This passage strikes me as amazing, because it really shows us the difference between how these men believed and operated compared to the church of today. Now, the obvious message in these few passages is that Jesus came to save men’s lives and not to destroy them (v. 56), but we can gleam a lot more than that from this passage. Let me point out a few interesting facts.
1- James and John really believed they could call fire from heaven. Notice that they didn’t ask Jesus to do the commanding. They said, “Jesus, would you like for us to command fire from heaven?” The question is, could they have done it? I don’t know if they could or not, but they sure had the confidence that they could. What gave them that confidence? It must have been from all they had learned from Jesus. They had seen Jesus heal many people. They had seen him raise the dead (Lk 6:11-15). They had been rebuked for not calming the sea themselves (Lk 8:22-25). They saw Jesus cast out a legion of demons (Lk 8:26-32). And more importantly, they were commanded by Jesus to go work miracles themselves:
He gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Lk 9:1-2
They had used that power to heal the sick. They had seen God use them in mighty ways. Jesus said that whatsoever they ask in His name that he would do (Jn 14:14). He would tell them that they could speak to the mulberry tree and to the mountain and that they would be cast into the sea (Mk 11:23, Lk17:6). Since they could do all that, they now believed that they could call down fire from heaven. Elijah did it three times, why couldn’t they?
The reason I bring this up is because it helps us to see what kind of people Jesus was developing. He was developing miracle workers. They weren’t quite ready yet, as we see, but they were headed in that direction. In contrast, very few minister today work miracles. But if they were perfect, they would operate as these disciples would. Jesus has not changed.
2- Jesus didn’t rebuke their faith, but rather their misunderstanding of His purpose. If it had been the will of God for them to call down fire from heaven then the disciples would have been doing it correctly. This is the way that Jesus taught faith. The apostles later demonstrated this in the book of acts:
And then the book of Acts tell us of all the other miracles that were done through God’s people. And not just the apostles, but also Stephen (acts 6:8), and Philip (Acts 8:6-8), and also the audience to which Paul wrote to in 1 Co 12.
Because of our unbelief, we disobey God by doing too much asking, and not enough commanding. Jesus didn’t say to ask God to move the mountain; He told us to command it to move! [Now don’t get me wrong, asking is important and has it’s place. But that’s another subject.]
The point of all this is that we should be able to call fire down from heaven if need be. It may not be practical for us to ever call down fire, but it is practical for us to heal the sick and to cast out demons and to raise the dead. These are needs that we encounter everyday. However, because of unbelief we aren’t able to meet these needs. If we don’t get our act together, we will be judged for not meeting these needs. With all the knowledge and resources we have today, we have no excuse (I preach to myself).
Have you ever noticed what Jesus said every time He sent someone out to preach the gospel? He would say, “preach the gospel and heal the sick,” to the disciples, and “Heal the sick and preach the gospel (reverse order),” to the 70. He then says to us:
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature…And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:15-16
Is this commandment for the apostles only? Is it not for us, as well? Are we to preach the gospel? If we are, then we are to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. And if we believe and we happen to drink something poisonous, then it won’t hurt us; and if a snake happens to bite us, it won’t affect us (Acts 28:3-5). That is, if we believe.
Imagine if you have food in your fridge and a child outside was starving to death. The child comes to your door and asks for some food. What if then you look to heaven and pray: “Lord we ask you to provide food for this dear child. Amen.” And then you shut the door and go along your way. Would you not be judged? But we do this exact thing when the sick come to us, or the demon possessed. It’s a crying shame and I myself am ashamed of my own unbelief. However, I am learning. I have done many dumb things like the disciples have, but I also have my hope in the Teacher to bring me to the place that I need to be.
Here’s my challenge to you: Don’t be discouraged, but realize the place where God wants you to be and realize that you need His help to get there.