A Peruvian pastor friend tells the story of leading a group of young evangelists out to some remote villages along the sinuous mountain roads of the Andes. When a lamb darted in front of their van pursued by an Andean fox, one of the young men, who was a shepherd in his home community, couldn’t resist rushing to the rescue.
He didn’t make it in time. The fox had seized the lamb by the throat, though the young evangelist managed to scare off the canid and carry the lamb back up to the van.
“Now what do we do, Pastor?” he asked, laying the lamb out in the back of the van.
“Well,” said our friend, with mischievous sincerity. “Pray for God to resurrect the lamb.”
“Really, Pastor? Is that OK to do?”
“Just give it a try.”
So the young evangelist prayed in the name of Jesus for the lamb to be resurrected, and they continued their winding way up the mountain.
A short time later, they heard a soft bleating from the back of the van. They turned around, and there it was, that lamb standing shakily, recovered from a state of shock or (could it be?) resurrected by the power of God who loves all that he has created.
I’ve never prayed to resurrect a lamb. The closest I’ve come is praying for a dead car to start. It did.
But I’m convinced we need take seriously the mandate Jesus gave his disciples: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matt. 10:8).
Perhaps we need to recover a hearty sense that the mission and life of the church is simply the mission and life of Jesus Christ. His very real power continues to pulse through the church and animate her mission.
Jesus certainly expected that his disciples would go out and minister in his power. It wasn’t just the precious Twelve. He later sent the 70/72 with that same power. They will “tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt [them].”
They reported that “even the demons submit” to them. Their going out was a thrust in a kingdom invasion in which Satan himself fell from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:17-20).
It’s in going out that the church discovers the power of Christ. The kingdom is a kingdom on the march. God’s people are a people on mission. “Go . . . to the lost sheep of Israel,” said Jesus. “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:6, 9 NIV).
That Jesus’ power is for mission would likely come as no surprise to his first disciples. He made clear the terms of their apprenticeship when he called them by the sea.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matt. 4:19). Following includes fishing. What else?
The battlefield is people’s lives, where the brilliant gray seam between the “power of darkness” and the “kingdom of his beloved Son” runs through the human heart (Col. 1:13).
And thus it’s across the human heart that God’s power to cure and resurrect and cleanse and exorcise is deployed. Evangelism includes preaching the good news into people’s lives and hurts and jackknifed relationships.
It’s also about helping people encounter the resurrecting power of the living Christ.
We need God’s power in the church right now, especially to raise the dead. I do, at least. And I want the real deal, not some wan metaphor. I want to see the crisp reversal of the work of the one who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I know how easy it is to become like those folks Paul warned Timothy about, “holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).
We need to reclaim Christ’s power by reclaiming Christ’s mission. God is for us and has given us all that we need to carry forward his designs.
That’s a little like how it worked for our friends in the Andes. At the end of the day, after looking for the lamb’s owner in the nearest town to no avail, the team decided that the Lord had provided them with food for the journey. So they roasted the miracle and set off in the morning fueled for mission.
Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan., and author of God’s Country: Faith, Hope and the Future of the Rural Church (Herald Press). He blogs at DoxologyProject.com.