Sunday, August 29, 2010

From "ash in a flash" to the fire of the Holy Spirit

Once in a while you see a connection in scripture where you can't help but chuckle. This one concerns the Apostle John. You know, the Apostle of Love? That wasn't always his nickname though. He started out as a "Son of Thunder" and I'm guessing that moniker wasn't on account of a meek and loving disposition. In fact, John embarked on quite the journey of personal transformation when he signed on to follow Jesus. Scot McKnight gives a wonderful little capsule of John's journey in Chapter 11 of his book The Jesus Creed.

The connection I noticed the other day has to do with Samaria -- the region that respectable Jews like John avoided. In Luke 9:51-56 we read of Jesus and the twelve beginning their penultimate journey to Jerusalem. When they encounter an inhospitable Samaritan village John and his brother James want to call down fire from heaven to wipe them out -- to turn the Samaritans into what McKnight calls "ash in a flash." Wow! Not exactly behavior one would expect from an apostle of love. All Luke tells us is that Jesus rebuked the two, but I bet there was a heart-to-heart talk later on. Jesus was working on John. Like all disciples then and now he was a work in progress.

In Acts chapter 8 we read of another incident involving John and some residents of Samaria. Luke reports that after the stoning of Stephen a wave of persecution broke out against the Jerusalem church. The church was scattered, but so was the gospel "throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria." When the apostles back in Jerusalem heard the amazing news that even Samaria had accepted the good news guess who they sent to check it out? That's right, Peter and John. But this time, instead of wanting to call down the fire of judgment, John calls down the fire of the Holy Spirit on his new brothers and sisters in Christ. I can imagine the beloved apostle relating these incidents to Luke with a twinkle in his eye.

John would later express the heart of his message of love: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 1 John 4:10 - 11 (NIV)

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