There is one last thing. The sign of true, growing, gospel disciples is their gentleness. What really amazes me about the heart of this passage is that the disciples say, “We’re going to show you how intensely committed we are to you. Look at those people rejecting you. Don’t you want us to bring fire down on them?!” And what does Jesus say? “Oh, just shut up. You don’t get it.” And here’s why.
My experience is that committed disciples of any religion, philosophy, or political cause are hard on themselves and on other people too. They’re committed to the cause, so why aren’t you committed to the cause? You should all be committed to the cause; what’s the matter with you? But the gospel is utterly different. The harder you are on yourself and the gospel, the easier you are on other people. Jesus Christ is saying: My disciples are not terrorists. My disciples know they’re saved by grace, so when they look at people who aren’t doing it right, they don’t say, “Why aren’t you as good as we are? Why aren’t you as committed as we are?” They don’t call fire down from heaven. Jesus says to his disciples: You don’t understand at all. You haven’t had the transformation of identity, because you don’t yet understand my mercy. You don’t know what I’ve done for you, because as yet you can’t, but someday you will. These disciples are probably racist; notice this: they’re calling down fire on the half-breed Samaritans. A lot of Israelites have done a lot of things to reject Jesus, but this is the first time any of his followers wanted fire to come down. There’s racism maybe; there’s self-righteousness definitely!
Self-righteousness, bigotry, stridency, harshness—they go away, the more you become a disciple. They go away as your awareness of Jesus taking the fire for you becomes more central in your heart. And that’s a sign that you’re not just trying to save yourself, not just being religious, not just trying to save yourself through your commitment.
Are you becoming more gentle? More tolerant? More gracious with people around you? More kind? Follow Jesus. He’ll give you what you need. He’s a wonderful counselor. One guy comes and says, “I’m ready to follow you wherever you go.” Jesus says, “Go home and think about it.” Another guy says, “I want to go home and think about it.” Jesus says, “Follow me.” What? Because he’s the perfect counselor. All other counseling theories look flat next to his, because he never gives you a template. He gives you exactly what you need. Follow him, and he will give you exactly what you need. He will love you singularly. He will love the real you. He will love you into a whole new identity.
Timothy Keller was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons. For over twenty years he has led a diverse congregation of young professionals that has grown to a weekly attendance of over 5,000. He is also President of Redeemer City to City, which has helped to launch over 200 churches in 35 cities. More recently, Dr. Keller’s books, including the New York Times bestselling The Reason for God and The Prodigal God, have sold over one million copies and been translated into 15 languages.
Source: “The Call to Discipleship,” sermon by Tim Keller, given February 9, 2003 at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York. This sermon has been edited for use in written form and is used by permission.
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