This last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach my first sermon at my church St. John’s Anglican in Franklin, TN. It was a great experience preparing for this opportunity, and I hope to do it again at some point, if the opportunity arises. I appreciate the patience of the congregation who sat and listened despite the AC being out at our church, and I hope it fed them in some way.
The sermon was on Luke 9:51-56:
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.Luke 9:51-56
Here is the audio, and the transcript follows.
If I haven’t met you yet, my name is Jesse Orloff. My wife, Amanda, and I have 3 children: Naomi, Titus, and Noelle. My family has been attending St. John’s now for going on a year and a half. I’m honored to be able to share God’s word with you today and to share a little about myself along the way.
Pray with me: May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, our rock and our redeemer.
I was born into a non-religious family. My grandparents were Christians, but my parents would rarely speak of religious things. Outside of Christmas and Easter celebrations with my grandparents, religion basically didn’t make a show at our house.
We weren’t a very wealthy family. There were times when we would be on food stamps, or pick up food from a local food drive at a church. My parents would pretty often fight about money. We would wear cheap clothes, and if we had something nice it probably came with a loan we couldn’t afford. From a young age I felt like an outsider among my peers. Even in elementary school a gap was already starting to form between me and the kids who were more well off than I was. I felt weird.
My father would drink a lot, and had a terrible temper. His discipline was at times harsh and felt unfit for the offense. He towered over me at 6 foot 6 so his physicality when angry could be terrifying. He was disrespectful of women, to say the least, and especially to my mother.
So, feeling like an outsider both at home and at school, I grew angry. I grew angry at my father for how he acted; I grew angry at the other kids at school; I grew angry at what I felt was an unfair world. I found music that seemed to resonate with my anger. I fell in love with hard rock and metal, especially bands like Marilyn Manson or Korn, where the lead singer clearly had a difficult relationship with his father as well. I became attracted to dark and angry things, and I found a few friends who seemed to share those interests. In other words, I grew to love the darkness.
By the time I was in middle school, I had decided that I wanted nothing to do with God. Even though my father wasn’t religious, his authority represented the authority of God to me. Also, when I would hear the other kids, who seemed to have more than I did, speak of God, I would hear their comments as assertions that he favored them. If God favored them, and gave them all the things I lacked, what does that say about me?
So, I decided that I was an atheist. But more than that, I began to actively reject God. When he came up in conversations I would mock him, and Jesus, and the Bible. I would mock Christians and call them liars. I remember in one conversation I had, I made the bold statement that before I would believe in God, I would serve Satan.
I say all this because I want to paint the picture of my own rejection of God in vivid colors. I do this because today’s reading in the Gospel of Luke shows a Samaritan village who rejected him for their own particular reasons, and yet he shows them unexpected mercy. Jesus used this encounter to illustrate the new life of the Kingdom of Heaven which he was about to inaugurate, and to demonstrate that the wideness of his Gospel would be a surprise even to those who knew him best on earth. It wasn’t until the people of God’s kingdom showed me grace and kindness that I began to reconsider God. This is what Jesus is teaching his disciples in this passage: Be patient with those who do not know the Lord.
Our passage marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, so before I dive too deep into that I want to take us back about a chapter. After Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is, Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Christ of God”. Then a few verses later the Transfiguration takes place. Here Peter, James and John witness Christ in Glory alongside two key figures from Israel’s past: Moses and Elijah. Here God speaks from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen one; listen to him!”
This must have been amazing to those three. Before them they have Moses, who brought the Law, and Elijah, the great Prophet. Not only that, but it was a common belief of Jews at that time (and I think it still is to this day with Orthodox Jews) that the Messianic age would be kicked off by the return of Elijah. I imagine that all of this felt, to those disciples, like the Kingdom was about to explode into the world.
But after Peter’s confession and again after the transfiguration Jesus said some things that the disciples couldn’t quite understand. The Son of Man would suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and ultimately, he would be killed. And those who wish to follow him in his kingdom would have to lose their own lives in the process.
The Jews expected their Messiah to come and restore Israel back to, or even beyond, its former Glory. They expected a king who would forever sit on the throne of David—the physical throne. And the rulers of the nations and all the gentiles would have to Kiss the Son, lest his wrath be kindled, and they be destroyed (as it says in Psalm 2). Despite all the teaching Jesus had done on the true nature of his kingdom, our passage today reveals that his disciples still had this worldview in mind.
Now, starting at verse 51 of our passage, we read “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him.” Here we see a shift in Jesus’ Ministry. Up until now he had been teaching about the Kingdom and about who he is, but now he is setting everything in motion to accomplish the fulfillment of the Gospel. His determination in this shift must have been noticeable to his disciples. I imagine that after what happened earlier, the disciples were buzzing with excitement and anticipation for what was about to happen. “He is finally going to do it! Everything we’ve been waiting for is about to come true!”
But once they arrive in the Samaritan village, they face opposition. Even the Samaritans could sense that Jesus had set his face to go to Jerusalem, and they weren’t happy about it. You see, the Samaritans and the Jews did not get along. Each saw themselves as the true Israel. The Samaritans, like the Sadducees, only accepted the 5 books of Moses as scripture, but unlike the Sadducees, they saw the Jerusalem Temple and the city of Jerusalem as illegitimate places of worship. They had built a separate temple on Mount Gerizim near Shechem about 400 years earlier and considered themselves to have an unbroken lineage to two of the tribes of Israel. They also expected a Messiah (as you might recall from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, in the book of John). But, when the Good News about the Messiah came to this town it was spoiled in their ears by Jesus’ intention to carry on to Jerusalem to complete his work. Consequently, they reject Jesus outright.
Verse 54 goes on to say, ‘And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”’ James and John reveal what they are still expecting of the coming Kingdom. They see Elijah’s response to the soldiers of Ahab (from 2 Kings) as a model for how to handle those who resist the new King and his Kingdom. For them, if you’re not prepared to accept the Messiah right now, you can expect immediate Judgement. This is probably not far off from what Roman occupied people have grown to expect from their Roman rulers. You couldn’t expect to resist the emperor or his messengers and get away with it.
Not only that, but the disciples had the stories of the Prophets and the Judgements and the Exile in their head, with all the miraculous moments of divine judgement from God. There was Elijah, who called down fire on the soldiers of Ahab. And earlier Elijah killed 450 prophets of Baal after the Lord consumed Elijah’s sacrifice with fire. And there were many other similar Miracles: mockers mauled by bears, armies struck blind or drowned in rivers and sea, or overcome and barraged with a hail of stones, the faithless bitten by snakes or swallowed up by the earth, cities destroyed in fire and brimstone, and an entire country struck with plagues all to demonstrate that the LORD is God. All to demonstrate that you cannot resist Yahweh, his people, or his kingdom without a definite expectation of Judgement.
But we know, looking back from this side of the Cross, that although there are certainly clear moments of judgement throughout the Bible—moments that called for justice or vengeance from God—We know that God is love and desires not the death of a sinner. The disciples knew this too. They would have heard, if not memorized, passages like this from Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Or from the Psalms: “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” Did they just forget these truths? I don’t think they forgot them, but I don’t think they really grasped the extent to which they were true, either.
So, in the next verse in Luke, verse 55, Jesus turns and rebukes them, and then they carry on to another village. Jesus may or may not have said more to the disciples in that moment, but he would go on to make his heart on the matter abundantly clear.
Along the way to Jerusalem, and after he arrived there, he would teach many more things about who he is and what his kingdom is like. He would gain more followers, he would lose some, and he would upset the status quo for the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the others who were in power. Eventually he would be welcomed into the city while riding on a donkey with shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest!”. But within a matter of days the excitement and support he received during his Triumphal Entry would turn to rejection from his own people, and death. He would be betrayed by a disciple, abandoned and denied by the other disciples, tried by the high priest and the religious and political rulers, canceled by the crowds, and condemned to death on a cross between 2 criminals.
The book of Isaiah says: He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
In the end he was rejected by everyone.
But that wasn’t the end. He was put in the tomb, but he wouldn’t stay there. He conquered sin and death. On the third day he rose. He would be seen by the women at the tomb. He would be seen by his other disciples and reveal how all of scripture had been leading up to this one moment. He would show them what true forgiveness was. And as the Book of Hebrews says, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
What the Disciples did not fully understand until after the cross, was that the Kingdom of God wouldn’t come in earthly power like the Romans or Greeks, exalting themselves and subjugating or destroying their enemies. Instead, the Kingdom of God would come at great cost to its King, and would bring mercy and peace to his enemies. Jesus would establish a kingdom on this earth, but it would not be marked by political borders, taxes, or trade agreements. It would be marked by a message of forgiveness and love that would capture the hearts of people from every tribe and tongue and nation. All those who put their faith in Christ are forgiven and united to the Risen King. The age-old promise to Abraham, that all nations would be blessed through his seed, has been fulfilled. Paul tells us in Galatians: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
From a young age, I had rejected God. I had set my feet on a path of opposition to him that should have ended in judgement and destruction. I rejected him just like the Samaritans in our story, and just like the Jews and Gentiles of Jerusalem. But he is a God of mercy. Undeserved, unexpected, unending mercy to those who believe in him. Knowing the rejection that he would face, Jesus chose to die to forgive those who rejected him. He was lifted up in death and now he is drawing all men to himself. Despite my resistance, he brought the Gospel to me through the people of his kingdom. It didn’t happen overnight, but I started encountering kindness and love from his people. That kindness opened me up to hearing his Word, and his word began to change my heart. One day, about six months after the first time I willingly stepped foot into a church, I realized that he had broken down my barriers and completely changed my heart. Everything had changed for me. Though I once rejected him, now I accepted him. I was baptized the day after my 15th birthday.
I’m not certain of your stories, but I know that since the fall we have each rejected God in our own way, but as long as we still have breath, there is not one of us who has rejected him so fully or finally that he’s not willing to forgive us.
For those of you who already know the love and forgiveness of our God, I want to remind you that we will see those in this world who reject Jesus. They may reject us as well, because we love him. But honestly, you probably don’t need me to remind you of this fact. Each of us has those people in our lives who continue reject Jesus. When I mention this does it draw to your mind a picture of a coworker or friend, a son or daughter, a father or mother, a sister or a brother? Maybe they were once a part of the church but have walked away from the faith. Maybe they never were. Maybe you have tried time and time again to convince them of the love of Jesus. Maybe you never have. Maybe the relationship is hard or broken. Maybe they have pushed you away, or perhaps you have walked away.
Whatever the circumstance, I want to encourage you with our gospel story to be patient with those who do not know the Lord. You cannot save them. There is only one who can. But as well as you are able, try to answer their rejection with the love he has put in you—with the Gospel, and pray that the Lord will draw them to himself. We can never know when God will change the heart of someone like me. God is still growing his kingdom with his former enemies. The one who responds like the Samaritan today, may repent and turn to him tomorrow.