49"Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us."
50"Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" 55But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 they went to another village.
57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
59He said to another man, "Follow me."
But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
60Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
62Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (NIV)
1. True greatness does not mean seeking for the highest position you can, but associating with the "lowest" people in your midst (vv. 46-48).
"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited" (Rom 12:16).
Along with women and tax collectors, children were looked upon with scorn and contempt at the time of Jesus' first sojourn on earth. Precisely for this reason, Jesus presented a child to his disciples, and challenged them to give attention to him/her. In this way, he showed them how their conceptions of greatness needed to change.
What Christ is calling for is humility - but it is not only something to be found in our heart before God, but also manifested in the way we relate to all people. James also warns us in his letter (2:1-13) not to be partial to some over others.
Discussion Question 1: What other kinds of tests could we anticipate from the LORD today that might determine whether how humble, or proud, we are?
2. Other followers of Christ who seek to do the work of God's kingdom should not be rejected, even if they stand outside one's own particular association of believers (vv. 49-50).
The NIV rendering of verse 49, "not one of us", is not the most accurate translation - it is better rendered, "not following along with us".
Jesus' reply to John, "Whoever is not against you is for you" (v. 50), reveal that people cannot be neutral in how they view Jesus - and, by extension, the work of His people in making Him known. Such a view will either be one of acceptance, or rejection.
Jesus' instruction to John to not hinder this man - "do not stop him" (v. 50) - is a challenge to all of God's people to accept those in their midst who believe as they do, and carry out the same work as they do, but may be different from them in one way or other.
Discussion Question 2: In what ways can God's people today fall into the error of John?
3. In this age, followers of Christ are to concern themselves more with mercy towards outsiders rather than judgment, and leave the judgment in God's hands (vv. 51-55).
It was not necessarily wrong for John and James to desire to "call fire down from heaven" upon seeing their Lord rejected when they stopped in Samaria. After all, they likely thought, did not Elijah do the same (2 Ki 1:1-18)?
However, Jesus rebukes them, "for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him" (Jn 3:17). Also, "the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost" (Lk 19:10). There will be a time - when Jesus comes again - where He will judge the whole earth (Jn 5:21-23; 1 Co 15:23-28; 2 Th 1:6-10). But this period of history - between Christ's first coming and second coming - is an "age of mercy", where Christ is not only showing grace and giving time for people to repent (2 Pe 3:9), but is likewise calling His people to show mercy and love to their enemies, as they entrust all judgment to God (Lk 6:27-36; Rom 12:17-21).
Discussion Question 3: In what ways is the church today guilty of the same sin that was displayed by James and John in this passage?
4. Christ's followers should not expect to feel at home in this world (vv. 57-58).
The one who said, "I will follow you wherever you go" (v. 57), did not realize the ramifications of following Jesus. "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (v. 58) does not mean that Jesus would never sleep, but that He had no home in a world where he would ultimately be rejected (Jn 1:10-11). In a similar manner, Christ's followers should expect to feel like "strangers" and "aliens" in this world (Php 3:19-21; Heb 11:13; 1 Pe 1:17; 2:11).
5. Christ demands loyalty from his followers that is above all other loyalties (vv. 59-62).
On the face of it, Jesus' statements in verses 60 and 62, where He rejects his prospective followers' wishes to perform family-honouring duties, seem extraordinarily harsh. If it were the case, however, that Jesus was condemning any kind action shown towards a family member, then the fifth commandment would likely not exist (Ex 20:12 and Deut 5:16). Rather, I think Jesus is taking issue with the "family-olatry" that He probably detected in these people's hearts. Elsewhere Jesus says, "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Mt 10:37-38).
Discussion Question 4: What are some of the ways in which we Christians today may be tested in our loyalty to God over family?