At the end of Matthew Jesus commissions his disciples: “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” He tells them to baptize people, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). What did Jesus command his disciples? Am I practicing these things and teaching others to do the same?
There are many things that Jesus commanded. Reading through Matthew’s Gospel looking for Jesus’ commands is challenging. There are many that are very well known, like “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of people” (4:19), “let your light shine before people” (5:16) “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44), “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (6:33), “do not be anxious for tomorrow” (6:34), “do not judge lest you be judged yourself” (7:1), “ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you” (7:7) “enter by the narrow gate” (7:13).
Especially challenging to me right now are Jesus’ instructions to the twelve he send out in Matthew 10:7-8. “As you go, preach, saying, ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
I recently returned from eight days visiting Tierra Nueva in Honduras. My colleague Nick and I went around with the Honduran TN promoters visiting villagers they attend to. Everywhere we went we led Bible studies to materially impoverished, spiritually hungry people. We prayed for lots of sick & hurting people and saw lots of healing. We saw Jesus take away migraines, tooth aches, pain in backs, necks, shoulders, abdomens, knees, ankles, ovaries. We prayed for several Catholic lay leaders in one village who were profoundly touched by the Holy Spirit, falling to the ground under the power of God’s love. We also prayed for people who were not visibly healed, four blind people who did not receive their sight and three dead people who did not raise up.
On the third day of my trip I was planning to meet beloved TN promoter Jorge in a high mountain village “Iran” at 9:00am. That morning though the news reached us that there on the mountain right where we were heading a white Toyota pickup like the one I had rented had been ambushed by four masked men with AK-47s. They had shot and beheaded the 22-year-old driver, shot his mother through the lungs and killed his 44-year-old worker. People said this was a revenge killing as the 22-year old had reputedly killed someone from the village of Iran back in December. We called off our trip as the four armed assassins were at large. As we stood in the park below our house trying to decide what to do when the Toyota pickup rumbled down into the square, bullet holes riddling the driver’s door, blood flowing out the back, the bodies covered with plastic bags. People ran to look at the dead. I stood there trying to shake off Jesus’ imperative: “raise the dead!”
I began to walk towards the white pick up, praying in the Spirit, dreading the moment. I didn’t want to look on these poor men. Yet I imagined the power of God being manifested there, and thought of the impact of Jesus raising these slain. I remembered Jesus’ words about not doing his own will, but only the will of his Father. I asked Jesus to show me the Father’s will, to show me what the Father was doing in heaven. The words that came to my mind surprised me: “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” I doubted these to be God’s Word as they seemed too convenient, an escape from practicing Jesus’ commandments. But I didn’t feel peace. Then I thought to myself:
“I’ll go to their homes tonight during the wake. I can always pray for them then and that will give me time to get greater clarity.”
I remembered later that Jesus himself waited several days after Lazarus died to pray for him. That day we went off to a remote village, Zapote, and had a Bible study and prayer time with 15 men from an old Tierra Nueva committee. But we returned around 7:00pm and then had to decide again what to do.
Everyone told me not to go to the wakes, which in Honduras are all- night events, mourning around the body. My Honduran friends told me there had been lots of armed robberies after dark in our town by gangs of young men and that I shouldn’t go. As the night went on though I found myself unable to relax. I was feeling pressed to go down to pray over these dead men.
Nick accompanied me down to the first house. Groups of men hung around outside. “The situation is very sensitive,” a Honduran friend told me. “There are groups of armed men already heading out after the killers. There’s going to be more vengeance.” I walked inside the house. Women and children sat around a rustic wooded casket in the middle of the room. Inside was the 44-year old man who had been hired that day to help and protect the targeted 22- year-old. He had been carrying a gun, but hadn’t known how to use it when they were attacked. He was shot as he fumbled around trying to figure it out. He had just been deported by the US Border Patrol after working in the US for a few years.
I held his mother, a Christian active in a local Evangelical church, as she wept: “He was my right hand man.” “My God, my God. He was my provider, my beloved son, my son, my son.” I held her for a long time, praying and listening. Eventually I went over and looked through plexiglass at this poor man as I silently prayed and prayed for him to be raised, watching for any signs of life. “O Jesus, Son of God, have mercy. Bring your peace!"
We went to the next house of the 22-year-old who lived just down the street. This was a much bleaker scene as the family were not Christians and the mother was hospitalized in critical condition in the capital. Two days later she too died. I could feel a mix of rage and despair as I approached the house. People sat in what looked like numb submission. I held the father and we talked and prayed. I prayed that he would not feel pressured to retaliate. I then prayed over the young man’s body, silently speaking resurrection life into him, crying out for God’s intervention, for peace to come, for the violence to end.
The next day we went out visiting three poor peasant communities on the other side of the mountains. In four houses in a row we encountered blind people who we prayed for and anointed with oil. An old woman, a young man who had lost an eye, penetrated by a flying metal shaving while filing his machete. We prayed for a lady who was blind but also had an open ulcer on her lower leg. Heat came all over the open sores as we prayed, but she didn’t notice any change in her eyesight. We prayed for her husband’s back and hip pain and eyesight, clouded by cataracts. He told us excitedly that the pain completely left his back and hips and that his eyesight was improving—but I wondered about his eyes, thinking that maybe he was telling us what he thought we wanted to hear.
As we left I saw his middle-aged son sitting on a stool in their dirt-floored kitchen. “Are you in any pain? Can I pray for you?” I ask. “I’m not in pain, but you can pray for me.” “For what?” I asked. “For my salvation,” he said. “What?” I asked, surprised. “That I would be saved,” he said again. This man was apparently touched as we prayed for his parents. Did he feel God’s Presence? Though his mother’s eyes were clearly not opened, his spiritual eyes were, to the point that he felt drawn to ask Jesus to save him and fill him with the Holy Spirit. Yet I still long to see actual blind eyes opened—and am encouraged by my friend Heidi Baker, who after years praying for the blind without result is now seeing many blind eyes opening.
While I have not yet seen the blind receive their sight or the dead raised I find myself strangely longing to pray for more and more blind people, and for the dead, as Jesus directs. As I seek to open myself to practicing the ministry of Jesus, I find my heart changing, my pride and fear fading and an unexplainable confidence rising up inside. Something dead inside of me is coming alive… a new hope in the impossible.
On this Good Friday as I contemplate Jesus’ death, I think of these scenes of several weeks back and pray: Jesus, you yourself submitted to death. All of us too will die. Yet you call us to stand before death like you did: letting ourselves be affected by it, yet boldly facing it, willingly submitting to it for ourselves—yet resisting it for others. You wept for Lazarus, but then you commanded him to raise up. You stopped a funeral procession and raised a woman’s only son. You raised up the synagogue official’s 12-year-old daughter. Your disciples also raised the dead and I hear reports of it happening around the world today. Have mercy on us. Free us from our belief in the power of death, violence, and sickness-- and from our unbelief. Fill us with faith in your superior power at work within us. Let your resurrection power become visible among us, more and more, here and now.