Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"Signs and Wonders"

          As we draw near to the close of the book of Acts (with only one message remaining in this series), we reflect back on how the mission of the church began.  The entire book narrates the expansion of the church from a tiny corner of the world, to the center of the Roman Empire and beyond.  But it started with the resurrected Jesus empowering and commissioning His disciples:

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed (Mark 16:15-20[i])

The book of Acts chronicles the growth of the Kingdom of God, moving from Jerusalem and Judea, to Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth. When Paul ends his journey in Rome, symbolically representing the arrival of the Gospel to the capital of the known world, this is the pinnacle of his ministry. Along the way through the book of Acts, we see signs and wonders worked by the apostles. Time and again God’s apostles act as miraculous agents, and as recipients of supernatural grace for their own rescue, healing, and direction.

After Paul and hundreds of others are shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 28), the final miracles in the book occur. Paul is gathering firewood and a deadly viper attaches itself to his hand. Instead of dying from the bite, he merely shakes the snake off and continues on. Astonished at this, the leader of the island calls for Paul to pray for his sick father, who is healed immediately. Hearing of these wonders, the rest of the afflicted people of the island come for healing. The miracles of God serve as signposts that point people to the apostle, who in turn points them to Christ.

The church has debated the reality of miracles for a long time. Some contend that miracles indeed never happened, but are simply mythological additions to the narrative of the church, construed to impart a sense of wonder, mystery, and power to the apostles. Cessationists, on the other hand, believe that God worked miraculously during that first, apostolic, age of the church. They believe, though, that after the death of the last apostle, the Holy Spirit ceased to work in signs and wonders. Continualists, however, affirm the biblical miracles and believe that because God doesn’t change, God still works miracles through servants of love today. Personally, I fall into this third camp of believers. I have witnessed miracles first-hand, and know from personal experience that just as God demonstrated power in biblical times, the Lord of Life continues to pour out life today.          

A supernatural miracle is described as anytime that God reaches into the world and breaks natural law in order to demonstrate divine power.  When we use the word “hypernatural,” we recognize that sometimes the wonders of God do not break natural law, but utilize the forces God created in a way that we do not understand.  In the Bible, there are many types of miracles.  Divine wrath falls as fire from heaven, lightning from the Ark of the Covenant, or plagues.  God’s providence comes in the form of supernatural provision of food, water, protection, and even money.  Demons are cast out, sicknesses healed, and the dead raised to life.  Elemental change is even affected in the multiplying of resources, walking on water, or calming of storms.  God opens the spiritual eyes of those without insight, and hardens the hearts of unbelievers as well.  In the Bible, “signs” are demonstrations of power for the purpose of instilling faith in the faithless, encouraging the faltering faithful, and simply reminding people of God’s power.  “Miracles” are a bit more simple—not designed to point to anything, but simple expressions love and compassion, for the sake of goodness alone.

Just as God did in biblical times, God continues to demonstrate love and power today.  Not every time we pray for something, will we see a miracle occur—because God does things in His own time and way.  But when we see those unexpected blessings unfold, they bolster our faith and remind us of our Father’s love.  Do you need a miracle in your life today?  Would a sign or wonder be just right, just about now?  Don’t be afraid to ask God for the miracle you need.  Or, maybe God wants to miraculously use you in the life of someone who needs to be reminded of His love.  Are you as open as the apostles were, to be vessels of God’s blessing?  Remember that the Father is with you all the time, watching over you and waiting for an opportunity to show you His grace.  “Our Daily Bread” says:

The early American Indians had a unique practice of training young braves. On the night of a boy's thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting, and fishing skills, he was put to one final test. He was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then, he had never been away from the security of the family and the tribe. But on this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of a thick woods and he was terrified! Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke and the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was his father. He had been there all night long.[ii] 

 The Father is with you always, ready to care for you in whatever way He sees that you need.  Today, I pray that you will trust God for the signs and wonders you need in your life.  I pray you’ll open yourself not just to receive miracles, but also to become a channel of miraculous blessing for others.  Remember, Jesus said that miracles will accompany those who believe.  He didn’t say they might.  So trust God, and expect a miracle.

[i] All scriptures taken from the NASB.
[ii] Our Daily Bread.  http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/protection.htm.  October 3, 2015

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