The Angry “Sons of Thunder”
Last Sunday we looked at Jesus’ parable of the Good Shepherd in John 10. God’s word encouraged us to trust in Jesus alone as The Door and The Shepherd, who leads us to nourishment and protection. Remaining within His boundaries will keep us safe from harm. And we were reminded of just how dangerous it is outside of His boundaries and outside of Him- in seeking nourishment and protection from anyone other than Jesus. In between the end of that passage (verse 21) and the beginning of the next passage (verse 22) is a time period of about 2 months. Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths, and we have been reading about conversations and events that took place at the end of that Festival. The festival takes place each year around October, and the next Festival, the Feast of Dedication (also known today as Hanukah), takes place 2 months later in December. So before we continue on to verse 22 in John 10, we have to turn over to Luke chapter 9 in order to see what took place in between these verses 21 and 22 of John. Luke 9:51-56 and 10-11:13 accounts for this time period. So, let’s look at Luke 9:51-56 together. Jesus has most likely returned back to His home base in Capernaum, and from there, verse 51 tells us…
This verse, like many others- reminds us that Jesus was on a mission, and that He knew His mission, and that as hard as that mission was- He was determined to accomplish it. verse 52-53… Jerusalem was about a three day’s walk from Capernaum, if passing through Samaria. However, most Jews didn’t pass through Samaria, they went around Samaria, adding an additional 2 days. And either route you took, you’d obviously have to stop and spend the night in some villages along the way. If you had friends of family, you’d stay with them, if not you might hope for the hospitality of the people. It would be common, especially during national holiday celebrations, for the people of Israel to help each other all get to the festivals. However, this hospitality would not have typically been extended from Samaritans to the Jews, as the two people groups lived in resentment of each other. Jesus however, had previously reached out to the Samaritans- having passed through Samaria before- that’s when they had stopped and Jesus engaged in conversation with the woman at the well. And there in that village, it says that many believed in Him because of the word of the woman (John 4:39), and then many more believed because of Jesus’ word He shared as He stayed with them. (John 4:41) So it would have been completely appropriate for Jesus and His disciples to stop by again in that village, or perhaps another nearby Samaritan village, but by this time, Jesus was probably traveling with more than just His 12 disciples. And it would have been a common courtesy for a large group traveling to send messengers to run ahead and let the assumed host have a head’s up, so that he could make proper provisions for the group.
But instead of the expected warm welcome, the people said “No- you’re not staying here!” They were upset that Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. Now why was that? Well, the Samaritans knew that the Feast of Dedication (Hanukah), was taking place in Jerusalem. So, what’s the big deal- why did they care what the Jewish people were celebrating? Well, one of the biggest disagreements between the Jews and the Samaritans was the location of the temple. Remember the Babylonians had come in and destroyed the first temple, and took with them people as exiles back to Babylon. And then Assyria conquered Babylon, and sent in Assyrians to populate parts of Israel, specifically in the region later termed as Samaria. The Assyrians intermingled with some of the few Jews who remained in county, and what resulted was a mixed race of people who had also mixed the religion of the Jews, with the religions of the Assyrians. It was this mixture that became known as the Samaritan people. 70 years later, God released the Jewish people from their exile, and when they returned back to Israel they began to rebuild the Temple, which is what we call now the 2nd Temple. They of course began rebuilding it in Jerusalem where it had been previously, which caused a problem with the Samaritans who thought they now had the patent on where a temple should be built and how they should honor and worship a god. And so from that point on, the Jews and Samaritans became enemies who avoided each other. Even 600 years later, when Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman, we see the issue of temple location come up as she said to Jesus “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” (John 4:20)
Now that we’re reminded of the history, what made this such a big deal is that the Feast of Dedication / Hanukah- was / is a celebration commemorating the rededication of the 2nd temple in Jerusalem. You see, 400 years after this 2nd temple was built, other oppressing countries had ruled and warred in Israel and shut down the temple activities. The Jewish people revolted and attempted to reinstate the Temple activities. They found enough oil to light the menorah lamps within the Temple for 1 day, but God multiplied the oil and the lamps stayed lit for 8 days. The Feast of Dedication was a festival to celebrate and remember this miracle at the Temple, the very Temple that had caused the great animosity of the Samaritans. For this reason, Jesus passing through Samaria on the way to celebrate the Temple was a bit of a sore spot for the Samaritans, so sore that maybe even His previous good work there was forgotten. And this got two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, completely fired up. Verse 54…
Man, they were mad. They were violently, insanely angered. Have you ever been so angry with someone that you entertained the idea of fire coming from Heaven to evaporate them? These 2 guys were so angry that they wanted to see dead this ungrateful, inhospitable people, who were un-rightly rejecting the very presence of God because of their arrogance and ignorance. The disciples were probably remembering the story of Elijah, when he had been in Samaria confronting an evil King who had rejected God. The king’s messenger came with 50 men to take Elijah, and he called out to them “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” (2 Kings 1:10) And fire came down from heaven and consumed the messenger and his fifty men. James and John saw this situation as being no different, if Elijah did it then and it was justified, then surely James and John (with the power of Jesus) could do it again and it be justified. verses 55-56…
Jesus kept His cool, and calmed them down, reminding them that their work was not to destroy lives, but to save lives. James and John appear to have a history of being hot heads, Mark 3:17 tells us that Jesus gave them the nickname the “Sons of Thunder.” This wasn’t because of their WWF tag team wrestling hobby- no, I assume that this outburst of anger mentioned in Luke was only one of several other incidents that earned them the name “Sons of Thunder.” And what’s interesting is that God used even these hot heads to form His church. The book of Acts gives us a glimpse into the restorative work of Jesus in the life of one of these Sons of Thunder. After Jesus had been crucified, resurrected, and had ascended into Heaven, Acts chapter 8 tells us that Philip went to Samaria to proclaim Jesus. Perhaps he went even to the same village who had rejected to host Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. And it says that many believed Philip, and were being baptized, and that when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria was receiving the word of God, they sent them Peter and JOHN, “who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:12-15). John, one of the Sons of Thunder, who had in his last interaction with Samaritans wanted them to receive the death of fire, was now returning to them, praying that they would receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit fire.
This is the type of redemptive work that Jesus does, and wants to do in all of us. Not just with anger, but with all our emotions, reactions, thought processes, and desires. But this morning I want us to specifically look at the emotion of anger. Christian teacher and Pastor, Chip Ingram, has a series entitled “Overcoming Emotions that Destroy” and in it I believe he has some really good insight into
the emotion of anger. I want to present to you some of his teaching on the subject. He describes anger as being “neither good nor bad,” but that it is “a charged, morally neutral, emotional response of protective preservation.” Anger in itself is not wrong. James and John had every reason to be angered and upset at the response of the Samaritans. Even Jesus got angry. Anger can be used positively, Chip states that anger “can be a healthy emotion that motivates us to correct attitudes, behaviors, or injustices that we perceive to be wrong.” But it can also be used negatively- It can be “an unhealthy and destructive emotional response to protect us from hurt, frustration, or personal attack.”
So, anger is an emotion that we all experience, and in itself is not wrong. It’s a God given emotion that can be used to destroy men’s lives or to save them. David was angered at Goliath’s defiance of the Almighty God, and he did something about it. His anger motivated him to confront the evil bully, and all of Israel was saved as a result. That was the result of righteous anger- lives were saved. Perhaps some of us don’t get angry enough, at the things that should anger us. We misuse the currency of anger, and spend it frivolously on silly trivial matters, instead of spending it on matters of importance, matters that we should get angry about and thus do something about. Ephesians 4:26 says: “Be angry, and yet do not sin…” James and John were rightly angered, yet the reaction from their right emotion was to act in a way that destroyed instead of saved. We probably all could do a better job of being angry without sinning, using it as a tool that saves- bringing life, instead of a tool that destroys.
Chip describes 3 different ways in which most people express their anger. By Spewing, Stuffing, or Leaking. Spewers view anger as necessary, they’re like exploding time bombs. They say things like “You bet I’m mad, or “I can’t help it, you made me angry.” They yell, scream, shout, are blunt, demanding, repetitive, they seek power and control in the situation, and they often develop regrets for how they react. Spewers need to work on developing a longer fuse. Les Carter and Frank Minirth wrote a book called “The Anger Workbook,” and in it they have some statements that might help you realize if you are a Spewer. I’m going to read each statement to you, and just keep track on your fingers how many times you say “Yes, that’s me.” Here they are: I can be blunt and forceful when someone does something to frustrate me. When I speak my voice becomes louder. When someone confronts me about a problem, I am likely to give a ready rebuttal. No one has to guess my opinion, I am known for having unwavering viewpoints. When something goes wrong I often focus so sharply on fixing the problem that I overlook people’s feelings. I have a history of getting caught in bickering matches with family members. During verbal disagreements I tend to repeat myself. It’s hard to keep thoughts to myself when I know something is wrong. I have a reputation of being strong willed. I tend to give advice even when others haven’t asked for it.
Now if you said yes to 4 or 5 of those statements, then you just might be a Spewer. I have a feeling that James and John were Spewers. The second way in which you might express your anger is by “stuffing.” If Spewers view anger as necessary, Stuffers view anger as bad- as sinful. They fear loss of control, fear of rejection by others, they don’t want to feel regretful later, but instead of regret they develop resentment. They deal with anger by ignoring, minimizing, pretending not to be angry, and burying it. Christian counselor Paul Myers says he believes that 95% of all depression is anger turned inward. Stuffers push anger down, and often the result is ulcers, and the emotion of depression. Chip says that Stuffers need to accept that anger is ok and normal, they need to acknowledge their fears, to be more assertive in expressing their needs, and to be clear on what they will or will not do. Here are some identifying statements from the Anger Workbook for Stuffers: I am very image conscience, I don’t like to let others know my problems. Even when I feel frustrated, I portray myself publicly as having it all together. If a family member or friend upsets me, I can let days pass without even mentioning it. I have a tendency towards being depressed and moody. Resentful thinking is common for me, although many people would never suspect it. I have suffered with physical complaints: headaches, stomach ailments, sleep irregularity. There are times when I wonder if my opinions or preferences are really valid. Sometimes I feel paralyzed when confronted by an unwanted situation. I feel guilty a lot about little things, especially when someone is upset with me.
Again, if you said yes to 4 or 5 of these, then you might be a Stuffer. There’s one more category Chip uses to describe how people express their anger, and that is through “leaking.” Leakers share some of the same fears as stuffers, but they deal with anger more in-directly. Instead of thinking anger is wrong- they believe showing anger is wrong. They leak anger bit by bit in order to get back at a person for the wrong they did. Leakers are often sarcastic and passive aggressive. They offer critical remarks, they procrastinate or don’t follow through on promises for those they are angered against. They can be flaky or rigid and might say things like “Angry, no not me! Well, maybe I’m a little upset.” Leakers need to acknowledge that anger is ok and normal, they need to be more assertive, communicating effectively, being clear about what they will or won’t do. And here are the indicating statements for a Leaker: When I’m frustrated I become silent, knowing it bothers other people. I am prone to sulk and pout. When I don’t want to do a project, I will procrastinate. When someone asks me if I am frustrated, I will lie and say no, everything’s fine. There are times when I am deliberately evasive so others won’t bother me. I sometimes approach work projects halfheartedly. When someone talks to me about their problems, I stare straight ahead, being deliberately obstinate. I’m often sarcastic and hide my real hurts behind jokes. I withdraw affection and become frigid when hurt. I forget to do things for people when they’ve wounded me.
Hopefully you were able to see some of your personal tendencies in handling anger through these descriptions and statements. If not, here’s a simple illustration that might help. How many of you have had someone annoyingly ride your bumper in traffic? A Spewer would want to slam on the brakes and give that person a piece of their mind, or they might let the anger build and then take it out on the first person they see when they arrive to their destination. A Stuffer would bury the anger while in traffic, and perhaps arrive at their destination frustrated, stressed, discouraged, and down. A Leaker would see the person riding their bumper, and would slowly apply the brakes, adjusting their speed from 55 to 50. And then from 50 to 45, and chuckle to themselves in victory. I wish I could tell you which of these I am. Unfortunately, I have to confess to you that I have mastered all three, and that depending on the situation, I can express anger through spewing, stuffing, AND leaking. Maybe you were able to quickly identify yourself through one of these, or maybe you’re like me and have some traits of 2 or 3.
The reality is, we all experience anger. Again- anger is not bad, it is a neutral emotion, it is ok to be angry. In order to not sin in our anger, we should ask ourselves first: “Who am I really angry at-Myself, someone else, the situation, or God?” And once we’ve determined the source, we need to think about what we should do. Do we confront the situation directly, or do we accept the situation and choose to forgive it and move on? Surely Jesus was angered too by the rejection of the Samaritans, but it looks like he chose to forgive it and move on. Instead of marching into the Samaritan village and confronting them lovingly with truth, it says they simply “went on to another village.” (John 9:56) There were other times, as we’ve seen recently with Jesus and the religious leaders, that Jesus chose to directly confront with loving truth, those who angered Him. Here’s where we have to not only be aware of our tendencies in expressing anger, but we have to be super aware of the Holy Spirit’s leading in every situation. We need to be able to take a step back, and consider how we can use the emotion of anger to save life, and not destroy it. In our anger, we need to be able to calculate the most appropriate, God-glorifying action. James 1:19 offers some really good anger advice, he says “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Quick to hear God’s voice in every situation, slow to reactionary speech, slow to getting riled up over something. Take time to assess why you are angry, who are you angry with, and what God would want you to do about it!