Right, let’s take a look at the subject of signs and wonders. Perhaps we might even be able to dispel a few myths which the charismatic church have long been peddling as fact.
In the last two parts of this little series we have looked at what it is to accept God’s plan, and how that acceptance of His plan is a prerequisite of the Holy Spirit working through us in the lives of those around us. I said in Part One that I believed that God had shown me that the acceptance of His plan and learning how to empty ourselves of all selfish ambition were the two attributes which were present in the disciples of the early church which enabled God to work through them with signs and wonders.
If you take a look at some of the examples of signs, wonders, or miracles, found in the Bible you will see that on each occasion, when God chose to work through mere men, they exhibited a clear humility before God and were empty of all selfish desires. You will notice how closely the two attributes of which I speak are aligned – in order to accept God’s plan we must surrender everything of ourselves, and in surrendering everything of ourselves, we automatically accept God’s plan. The two things are inextricably linked to one another.
First of all, what qualifies as a sign or a wonder or a miracle? Well, I don’t want to fall into the pit of intellectualising this subject – there are many out there who will give you all the technical jargon on what the original Greek says about it. There is a time and a place for looking at the root meanings of certain words, but I don’t believe doing so in this matter adds anything to the conversation whatsoever. I think the simplest way to define the three words is to keep them together and to say that anything which goes against the normal accepted way in which life works, can be seen as either a sign (from God in order to help people believe); a wonder (which causes wonder amongst the people who witness it); or a miracle (which defies natural expectations of what should happen).
You will have noticed that Yeshua was very good at all three. The gospels all contain many accounts of Him arriving at some village, or a hillside, or by the sea, and Him healing the multitudes of all of their sickness and disease, as well as driving out their demons. We skim over these things when we read them as if they are nothing. Believe me, if even one of the accounts recorded in a single gospel happened today to the numbers which the Bible states then it would be wall-to-wall news around the globe. Now, in one sense, we can treat it lightly – that is to say, we should expect to see and experience such things. However, we must also be aware that in taking such things lightly we run the risk of turning them into circus attractions.
It is clear that many today claim to perform signs and wonders simply for the purposes of luring people to their meetings. The trouble is, this approach works because people are so desperate to see the supernatural in action that they fail to use any kind of discernment when attending. Not everything that is supernatural is of God.
I think we need some clarity with this to help with discernment. Yeshua was able to perform signs, wonders, and miracles of Himself because He is, in very nature, God. He and the Father are one and the same – in each other. Unlike us, Yeshua was born spiritually alive and, when He walked the earth, He was able to control those things which are naturally beyond our control. You will remember that it was Yeshua through whom all things came into being and continue to have their being. At His word, all things exist. When anyone else performs signs, wonders, and miracles, it is not of themselves, but of God. His Holy Spirit works through people for the sole purpose of glorifying God and forwarding His plan.
There is no limit to what we, as believers, could see performed through us. Yeshua Himself explained this to His disciples, and therefore, also to us, on the night before He was crucified. It would be easy for me just to quote John 14:12, but, as always, there is a context to what He was saying. John’s account of what we call the Last Supper is recorded in chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. I have to say, that if you are not familiar with these chapters, then you really should be. And when I say familiar, I mean that you know and understand all of what Yeshua said and prayed that night. I don’t mean to sound as if you have to read these chapters, I simply mean that there is a great benefit to you if you do. Let’s take a look at the passage in which 14:12 rests so that we can get the right context. Yeshua has just answered a question from Thomas regarding the way to where Yeshua has just said He is going. Once again, the disciples are limited to an earthly or physical understanding of what Yeshua was speaking about. He tells them that He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life, and that no one can come to the Father except through Him. He continues:
” “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” ” [John 14:7-12 NKJV]
I often wonder how, if these guys who were with Him daily and still failed to ‘get it’, I might ever truly get it. After all, they had no real excuse. The things which they must have seen; the feeding of 5,000 men (not to mention women and children) with just a few bits of bread and some fish, the sight of demonised people being set free, the deaf hearing, the lame walking, the blind seeing. I don’t need to go on. But even after all these things happening before their eyes, we have Philip failing to grasp what was right before his eyes. Even then, on the very eve of His crucifixion, we have Philip asking for a sign. I don’t think Philip was alone. We all try to rationalise everything which we see but fail to understand. Our brains are so programmed that anything which happens supernaturally is difficult for us to file away; to process. What we already understand blocks our future understanding. That is why it is vital we shake off all we think we know and allow God to teach us.
In His explanation of what He was talking about, Yeshua uses the same arguments He has always used – it requires trust. Without believing it is possible, it never will be possible. So, Yeshua tells them that if they are still finding it difficult to believe what He says of Himself and the Father, that they should believe because of the miracles which they have seen themselves. He tells them that only the Father could have done those through Him. And that what they saw was only possible because He and the Father are one and the same.
Then we come to verse 12. Here He stands with the key to all of this in His outstretched hand, willing them to take it. He makes it really simple for them – that if they just believe in Him, then they will be able to do all the miracles He performed, and even greater things as well, all because the same Spirit of the Father which is in Him, will also be in them.
To believe in Him, is to believe in the Father, for the Father sent Him.
It is easy to make that really complicated. We really must avoid that complication. The simple and practical way in which we should believe in Yeshua is this – whenever we ask anything of God, whatever it is, it will be Yeshua who does the work we ask for, by the same Holy Spirit who did the works He did and raised Him from the dead. The very same. We need not believe anything else except He and the Father are one and the same. We don’t need to understand it. Yeshua didn’t ask Philip if he understood, He asked him if he believed.
If I am honest, when I look at the disciples on that night of the Last Supper, I often wonder how they got to be the people we see recorded in the pages of the book of Acts. There was only seven weeks between that night and Pentecost. Something persuaded them to finally believe.
In Part Thirteen I quoted Paul’s letter to the Philippians and chapter three in particular. There is a verse that perhaps explains the change we see in the disciples. It was something that Paul understood. Paul says that he has put aside everything in order to pursue the righteousness of God which only comes from having faith – that is believing in or trusting, the person of Yeshua. He says that he counted everything he knew and was as loss in order that he might know Him and the power of His resurrection.
The power of His resurrection. We read this and take it for granted. You will have to go some way in today’s world to find people who believe in the resurrection of the dead. Most Christians, if they are honest, struggle with the actual act of raising someone from the dead. It is so far removed from what we understand to be natural that it becomes difficult for us to believe.
We know that the harmony, the ‘of one mind’ which we saw amongst the 120 people in that Upper Room at Pentecost came from them breathing in the Holy Spirit. That was unity. But something caused them to truly believe before that happened. I believe it was the absolute shocking effect of the power of the resurrection. Of course, Yeshua had tried to break them in gently by raising various people from the dead, but in every case, the person who was raised from the dead was already dead when they arrived. The disciples never actually witnessed someone dying and then coming back to life. And they certainly never witnessed any of those raising themselves from the dead. For it was Yeshua, in Himself, who raised Him from the dead. Because He overcame the sinful nature – the flesh, He had the power in Himself. Death could not hold Him there.
Can you even start to imagine what it must have been like to be there outside the city walls of Jerusalem watching their Rabbi being nailed to the cross, knowing that He was able to save others, but not saving Himself? Can you grasp their overwhelming sense of despair when He died and hung there lifeless as a soldier speared Him? Can you guess how great a hole in the pit of their stomachs opened up and threatened to consume them? Anyone who has lost a loved one may identify with that. And then knowing that He was taken down and placed in a tomb. Dead and buried. At that time there was no faith, no belief, nothing left.
And, after three days, when the pain had turned to bewilderment and the fear of the Sanhedrin was very real, they were together consoling one another. Can you imagine what it was like when Mary came and said His body was gone and that He had risen? The unbelief of the impossible would have flooded their senses. And then later, perhaps even more confused, imagine the spark of faith ignited in their very souls as He came and stood amongst them. In that moment everything He ever said, everything He ever did would have made sense. Belief would have flourished. They would have felt it inside them like a warm glow.
We have perhaps never experienced this. They saw Him die and now He lived. The power of His resurrection was such that even though He was dead He now lives. Can you think of someone whom you knew and has died? Imagine them reappearing in front of your very eyes! I think it was witnessing that event that changed the disciples forever. There is no going back from that. I cannot compare anything which I have experienced to that, but I can tell you the times when I knew God had acted in response to a prayer that it changes me. It makes me feel as if I want to bottle what it does to me so that I can release upon myself when times are hard. It is an exhilarating experience when God works a miracle in your life, however small.
I think Paul was deeply affected by the resurrection. When Yeshua appeared to him on the Damascus Road He asked Paul how long will He continue to kick against the goads. His implication was that Paul was fighting believing in Yeshua; that Yeshua had been trying to reach him so that Paul could see who Yeshua really was. I suspect this was because one of the things Paul was resisting was the resurrection. He would have heard all about it. I have no doubt that he was there in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion. And he would have probably been involved in spreading the rumour that the body was stolen. But when confronted with the proof of the resurrection, Paul was changed forever. Perhaps that’s what we all need. No one really preaches on it. Paul did. He preached Christ crucified and nothing else. To preach Him crucified is to preach about the power of the resurrection. I think the church has forgotten about the power of the resurrection. It is time we considered it once more.
In Acts chapter three we have the evidence of one of the disciples’ first independent miracles. We know that they had driven out demons when Yeshua had sent them out to do so, but here we have the healing of a man born lame. This is quite a famous passage which we are so familiar with that it is easy for us to miss what is actually written there. Let’s take a look, just to refresh our memories:
“Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes upon him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.”
So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.
Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” “[Acts 3:1-6]
I have sat and pondered that last verse over the years wondering exactly what Peter knew that he had that he could give away. I mean, anyone can say the words he said, but a miracle doesn’t usually happen. So, what did Peter have (and it must have been something he knew he had) that was powerful enough to make this man walk?
I think the answer is simple. He knew of the power of the resurrection of Yeshua. And he believed that same power now resided in him in the form of the Holy Spirit. I suspect it felt tangible either in him or on his person. Remember how Yeshua knew when power had gone out from Him when the woman touched His robe? I think the same sensation of that power of the Holy Spirit, which was present in Yeshua, was also present in Peter. His belief in the power of the resurrection was enough to tell him that if the Holy Spirit can raise Yeshua from the dead, that same power can raise this man up.
And, from that moment, when Peter decided to put what he believed to action, God worked through the disciples with many signs and wonders. They had come to a place where they accepted God’s plan by surrendering their will, and all they wanted out of life was to do the will of the Father, just as Yeshua had taught them. That moment when they saw Him risen, the power of His resurrection became the driving force in them. They learned how to empty themselves of all doubt of all fear and made room for the Spirit of the Living God to fill them. And He filled them so much that His power couldn’t help but overflow. Such was the holiness of the Spirit that sickness and disease had to flee in His presence. Such was the holiness of the Spirit that liars dropped down dead as He flowed from the disciples. Such was the fullness of the Spirit in the disciples that even standing in Peter’s shadow would cause healing to occur. That same Spirit lives in all who choose to believe. God gives His Holy Spirit without measure. Which means we all get the very same fullness as Peter. But the thing which separated Peter from me is that he grasped the power of the resurrection. I am yet to grasp that.
In the next part of this series we shall look at what the disciples did next in the face of overwhelming persecution and a very fast growing congregation.