The 4th Sunday of Lent March 10, 2013
276, 657, 417, 50
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for [Jesus] to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who bids us Christians to bring forth fruit with patience, dear fellow-redeemed:
If there’s one disease that especially afflicts our world today, it has to be chronic impatience. Americans don’t like to wait. Our hurry-up culture places a premium on speed and convenience, often at the expense of more important things like kindness, and patience, and good manners. We don’t want to wait until we get home to make a phone call, so many of us carry cell phones. Some people aren’t satisfied with a cell phone the size of a pack of cards, so you can now buy a cell phone the size of a pack of gum. Some people are evidently too impatient to raise and lower their cell phone to their ear, so they wear a wireless earpiece everywhere they go.
Impatience may be worse than it ever was, but it’s certainly not new. In today’s account, we have a monumental example of impatience that took place nearly two thousand years ago. By way of contrast, we’re also shown the longsuffering mercy of God’s chosen Redeemer, Jesus Christ. If you’ve felt your patience fraying at the edges lately—if you’ve found yourself impatiently giving short shrift to someone you know, or even to God!—then you may find today’s passage is especially helpful for you. Today we consider A PATIENT SAVIOR FOR AN IMPATIENT WORLD. I. The Samaritans were impatient to be rid of Jesus, II. The disciples were impatient to be rid of the Samaritans, and III. Jesus patiently offers salvation to one and all.
It was not long before Jesus’ passion was set to commence. The Savior was on His final journey from Galilee up to Jerusalem. This was the closing scene in our Savior’s life, that final period which would end with His glorious Ascension back to the right hand of God in Heaven. Jesus knew what awaited Him in Jerusalem, but He went calmly forward. Jesus was patient, but He was about the only one who was. Everyone else seemed to be in a hurry. The Samaritans, for instance, were impatient. They were impatient to be rid of Jesus. Now it came to pass, when the time had come for [Jesus] to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. [vv.51-53]
The Samaritans knew who Jesus was. By this time everyone in Palestine did. Because the Samaritans were a sect at odds with the Jewish religion, they had no time for this Jewish Messiah who was on His way to the Jewish capital. Other travelers they would receive, albeit grudgingly, but not Jesus. Once again for Jesus, there was no room at the inn. Jesus once said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). Here was the fulfilling of the prophesy in Isaiah, “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 53:3).
So many people in our day and age have the same attitude toward Jesus. They have no room for Him in their lives. They are offended by a Savior who forces them to confront their own sin. So they tell Him to keep moving, to take his message somewhere else. As the Roman governor Felix said to Paul, ”Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you” (Acts 24:25), but the more convenient time never comes.
Are we like that? Not receiving Jesus when we have the opportunity? Shunting Him aside, allowing the rush of our daily lives to crowd Him out, unwilling to accept the demands of real discipleship? Impatient to be rid of Jesus? I pray we’re not like that.
The last passage in our text is one of the most stark and chilling in all of Scripture. “And they went to another village.” [v.56] Rejected by this community of Samaritans, Christ and His Gospel went elsewhere. How would you like to be them on the Last Day? How terrible on the Day of Judgment to be known as the town that rejected Jesus! Can you imagine? “We had the Savior at our city limits, and we told Him to go away!” God forbid that we, through unbelief or indifference, ever tell our Savior to go away!
Jesus’ own disciples were little better. While the Samaritans were impatient to be rid of Jesus, the disciples were impatient to be rid of the Samaritans.
”When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’” [v.54] James and John were quite possibly the two messengers Jesus sent into the town. In any case, they were outraged at the town’s cavalier rejection of the Savior.
What do you think it was that made James and John think of the prophet Elijah? They had just seen Elijah with their own eyes a few days previously on the mount of transfiguration! They were well-acquainted with the account from 2 Kings in which Elijah called down fire from heaven and consumed the soldiers sent to him by the wicked king Ahaziah (cf. 2 Kings 1:10ff). By the way, that “fire from heaven” was not lightning as some modern scholars say in their effort to explain it away. Lightning indeed can kill, but it does not consume. It does not completely burn up everything it touches, as did the fire which God caused to fall from heaven in the Old Testament. This consuming fire was the exact punishment that the impatient disciples James and John had in mind for the Samaritans.
Again, as Christians, we need to be warned and admonished by the example of these overzealous disciples. Some people call this the “brother of the prodigal son syndrome” (cf. Luke 15:25ff). It describes the self-righteous contempt that many religious people bear toward the non-religious.
Did Jesus commend James and John for their zeal? No. Rather, He “turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.’” [v.55] We are not to be governed by the spirit of revenge and anger. We are governed by the Holy Spirit. We want to adopt that Savior’s heart of forbearance and patience and love toward our fellow man—even those who have rejected Christ so far. There may yet be hope. It is God, not us, who sets the time of grace for all mankind.
Like the disciples we may become impatient with the indifference and scorn that our society shows toward our Savior. But we can safely leave it in the hands of the Lord. As the psalmist writes: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the Lord, They shall inherit the earth” (Psalm 37:7-9).
What is it that compels us to be patient, and to wait on the Lord? After all, though many people have come and gone in this congregation, our membership has increased only slightly. What is it that compels us to keep trying, to keep reaching out with the Gospel? That’s easy—the love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard; and in today’s text we see and hear a Savior who patiently offers salvation to one and all.
I’d like to back up once again to verse 51 in our text. So much is revealed there. “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” What great patience lies in that sentence alone! Think for a moment of some of the difficult experiences you’ve gone through in your life. Now think how much more difficult they would have been had you known ahead of time all that you were going to have to go through. I often think what a blessing it is that the Lord doesn’t allow us to see into the future. But Jesus could see the future. He could see every step that lay before him. He knew exactly what was coming, and despite all that, our text says, He set his face to go to Jerusalem. The word there in the Greek is revealing: it means to make something steadfast and immovable, like setting a post into concrete.
Jesus had something wonderful to look forward to. He was ascending again to His heavenly Father, but He knew that between now and that glorious reunion lay a horrible ordeal. Christ’s going to the Father meant a pilgrimage through Gethsemane, Calvary, and Joseph’s garden. Jesus’ rock-solid determination was evidence of His great love for you and great patience toward you for He would allow nothing to sway Him from His mission. As He said, “The Son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” [v.56]
So many people have the wrong idea about God as if He were nothing but a cruel judge waiting for the first opportunity to pounce upon the hapless sinner and condemn him. Nothing could be further from the truth! Peter says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. That is why he is patient with us, just as Jesus was patient with the Samaritans and with His disciples. He did not destroy the unbelieving Samaritans, and He did not cast out the vengeful disciples. Nor will He cast us aside, “For the Son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
How patient our Savior has been toward us! Throughout lives marked by sin and disobedience and rebellion our Lord Jesus has been with us. Every day, from the rising of the sun to its setting, and through the long watches of the night, He is there. Each day, when we cry to Him in repentance that we have failed again, we have fallen again, we have sinned again, He hears us. And He responds each time, “fear not, be of good cheer, you shall not die but live.”
There’s a Lenten hymn that always gives me a lump in my throat, a hymn in which we sing:
O wondrous love, whose depth no heart hath sounded,
that brought Thee here, by foes and thieves surrounded!
All worldly pleasures heedless I was trying
while thou wert dying. [TLH 143]
Truly Jesus is a patient Savior for an impatient world! He patiently bore the suffering of the cross for our sake. He patiently forgives us day by day when we turn to Him in repentance. The grace just keeps on coming! C.H. Spurgeon tells the story of how a wealthy patron once wanted to bestow a large sum of money on a country pastor who was quite poor. Thinking that the amount was too much to send all at once, the benefactor mailed a portion of it with a note that said simply, “More to follow.” In a few days the man received another envelope containing the same amount and bearing the same message, “More to follow.” At regular intervals there came a third envelope, and a fourth, and so on for many weeks until the entire amount had been disbursed. And each one was accompanied by the cheering message, “More to follow!”
Spurgeon noted that the grace we receive from God always comes with a similar message, “More to follow!” When God forgives our sins, there’s more forgiveness to follow. When God bestows upon us the righteousness of Christ, there’s more to follow. He adopts us into His very family, but there’s more to follow. He prepares us for Heaven, but there’s more to follow. He gives us grace, but there’s more to follow. He helps us even to old age, but still the very best is yet to follow. In fact, it struck me that that would be a pretty good theme for a funeral sermon: “There’s more to follow!”
So maybe it’s time for us believers to take a step back from the fast-paced rush of our hurry-up world. Perhaps we should take a bit more time to savor the grace, and the love, and the divine, long-suffering patience that our Lord Jesus has shown to us. Maybe then we’ll be better able to reflect that patience ourselves in our attitude toward God and our fellow man.
The time is growing short. Renowned 19th-century preacher A.B. Simpson once said, “Beloved, have you never considered that one day you will not have anything more to try you, nor anyone more to vex you ever again? There will be no opportunity or need in Heaven to learn or to show the spirit of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering. If you are to practice these things, it must be now.”
Each new day will continue to bring us opportunities to learn patience from our Master. Let’s not waste them. He has been patient and merciful with us. Let us endeavor, with patience, to bring the Good News of His mercy to as many people as we can before we join Him forever in Heaven! In Jesus’ saving name, Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.