Luke XXXVI: Lk. 9:49-62
Today is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter, the day we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit and the birth of the Christian Church.
The Text: The theme that ties these three scenes in Luke 9 together is the call to follow Jesus and the way other people and institutions in this world can sometimes become obstacles to our devotion. In the first scene, the disciples tell Jesus that they tried to stop someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name who wasn’t following them (Lk. 9:49-50). In the second scene, a village of Samaritans didn’t receive Jesus, and the disciples ask Him if He wants them to call down fire from heaven to consume them (Lk. 9:51-56). And in the third scene, Jesus responds to various hindrances to following Him (Lk. 9:67-62). Jesus warns that our commitment to Him means prioritizing His kingdom over many of those things most dear to us (like home and family). Here, Jesus “sets His face to Jerusalem,” (Lk. 9:51) and those who would follow Him must do the same. This is what Pentecost and gift of the Spirit are all about, but the disciples did not yet understand.
Abraham, Elijah, and the Disciples
The story of Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18) is a striking contrast to the disciples’ suggestion concerning the Samaritan village. Abraham pleads with God to have mercy on the cities for the sake of the righteous. The disciples ask Jesus if He wants them to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume the Samaritan village (Lk. 9:54). While some manuscripts explicitly say “like Elijah,” there is no doubt that is what the disciples are thinking about. Just before Elijah was taken up into heaven, he announced that King Ahaziah would die from an injury (2 Kgs. 1:4), and when Ahaziah sent soldiers to arrest Elijah, the prophet called fire down from heaven and it consumed fifty soldiers (twice) (2 Kgs. 1:9-16). Luke has just noted that the time for Jesus “to be taken up” has come (Lk. 9:51), and it may be that the disciples assumed that was the story they were in. (Interestingly, the word used in 2 Kgs 2:10-11 to describe Elijah being taken up is used in Acts 1 to describe Jesus being taken up.) But this episode and the previous two indicate that the disciples just aren’t listening to Jesus (cf. Lk. 9:35). They’ve gone from arguing about who was the greatest (Lk. 9:46) to objecting to someone not following them casting out demons in the name of Jesus (Lk. 9:49) – which is deeply ironic since they’ve just failed to cast out a demon (Lk. 9:40). Now they want to tell fire to come down from heaven, which not only seems deeply wrongheaded (cf. KJV Lk. 9:55-56), but also rather arrogant – what makes them think they can actually do that?
There are a couple of other connections between this scene and the story of Abraham. We know that ultimately God did send fire on the cities, and their wickedness was demonstrated by their severe lack of hospitality. The men of Sodom are wicked and seek to harm the angel visitors that Lot receives (Gen. 19:1-11). It may be that the disciples were also thinking of this story, when they request fire, since they have been rejected by the Samaritan village. Finally, as Lot and his wife and two daughters are barely escaping the city, they are warned not to look back. But Lot’s wife does look back and she turns into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26). It’s interesting that as Jesus addresses various obstacles to following Him, the last thing He says is “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Lk. 9:62). It’s also interesting that when Elijah calls Elisha to follow him, Elisha is plowing a field and asks Elijah for permission to go say goodbye to his father and mother (1 Kgs. 19:20). This is also one of the requests made of Jesus: “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (Lk. 9:61).
Fire From Heaven
Throughout the Bible “fire from heaven” takes on a number of different contours. In addition to the fire that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis, fire comes down on Egypt during the plagues (Ex. 19:24). But fire also comes down on Mt. Sinai when God meets with His people (Dt. 4:11, 36). In addition to the fire that consumed the soldiers sent from King Ahaziah, Elijah rode up into heaven by a fiery whirlwind (2 Kgs. 2:11). Likewise, while fire fell from heaven and consumed Job’s flocks of sheep and his servants (Job 1:16), fire also fell from heaven at the dedication of David’s tabernacle and consumed the sacrifices (1 Chron. 21:26), as well as Solomon’s temple dedication and consumed those sacrifices (2 Chron. 7:1). Jesus says later in Luke that when the Kingdom of God comes it will be like the days of Lot (Lk. 17:28), and there will be fire rained down from heaven, when the Son of Man is revealed (Lk. 17:29-30). Likewise, the followers of Jesus will need to remember Lot’s wife and not look back at their city, but be ready and willing to flee (Lk. 17:32). Finally, we cannot miss the fact that when the Holy Spirit is poured out on Pentecost, there is a sound from heaven, like a mighty rushing wind (Acts 2:2), and divided tongues of fire appear on all of the disciples (Acts 2:3). As Peter explains what has happened to the wondering crowds, he explains that this is the day of the Lord that the prophet Joel foretold, which included “wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke…” (Acts 2:19). And all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21).
Conclusion & Applications
Jesus ascended into heaven in order to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, in order to fill men and women with His life. And this life mimics His life, turning our faces toward Jerusalem, toward the cross and resurrection – for the life of the world. But this life we carry within us is a fire. In this sense, every Christian is already a judgment against all darkness, unbelief, and rebellion, and therefore we cannot be surprised when the world rejects us. When Stephen’s face shone, they killed him.
And yet, we are still called to have the hope and compassion of Abraham, pleading with God for our cities, asking that our good deeds might be burning coals on the heads of our enemies, pleading with them to be saved.
But the deeper meaning of this text is that Jesus calls us to allow the Spirit to set our faces towards His. Do not be distracted by other Christians, by the rejection of non-Christians, or even by the good gifts of God. Set your hand to the plow, do not look back, and let the Spirit drive you into His glorious future.