People love to "flex their muscles." Generally speaking, people love to confirm they have power. It seems that by demonstrating power we (a) confirm to ourselves our self worth and (b) assure our safety from others. Though we often do not think much about why we are so drawn to power, many people seek to demonstrate power at other people's expense.
One of the incredible things about Jesus: He possessed incredible power, yet he did not use his power to destroy but to help. He refused to use his access to power to benefit himself at strategic moments when (from a human perspective) it would have seemed he should have used his power to control the situation (consider John 18:33-37 and Matthew 16:47-56).
A striking contrast is provided by the same man in the texts of this lesson. In the first, John is a young disciple following Jesus before Jesus died. In the second John is an old disciple who has belonged to Jesus for years--long after Jesus died. John's understanding of the meaning of Messiah in the first text did not "get it." John's understanding of the meaning of Messiah in the second text is completely different. He (for a long time) "got it." This lesson is devoted to grasping the difference.
Begin by considering John's basic concept in the first text which occurred before Jesus' death. The Jewish concept of Messiah (God's promise to the Jewish people/nation) was basically this: God promised He would send a Messiah (Christ) to rescue them (see Genesis 12:3b and Galatians 3:8, 16). Through time, the Jewish people viewed themselves as God's objective (the end-result of His purposes), rather than a means (or vehicle) to God's purposes. (When any group sees themselves as God's objective rather than God's vehicle to His objective, the group easily becomes God's obstacle rather than God's assistants who help achieve God's objective. God's objective involves more than one nation. It is the salvation of people [John 3:16; Roman 5:8; Ephesians 2:1-10], eternal life for people, living with God in heaven.)
John's first view was fashioned more by his culture than his association with Jesus. A number of Jewish views existed about exactly "how" God would send the Messiah and "what" Messiah would do. Many of those views incorporated two key elements: (a) Messiah would be a King over the Jewish nation, and (b) Messiah would rid the Jewish nation of its enemies. Obviously, there easily could be numerous variations in what was meant by being a king, and numerous variations involved in freeing the Jewish nation from enemies. However, expectations were associated with their concepts of being a successful king. For John that basically meant (a) that he (John) would be an administrator/advisor to Jesus when Jesus ruled the Jewish nation and (b) he would be in a position of power as a man of power because he had access to the ear of the king.
So, if that was John's basic concept of Jesus ruling as king, how did he show loyalty to Jesus? After all, he must be loyal to the potential king!
Look carefully at the first text (Luke 9:51-56). First, note strongly held (believed) expectations are powerful concepts that effect what is heard and disregarded, and believed and discounted. What Jesus said to some of the twelve and to all the twelve did not fit their expectations of Messiah (9:9-27). Yet, Messiah had to be what they expected, not what Jesus said. Second, note Jesus was on a determined personal mission. He was headed to Jerusalem to meet his ultimate purpose. Whereas he was going to die and be resurrected (and he knew it!), John thought Jesus was going to be King of the Jewish nation as John thought of being king. Third, notice Jesus made advanced preparations. He and his group planned to spend the night in a Samaritan village (unnamed). This is not the first time Jesus had contact with a Samaritan village (remember John 4:1-43?). Fourth, note the village refused to provide places for Jesus and the twelve to stay. The reason given: Jesus was concerned about getting to Jerusalem. The Samaritan village was not his destination, but Jerusalem. Do not forget the hostile feelings Samaritans had toward Jews and Jews had toward the Samaritans. Jewish attitudes of superiority and supremacy provoked Samaritan reactions. Fifth, note John's (and James') reaction. (To affirm James' and John's political views of their concept of Messiah, see Matthew 20:20-24.)
The reaction of John and his brother, James, was one of punishment. How dare this Samaritan village refuse the future King of Israel a place to stay! The only appropriate response was retaliation! These horrible Samaritans needed to be taught a lesson! So, "Lord, you have been snubbed by these ungrateful people! What would you have us do? Command fire to come from heaven and consume them?" Notice they were confident they could command the fire to come. They thought it was a response that would meet with Jesus' approval.
Jesus' response is astounding! He rebuked James and John--not the village of the Samaritans! Jesus took no offense! James and John were the ones who did not "get it!"
In the second text, years after Jesus' death, John (this same man!) underscored the value of and the importance of love. He said the contrast between good and evil, righteous wills and wills motivated by hate, was (is) love. The contrast between Christians and people who do not believe in Jesus as God's Christ will not be seen in knowledge, but in love. John finally "got it!"
It is almost too simple for Christians to conclude that everything would be "okay" if we could just exercise the right "control." It is too easy to think we could "fix" everything if we could just exercise the "right power" so that the "right people" were punished and paid the full consequences for misdeeds. Jesus disagreed. Christians exist to invest themselves in God's objective of saving people through helping people. Leave the eternal judging to God--that is His business. Our business is to invest ourselves in helping others as we seek the salvation of all.
For Thought and Discussion
Link to Teacher's Guide
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