Being a disciple of Jesus was not and is not an easy ride.
It involves taking new steps of faith: of jumping into deeper and wilder water.
On one occasion the disciples were in a boat when they see Jesus coming towards them. He is walking on the water. They are freaked out. But Peter says, rather foolishly, ‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you’. Jesus takes him at his word and says, ‘Come’. We can imagine the other disciples. They’re beginning to enjoy this. Peter has got to get out of the boat and walk on water to Jesus.
John Ortberg wrote a book based on that incident, and he gave the book the title, ‘If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat’.
But it is not quite as completely scary as that.
Because Jesus only asks his disciples, his apprentices, to do what they see him doing.
And here, in Luke 9, Jesus has been proclaiming the Kingdom of God; he has been casting out demons; he has been healing people. And now he tells his 12 disciples to do the same.
In the next chapter he will give a similar instruction to 72 other people.
And he is asking them to do two things.
1. He is asking them to be obedient to the call of God.
He sends them out to preach the Kingdom of God, to drive out demons and to cure diseases.
To preach the Kingdom of God:
That it is near in Jesus. He is the King of the Kingdom.
And the Kingdom of God is the rule of God – that rule where everything and everyone will be right, and will work right and will relate right. I guess it is a bit like a jazz band. Every performer is a virtuoso and has the opportunity to shine, but the real glory is in the harmony with each other.
It is a kingdom which is controlled by peace, justice, mercy, joy and love. We will know who we are before God and be completely fulfilled as we authentically live who we are.
And we are to preach that the Kingdom of God is near in time. One day, at the end of history as we know it, time and space will be transformed; the new era, the God-era will be ushered in, and the Kingdom will be established when Jesus returns.
But this is a kingdom that is not just near in time. This is a kingdom that can come into the hearts and minds of people now. We invite Jesus to be our Lord and our friend, and he will begin to change our patterns of thinking so that we desire the things of God, of the kingdom, of what is right. And he will come near to us, closer than our very breathing.
And so, when we proclaim the Kingdom of God, we proclaim a message that is not just for the future, but a message of forgiveness, of hope, of restored relationship, and intimacy with God now.
To heal: Jesus physically cured people. It was a sign that the Kingdom of God was near; a preview of the time when all will be healed and there will be no sickness, suffering and death. And the church, the people of God, are still sent to heal. We can do that through medical science and training. We can also pray. And there will be times when God heals in amazing ways.
To cast out demons: Our culture does not use the language of demons. Other societies do. I notice that one of our big subjects is about the devil and demons, and the person who is leading our thinking is someone who has lived in places where demons are very much part of the experience of ordinary people.
But even if we don’t use the language of demons, there are things that grip us, that control us for evil. However much we use self-help methods, breathing exercises, stress and tension release exercises; however much we talk about the pain and anger in us, or try to understand it, that thing remains stubbornly there. It shows in the face contorted with anger or bitterness, the all-consuming lust (whether for a person or a thing) or the rage that just explodes. And we need to be set free because otherwise it will destroy us and it will destroy others.
But what I note is that Jesus is no arm chair general. He does not just send his 12 disciples out to cast out demons, to cure diseases and to preach the good news. He has already done it, and he gives authority to his people to do this.
And what I ask you to note is that this is not an authority that comes from strength or techniques. It does not come from learning or age. This authority is Jesus’ authority and it flows through the person who realises that they have nothing to offer - that they are nobody and that He is everything.
Everything we do is done in the name of Jesus.
What that means is that if someone asks us: ‘By what authority are you praying for healing, or praying for people to be set free?’, we answer, ‘We do it not in our own authority and power, but with the authority of Jesus, in the power of Jesus and for Jesus’.
There are some people who say, ‘I’m a healer. I’ve got the ability in me’. And I don’t deny that. There is so much more about the body that we do not understand.
But Christian healing is different because it is done by people who know that they are nothing, and Jesus is everything. And, if you are OK with this language, they are right with Jesus, they put their trust in Jesus and they ‘channel’ Jesus’ healing.
The 12 and the 72 were sent out to preach, heal and cast out demons. The latin verb is 'missio'. It is where we get our word 'mission' from. And as Christ-followers disciples of Jesus then we too need to recognise that we have been sent.
That is scary. It involves jumping!
But it is not necessarily about doing big things.
We can jump in our faith when we do very ordinary things.
I have spoken before of choosing to turn off the television, or put down the Sudoku or crossword, and pick up the phone, or send someone a text, or go out to visit someone.
Or it might be that in a conversation you mention the fact that you go to church and that you believe in God. I saw that one of our people, on his twitter account, in the short description of who he was, before he put all the other stuff, had written one word: ‘Christian’.
And if you think about it, what is so threatening about telling people that 2000 years ago God became a human being out of love for them? What is offensive about telling another person that they have been created in the image of God, that they are precious and have an eternal destiny, that there is forgiveness, a way of living that is not easy but offers fulfilment and that death is not the end? And yes, there are consequences of accepting or rejecting this message – but it is not for us to judge them. That is between God and them.
And it really is not about ramming the message down the throats of people who do not wish to hear. Perhaps we have done that in the past and we need to learn to understand what it means to share the hope that we have ‘with gentleness and respect’. What Jesus does say is that we are to take the initiative but if people will not receive us or the message then we are simply to move on.
Or perhaps the jump that we need to make is offering to pray for someone who is sick. I know that I am a vicar and people might expect it of me, but it is ever so simple. You might be talking with someone, you ask them if you can pray for them, and you simply say: ‘Our Father in heaven, thank you for .. Please help them to know that they are precious to you, and please would you heal them, in Jesus name.’ People are astonished and often very moved when we do pray for them. They have never been prayed for before. And for those brief seconds, a window into eternity opens up.
Or maybe it is a case of driving out a demon. Actually this is something that I would recommend you do not do on your own. Please come and talk with one of the staff. The reason for that is that this area can be extremely subjective, and it is very easy for us to get ourselves all knotted up and in the process to knot other people up. We need to get the perspective of others.
For instance, one woman came to me because she thought her house was possessed. Her dead husband kept appearing to her. I could have gone in and prayed for the demons and the dark to go. But it wouldn’t have helped. Because as we spoke it turned out that she felt dreadfully guilty because she wasn’t with her hsuband when he died. I was able to pray for God’s peace on the house, and also – and this was more important - for his peace and forgiveness on her. And that did far more good.
Having said that, there are times when we encounter evil, real evil, destructive evil, evil which has gripped a person and is destroying them – and when that happens we need to remember that Jesus has given his authority to us, and that we do not need to be afraid.
We need to be obedient to this call
2. Jesus is asking us to learn to be dependent on God
When he sends out the 12 without staff, bag, bread, money and tunic (I am assuming a spare tunic!) he is doing two things.
a) There is a sense of urgency about this.
They need to go and they haven’t got time to prepare. Jesus knows that there is little time before his death, and he wants people throughout Israel to hear the message before then. He knows that after his death and resurrection, when this thing goes global, it will be harder for his own people to believe. So he wants his disciples to go, immediately – and not worry about reading the manual or packing the suitcase.
We live in a very cautious, safety conscious age. Risk assessments have to be done. Boxes need to be ticked. And it is good and sensible. But there are times when, in obedience to God, we simply have to act and get on with it. It is easy for me to sit and do admin in the office or at home – it is the comfortable thing to do, and a lot of it is about control – but there are times when I’ve simply got to get up and go into that nightmare situation, or I’ve got to go to someone and say sorry, or I have to challenge somebody. And there are times when God calls us to do something and just get on with it. It might be an inner compulsion, or a conviction I’ve got to do this, or a sense that I have been avoiding something or someone and it needs to be dealt with. But there is an urgency about it.
b) But more clearly here, and this applies as much to us as to them, Jesus is speaking of how the 12 are to be utterly dependent on the provision of God.
In Luke 22.35-36, Jesus gives the disciples a new set of instructions. After his death they are to take their purses and their bags. They are even to take sensible precautions against unprovoked attack (that is what I think the reference to the sword is about).
So it is not wrong to plan. It is not wrong to have insurance policies or pensions. But, and this is the point, all the time it is about not putting our trust in those things, but in God.
That is why we pray the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us today our daily bread’. We pray that prayer when we do not know where the daily bread is coming from, and we still pray that prayer even if we are fairly confident that we have a loaf of bread in the freezer! We pray it because it shows that we recognize that we are dependent on him for everything.
There are times and seasons in this. When I left university and worked in a parish in Hackney, there was no money. For the first year I worked in a supermarket filling shelves. But for the second year it seemed right that I should work full time for the church and live ‘by faith’, with no guaranteed income and dependent on God providing for me through the gifts of others. And he did. At the end of the year my bank balance, which was not great, was the same as it was at the beginning of the year. That was right for then. But since then I have always had a salaried post.
There is nothing wrong with either model, although it is much easier to remember that we are dependent on God for everything when we don’t have a guaranteed salary or pension – and I sometimes think that we miss out on real miracles and great blessing when we try to play it too safe.
But the reality is that we are dependent on God, and that he is utterly dependable.
So yes, being a disciple of Jesus is not an easy ride. There are times when we need to take not steps of faith, but jumps of faith. We need to be obedient and we need to relearn dependence on him.
Perhaps the specific challenge to us as believers here, where we are now, is to take those jumps of faith and actually proclaim the Kingdom of God, support those people of good will who are involved in healing, and to pray for healing, to cure diseases, in the name of Jesus. Both of those things require obedience and courage. We need to come out of our comfort zones and we need to throw ourselves on him.
This series is about leaving footprints. If we are walking in sand then all we need to do is walk, and the footprints we leave will be very clear. They will also be washed away very quickly. But if we are on hard ground, and we want to leave footprints, footprints that will last, then walking won’t do. We need to jump.