The Danger of Extremism in the Church

51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54And 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?" 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56And they went on to another village (Luke 9:51-56, ESV).

This is a significant turning point in Jesus’ ministry. The days of him being taken up (that is, ascending back to the Father) are coming close. Notice, too, that twice in this passage it says that “he set his face toward Jerusalem.” Again, you must realize that when a phrase like this is repeated, it’s to gain our attention. He is to be taken up back to the Father, yes—but he must go through Jerusalem. Everything about Jesus’ life and ministry is leading up to this point.

I cannot help but think back earlier in Luke when old Simeon, described as a man who was “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25). He was told that he would not die until He saw the Messiah. After his prophecy, he turned to Marry and said, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

Even from the beginning, there would be opposition to Jesus. Those who were proud would be brought low, those who were humble before the Lord would be raised up. Even Christ would be brought low, so that he may rise up those who humble themselves before the Lord!

When the disciples were sent ahead to make preparations for him to stay the night, the Samaritans rejected him as well! Why? Remember the story of the woman at the well in John 4? There is an exchange between Jesus and the woman where the woman says to Jesus:

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:19-22).

The Samaritans only recognized Genesis-Deuteronomy as inspired, and knew that Abraham and Jacob worshiped and offered sacrifices on Mount Gerazim—the equivalent to the Jerusalem for the Jews. So you can understand, among other reasons, why there was general resentment that Christ had to go to Jerusalem since that was determined as the legitimate place of worship!

How do we take it if people reject us? Are our feelings hurt? Do we ignore them and go on our way? Do we take it personally when they reject us? Are we like the Apostle Paul, where his heart was provoked by the great idolatry in Athens, leading him to share about the true and living God? Or are we to the point where we are ready for God to completely wipe out the enemies of the faith?

We can excuse all of these mindsets by putting a spiritual spin on them. If we ignore them, then we can quote this Scripture that God wants us to “be separate from them,” (2 Cor. 6:17). If we take it personally when they reject us, we can quote John 15:18: “If they hate you, keep in mind they hated me first,” says Jesus. Are our hearts provoked because we hate them, or are our hearts provoked because we want the mercy of God extended to them?

Years after the death of President Calvin Coolidge, this story came to light. In the early days of his presidency, Coolidge awoke one morning in his hotel room to find a cat burglar going through his pockets. Coolidge spoke up, asking the burglar not to take his watch chain because it contained an engraved charm he wanted to keep. Coolidge then engaged the thief in quiet conversation and discovered he was a college student who had no money to pay his hotel bill or buy a ticket back to campus. Coolidge counted $32 out of his wallet — which he had also persuaded the dazed young man to give back! — declared it to be a loan, and advised the young man to leave the way he had come so as to avoid the Secret Service! (Yes, the loan was paid back.)

Many of us would want justice and want it now! Do we as Christians forget the mercy that God extended to us?

Sinclair Ferguson in his book In Christ Alone, shares this remarkable account of a revival he experienced:

Many years ago, I witnessed revival in its most microcosmic form in a sudden, unexpected, and remarkable work of God’s Spirit on a friend. The work was so dramatic, the effect so radical, that news of it spread quickly to different parts of the country. People were asking, “Just what exactly happened?”

Five things seemed to have happened, and they were still fresh in the memory two and a half decades later:

  1. A painful exposure of the particular sin of unbelief occurred. Listening to preaching was a staple of my friend’s spiritual diet, but what came with overpowering force was a sense that God’s Word had actually been despised inwardly. God’s own Word, preaching in the power of the Spirit, stripped away the mask of inner pride and outward reputation for spirituality. There was a fearful exposure of sin.
  2. A powerful desire arose to be free from all sin. A new affection came, as if unbidden, into the heart. Indeed, a desire seemed to be given actually to have sin increasingly revealed and exposed in order that it might be confessed, pardoned, and cleansed. Disturbing though it was, there was a sweetness of grace in the pain.
  3. The love of Christ now seemed marvelous beyond measure. A love for Him flowed from a heart that could not get enough of Christ, ransacking Scripture to discover more and more about Him.
  4. A new love for God’s Word was born—for reading it, for hearing it expounded and applied, and especially for knowing every expression of God’s will, so that it might be obeyed.
  5. A compassionate love for others now flowed. It came from this double sense of sin and need on the one hand and grace and forgiveness on the other. Christian witness ceased to be a burden and became the expression of Spirit-wrought and powerful new affections.
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