Friends, here is the text for tomorrow’s sermon from Luke 9. The gist is that Jesus has given us power and authority to do something. That something is defined by Jesus himself as ‘proclamation of the kingdom’ and ‘healing the sick’ and ‘authority over demons.’ It seems to me that sometimes we church folk have forgotten about the power given to us, what Paul calls Resurrection power. Still, we have to be careful. This power is nothing like the power that the world wields. This power has the power to confound and perplex for that very purpose. It will all make sense once you have read the entire text. grace and peace. jerry PS- This sermon grew out of thoughts I posted the other day and posted here.
The Kingdom of Crucifixion
“Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing his kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation. We need to pray that we will have the courage, as a church and a Christian persons, to follow the Servant King wherever he leads. That, after all, is why we come to his table. We have seen in our century what happens when people dream wild dreams of world domination, and use the normal methods of force and power to implement them. We have not yet seen what might happen if those who worship the Servant King, now enthroned as Lord of the world, were to take him seriously enough to take up our cross and follow him” (Following Jesus, NT Wright, 51)
1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.
10When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 12Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14(About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20″But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. 37The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44″Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” 45But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”
49″Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”50″Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” 51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases.
It kind of makes me wonder, seeing what he armed them with, what they would be up against. After all, he didn’t send them out with AK-47’s or Master Cards.
He sent them out, indeed, as sheep among wolves, doves among vipers, and he stripped them of all outer defenses: No staff for defense, no sack for extra gear, no bread for sustenance, no money to pay people off, no extra shirt for the long journey. Maybe he was reminding them that he was sending them out into a hostile badlands much like the Lord had sent the Israelites. Maybe even here Jesus was thinking about Scripture:
But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 29:4-6)
So Jesus arms these men he sends out with nothing more than power over sickness, authority over demons, and a proclamation about a kingdom. And so they went, village to village, proclaiming the message of the Kingdom and healing people everywhere. They went out and did the very thing they were armed to do.
It appears they did it well. And it appears they did not lack anything they needed, despite the fact that they left everything behind. Jesus gave them power to accomplish a mission and that is just what they do.
Jesus warned them, however implicitly, that this power did not come from them, that this power is not for them, and that this power is not to be used for any purpose other than what he has assigned it, and that this power will confound people, and that this power is unlike anything found on earth among those deemed powerful.
As you can see, this was perplexing to those who were in power. There was a new group of people on the scene and they had power, but it was a different sort of power—this power actually worked! Herod was justifiably perplexed.
It is no surprise to me that when those duly armed with power and proclamation go forth in power and authority that those who think they are in power, those who think they are in control end up perplexed. It is no surprise to me that Herod, we are told, wanted to see him, when he heard about all that was going on. I assume that he had heard about all the disciples going around armed with power and authority, preaching the Kingdom, driving out demons, healing the sick and that because he heard about their actions and work he wanted to see Jesus.
I also don’t find it odd at all that we are given no indication whatsoever that Herod got his audience. Imagine that, the king of the land, armed with all the power a person could need or want and he was stymied! I don’t find it odd at all that Jesus remains hidden from the power-brokers of the world and reveals himself to the sick, afflicted, and demon-possessed.
Here, then, is how the church gets over on the world of power and mystery. We go forth armed not with the tools of this world’s warfare, but with powered endowed from on high, carrying nothing but the Word of God, preaching nothing but the kingdom of God, and driving out the demons that hide in all sorts of places. If the church truly wants to perplex and confound the world, the church must go forth only in the power given us. And the church is necessarily dependent upon His power. He gave them power—the kind of power he gives, the kind of power that works, the kind of power that cannot be defeated no matter how much the flesh fails.
This is the sort of power that Jesus told the apostles in Acts is ‘from on high.’ This is the sort of power that Paul told the church is the same power that ‘raised Jesus from the dead.’
Of course Herod was perplexed! He should have been afraid.
He told them to go forth and proclaim the kingdom and he armed them with power. He stripped them of every human comfort—staffs, clothes, money, bread and bag—and told them to be totally dependent upon the power he gave and the generosity of the people they met along the way: “Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.” In other words, ‘go forth and feel free to impose upon those you are preaching to.’ Or, ‘trust that God will provide all you need along the way.’
When they arrive back, they report to Jesus all that had done. And he takes them away to get some rest. But no sooner had they gotten away for a retreat than he starts preaching about the kingdom of God and healing those who needed healing. So, there’s no staff, no clothes, no money, no bread, no bag, and no rest. And on top of our having no bread Jesus expects us to feed others: “You give them something to eat.” You feed them. This kingdom work is hard work.
And this kingdom is strange. How are we going to go out and proclaim this kingdom? Look at how Jesus talks about this kingdom as the chapter unfolds. On the one hand, he has authority and power to give power and authority to others. He has power and authority over sickness and demons and hunger. He has a kingdom to proclaim himself! Then he tells the disciples a secret: He is the Messiah! But he tells them to keep it a secret.
So look now: He is Messiah, He has power, He has a kingdom, He can create bread. This is good. Now, beginning in verse 21: I’m going to die. I’m going to suffer. I’m going to raise. You will, if you want to be my disciple, suffer the same. You will lose your lives. You will have to deny yourself. You will have to voluntarily take up a cross. Later on, in verses 57-62, he tells us it will be even worse than no bread, bags, clothes, staffs or money: There will be no place to lay our head, there will be no time for other projects (such as burying dead loved ones), there will be no room for those who start and don’t finish.
And if that’s not bad enough, there will be opposition: ‘…the people there did not welcome him because he was on his way to Jerusalem.’ And Jesus doesn’t rebuke the Samaritans for rejecting him, he rebukes the disciples for wanting to called down thunder and lightning on the Samaritans. It appears Jesus is less concerned about being rejected than he is about the manner in which those who accept him behave.
Then there is another sermon about his impending death at the hands of unbelievers. There were other people running around ‘using’ the power of Jesus’ name to drive out demons—and those in the inner circle were terribly jealous. There will most certainly be times when we are jealous that others who are not like us have the same power, authority, and clout that we have. Then Jesus has the nerve to tell his disciples: You must be like children. You must be least in order to be great. And let’s not forget the magnificent failure of the disciples in verses 37-43: “I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.” Yes, indeed, there will be times when we fail magnificently and publicly and with spectacular efficiency.
And then we arrive back at the transfiguration where we see another stunning defeat as Peter, predictably, misinterprets the experience of the transfiguration which prompts the disciples to ‘keep the matter to themselves and not tell anyone.’
OK, so what we see in this chapter of Luke is a picture of the life of the person armed with the power of Christ to proclaim his kingdom. Frankly, it’s not a very flattering picture and we might justly ask: How are we going to get people interested in such a kingdom?
In the midst of all this talk of discipleship is talk of crucifixion. I count three times if you include the talk in verse 31 about his ‘departure.’ It is interesting to me that so much of the Kingdom talk, in chapter 9, is mingled with crucifixion talk and all the talk of Power and authority is mingled with talk of weakness and poverty and failure and rejection and leastness. It is sort of strange how these things are somehow compatible with the kingdom of power and authority.
How can power be woven into a conversation about weakness? What kind of Kingdom is this that Jesus is building? What sort of kingdom does he expect ‘us’ to go out and proclaim? What sort of Messiah talks about his impending demise and rejection after giving his disciples power and authority to clear the way for him? What sort of Messiah perplexes kings and rulers and yet still finds himself facing a cross in Jerusalem? Does he really expect to win people over to this kingdom when all he talks about is crucifixion, rejection, opposition, homelessness, no bags, no staff, no bread, no coins, and no turning back? “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Is that really what he expects?
I’m not a little afraid of this. Who can accept it? This is just not the sort of kingdom that most people are looking for today and yet we are supposed to, in some way, and with power and authority, proclaim it! How can we reconcile our concept of kingdom as power, wealth, influence and politics with Jesus’ idea that kingdom is poverty, opposition, hiddenness, shared-influence, crucifixion, poverty, loving enemies, carrying crosses, childlike humility and dependence? Jesus’ idea of kingdom is nothing like the one we have constructed and continue to construct. Do you sense the tension and the paradoxical nature of this kingdom?
Jesus told his disciples to preach the kingdom and care for the poor (sick). To drive out demons and to expect opposition. He told them to follow him with a cross to Jerusalem and to expect plenty of hardship. We have preached affluence and ignored the poor. Jesus said we are armed only with the word and healing. No sandals. No bags. No staffs. No nothing that might suggest power, influence, or self-sufficiency. In other words, we go out armed with nothing that will suggest the kingdom is of ourselves or our making or that it is anything other than what it is: A kingdom of the cross.
That is power!
He gave his disciples power and yet told them that power would not gain them a home, friends, position, immunity from trouble, exemption from the cross or anything else of that sort. Those who are given the power of Christ are still expected, and must necessarily, live the life of crucifixion. The power and authority given by Jesus to preach and heal is to build up the kingdom of God—not the kingdom of self. It is a kingdom of the cross both for Jesus and for us.
Jesus gave them power and authority and said: Go and use it to serve others. Go and use it to proclaim me. Go and use it to perplex those who think they are in power. Go and use it to bring demons under authority. Go and use it to feed hungry people. Go and use it to proclaim my kingdom. Go and use it. He gave them power and he never took that power back. Perhaps they had just forgotten how to use it when they failed to drive out the demon or failed to remember they even had it.
If he has given us power and authority, my prayer is that we will not forget that we are empowered with power from on high, Holy Spirit, Resurrection power. He did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but of power, and love and self-discipline. Let us not go forward another day with a form of godliness that denies the inherent power of godliness.