend to think we wouldn’t behave as the Apostles did during Jesus’ public ministry, had we lived and walked with him. Yet, it seems to me that the very reason the disciples’ mistakes are recorded in Scripture is that we, imbued with the Holy Spirit or not, tend to react to our world just as the disciples of Jesus reacted to theirs.
I have to wonder what would happen, if we just preached about the love of God – Jesus. If we simply preached Jesus and not judgment, how would the world react? Jesus came to save us, not to be our Judge (John 12:46-50). Luke tells us that, rather than condemn the Samaritans who refused to receive him, Jesus moved on. As Jesus’ followers, shouldn’t we do likewise? Is it really **our** business to convict men of their sins (John 16:8)? The Scriptures say, rather, to us is committed the ministry of reconciliation not condemnation (2Corinthians 5:18-19), and perhaps this is as it should be.