Message by:Pastor Dan Erickson Scripture: Luke 9:51-56
Date: February 3, 2019 Audio: Transcript:
“The War on Christianity is Coming to You” – That was the title of Liz Wheeler’s recent YouTube blog. In it, she talks about how CNN’s Jonathan King does not think Second Lady Karen Pence should be allowed to teach art at a Christian elementary school. Why? Because her Secret Service protection would mean tax payer dollars were being used to help a school that teaches things with which non-Christians don’t agree, such as sexual abstinence before marriage. One wouldn’t think that was a very controversial teaching in an elementary school.
She also pointed to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ objection to Russell Vought’s nomination as the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Why did Sen. Sanders think Mr. Vought was unqualified for that position? Well, because of his Christian belief that Jesus was the only way to God. Sanders doesn’t think anyone with such narrow views should be serving in government.
Ms. Wheeler did not mention DePere, WI – just a few miles from the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field in Green Bay. There, the City Council voted to require churches to abide by the city’s human rights ordinances. That meant churches would be violating the law if they refused to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. Fortunately, a District Judge ruled the City Council was out of line and violating the religious freedom of churches in that city.
Yes, folks, there is a lot of opposition to Christianity out there – especially to evangelical Christians seeking to live out their faith in any public setting. The question I want to consider today is this: How should we respond to people opposed to Christianity, people who really don’t like Christians? Well, I believe the Lord helps us answer that in our text today.
Our journey through Luke’s gospel brings us to chapter 9:51-56 (page 868). Let’s pause and pray that, through his word, the Lord would help us honor him in what is becoming an increasingly uncivil war.
Luke 9:51 – When the days were coming to a close for him to be taken up, he determined to journey to Jerusalem.
“Taken up” refers to Jesus’ ascension into heaven 40 days after his resurrection. Christians today, myself included, often focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection and give little thought to the significance of his ascension. From the biblical perspective, Jesus’ work on earth was not complete until he ascended into heaven. Jesus understands that all three of these events – crucifixion, resurrection and ascension – would take place in Jerusalem. That city is the focal point of God’s redemptive plan.
Luke 9:52 – He (Jesus) sent messengers ahead of himself, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him.
Jesus and his disciples are traveling from northern Israel to Jerusalem, and the most direct route was through Samaria. It would usually take three days to travel through this region.
Now, there was a lot of tension and animosity between the Samaritans and the Jews. The Samaritans were descendants of Israel’s Northern Kingdom, the Ten Tribes, which in the last part of the Old Testament, were often in conflict with Israel’s Southern Kingdom, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, a.k.a. “the Jews.”
In 722 B.C., the Northern Kingdom was defeated by the Assyrians, and many people were taken captive. Eventually, most of these people assimilated with various Middle Eastern ethnicities, and many settled in Samaria.
The Jews viewed themselves as pure Israelites, and the Samaritans as “half-breeds.” There was also religious tension, reflected in John 4, when Jesus has his conversation with a Samaritan woman. The Jews believed the temple in Jerusalem was the key to and center of God-pleasing worship. The Samaritans thought the proper place to worship the Lord was on Mt. Gerizim.
With these ethnic and religious tensions, the Samaritans and Jews did not usually get along. So, it is no surprise that when Jesus and his disciples enter a Samaritan village…
Luke 9:53 – They did not welcome him, because he determined to journey to Jerusalem.
Traveling to Jerusalem makes it clear that Jesus and his followers were Jews. And anytime Jews went to Jerusalem, the Samaritans felt insulted by the implication that their place of worship was inferior.
According to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, the Samaritans sometimes murdered Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. In this particular case, there was no violence, but the Samaritans made it clear they did not want Jesus or anyone with him staying in their town. And that was too much for a couple of the disciples, the two sons of Zebedee.
Luke 9:54 – When James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”
That statement reflects both significant zeal and faith. “Who do these Samaritans think they are that they can dishonor the Son of God and refuse to welcome him in their insignificant little village? They need to be punished.”
Apparently, they have confidence that in Jesus’ name, they could just zap this village into nothing. The NKJV reads “call down fire from heaven as Elijah did.” Whichever translation is correct, James and John do, indeed, believe they have power comparable to the great Old Testament prophet.
But calling down fire and wiping out this Samaritan village is not Jesus’ way of doing things.
Luke 9:55 – But he (Jesus) turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.
Or as the NKJV reads:
Luke 9:55 – 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.
OK, I am going to take time to say a few words about different Bible versions. This is kind of a long rabbit trail, but I know folks have questions about why one Bible version says something different than the other. OK…just a few words!
Luke, a physician and associate of the Apostle Paul, wrote his gospel in the Greek language, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in about 60 A.D. God made sure every word Luke wrote was true and was the exact words God wanted.
We do not, however, have Luke’s original manuscript. What we have are many copies, in Greek, of what Luke wrote. Those who copied the texts were not inspired by God in the same way Luke was. They sometimes made mistakes, and they sometimes added to Luke’s text in an effort to clarify what he meant.
What Bible scholars do today is sort through these ancient Greek copies, trying to recreate what Luke originally wrote and what is really the God-inspired text. 99+% of the time they agree. But once in a while, like in verses 55-56, they don’t. As a result, some Bible versions include a certain phrase or sentence, while others do not.
Most versions will have footnotes acknowledging there is alternative reading.
It is important to note that not one doctrine or teaching of the Bible depends on a disputed phrase or sentence. Whether Luke or Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” at this particular time is not terribly important because all Christians agree that is, indeed, why he came. OK, that is a few words. If you have questions, talk to me.
OK, the point of our text, in whatever version we look at, is that destroying those in opposition, punishing them, was not Jesus’ way of doing things.
Now, it is true in Luke 19 we will see Jesus kick the money changers out of the temple. His action seems to be motivated by an appropriate indication of righteous anger. Jesus was clearly right to do what he did. However, there are unique circumstances in that event, and it is a mistake to think the cleansing of the temple was Jesus’ normal way of dealing with opposition.
Remember, all through his trial and crucifixion, Jesus didn’t fight back against his enemies. Even hanging on the cross, his prayer was, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” He is the perfect example of following the instructions the Lord gives us through the Apostle Paul…
Romans 12:14, 17a, 19a, 21 – Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Friends, do not avenge yourselves. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
Yet, despite those clear instructions, it seems many Christians are responding like James and John did when they face opposition from people opposed to Christianity.
There are news stories about Christians ending up in shouting and shoving matches with homosexual activists or abortion rights supporters.
I know some Christians are praying that Ruth Bader Ginsburg will die so that President Trump will have the opportunity to appoint another pro-life judge to the Supreme Court.
Friends, that doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ way of dealing with people who oppose or disagree with us. Praying that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would resign is one thing, but that she would die?
Now, let me be clear. In our country right now, there are a lot of tensions and plenty of conflict over issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, etc. Those are just a few of the numerous political issues which have deep biblical and moral implications.
It is important that we as Christians stand up and speak up for what is true, right and good. We must be faithful to the Lord and not be swept away by the tide of popular opinion. Many things I hear the opponents of Christianity say and many things I see them do make me angry.
However, I believe Hudson Taylor was right when he said, “God’s work must be done God’s way.”
I believe whenever we react to our opponents like James and John did, whenever we seek to harm those who disagree with us, then the Lord rebukes us. He is not pleased with great zeal for truth or great passion for righteousness when the focus of that zeal and passion is to hurt those opposed to us and Christianity.
Friends, far too many Christians kind of bury their heads in the sand and ignore the great moral and social battles of our day.
All Christians, for example, should be aware of efforts to restrict and infringe upon religious liberty in our culture. Religious freedom is a foundational right for which we as Christians should stand up and speak up in all situations.
It is an issue which should play a huge role in determining for whom we vote. It is very sad when Christians fail to be actively aligned with what is true, right and good.
But…for those willing to engage the opposition, those of us willing to contend for the truth, we must conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord. Our words and actions should not be dishonoring to the Lord Jesus.
Folks, when I was growing up, we were always taught, “It is not whether you win or lose. It is how you play the game.” Some of you learned that too. Well, that is not in the Bible, and I think God would say yes and no. Winning does, indeed, matter.
One thing of which we can be sure is that the Lord is going to win. If we are on the side of what is true, right and good, we will ultimately triumph. In the end, those who oppose God, who are against Christianity and the church and what we stand for, will not win. In fact, they face destruction and eternal hell. That is what the book of Revelation is really all about. Jesus wins, and the forces of evil lose.
However, contrary to Vince Lombardi, “Winning is not the only thing.” How we play the game and how we conduct ourselves as servants of the Lord is very important.
Friends, I have known for a long time that we as Christians are to love our enemies. That is what it says in Luke 6:27. This certainly includes people opposed to Christianity. Wishing God would strike them dead is hardly loving.
Yet, one passage of Scripture to which I paid little attention for many years is 2 Timothy 2:24-26. These words provide extremely relevant instructions about how we are to treat those opposed to Christianity and who oppose us. Let me read the passage. Actually, I am going to start with verse 23 because there is some important wisdom there.
2 Timothy 2:23 – Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.
That is pretty clear. It might be a good verse to memorize or write on an index card and stick on your refrigerator. OK, now the real good stuff…
2 Timothy 2:24-26 – And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
I think that passage gives us three important things to keep in mind when dealing with those opposed to us – three important things that I fear Christians today sometimes forget.
#1 Our enemy is Satan, not people.
Paul says those who oppose us because we trust and follow Jesus have been taken captive by the devil to do his will. LGBT activists, Muslims and Hindus, hard-core atheists, those who practice WICCA – they are not really our enemies. They are victims.
One of our goals as ambassadors of Jesus Christ is to help these people escape from the devil’s trap, to help people find refuge, to encourage them to join us in God’s family. Our goal should not be to destroy our opponents, but rather to be used by the Lord to help them experience the salvation that can only be found in Jesus Christ.
The people in the Samaritan village that day totally misunderstood why Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. Jesus was going to that city to make it possible for people from every ethnic group to know and worship the living God, whether they ever went to the Temple in Jerusalem or not.
The Samaritans persecuted Jesus and his followers out of ignorance. As Jesus rebukes James and John, he is implicitly saying, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” That, of course, would be his prayer for the Roman soldiers who would crucify him.
And friends, it is a prayer we can make for those who oppose us: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing. Yes, they may hate us, but they are blinded by the evil one. They have fallen into his trap. It is he, not them, who is our real enemy. So Lord, please forgive them and grant repentance so they, too, might have a knowledge of the truth, which will frustrate the plan of the enemy of our souls. Amen.”
#2 We are to be kind to those who disagree with us.
Even if they are not kind to us, we are to be kind to them. The Lord’s servant must be kind to everyone, Paul says. No matter how strongly I disagree, no matter how obnoxious I may think someone is, I must always treat that person with respect. One of my goals should always be to show the light of Jesus Christ to that individual.
Francis Schaeffer, the man whom God used in my life in great ways, never was interested in having a debate with a non-Christian in a public setting, even though Time Magazine called him, “the missionary to intellectuals.”
Schaeffer avoided those types of encounters. Why? His fear was that he would win the battle, but lose the war. He was afraid if he won a debate with a non-Christian in front of other people, that person would feel defeated, put down, maybe even attacked.
He was convinced the best way to engage non-believers in discussions was in private settings, where there was no audience and where it would be much easier for someone to admit he/she was wrong about Jesus.
Schaeffer’s main concern was not making a point, winning an argument, or impressing other people. His concern was the spiritual well-being of a person who was an opponent, an enemy because he didn’t know Jesus. Our concern for the well-being of those who don’t know Jesus should cause us to seek to be kind to everyone, even to those who may not be kind to us.
#3 God is the one who changes people’s hearts and minds.
Yes, we should use all of our persuasive power to try to convince others what the Bible teaches is true and that trusting in Jesus is the way to experience salvation. Good logic, good arguments, a winsome personality, deeds of love and kindness – those are all important. However, the bottom line and the source of our hope when it comes to people who reject Jesus and reject those of us who follow him is that…
2 Timothy 2:25b – God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
That is why, rather than quarrel with people, we can be patient as we share the truth with them. It is not up to me to convince a non-Christian that he/she is wrong. That is what the Lord will do. That patience enables us to ask questions and then truly listen to what people think and why they think that way.
It doesn’t always happen, but our willingness to really listen to folks with whom we disagree, often times opens a door where those people will actually listen to what we have to say.
Oh friends, there are times when I would like to call down fire from heaven on people whose beliefs are so mistaken, whose behavior is so repulsive, and who treat me with rudeness and disdain. That is not, however, how the Lord wants me to respond. As ambassadors of Jesus Christ, we need to represent him in ways that honor him.
As people who have received God’s grace and experienced his kindness, we need to show grace and kindness, even to those who seem to hate us.
Having experienced God’s love, we need to share his love with the world God loved and to which he sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
May the Lord enable us to speak and act with grace, kindness and love toward those who oppose us this week and in all the weeks ahead.