Good News Magazine
July 16, 2019
In Luke 4, as he sits among his people, Jesus casts a vision for a radical change in the spiritual climate. He stands up in the middle of church one day and reads from a scroll unrolled to the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
This is Jesus, standing on the authority of the Spirit, staking his claim as the first apostle and prototype of this good news. Yes, Jesus was and is an apostle! Had you considered that fact before? The term in Greek literally means, “sent one.” In that sense, Jesus most definitely fit the definition. He was sent to earth by the will of God the Father with very specific marching orders — to reveal the Kingdom to the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed, and those who have never felt favor with God. He was sent to cast out demons and cure diseases, to heal the sick, and proclaim the Kingdom of God.
That’s Luke, chapter 4. From there until chapter 9, it is wall-to-wall ministry. Then in Luke 9, there is a shift. Jesus recasts the vision, but he does it this time by way of transfer. He pulls the twelve disciples together and “he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2). Can you imagine? This was a high calling for this gaggle of misfits.
Can you even imagine what that charge must have felt like for those first followers of Jesus? To be told they now have both the authority and power to do what they’d seen only one other person do, and what they saw was so remarkable that they assigned divinity to the man doing it. It must have been stunning. Those regular, not-the-brightest-bulb-in-the-box people were sent out to drive out demons and cure diseases and proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick. They would become the culture changers! They would welcome and advance the Kingdom of God by bearing fruit in their “sent-ness.” This the first work of the Twelve, whom we call apostles — the “sent-out ones.”
There is a catch, of course, to this kind of sending. To drive out demons, you have to get within spitting distance of demon-possessed people (many of whom spit!). To heal, you have to touch people with all manner of disease. To proclaim the kingdom, you have to associate with heathens. You must get up close and personal with the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. That is the offer on the table because that, Jesus said, is how climates change and the Kingdom comes.
Now, hold that paradigm up against what many of us experience in the American church today. Unless I miss my guess, most of us in the western world do not have a wide experience with casting out demons and participating in physical healings. It happens in developing countries where first-generation Christians don’t know any better (that is a bit of missional humor; of course, our friends in other countries certainly “know better.” In many other countries, Christians are running circles around us in spiritual revival right now).
Our culture has come to accept an hour in church and a blessing before meals as the center of the Christian experience. Meanwhile, driving out demons is just weird. That, we relegate to the fringe. But folks, when I read in my Bible how Jesus defines for his followers what it means to be sent out to represent the very best the Kingdom has to offer this world, this is what I hear: that followers have power and authority to drive out demons, cure diseases, proclaim the Kingdom of God, and heal things that destroy people’s lives.
This ought to be our target as we progress in the Christian life. We are not shooting for tolerable. We are shooting for transformation, and for lives that carry power and authority. Let that sink in.
Years ago, I had the experience of seeing a demon leave a man’s body. He’d come to my office to complain, and that day he was in a seriously contrary mood. He complained about everything and as he went (on and on, for about an hour), his complaints became more and more personal. Eventually, I’d had enough. It might not have been my best pastoral moment, but I got angry. I began to — let’s say, discuss with some vigor — how I felt about his attack. Almost immediately as I began to speak, however, I had the sense that the person to whom I was talking was not this man in front of me but a demon inside his chest. My eyes were drawn to his chest and I began to speak directly to the demon. The experience became pretty intense rather quickly. I’m sure I was louder than I meant to be. I was clinging to some authority that rose up within me, and I was not about to let that thing, whatever it was, get the upper hand.
I kept yelling at it until I sensed it was gone. For a moment after I went silent, the guy (who never moved or said a word while I was casting this demon out) stared at me. Then, he sank down in the chair almost as if he were lifeless. He didn’t fall out of the chair, but I could see that all the energy it took to hold himself up was gone.
We stayed in a silent place for a few beats, then the man looked at me and said, “It’s gone. I feel absolutely no anger. In fact, I can’t make myself get angry with you right now. It’s gone.” We prayed again, and he left my office. He later told me he could hardly make it to his car before he collapsed in exhaustion. He stayed in the parking lot for half an hour, then drove home and slept through the rest of the day.
Lest you assume I was indoctrinated into this practice early in life, think again. I am probably more like you than not. I grew up in a mainline Protestant church. I could hardly explain the Holy Spirit, much less experience him. When I entered seminary in my thirties, let’s just say I was not the brightest bulb in the seminary box. And yet, God has filled me and schooled me in the Holy Spirit and I believe this is what he wants for all of us. I believe he longs to see his Church acting as if he is a supernatural God and ours is supernatural power.
Not only do I believe that Jesus has given us power and authority over demons, but also over physical and emotional illness. Recently, I witnessed a miracle. A woman who was blind in one eye (the result of a stroke six months prior) had been told by a doctor that the loss of her eyesight was permanent. He likened it to a lightning bolt shooting through her eye.
The weekend I met her at a women’s retreat, she was blind in one eye, unable to drive any more, and resolved to live with it. Then the Holy Spirit showed up. At the retreat, she was given the gift of profound inner healing. She experienced a touch that left her feeling worthy and loved. She went home and told her husband she’d never felt so free. The next morning, after a strangely peaceful sleep, she awoke to find she could see her husband. Since he was laying on the side nearest her blind eye, that was kind of a big deal. Her blind eye wasn’t blind any more. For the next two hours, they tested her eye in every way they could think of to make sure this was real. It was.
What if this woman’s inner healing opened the way for her physical healing? What if it is all much more connected than we realize? How do we know when (and how) God is going to move? After decades of praying with people in faith and watching the results, here is my best, most spiritual answer to your question: I don’t know.
Seriously … I don’t know.
But in the absence of knowing, I subscribe to the Nike School of Thought on this. Just do it. Just pray for people. Pray for them like Jesus is listening, and like Jesus wants to see healing at least as much as you do. And on the days when you don’t believe it will ever happen, pray in obedience as the scripture commands (see James 5). I figure, if we do our part and pray, he’ll do his part and show up.
And here’s the thing: If you’re wrong, nobody dies (I stole this line from Mike Pilavachi). If you pray and nothing happens, at least you prayed. At least you called on some force greater than yourself, and you practiced faith in the process. Those are good things, their own kind of miracle, because hope in a supernatural God is a rare and glorious thing.
A friend in our community often argues with me (in a good way) about the mark of the Holy Spirit in a life. I say the mark of the Holy Spirit is a supernatural ability to love. I base my thoughts on Paul’s teaching. He writes in Galatians 5:22 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All these flow from the Spirit, and you’ll notice from that list that love is the headwaters. Our ability to love is not self-generated or self-taught. It comes to us directly from the Holy Spirit.
The mark of the Holy Spirit is a supernatural ability to love … right?
My friend argues the mark of the Holy Spirit is power and he looks to Acts 1:8 to make his point. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Clearly, Jesus wanted his followers to know that power to evangelize would come with the call to go. “You will receive power,” Jesus said. Not “you might receive,” or “if you’re lucky you’ll receive …” Nope. “You will receive power …”
So, which is it? Love, or power? The answer — wait for it — is yes. I suspect (though I’d really rather be right) that we’re both right and that in Kingdom terms love and power are two ways of talking about the same thing. In the Kingdom of God, love is power, and power is always loving. Power is never self-serving, and love is never wimpy (you should underline that). When Jesus gave his followers power, it was the kind that drove them out to heal, along with a heart broken for those who hurt. Love drove them out to meet people exactly where they were, with power strong enough to call out demons and overcome disease. In other words, they were not sent out with raw power and no heart. They were sent out as Christ-bearers, to be and do incarnational ministry in both the love and power of Christ.
To be “incarnational” means to embody the spirit of Christ. It means we don’t go on our own power and authority, but on his. And that brings up a critical point made in Luke 9. Getting this point is crucial: Kingdom power and Kingdom authority are gifts from God. We don’t generate them on our own steam. Our power and authority to carry out supernatural ministry are gifts, an anointing of the Holy Spirit. And this is why we must pursue the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without him, we are sunk.
Hear this: Don’t attempt supernatural ministry on your own strength. Because here’s the thing: You can actually do ministry without the Holy Spirit. People do all kinds of good things without supernatural power. All day every day, people operate out of their own talents, on their own authority. Take the word of a recovering striver. Plenty of us are driven by ambition or fear or even a good heart and good intentions to do good things (I am literally sitting across the table right now from an atheist I’ve befriended who works at a food bank). And when they do, they achieve natural results, not supernatural results.
But folks, this is not the biblical call. Our call is to receive the power and authority offered us by Christ himself, then to go forth as he sends us to drive out the darkness and expose the Kingdom of God. If we’re going to give the world a better definition of “church,” we need the infilling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, so we can actually witness supernatural ministry.
This invitation to participate with the Holy Spirit in the works he wants to do in the world is an invitation into a partnership. It changes how we approach life. It is about becoming open to the opportunities around us. If you have accepted the Holy Spirit into your life, you are a tabernacle — a sent-out person with Kingdom power to see miracles happen. This is who you are. You are called to go, and you take with you whatever you are given, with the absolute confidence that God will use it to advance his Kingdom on earth.
Carolyn Moore is the founding pastor of Mosaic, a United Methodist congregation in Evans, Georgia. She is the author of numerous books such as The 19: Questions to Kindle a Wesleyan Spirit. This article is excerpted with permission from Supernatural: Exposing the Kingdom of God, to be published by Seedbed in 2020.