Sent With Power And Authority: Breaking Boundaries
Luke 9:1-6 March 22, 2008 Lent #4
(extreme close up pictures guessing game)
Obviously, it can be hard to tell what something is when we get too close to it, so then what we need to do is back up a bit so we can see the bigger picture. I want to do that this morning as we begin our study of Scripture.
What is “the church”:
I want to back up a long, long way, into a conversation that I have been listening to over the past several years as a church leader. It begins with a dissatisfaction, a discontent, sometimes a sense of failure, and a whole lot of confusion about what it means to be a Christian in our culture. It comes from a recognition of a massive amount of change in a very short period of time which has completely changed the relationship between Christians and our dominant culture, which in turn has a big impact on what we know of as “the church”.
The observation many make, behind their dissatisfaction, is that the “church”, which for almost 1700 years has been almost synonymous with “Christianity”, is irrelevant. It just doesn’t really seem to matter to our culture. It matters a lot to us, who are part of “the church”, but not to people outside. Why aren’t people coming to church, why isn’t the church growing, why does the Kingdom of God seem stuck – irrelevant and impotent?
Bringing the story a little closer to home for us as a church here at Laurier, we wonder why pews that were full ten years ago are emptier today – what we are doing wrong – why the things that we used to do that “worked” don’t seem to work any longer. Now there are lots of possibilities, lots of changes and griefs and transitions, and if it was just us maybe some of those explanations would be the right ones. But it isn’t just us… these questions are being asked all around the western church, and that tells me something bigger is going on.
When the problem is recognized and addressed, the response has often been “then what can we change about the church so that people will come?” I love the story from last spring when we invited some of the group of Young Life kids to join the Adult Education class to hear about their experience of church and dialogue a bit, and that question was asked. It was asked out of a genuine care, interest, willingness to change, desire to be a part of the great mission of (we think) bringing people into the church. The response was classic: “nothing.” There is nothing that the church could change that would get high school kids to start coming to church – even, one young adult said, if we gave away big screen TVs, well they might come and get a big screen TVs but that would be it.
And the conversation I’ve been listening to over the past number of years is backing up and asking the question, “what actually IS ‘the church’?” We believe the church is the group of people who meet together once a week to sing songs, give money, and listen to a guy talk. “Church” is a “place”, and the people and relationships that form out of that gathering. And this broad conversation is asking, “really? Is that what Jesus had in mind when He established His church?” That question is even more fundamental than the obvious fact that when we ask “what can we do to get people to come to church”, we are asking the wrong question. The conversation goes into the heart of what the church is actually supposed to be. And that is why we’ve been studying Luke together since Christmas – trying to see in Jesus’ words and actions what it means to be His people. It is a long, deliberate, slow conversation, which we are having together.
What do we see in Luke?
Narrowing the lens a little from that “big” conversation about what it means to be the people of God, what do we see in Luke? We started in Luke 7 – where Jesus heals a hated Roman centurion’s servant, talks about the coming Kingdom of God and how different it is, and then has His feet erotically anointed by a prostitute while dining in the home of a religious leader. Chapter 8 followed with the story of the seed among the soils, a parable which set the stage for the rest of the stories Luke tells in that chapter including the lamp under the bed, the calming of the storm, the healing of the demon possessed gentile, and then the healing of the woman who had constant bleeding and the resurrection of Jarius’ daughter who died while Jesus was distracted by that other woman on the way to heal the twelve year old girl. The theme we see throughout is how Jesus continually broke down the barriers and crossed the boundaries, by going to people with a message about a different kind of Kingdom that He is bringing. And that really helps us with the bigger question we were talking about a moment ago, what does it mean to be the people of God? – it means that we need to go, crossing whatever boundaries exist, and bring people the message of the Kingdom of God.
We finished chapter 8 last week, and chapter 9 begins a new section. Jesus’ ministry in and around Galilee is coming to a close and He is going to start heading for Jerusalem, but the question that has been popping up as people see and hear Jesus is coming to a crux: “who is this Jesus really?” That’s a key part of chapter 9, followed very closely by “what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?” It begins on a “high” note…
1 One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. 2 Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes. 4 Wherever you go, stay in the same house until you leave town. 5 And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.” 6 So they began their circuit of the villages, preaching the Good News and healing the sick.
A Major Turning Point:
Up until now, Jesus has been the one doing all the miracles and all the teaching, and this passage marks a major turning point. Now He is sending the 12 disciples out to do the same, to go on a “short term mission”, not alone but in groups of 2 according to Mark (6:7), and to jump right to the point, it works… people are healed, the “Good News” is shared, and the Kingdom of God comes.
This has got to be exciting for the disciples. They are no longer spectators, sitting around watching Jesus do all this incredible stuff that completely transforms people’s lives, lifting them out of sickness and despair and hopelessness, and into restoration. Now they get to do it too! Hands on, practical, experiential, and effective. Let’s look a little closer.
“Power and Authority” (vs 1-2):
Before sending them out, Jesus gives them the only two things they will need to be successful: “power and authority” of a spiritual nature. What are those? How do we understand them? I find these difficult concepts for us today – our culture resists the idea that anyone else would have authority or power over us. Those are evil things, in our culture of the elevation of the individual. There are a few exceptions, most of us recognize the authority of government to make laws and the power of police and courts to enforce those laws even if it means the use of deadly force (or complete power) when necessary. And in the home, we expect parents to have power and authority over their children (though we see signs of this eroding around us). But in all the other areas of life, we want to be the authority and we want to have the power. Especially in the spiritual world – we live in a culture of spiritual anarchy – everyone gets to decide for themselves what is true and what is real – and don’t anyone dare tell anyone else what they should believe. And I think as the people of God we’ve given in to this idea and given up our power and refused to accept our authority.
Now I need to again clarify – this power and authority Jesus is giving is of a spiritual nature – it is not control over people. People are free to hear and to see, and then decide – and in the instructions to the disciples it is clear that the people to whom they are sent are free to decide “if the town refuses to welcome you… leave and go somewhere else”. But it is, very clearly, power and authority over the spiritual forces that seek to blind the eyes and plug the ears of people, and thus attempt to prevent them from hearing the Good News of the Kingdom of God and being free to respond to Jesus. Did you catch all that? The disciples are sent with the power and authority over the spiritual forces so that people can be free to respond to the Good News.
I make a big deal about this because I believe it holds true today, but we tend to not operate from that point of view in our culture. Maybe we’ve bought into the lie that Christianity is just one path among many, that another person’s faith in something other than Jesus is just as real and valid as ours, that we could never and should never impose. And I think our problem is maybe that we fail to make the distinction between spiritual power and power over other people. This is a crucial difference. We never jam faith down someone’s throat, we never push faith in Jesus out of a place of fear of hell, we never force someone with power and manipulation, such is not the way of Jesus.
Jesus’ way, as we see here in verse 1, is proclamation (telling) accompanied by demonstration (showing), with a freedom (and responsibility) on the part of the hearer and see-er to accept or reject. This is the assignment Jesus gave to the twelve – to go, proclaim, demonstrate, and accept the response of the villagers.
How far are we from that? Sometimes we are still sitting back in our pews wondering why people aren’t beating down the door to be part of this great thing we call “church”. That seems a long way from what Jesus says to His disciples.
This passage is early in Jesus’ ministry, and is the first time the disciples are sent out to actively participate in the ministry of Jesus, and so it is not like we can read this passage and assume it is completely addressed to us. But as we read along in the Gospel story, and the story of the church in Acts, it becomes clear that this sending Jesus’ does here in Luke 9 is the first of what will become more than just a pattern, it will become the entire blueprint for the people of God. So we can read the point of this passage as meaning that we, as disciples of Jesus today, are sent to the people (“go”, not “come”); with the assignment being to “tell” and to “show”.
And we have to do both. To just “tell” makes us one “religious option” in a smorgasbord of faith choices, where it is up to the consumers to decide which ones are to their liking. To only “show” sensationalizes the message and flies in the face of Jesus’ way of doing things, which was never to focus on the sensational (in fact he regularly discouraged this emphasis on the miracle). We need to tell people our story of what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives, and we need to show them that there is more to the power of God than simply one choice in a buffet by living and ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that they might experience God for themselves.
That statement deserves some unpacking. How do we “show people” so that they experience God for themselves? We listen to the Holy Spirit, and do whatever the Holy Spirit leads. This is where the power comes from, it’s from God and not from us, so we have to listen and obey. I can’t teach you how to do that in a simple part of a sermon, and I know many of you already know and have experience in this, but is sometimes slips beneath the surface and we don’t live like this day by day. And that has to change if we want to be faithful disciples of Jesus. In brief, we learn to “show people” so that they experience God for themselves by walking closely with Jesus through the Holy Spirit and training ourselves to hear His voice. We take risks when we think God might be whispering to us, and see what God does through it. We ask people further down the path for help. We don’t ever let it get complicated, we just listen and obey, and leave the rest up to God.
Maybe a story will help. I struggled to find one that demonstrated one of us and a person who doesn’t yet know Jesus where the Holy Spirit really demonstrated how real He is. Any volunteers? I have one, but maybe one of you have one that you are supposed to share to help us understand this concept a little better…
How to go (vs 3-5):
After giving them power and authority, Jesus gives them specific instructions on how to carry out this short-term mission: basically, Jesus says “just go.” Don’t pack, don’t waste time trying to nail down all the details and prepare for all the possibilities, just go.
Do you notice the irony here? They are sent with all the spiritual authority and power, but in complete dependence for their physical needs. No bread, no money, no pre-arranged bookings at the Capernaum Hilton Hotel. What does that tell us about the way of discipleship and obedience? There is a great balance and warning here – the power is not about us, it is not to elevate us, and though other people may be inclined to put us up on a pedestal we are to make sure we do not endanger the mission by making it about us. Two quick specifics: the “stay in one house” instruction meant that if they were welcomed by a peasant and then healed someone wealthy they were not to switch to the fancier lodgings and thus exploit the power of God for personal benefit. The “don’t take a travelers’ bag” likely referred to a bag that traveling Greek teachers carried which collected money from their teachings, again laying the rules that the glory was for God and not for the messenger.
I love the balance and humility – let God work through you in incredible ways, but don’t make it about you. Just trust God to take care of you, stay close and dependent on Him, and accept whatever hospitality and food and care that the people provide. That’s a good lesson for all of us for all of life, not just in our ministries. Trust God to take care of you.
We’ve covered a lot of ground for a short passage! Let me wrap up with this, going right back to the original question: what does it mean to be disciples of Jesus? We go, we tell, and we show. And when we think that we couldn’t do that, it was just for the disciples in Galilee early in Jesus’ ministry, remember this: we now know the rest of the story – about the cross and the empty tomb. And we now know the constant indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, which wasn’t present for them like it is for us now that Jesus is risen and ascended to the Father. It is a challenge in our culture, but God is up for it, God is actually eager for it, and our obedience and engagement in this mission is actually the big thing that allows us to enter into the fullness of life that Jesus promised. But don’t just take my word for it – try it yourself… see what God does through you, for His Kingdom and His glory.