By Doug Beacham
March 5 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is a forty day period prior to Easter (not counting Sundays) whereby Christians for centuries and from many theological traditions have focused on repentance and spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, as a way of focusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Over this season, I will use my blog as a way of chronicling my spiritual journey to and from Calvary. I pray some of the observations will be used by the Holy Spirit to touch your life as well.
Recently, I have been reading Luke’s account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I found myself thinking about the key transition incident recorded in Luke 9:51, “when the time had come for Him (Jesus) to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” At this stage in His ministry, Jesus knew that miraculous ministry in Galilee was not His primary goal. The primary goal was in Jerusalem and would culminate in His confrontation with the principalities and powers of that and this age.
On this portion of the journey, He and the disciples decided to go back through Samaria. It was the most direct route but also took them through territory marred by ancient animosity between Jews and Samaritans. Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had impacted the city of Sychar when He changed the life of a woman of ill repute (John 4:1-42). Jesus even lingered an additional two days sharing His life (4:40).
The disciples entered another Samaritan village announcing that Jesus was coming to the village and they should prepare for Him (Luke 9:52). However, the village rejected their appeal and Jesus’ visit when they learned that “His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem” (9:53).
It’s interesting that the Samaritans, who no doubt had heard of Jesus’ ministry and perhaps even wanted His presence among them, were not willing to accept Him once they discovered His goal conflicted with their own prejudice. They wanted a Jesus, a miracle worker, a lover of people, who would abide by their rules, who would accommodate to their demands and expectations.
In response, Jesus’ disciples James and John responded with their own hidden prejudice. They used the Scriptural reference of 1 Kings 18:36-38 where Elijah called down fire upon the altar at Mount Carmel as their justification for a demonstration of divine wrath upon the Samaritans.
Jesus, who refused to allow the Samaritans to define His mission, rebuked the disciples with the cutting phrase, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55, 56).
At the beginning of Lent, this passage has challenged my own spirit. Sadly, I discover again how easily I am offended at the rising tide of anti-Christian spirit among the nations, particularly the land of my citizenship. Whether it is the continuing tide of racism, or the growing divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, or the failure of human institutions to provide real hope for the poor and disadvantaged, or the various efforts to redefine marriage and normalize lifestyles that God declares are perverse, I find myself wanting to call down fire in righteous indignation. Too easily I overlook the log(s) in my own eyes and justify my own attitudes and actions (Matthew 7:3-5).
It’s not that these concerns are illegitimate. They are legitimate and should be addressed. We do not have to be ashamed of confronting the darkness dimming the light of western culture.
But we also must remember the “spirit” of how we speak and how we respond. I think that is part of what the apostle Paul had in mind when he cautioned that we “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). The context of that statement is in the larger context of the purposes of leadership gifts, the body of Christ, and our purpose in this world. It introduces the important section of Ephesians 4:17 on how Christians live in this world: “no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind” but “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). The darkness of that age described in 4:17-22 is only magnified in our own age.
This Lent season, and this week based on this text from Luke 9, I am trying to remember that the goal of my witness and confession is not to call judgment down on anyone. The goal of my witness is to share that the Son of Man came to save lives, not destroy. Most of us know John 3:16, perhaps by memory from our childhood. But John 3:17 reinforces the reality of God so loving the world, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
I’ll admit that it frightens me when the Holy Spirit reveals the kinds of spirit(s) that lurk in the corners of my life, seeking to destroy me with the temptations of power, self-righteousness, and privilege. But it also reminds me that Jesus also came to save me.