Three life-changing trajectories are revealed in today’s story: first, the disciples’ continued trajectory of selfish ambition; second, the opposite trajectory of the Lord’s compassion; and third, the trajectory of Jesus as He sets His face to make the journey to Jerusalem to lay His life down for you and me.
Let’s take a closer look at these three trajectories:
First: The Disciples’ Tragic Trajectory of Selfish Ambition
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2.3)
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business.” (1 Thessalonians 4.11)
Sometimes I look back on the things I’ve said and done as a father, and I am so ashamed of myself. Every child in a family with multiple kids wants to know, “Who’s mom or dad’s favorite? Is it me?” I made the tragic mistake as a Father of pulling each of my children aside when they were young and telling them in private: “You’re our favorite... Just don’t tell the others.”
What could go wrong? I thought I was being clever, helping them to know that they are loved unconditionally by their mother and me. And in the sense that it is possible to somehow have three favorites, it wasn’t untrue. We love each child with 100% of our being, so by my logic, my little scheme made perfect sense. It seemed harmless enough. Until...
I pulled 5-year-old John, our youngest, aside and said, “John, I want you to know that you are our favorite. Please don’t tell Cambria or James.” I didn’t realize that 9-year-old Cambria, the oldest, was right behind me. She heard everything, and she was utterly crushed! I was busted big time. Let me tell you, there is absolutely no way on earth to explain this little plan to a devastated 9-year-old -- or to an equally disturbed 5-year-old. To this day, I believe they carry the scar of that moment with them. Cambria -- now almost 18 years old -- recently composed a song about how John is our favorite child. Lord, forgive me for the foolish things I’ve said and done as a father. Lord, more than that, help my children to forgive me one day!
I tell you that story because the truth is, everybody, somewhere, deep inside, wants to be the favorite child. And Jesus’ disciples were no exception. The disciples’ tragic trajectory of selfish ambition just keeps rolling and rolling and rolling here in the last half of Luke 9. And Jesus will have none of their jockeying for position.
Let’s quickly review: first, just a few verses earlier, in Luke 9:46, the disciples, including John, wanted to know: who was Jesus’ favorite INSIDE their group of twelve. They didn’t understand that in God’s kingdom the last shall be first, and whoever wants to be greatest must be the servant of all, so Jesus set a child among them to show that the least is great in God’s kingdom. Great. Lesson learned. Right? Wrong!
Moving on to the next passage, Luke 9.49-50: John is still hung up with who’s Jesus’ favorite. He comes to Jesus and tattles an a disciple who was OUTSIDE their group of twelve and casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Now, parents just love tattle-tails, don’t they? Not!
John is still fiercely clinging to his trajectory of selfish ambition. He wants to know, “Our group -- the twelve -- we’re your favorites, right? We’re closer to your than every other group, aren’t we?” The answer again is, “no.” Jesus shuts John down and forbids sectarianism by explaining to him that whoever isn’t against us is for us.
Great. Lesson learned. Right? Wrong!
When we come to today’s passage, Luke 9.51-56, here’s John once again, hoping to get some kind of validation from Jesus that He is loved more than everyone else. This little Samaritan village -- made up of people who are way outside the fold of faith and not even disciples of Jesus -- is offended because Jesus is going to Jerusalem. So they refuse to let Jesus stay in their town. James and John, the thunderheads, still on their tragic trajectory of selfish ambition, see their chance to finally get Jesus to tell them they’re his favorites. They ask Jesus if they should call down fire on those lousy old Samaritans just like Elijah did back in 1 Kings 1.10.
“Ok, we get it. Nobody is better than anybody else in our church. And our church isn’t better than any other church. Got it. But you must love us better than people who don’t go to church at all, right? Surely we’re better than them, right Jesus? Surely you love people who believe in you more than those who don’t believe, right Jesus?” Wrong again. Again and again, we see through our stand-in John that Jesus will not allow the trajectory of selfish ambition to have any root in our hearts. Jesus doesn’t attack the people who reject him. He respects their free will and quietly moves on -- shaking the dust from his feet, yes -- but not burning down the house.
Throughout this chapter of Luke the disciples are on a tragic trajectory of wanting to know who’s the favorite. They keep jockeying for position, and Jesus keeps shutting them down. God’s shows compassion to all His children -- even those who reject Him the way the lost sheep of Samaria did. When you and I want some sort of assurance that we are His “favorite,” Jesus says, “No. You’re all my favorites. Lose that tragic trajectory of selfish ambition. That is not how I roll.” We don’t wrestle against our flesh and blood enemies. Instead, we transform our enemies into friends through the trajectory of compassion.
Which leads us to the second point:
The Transforming Trajectory of Compassion
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6.12)
Coercion may move the body, but compassion moves the heart. You can make someone do what you want by using force, but that does not mean you have won a friend. Usually the opposite is true. Coercion of the body makes an enemy of the heart. You can use coercion to separate children from their parents at the border in the name of protecting your country, but in the end you will turn the hearts of everyone in the world against you.
Coercion does not transform enemies into friends -- compassion does. In direct opposition to the disciples’ tragic trajectory of selfish ambition, Jesus again and again has to show these stone-eared men that His way is the transforming trajectory of compassion. Listen to the words of the Master from Luke 6.27-36:
27 “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. 31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
32 “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (NKJV)
The way of Jesus is the transforming trajectory of compassion. We must be different from the powerful people of this world who like to lord it over their subjects. We must strive to put others first and ourselves last. Kindness and compassion must be shown to everyone, even those who reject us. This is the way of Jesus.
If sin is a fire, compassion is the extinguisher. Hatred only stokes the fire and makes it worse. But love -- compassion -- they extinguish the devastating fire of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. When we are attacked, the only sensible response is to pour love on our enemies, not to retaliate and thus spread the destruction.
This is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what makes it such good news when you compare it to they way of the Islamist crescent or the way of the Zionist star. Crescents and stars are lofty symbols of dominance and strength, but the cross is a symbol of shame, humility, but most of all compassion. They want to put out the fire of sin through the muscle of coercion. We want to put it out through the transforming power of compassion.
We must hate sin just as much as our devout Muslim and religious Zionist brothers do -- but unlike them we do not dare translate that hatred of actions into hatred of persons. We must never seek revenge against our fellow man for we understand that just a short time ago we ourselves were the perpetrators of every kind of wickedness and rebellion against our awesome and Holy God. It is only by the grace of Christ -- by the transforming trajectory of His compassion -- that we have changed at all. We are no longer satisfied to be the perpetrators of sin, but strive to be advocates of holiness and what is right. We must always hate sin while pouring out love on the sinner. If we abandon the way of Christ -- if we choose to hate sinners -- we will be required to hate ourselves. Coercion may move the body, but only compassion moves the heart.
We must not abandon the way of Jesus in the name of Christianity. And now let’s examine the third trajectory, the way of Jesus:
The Totally Adamant Trajectory of Jesus
“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3.12)
You thought I was going to say “Awesome” or “Amazing” didn’t you? And the Way of Jesus is awesome and amazing! But more than that it is adamant. Jesus’ face was “set like flint” on his mission (Isaiah 50.7). And His mission was you!
His devotion to you is “a-daman” (Greek: “a” means “not” and “daman” means “tame”) -- untamed, off the hook, and untamable. In other words, Jesus’ trajectory of compassion for you was wholehearted, not half-hearted. He was fully devoted to the mission of suffering for you, bearing your shame, carrying the weight of every sin you’ve ever committed, every wrong you’ve ever done. Jesus didn’t sit on the fence when it came to giving His life for you. Do you sit on the fence when it comes to living your life for Him?
Once Jesus set His face like flint to make the journey to Jerusalem -- to die on your cross -- nothing could stop Him. He was adamant in His love for you. Are you adamant in your love for Him? Are you unchained, untamed, unwavering, wholehearted like that? Do you want to be? All you need to do is get off the fence and start walking with Him -- and He will be with you every step of the way.
But everyone has a Samaria -- a place where you used to fit in but don’t anymore. What happens when you face opposition and rejection in your Samaria? When you make up your mind to walk with God on the road to Jerusalem, you will discover, as the master did, that those who used to welcome you will now reject you. Those friends who once invited us to their tables and barbecues and parties will push us away as strangers and enemies. Those who once understood us, laughed with us, cried with us, will not understand us at all anymore, and they will close themselves and their lives off to us. When you are rejected by your old friends (and they will reject you), will you cave to their demands or keep the faith?
We have choice to make in that situation: One option would be to respond in anger like James and John wanted to. That’s called vengeance, and last time I checked vengeance belongs to someone else, the Only One Who Can Handle it.
But another equally bad response also presents itself: we could choose to give up the journey and rejoin the Samaritans on their terms. And, sadly, that is what most people do when the going gets tough. We cave in to the pressure of our old way of life and our old friends, abandoning Jesus and that amazing road to Jerusalem. More souls are lost in hell because of the pressure of their old friends and their old way of life to abandon the way of Jesus than are in heaven today. The pressure from our Samaria is high, but the reward of seeing the journey through with Jesus is much, much higher.
Are you tempted to leave the road to Jerusalem and pack it in with the Samaritans you used to know? It can be very tempting to forsake God and the path He has called you to walk -- but if we do that, we forsake real love, the most precious commodity in all the earth.
Do you hear Samaria calling you? Do your old ways and old friends drag you down to the bottom like a millstone around your neck? Has the old prison cell of selfishness and sin been calling you back? Are those old chains of yours -- the ones that had you living like a dog -- really so attractive? Or have you heard another voice -- the voice of Jesus, calling you out into the wild of His way? Don’t let your old man drag you down. That man has to die. Fix your eyes on the real prize. Set your face like flint on the way you know he has laid out for you. Give up those old roads that leads to a thousand nowheres, and get back to where you once belonged -- the road to that leads to Him, the road to Jerusalem, the road to real, pure, burning love.
When you meet with resistance, do what Jesus did. Walk on. Don’t tangle with them. Don’t fight them. Don’t argue with them. No bargaining. No compromising. Just move along. And keep moving. You will have to say goodbye to some old friends. And it will not be easy. But allow me to whisper some words of wisdom: let it be. You will make new friends -- better friends.
The gift of spiritual sight is a heavy burden. Some people cannot bear it. Even though they once were blind but now can see, many ultimately choose to gouge their own eyes out rather than walk in the light. But some choose to walk in the light, even though they are rejected by those old friends who still dwell in the shadows. As you walk with Jesus closer and closer to the Holy City, the things of earth do indeed grow strangely dim. Do not weep for those old friends and old ways; the light of His glory and grace outshines them all.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace
(Hymn: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Helen H. Lemmel)
May we grow to be men and women who are courageous enough to walk in the light, to overcome our carnal instincts for revenge and retribution, and learn to show mercy, kindness, and compassion: especially to those who lust for our own suffering and shame. God, grant us the vision to walk on with you!