A disciple is not only someone who has set a new priority, but someone whose entire identity has been reshaped and forged. But how is that possible?
Living a New Mercy
The key to setting a new priority and finding a new identity is in living a new mercy. And this is also evident in Luke 9. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and, it says in verse 52, “He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him.” They rejected him. “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’”
Let’s try to understand them. Remember that there was a prophet, named Elijah, who called down fire upon some soldiers who were seeking to arrest him. And on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus had appeared—to James and John—with Elijah and Moses. The message of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28–36) was that Jesus was even greater than Moses and Elijah.
So think of the logic of the disciples: You’re greater than Elijah. These people have rejected you, and that’s even worse than rejecting Elijah. That adds even more effrontery to the godhead. Shall we not bring down fire and destroy them?
This is the kind of prophet the world can relate to. But Jesus Christ doesn’t rebuke the unbelieving Samaritans; he rebukes the disciples! He is the absolute un-Elijah. Can you imagine their continued perplexity if he’s greater than Elijah? The soldiers come after Jesus to kill him—in the Garden—and what does he do? He heals an ear that was cut during a skirmish. Later on, the soldiers are pounding nails into his hands, and what does he say? Father, forgive them; they really don’t understand what they’re doing.
Why doesn’t fire come down on the Samaritans? On the soldiers? The answer comes in Luke 12, where Jesus says, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” That’s very interesting for two reasons. One is that fire, in biblical imagery, always means the judgment of God. Second, he says he comes to bring fire on the earth! This is perplexing because, after all, he has just rejected Elijah’s fiery approach. Ah! Semitic literature: the second sentence is a restatement of the first; this is what he actually says, in Luke 12:49–50: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” He’s already been baptized with water, so he’s clearly talking about something else. “I’ve come to bring fire. How constrained I am until it’s completed. I have come to undergo a baptism, how crushed I am until it’s over.” Why didn’t the fire come down on the Samaritans or later on the soldiers? Because the fire came down on him. He was baptized. He was the one immersed in the judgment of God. He got what we deserved. This is the answer to all the riddles.
Look back over the years, and you will see that when people want to atone for their sins and be forgiven, they put a sacrifice on the altar and burn it with fire! There’s something inside us that intuitively says, “That can’t be enough to put away sins.” That’s right. All those fires were pointing to this fire. It didn’t come down on the Samaritans or the soldiers, because it came down on Jesus Christ. He came to take it. He came to bear it. Luke 9:22 says, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…and on the third day be raised to life.” They rejected him; shouldn’t they be rejected? He’s rejected for them. The Son of Man came to be rejected and to be killed. This is the secret to the change of identity. You have to be melted and amazed and astounded that he took the fire, the punishment, for you. And that’s the key to everything else.
Here’s the reason: You cannot change your identity without a radical experience of mercy! without a radical experience of grace! without a radical experience of love! I’ve heard people say, “You’re right. I probably should change my identity, build my identity on God.”
But you can’t change your identity by just deciding. It’s not an act of the will. A person can’t just say, “You know, I’m having a problem in my life because I built my identity on my parents’ expectations. I think I’ll build my identity on my career and accomplishments.” You can’t do that! That’s not transformation; that’s acting. Your heart is not a computer in which you can just install a program. There’s only one way that the root of your personality can be changed, and that is by an experience of love. Only when your heart experiences love from a new source beyond anything it’s ever known before will your heart start to move toward that source, and begin to be deeply changed.
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