Good Questions

When’s the last time you healed someone? Spoke in tongues? Healed a blind man? They seem like ridiculous questions right? But we see things like this happening all throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts. We have no trouble believing that God really did heal a lame man through Peter (Acts 3:1-10), that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and guided believers to speak in different languages (Acts 2:1-13), and that Paul was able to cast out demons, heal the sick, and even raise the dead (Acts 14:1-11, 19:11-12, 20:7-16).

If such divine, supernatural intervention was common in the early church, shouldn’t we expect to see the same? Shouldn’t the miracles so common in Acts also be common, expected, and typical in our world today?

Exodus, Acts, and the Glory of God

To answer these questions we actually have start in the Old Testament with the story of Abraham. After Adam and Eve sinned, sending all of humanity into rebellion with them, God promised to bring us back into a right relationship with Him by grace. That promise began through the family of Abraham, as God promised that He would use Abraham to bless the nations of the world (Gen. 22:18). While we would like to think that His plan is without opposition, God’s enemies were not silent in opposing His plan.

The first major opposition to the plan of God came in the book of Exodus. As the family of Abraham has grown into the people of Abraham – the Hebrews (Jews) – their growth and the looming fulfillment of God’s plan through them collides with the enemies of God. As the leader of the superpower of the ancient world, Pharaoh mobilized Egypt’s military strength and power to enslave the Hebrews and eventually begin a genocidal campaign to stop their explosive growth (Exodus 1-2). While no supernatural enemies of God ever take center stage in Exodus like they do in Genesis or Job (Gen. 3, Job 1), we can sense the shadowy enemy of God, Satan, at work in Pharaoh’s heart. God, the Source and Creator of life, is opposed by Satan, the father of lies and the author of sin and death. Where God brings order and life (Gen. 1-2), the devil brings disorder and death (Exodus 1-2). In opposing the work of God, Satan through Pharaoh attempted to derail the promise of grace. If successful in opposing the Almighty, the devil would have been victorious in his endeavor to become more powerful and famous than God Himself. The stakes could not have been higher.

But God is not willing that any should share His glory. Very plainly, God told Moses, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will display my glory over Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD,” (Exodus 14:4).

The story of Exodus is the story of God unquestionably and miraculously conquering His enemies – human or otherwise – as He moved His plan and His promise forward.

All the miraculous signs and wonders in Exodus authenticated God’s claim to be truly sovereign overall. Though Pharaoh may have fancied himself king over the entire world, his arrogant dreams were obliterated by the ten plagues of Egypt. From the destruction of the Nile and the life it brought to Egyptian agriculture to the chaotic hail mixed with fire to the horror of the death of the firstborn, God’s miraculous works in Egypt made Him the unquestioned Victor and His plan unquestionably triumphant. It was this open conflict with the world, this brazen opposition to God and His gracious plan, that set a collision course of power between Satan along with his kingdom and the Lord and his promise of hope. While Pharaoh loomed large in the world, God would not give His fame to another, and through spectacular signs and wonders He vindicated His name and His plan to all who would even think of opposing Him.

We find a similar conflict in the Book of Acts. Mankind has been enslaved, not to a nation or kingdom, but to sin itself. The promised Messiah, Jesus, has come and offered freedom, hope, and forgiveness through trusting and following Him. As the final stages of God’s promise to Abraham began to unfold by the spread of the Gospel, unsurprisingly, the world, and its ultimate architect and ruler, Satan, once more openly opposed God and His Gospel. From Jewish religious leaders imprisoning and beating Christians to sorcerers, magicians, and charlatans nearly overturning the entire city of Ephesus (Acts 19:1-40) to governing officials upholding illegal and unwarranted imprisonment of believers (Acts 24:22-27), the kingdom of the world was seemingly united in opposing the spread of the Gospel.

The similarities between Acts and Exodus are subtle, but we can see how they mirror each other (check out the chart at the bottom of this article to see a more detailed comparison of the two stories). Just as in Exodus, in the Book of Acts we see God displaying His glory by performing miraculous signs and wonders through the church. These signs are not miracles just for the sake of displays of power, but precisely so that God’s mission and work would be validated, His authority would be unquestioned, and new people and new territories would know the glory and power of the God of the true Gospel. Indeed, after healing a man who was lame from birth, Peter boldly proclaimed, “His name (Jesus) has made this man strong, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all,” (Acts 3:16).

The signs and wonders we see in Exodus or in Acts always have a bigger purpose – to point to the power of the God behind the Gospel and to solidify in the minds of those around that He alone is God and His message is to be trusted.

Why the need for such displays of power as the Gospel spreads? Because the world is full of charlatans, pretenders, and deceivers. False messiahs and teachers are common in our day, and they were then as well. With so many shysters peddling false hope, the genuine message of the Gospel was at risk of getting lost in the noise. So God, through the gift and power of the Holy Spirit, worked supernaturally in Acts to establish His authority and authenticate His messages. This is particularly true as the Gospel moved into uncharted territory like Ephesus (Acts 18-19) where demonic idol worship, sorcery, and witchcraft ruled supreme. In such ineffably dark and enslaved places, the light of the Gospel was established through the work of the Spirit.

During certain points of history then, we see that God’s plan takes a monumental step forward. From the deliverance of His people in Egypt to the freedom secured by Christ through His death and resurrection, these leaps forward in God’s plan to reconcile us with Him are typically met with vicious opposition from the world. The resulting conflict, be it in Egypt or throughout the Roman Empire, is marked by supernatural intervention, miracles, and wonders that display the supremacy, glory, and power of God over His enemies. Indeed, as believers we anticipate this pattern to repeat itself at least once more as the book of Revelation describes a future and final plan by our great enemy, the devil, to eradicate the people of God. Even then, in that final, desperate attempt to destroy God’s special treasure – His people – Satan will be thwarted by the miraculous, spectacular intervention of God Himself as Jesus returns to finally and fully put down the rebellion of Satan, the world, and all who oppose Him.

God In A Box

So what does all this mean for us today? How does any of this really apply to us? Here are few ways we believe it impacts our lives today:

  • God in a Box:

    We all would like for life to be black and white. In our faith, this gets particularly sticky when we try to put God in a box. Different churches have done this for thousands of years. Some say that God never works through signs, wonders, and miracles anymore (what theologians call cessationism). Others swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, stating that speaking in tongues, visions, dreams, and healings are the benchmark of faith and without them we should question our salvation (this position is an extreme stance held by the outer fringes of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements). The problem is that both these perspectives try to stuff God into a theological framework rather than letting Him be God. As we saw in Exodus and Acts, there are seasons and places where God chooses to act more openly and deliberately, particularly when the world is united in its efforts to squelch His plan and obliterate His people. But the Bible also records points in time where God spoke infrequently and less directly (1 Samuel 3:1). We would be wise to embrace neither of these black-and-white extremes, to test the reported “wonders” that some perform by asking them to clearly articulate the Gospel, and not to be swayed by mob mentality and craving for spectacular displays.

  • Signs and Wonders Today:

    While signs and wonders may be infrequent and uncommon in Christian life in America, we often hear reports of healings, dreams, and more as the Gospel spreads into new lands throughout the world. This should not frighten us nor earn our disdain. In Acts we saw in particular that as the Gospel moved into new territory like Cyprus (Acts 13) and Ephesus (Acts 17-18), supernatural opposition through demonic activity and worldly pressure was overcome by signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit. As it was then, so we see now. As the Gospel spreads deeper into African tribes ruled by sorcery and animism or into Muslim lands dominated by Sharia law and spiritual darkness, we hear tales of the Gospel breaking through in power. Rather than smirk and smugly say “God does not work that way,” we should resist the urge to place God in a box that is comfortable for us. We should praise God for the conversion of people who have never heard of the grace He offers in Christ and not become fixated on the miracles but rather focus on the One behind them.

  • Changed Lives as Signs and Wonders:

    Shortly after the explosive growth of the church and the miraculous signs of the book of Acts, the church faced imperial, worldwide disdain for the Gospel. After Rome was destroyed in a mysterious fire that enveloped the city, Nero searched desperately for a societal scapegoat to blame. As the emperor began his diabolical campaign against the people of God, the apostle Peter charged the scattered church not to hope for more miraculous signs to vindicate and validate the Gospel. Rather, the aging and soon-to-be-executed-apostle calmly and lovingly called believers to use their transformed lives as the sign of the power of the Gospel. Peter charged believers, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world,” (1 Peter 2:12). And just a few verses later, Peter says again, “you have had enough time in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy – their immortality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols. Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do,” (1 Peter 4:3-4). While telling people about Jesus we use our lives as a sign of God’s power. God clearly expects our transformed lives to act in the same way as the signs and wonders in Acts. When people see us lay down our greed and materialism, our gossip, our addiction to alcohol, our sexual sin, our insecurity, our religious self-assurance, and more for the grace, hope, and life in the Gospel – this change over time will point them to Jesus just as Peter’s miraculous healing of the man outside the temple pointed the lost to Christ. God can and does use signs and wonders to display His unmatched power – both in the ancient world and today; our call as believers is to praise God when displays His power and to daily use our changed lives and hearts to point people to Jesus.

Questions? Comments?

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