“And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” — Luke 9:54 (ESV)
The end of Luke chapter 9 we see Jesus and his disciples on their way to Jerusalem. As they came to a Samaritan village on their journey, Jesus sent messengers ahead to make preparations for their arrival.
In general, Samaritans and Jews don’t like each other. The people of the village didn’t want them to come when the messengers said they were on their way.
James and John ask Jesus in Luke 9:54 if they can level the town for him by calling down fire from heaven. They were wanting to defend the honor, or get revenge for the dishonor, of their teacher.
Jesus rebukes them in the next verse, and they head to another village. Some manuscripts add that Jesus says, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.”
Clearly James and John were missing the point of Jesus’ mission in walking around teaching and healing people.
Two things are kinda nuts when I read this little story:
- James and John actually believed they had the authority to tell heaven to rain down fire.
- Jesus rebuked their attitude. But there’s nothing in the text that would lead us to believe James and John didn’t actually have the ability call down fire.
Though their hearts were not in the right place, why in the world did these two brothers think they could make this happen?
The beginning of Luke chapter 9 is Jesus sending out the 12 apostles. Before they’re sent he gives them “power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.”
I almost see it as a sort of trail run. They’ve been with Jesus, listening to his teachings, watching him cast out demons and heal the sick. Now they get sent out to do it themselves and come back to report how things went (v10).
This is how teaching generally works. You show/tell someone how to do something, let them give it a shot, make adjustments.
So the apostles have just gone through several vilages performing miracles themselves as they operate in the power and authority Jesus gave them.
They get back and a few more things happen before Jerusalem:
- Jesus feeds 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish. (v11–17)
- The disciples finally say out loud they believe Jesus is the messiah. (v18–20)
- Peter, James, and John go up a mountain to see Jesus transformed before their eyes and chatting with Moses and Elijah, both of whom have been dead a LONG time. They also heard God audibly speak from a cloud telling them Jesus is God’s son and they need to listen to him. (v28–36)
- Jesus casts out a demon the disciples couldn’t cast out. (v37–43)
That’s a crazy couple of weeks.
Confidence in Jesus
James and John had been witnesses to some insane happenings with Jesus. Then they get a taste of doing it themselves (v1–2).
This is power and authority which he has now given to them.
Being in the presence of Jesus has given these men a confidence in who they are as followers of Jesus; a confidence in what God can do through them because they are connected to Jesus.
Their confidence is so strong that they have the audacity to believe they can level an entire town with fire rain by merely calling it out of heaven.
As I look at the text I think they could have done it had Jesus not set their hearts straight.
I’ve been blessed to have witnessed a couple miracles on my journey of faith. And while not always the most consistent, I’ve spent a good chunk of time in prayer and reading my Bible over the years.
That is time being with Jesus.
But I have nowhere near the confidence of James and John.
This has been, and continues to be, the next leg of my journey: discovering who I am in the presence of Jesus and what that means for power and authority I’m carrying.
I certainly don’t have any desires to wipe out towns with fire in order to defend the honor of my God. But what would it be like to have the confidence in Jesus as though I could if I wanted?
What good things could we do in the world if we were drafting off of Jesus, our friend, like James and John?
How would you live your life differently?
As we spend time in meditation and prayer with God, and read our Bibles learning more about him, I’m confident our confidence will rise to new heights.
We will begin to believe more in who he is, who we are, what he can do through us and with us.
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