1. Lk. 9:51-19:27 is a section found only in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus slowly makes His way for the last time from Galilee to Judea. Only about six months remain before His death. In this section He teaches His disciples.
2. Vss. 51-56 are found only in Luke. Vss. 57-62 are found also at Mt. 8:19-22 in a different locale. Perhaps the same incident happened twice. Or perhaps Mt. preserves the chronological order but not Lk. Or perhaps Lk. preserves the chronological order but not Mt. Or (assuming this happened twice) perhaps neither preserves the chronological order. No one can decide this with certainty. The important thing is to study what the words say.
3. Vs. 51 shows the determination of Jesus to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for all people. He did not waver in His resolution.
4. Read Ezra 4:1-3. In 536 BC., when the Jews returned from the Babylonian Captivity and began to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans wanted to help the Jews. But the Samaritans were a mixture of pagans and Jews. And so the Jews refused the Samaritans' help. Then the Samaritans separated themselves and built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. Henceforth the Jews and the Samaritans had no dealings with each other. See Jn. 4:9. That is the reason for the refusal of the Samaritans at Lk. 9:52. But they received the Gospel after Pentecost. Acts 1:8; 8:14.
5. At the end of vs. 54 modern translations delete the words: "as also Elijah did." And between vss. 55-56 they delete the words: "and said: 'You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.'" Compare the Russian translation printed by Druckhaus Gummersbach and the one published by the Slavic Gospel Press, Wheaton, IL. The former is like the older translations. The latter is like that of modern translations.
6. But even if the words are not original and textual, the thoughts which they contain are implied in the text. Cf. II Kings 1:10-12. Elijah called down fire from heaven to show that only Jehovah is the true God. But James and John were not of the same spirit as was Elijah. They were vengeful. They wanted to punish the Samaritans. But Jesus did not come to destroy. He came only to save. Cf. 19:10. On the last day He will come as Judge, to destroy those who refused to believe in Him. But when He was on earth He appeared not as Judge but only as Savior. James and John were wrong in their attitude.
7. In vss. 57-62 Jesus addresses three men who want to be missionaries for Jesus but who have each a serious flaw in their thinking. The first one says: "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go." (Note the difference between the old and new translations. The old adds the word "Lord.") Jesus' answer in vs. 58 implies that the life of the missionary is like that of Jesus' life. He owned no permanent home. Cf. Hebr. 11:37-38 where it is plain that these believers had less comfort than wild animals. Followers of Christ will suffer deprivation of food, clothing and shelter. Evidently this man who promised to follow Jesus was not yet strong enough to keep his promise. We know not what happened to him.
8. In vss. 59-60 Jesus engages a second man. Jesus commands him to follow him. But he makes an excuse. Jesus' answer does not forbid a man to honor his father. It does not even forbid burying one's father. Jesus is criticizing this man's attitude. Burial of the dead is not by divine command. It is not a religious rite. When people are dead you cannot teach them. You can't even love them. Burial often becomes a big show. What IS important is to spread the Gospel of the kingdom. When Christians bury Christians, the Gospel should be the most important thing.
9. In vss. 61-62 Jesus deals with a third man. He was like the Children of Israel who longed for the flesh-pots of Egypt. Ex. 16:3. Or like Lot's wife who looked back and become a pillar of salt. Lk. 17:32; Gen. 19:26. Christians must look straight ahead. See Php. 1:13. Jesus said: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all things will be added to you." Mt. 6:33. The Gospel causes us to look straight ahead and not backwards.
THEME: How Jesus Deals With His Erring Disciples
Our text shows us how Jesus dealt with five of His disciples. In vss. 51-56 we see how He dealt with James and John, two of the twelve. In vss. 57-62 we see how He dealt with three other disciples. These were very likely not of the twelve. But all five of them had faulty notions about the kingdom of God. How did Jesus deal with them?
I. JESUS DEALS WITH JAMES AND JOHN
A. The situation. It was only about six months before Jesus' suffering and death. He and His disciples were on their way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Samaria lies between Galilee and Jerusalem. Jesus wanted to cross through Samaria. He sent messengers to a Samaritan village to make arrangements to stay over night. But the Samaritans refused Jesus. When James and John heard about this they were angry. They wanted to take vengeance on the Samaritans. They wanted to destroy them. They wanted to do as did Elijah in II Kings 1:10-12. They wanted to cause fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans.
B. How Jesus deals with James and John. We are told that Jesus rebuked James and John. They were sinning. First of all, vengeance belongs to the Lord, not man. Read Lev. 19:18 and Rom. 12:19. People try to play God when they take vengeance on other people. Secondly, James and John misapplied the example of Elijah. Elijah called down fire from heaven to show people that Jehovah is Lord, not for vengeance. Why did Jesus show James and John their sin? So that they might confess their sin and believe in Him as their Savior. He did not come to destroy but to save mankind. Cf. Jn. 3:17. The devils said that Jesus came to destroy. Read Lk. 4:34. Jesus muzzled them because He came to save, not to destroy. Never forget Lk. 19:10. Jesus is Savior, not Destroyer.
II. JESUS DEALS WITH THREE OTHER DISCIPLES
A. The situation. We do not know who these disciples in vss. 57-62 were. But we know enough to learn a lesson. The first made a rash promise: "I will follow you wherever You go. The second one did not want to follow Jesus until he had buried his father. The third one promised to follow Jesus but first wanted to go and bid farewell to family. Jesus told him that his attitude was not fit for the kingdom of God.
B. How Jesus deals with these three disciples.
1. Jesus does not reject these three disciples. He does not chase them away. At Mt. 12:20 we read that Jesus was the fulfillment of Is. 4 2:1-9. One sentence says: "A bruised reed He will not break and the smoking flax He will not extinguish." Weak Christians are like a broken reed or like smoking flax which is barely burning. Jesus does not break the reed or extinguish the flax. He repairs the reed and causes the flax to burn brightly. The first man (vs. 57) made a rash promise which he could not keep. Jesus reminds this man that to be a Christian means to give up all your filthy righteousness and trust only in His righteousness. To be a Christian might mean to give up all earthly goods but Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit because theirs is the kingdom of God." John the Baptist is our model. He taught us that a person can be a Christian although he has very little.
2. Jesus rebukes the second disciple. This one is described in vss. 59-60. Jesus invites him to follow Jesus, to be His disciple. Jesus says: "Let the dead bury the dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God". Burial is a necessity. Jesus does not forbid it. He does not even forbid Christians to bury their parents. He is talking about a family attitude. Burial is not a required, religious ceremony. It's only a physical necessity. But the Gospel is all-important. What is the most important thing at a Christian funeral? The Gospel.
3. The third man, vss. 61-62, was half-hearted in his faith and faithfulness. You can't plow with one hand. It takes both hands. You can't look back. You must look forward. Repentance and faith are not halfway.