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“And it came to pass, when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for Him. And they did not receive Him, because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But He turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. And He said unto another, Follow Me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow Thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”—Luke 9:51-62.
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This portion readily divides into two sections. In verses 51-56 we have our Lord’s solemn and stern rebuke of the spirit of intolerance. Then in verses 57-62 He lays down certain principles of discipleship which we who profess to love Him need to keep in mind.
We are told that “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He left Galilee knowing exactly what awaited Him in Judea. He had been there before. They had tried to put Him to death then, but, we are told, His hour had not yet come. They could not do a thing to harm Him physically until He voluntarily put Himself into their hands. He could say, “No man taketh My life from Me, I lay it down of Myself.” But now the hour was drawing nigh when the purpose for which He came to earth should be fulfilled. Jesus had come to give Himself a ransom for all; so with this in view, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. Nothing could turn Him aside. When He spoke of the cross on which He was to be crucified, even Peter remonstrated with Him, saying, “Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Jesus did not allow anyone or anything to turn Him aside from the great purpose He had come to fulfil.
With His face set as a flint to go to Jerusalem, as He passed with His disciples through a part of Samaria, He sent messengers ahead into a near-by village to make preparations for their night’s lodging. We know there was intense hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews, neither wishing to have any dealings with the other. These Samaritans were a kind of mongral race of people, partly of Israelitish extraction and partly decended from the mixed races which the king of Assyria had brought into the land after carrying away the ten tribes. These had intermarried with the remaining Israelites, and a mixed sort of worship had developed among them, based to some extent upon the five books of Moses; but the Samaritans refused to accept all other parts of the Old Testament. They had their own temple on Mount Gerizim, and they looked with suspicion and indignation upon the Jews because of their claim of being the chosen people of the Lord. The Jews, on the other hand, returned the compliment by detesting the Samaritans, whom they looked upon as the followers of a pseudo-religion which had no scriptural basis. As the little company journeyed on through Samaria, the people of the village where they had hoped to spend the night refused to receive them because the face of Jesus was set as though He would go to Jerusalem. Realizing that He was not going to settle down among them as their teacher, but was extending His ministry to those whom the Samaritans hated, they in turn vented their spite upon Him by refusing Him entertainment. Had He come specially to them they might have received Him and His message, but for the time being He was interested in another people.
There is nothing, I suppose, that is more characterized by bitterness than religious intolerance. One group of religious people looks with suspicion upon those of another group; and often the closer they are together, the more intense is the ill-feeling between them. This was clearly manifested in the case of the Jews and Samaritans.
James and John were so indignant because of the way their Master was treated on this occasion that they were ready to go to all lengths to take vengeance upon them. They said to Jesus, “Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Ellas did?” We generally think of James and John as being two very gracious and devoted young men; but gracious and devoted men can become exceedingly hard and bitter when it comes to dealing with others in regard to differences. These disciples whom Jesus named “Boanerges,” that is, “sons of thunder,” here answer to their name, and thought they were manifesting their faithfulness to Christ by seeking to emulate Elijah and to destroy the Samaritans. They appeared to think that if they did call for fire to come down from heaven, God would answer and blot out the city that had refused to harbor Jesus and His followers for the night; and so they would enjoy seeing their religious enemies completely annihilated.
How awful is such a spirit, and yet how frequently has it been manifested down through the centuries! History tells us how Churches have fought Churches, and Christians have contended with other Christians, using bitterest invective of speech and even going so far as to put one another to death. Our hearts are filled with horror as we think of the myriads of the early Christians who were martyred at the command of the pagan emperors of Rome. But the amazing thing is that during the centuries following the destruction of paganism, we find professing Christians arrayed against others who also bore the Christian name; and Mystery Babylon was responsible for the deaths of far more than pagan Rome ever destroyed. Even in Protestantism during the centuries that followed the Reformation, what unholy strife has often existed; and how sadly have believers failed to walk together in holy fellowship! When at last we all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, there to give an account of the deeds done in the body, how ashamed we will be if we have ever been guilty of manifesting the spirit that characterized James and John when they would have destroyed that Samaritan village because its people did not understand, and therefore did not receive the Saviour as He was journeying on to Jerusalem.
The compassionate heart of Christ spurned the suggestion of the two energetic disciples, and instead of giving them liberty to do as they desired, He rebuked them and said, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not yet come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” These two disciples must have felt this stern reprimand keenly, and doubtless they learned a lesson through it which they did not soon forget.
Now let us carefully consider for a few minutes the words of our Lord, for they embody a wondrous truth: “The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Elsewhere He said that He “came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” “God,” we are told, “was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The Lord Jesus was on His way to the cross to bear the judgment due to sinners; therefore He could say to a poor, lost woman, “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.” It is precious indeed to realize that:
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea:
There’s a kindness in His justice,
That is more than liberty.
“For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.”
God looks with tender compassion upon men. Even though they have trampled upon His love and rejected His blessed Son, still His heart is going out to them; He is waiting for them to repent, and longing to save them. He is “not willing that any should perish,” but that all should turn to Him and live. Oh, the wonder of His grace! To think that some of the worst enemies of the cross of Christ have been arrested by divine power and gloriously converted, and afterwards have become the greatest advocates of the salvation which the Lord Jesus has wrought out on Calvary. We think of Saul of Tarsus persecuting the Church of God, hailing believers to prison and condemning them to death; and yet at last stopped by the risen Christ on the way to Damascus, and his heart completely won for the Saviour whom he had rejected so long.
But there is something more here, I believe, in these words—“The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them”—which is not involved in the deliverance from judgment. Many people have the idea that becoming a Christian means to lose all the joy of living, and to go on through the rest of one’s days in a melancholy, gloomy kind of existence, afraid of this and afraid of that and, therefore, in constant distress of mind. This is but a caricature of real Christianity. When people think of following Christ as involving a life of constant struggle and repression, they fail to understand the blessedness of the new birth. No one enters into life in reality until he knows Christ. The unsaved may talk of “seeing life” but actually they are but courting death. Only the one who has trusted Christ enjoys life at its best. It is in this sense that Jesus speaks when He said He came not to destroy men’s lives. He did not come to take away from us all joy and happiness; He did not come to make His followers gloomy recluses, afraid to enjoy the good things that divine providence lavishes upon us. He came to give us to realize that it is only as we know God revealed in Christ that we get the best out of life.
“Heaven above is softer blue;
Earth beneath is sweeter green:
Something lives in every hue,
Christless eyes have never seen.
“Birds with sweeter songs o’erflow;
Flowers with newer beauty shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His and He is mine.”
Thus one of our Christian poets taught us to sing. No one is so prepared to enjoy the good things of this life as the man who knows what it is to be right with God. We are told in John’s First Epistle that “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” And with this divine, eternal life which is given freely to all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, there comes the capacity to enjoy all God’s gifts and to recognize that they come down from Him, a loving Heavenly Father who is deeply interested in everything that concerns the welfare of His own. When one comes to know Christ, the things that once seemed of value he discerns to be very unimportant; where as things that at one time he shrank from he now learns to appreciate to the fullest possible way.
In the next section we have our Lord once more laying down principles of discipleship which are applicable throughout the entire period until He returns again in power and glory. We read, “It came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow Thee withersoever Thou goest.” Here was a man who was evidently attracted by the grace of Christ. He came to Jesus apparently of his own accord, and declared his readiness to be identified with Him, but the Lord Jesus immediately tested him by saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” It is as though He would say to this professed disciple, “If you follow Me you must not expect earthly gain; I do not promise an easy time down here; I do not guarantee temporal comforts. I have no home Myself—I, who came from heaven— I am walking through this scene as a stranger and I have no certain dwelling-place, nor have I earthly riches to bestow upon My disciples; so if you are going to follow Me, it means a life of self-denial, of self-abnegation all the way.
Does this nullify what we have been noticing in connection with the previous verses? Not at all! For there is no happier life in this world than the life into which one enters when he takes his place in fellowship with Christ and goes through this scene as a stranger and a pilgrim.
Conditions of discipleship have not changed, they are still the same as of old. To follow Christ does not insure one a life of comfort and ease. Savonarola well said, “A Christian life consists in doing good and suffering evil.” The more faithful we are to Christ the more we may have to suffer from the world, but we can go through this in fellowship with our rejected Lord, and find a joy in sharing His rejection that the soul can never find in the enjoyment of the world’s favor. In this instance we do not know whether the man went on with the Lord or whether he turned disappointedly away.
To another Jesus said, “Follow Me,” and the one addressed replied, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus, as it were, said, “You must not put anything first. My claims are paramount to every other.” This man said, as it were, “Yes, Lord; I love You, and I will be ready to follow You some day; but I have an aged father, and I cannot leave him until he passes away and I bury him; and when that takes place I will be prepared to follow you.” The Lord answered, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” In otherwords, it is as if He had said, “If My message has touched your heart and soul; if I have won your trust and confidence; if you feel a divine call to represent Me in Israel, do not wait until family circumstances change. Begin immediately to tell others what God has done for you and what He can do for them.”
I am afraid sometimes many of us have answered the Lord the way this man did. We have allowed the claims of kindred to come between us and the work of Christ; but it must be Christ first, then everything else will follow in its right place.
A third man came up and said, “Lord, I will follow Thee; but…” Stop there for just a moment. This little word of three letters has robbed many of their souls and hindered them from giving their lives to Christ. Is it hindering you? What is the “but” you have in mind? “I will follow Thee; but” —I cannot give up this, or that, or something else. Is that it? “I will follow Thee; but”—I cannot yield wholly to Thee on some particular point. What is the “but” that is hindering you? This man said, “Lord, I will follow Thee; but”—I must return and settle things up with the folks at home; I am not ready to follow You yet; I must go and talk it over with them first. He had to learn that the claims of Christ were paramount to every other. Jesus said to him, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Oh, that we might all realize this more and more, and that Christ might ever have the preeminent place in our hearts and lives!