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009 Calling Down Fire From Heaven {Transcript}

About This Transcript

Have you ever wanted to call down fire on someone for what they did wrong? It may sound extreme, but in this episode IBCD Executive Director Jim Newheiser talks about a passage from Luke 9:51-55 and how we often are not all that different from the disciples.

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Craig Marshall:
Hello and welcome to the IBCD Care and Discipleship Podcast. I’m Craig Marshall and with me today is IBCD’s Executive Director Jim Newheiser. We’re going to be talking through a passage out of Luke that Jim, you’ve been preaching through. I was sitting listening to your sermon, I thought, “Wow, that application really hits close to home.”. I think it’s something we see a lot in our counseling. I just thought it would be fun to talk through this passage together and get some time to apply it and think of how we’d use it in counseling.

You’re preaching through the gospel of Luke and not everyone in our audience is called to preach, but we all do read the Bible. One of the things I’m curious about is how does counseling affect how you approach the text as you study passages?

Jim Newheiser:
I think the best thing you can do for your preaching is to counsel because it keeps you connected with people and their real problems. Some preachers live their lives in the Greek or Hebrew text, or in commentaries and interacting with theologians and they don’t really understand how the gospel, how the word of God is needed by their people to help them live with life as it’s happening. When you’re sitting with someone who’s deeply troubled, and you have to bring the scripture to them and that’s part of your life anyway, when you get to the text when you’re preparing a sermon, you understand it’s meaning as you would anyway as you study. Then you’re thinking, “How can I present this in a way that it’s going to meet the real needs that are within our congregation of ordinary Christians?”.

Craig Marshall:
I find sometimes when I’m reading the Bible, it may be hard if I’m just thinking through the lens of my own personal life, I may miss lots of things, but it does seem like when you have people coming to you, asking you questions or you’re thinking about helping others, it almost makes you bring a different set of questions to the text. Do you find that as you study?

Jim Newheiser:
I spend a lot of my life searching the word of God, which I believe to be completely sufficient, to find the answers for desperately hurting people. The most desperately needy person I know is myself and so I need to read the word of God first of all for myself. I actually find when it helps me, it’s going to help others in the same way. Also, as I’m reading and studying, I’m involved in the lives of people, seeing things that I’m going to bring to them, I also find that whatever I am reading or studying become something I’m using. In the sense that, if I’m p0reaching in Luke as you mentioned, probably if you were to watch me counsel on Monday night after preaching Luke on Sunday morning, probably in the course of that evening I will use Luke a few time because that’s been on my heart for dozens of hours in the course of the week.

Craig Marshall:
I was wondering if you would read and then kind of just explain to us the passage that we talked about out of Luke chapter 9?

Jim Newheiser:
Sure. Verse 51, When the days were approaching for his ascension, he was determined to go to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead of him and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for him, but they did not receive him because he was traveling toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you not want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”, but he turned and rebuked them and said, “You do not know of what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”. They went on to another village.

Craig Marshall:
What do find, especially contextually, I know we just dove into that passage, but what’s going on in Jesus’ ministry that’s helpful for us?

Jim Newheiser:
Well, verse 51, the first verse I read, is a key turning point in that we’ve just finished the Galilean ministry in which Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom, the gospel, and he was confirming that through many many miracles. The climax had come in about verse 20 of chapter 9 where Peter recognizes he is the Christ and Jesus explains what it means to be the Christ, that he must suffer many things and now when you get to verse 51, he is actually going to suffer. He’s determined to go towards Jerusalem. He’s on the road. In the context of Luke, it will be the next 10 chapters, is Jesus journeying towards the cross in Jerusalem. As they begin the journey, he chooses to go through Samaria, which is hostile territory. That’s where these events take place.

Craig Marshall:
A key part of that passage is the disciples calling fire down upon the Samaritans, and when we read that we may not see any immediate relevance to our situation. I can’t think of the last time I called fire down on someone. What’s going on there and how do we understand what they’re saying to Jesus?

Jim Newheiser:
The disciples are not entirely wrong here in that, when Jesus sends them ahead, he is the king, he’s the messiah. He sends them ahead to prepare the way. It’s almost like when John the Baptist into Israel, prepare the way of the Lord. They’re telling the Samaritans to prepare for Jesus. They’re like envoys going ahead and we read throughout the gospels that people’s reception of Jesus is something that will either be righteousness for them or judgment for them. Later he’s going to say in chapter 10, verse 16 that the one who listens to you listens to me, the one who rejects you, rejects me. What these Samaritans do in rejecting, not just the disciples but it says explicitly in verse 53 that they did not receive him because they didn’t receive the representatives, they were not receiving him. The Samaritans were guilty of a very very great sin in their rejection of Jesus the messiah.

When the disciples talk about fire from heaven, this is what happened. For example, in Sodom, when the Lord’s emissaries came to Sodom and they were not received, fire came down from heaven. In 2nd Kings 1, when the Samaritan from Samaria, the northern kingdom then, the people came and were given Elijah a hard time from the king, fire came from heaven. The disciples, these people deserved judgment and that, they were right.

Craig Marshall:
We see that probably went a little too far in their zeal or Jesus probably didn’t have in mind what they were thinking to do. Why wasn’t Jesus on board with what they were looking to do in this situation?

Jim Newheiser:
I think what the disciples do here shows how cautious we need to be. How we use scripture because something can seem completely logical by inference. Okay, here I am dealing with Samaritans like Elijah was in 2nd Kings 1, and they are unwelcoming to God’s not just prophet but the great prophet, so fire came from heaven before why not have fire come from heaven now? That seems logical. Jesus’ rebuke of them is really kind of Johannine, where he did not come in his first coming to judge the world, but to save the world. Jesus is saying, “It’s not time for that.”.

By the way there will be a time. When you get to chapter 10 he says, “One day, those cities that rejected him, it will be more tolerable for them than for Sodom.”. A time will come when those who reject Jesus will be punished, but right now as he’s going forth preaching the kingdom, preaching the gospel, now is the season of grace being offered, not the season of judgement.

Craig Marshall:
As we think about that passage, we see that sometimes wrongs are done to us, or wrongs are done to others and we have zeal well up within us that the Lord should do something about it. How does this passage do you think intersect with our lives, the lives of our counselees?

Jim Newheiser:
While I was studying this passage, I took a break and went to the gym. At the gym they’ve got this bank of TVs. On the TVs, certain politicians were on the TV, and I won’t say who, but I knew these people to be evil people in the sense that they promote the death of unborn children, they promote other forms of immorality and they were strutting around in their arrogance. I felt anger welling up within me. I felt tempted to pray almost an imprecatory prayer that fire would fall upon the place that they were meeting or something like that. My heart was convicted that I’m no better than these disciples. I didn’t literally think about the fire part, but I wanted these people to be judged. Yet even 1st Timothy 2 says we should be praying for our leaders that God might save them. He is even willing to save rulers who are wicked. Yes, we too can be tempted to the same kind of sin that these disciples were tempted towards.

Craig Marshall:
I think some of the reason this can be so confusing to us is the disciples were wanting a good thing. They’re defending Jesus’ honor. So often in life, the things that are upsetting us or angering us in many ways are good things that we’re wanting. How can we keep that zeal in check? How can we know in our own hearts, wait, maybe this is going too far? Maybe I’m modeling the disciples here and it’s not fitting with how Jesus would respond in this situation.

Jim Newheiser:
I think a lot of this has to with our calling. That, just as at this particular time it was not God’s calling to be instruments of judgement but rather instruments of mercy. When we see injustice in the world, Romans 13 says, the government has a certain calling to punish evildoers. Many times in scripture we’re told at the end of the age when Christ returns that judgement will come upon the earth. Peter says that the earth as we now know it will be destroyed by fire. Recognizing that we’re not in the season of judgement and our calling towards the lost is to bring them the gospel and even in terms of the wicked, it’s not our job to seek revenge or to take revenge, but to leave that to God’s wrath and God’s time as Romans 12 says.

Craig Marshall:
Good, so we can really step back and check our hearts. What are some ways that you think, instead of calling down fire on someone, what are ways that we think people need to be punished and we often carry that out?

Jim Newheiser:
In general, when people wrong us, our gut reaction is to respond in judgement or tempted to respond in anger. That can be saying hurtful words, expressed in that way. It could be ignoring them or doing other unkind things. We become tempted to really detach ourselves from the gospel, somewhat as these disciples did. What we need to remember is both God’s grace to us and also our calling to be messengers of mercy, which was at that time the calling for those disciples. Furthermore, as we are messengers of mercy, I often think of Romans 2:4, that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. If our hope is when we see evildoers and even when they do evil to us, it’s God’s grace and God’s kindness being reflected through us that, or the means by which God most likely will bring them to repentance rather than our judgmental anger.

Craig Marshall:
This seems to intersect for me with something we hear a lot in marriage counselling. If a spouse is sinning, a lot of times the other spouse thinks it’s their job, almost to call down fire on that spouse, to make them pay for the wrongs that are being done to help them see the error of their ways. How do we change the heart of that spouse so that they’re not making the same sin here as the disciples?

Jim Newheiser:
I think of Galatians 6:1 where it says if someone’s caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual will restore him gently. Looking to yourself that you will not be tempted. If your spouse has sinned, first you need to recognize that that’s a sin against God more than you. You’re calling is not be his judge, but you’re calling is to be the restorer. God has called you to be the one, as you recognize also that when he sins, his sin is reflecting that his relationship with God is broken. Whatever your spouse has done, they’re not walking in the spirit. Otherwise these fleshly deeds wouldn’t come out. Their great need is to be restored to walking in the spirit but you can only do that if you’re walking in the spirit and you come alongside to help them and restore them rather than to play God. Which is what these disciples were tempted to do and to let them have what you think they deserve which could be anything as criminal as abuse, or as subtle as grumpiness.

Craig Marshall:
That’s our overall approach is seeking to restore, an attitude of grace and humility. Then there are times when consequences need to happen. What are some criteria to keep in our minds of when we may need to reach out to others for punishments to happen? How do we think through that?

Jim Newheiser:
I think that we have the simple procedure in Matthew 18, that if you go to your brother for the purpose of restoration in verse 15 and he won’t listen to you, you go to verse 16. Which says you bring 2 or 3 others alongside. The purpose of which is to, as you confront your brother with his sin, to restore him. You hope it will end there. Yes, there’s circumstances where you go to Matthew 18:17 and following where you may have to involve even more. Involve the church. The purpose in this is restoring the brother. It’s a concern for the glory of God. We need to test our motives because sometimes we want to pursue things because it was our ox that got gored. It was an offence against us. We’re much more concerned about that than we are about the glory of God or the soul of the person who has done wrong.

Craig Marshall:
Then, what about ever reaching out to the authorities? If someone has done a wrong, you know sometimes people could hear this and say, our approach is to be grace and restore. What about the authorities in those situations?

Jim Newheiser:
Romans 13 says that God has given the sword figuratively speaking, to the government to punish those who do wrong. There can be matters in which a crime has been committed in which we have a legal obligation to report that crime. If there’s been sexual abuse of a child, I think there are cases of spousal abuse where there’s no choice but to let the guilty party received the God ordained biblical consequence for their sin. In the civil sphere, in that respect there may be a need to bring consequence. Likewise, if someone is not repentant. If a spouse who has been unfaithful continues to indulge in that adultery, Jesus gives that spouse the right, the innocent spouse, the right to separate from the guilty spouse. Consequences aren’t something that we desire to do. Again, that’s when the heart of grace comes in when consequences are brought reluctantly rather than almost joyfully. I don’t want to bring the consequence. If I do, it’s because I’m compelled to do so by your lack of repentance.

Craig Marshall:
It seems like the disciples were almost excited at the thought of fire coming down on this village.

Jim Newheiser:
There’s some irony in this in the context as well. Earlier they weren’t able to cast out demons and their faith was so small and now suddenly they got great faith. They think that they can bring fire from heaven. They seem, like you said, kind of excited about that. It’s a warning for many of us. There are often times, we as believers get something into our head. We then got a verse that supports it. They had verses from the experience of Elijah. We need to be very very cautious, especially when it comes to matters of judgment.

Craig Marshall:
Some of this we may do face to face, but then social media sure seems to provide a platform where we may be calling down fire in a way that we might not do to someone’s face. It’s probably wise for us to think through this even in light of that.

Jim Newheiser:
The proverb that says, “For there are many words transgression is unavoidable.”. Probably would be well posted frequently on Facebook or other social media. Certainly another aspect application of that would be in Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother has sinned, first you go to him.”. It doesn’t say you tell the world or gossip. Facebook can certainly be, or other social media can be a form of gossiping about others or public judgment without going and trying to bring the restoration that the scripture tells us to do.

Craig Marshall:
I was encouraged just hearing this passage and there was obviously more to it in your sermon that were covering other aspects, but just kind of thinking through this heart attitude of the disciples, how they went too far and then how some of those principles can keep us in check. Thanks for explaining that to us. Is there anything else about it that you wanted to say?

Jim Newheiser:
I think the best preparation a counselor has is to do in depth study of the word of God. It’s been my privilege for more than 30 years, most of the weeks of my life been working my way through books of the Bible. It’s equipped me to be able to explain verses in their context to counselees. It keeps the word fresh in my own heart. Counselling isn’t just being able to summon up a verse here and a verse there just lifting it out of context. If you want to be a really well equipped counselor, you want to master the word of God. For most of us, it means having somebody we can teach. It raises our game to be well prepared. The best preparation to be a counselor is to really study in depth the books of the Bible. Not just read through it really fast. Then counselling is great preparation for teaching and preaching the word of God as we learn to connect the word of God to the needs of the people who come to us.

Craig Marshall:
Thanks for joining us. I hope to be with you on the next episode.

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