(I want to acknowledge that parts of this blog have been copied or influenced by John Piper’s blogs on Signs and wonders from the early 90’s. It would appear from the reading of his later blogs that John is less certain of the role of Signs and wonders today. But I am!)
I believe that “signs and wonders” and all the spiritual gifts referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are for today. I also believe and follow Paul’s instructions to the church in 1 Corinthians 14:1 when he said spiritual gifts (which include supernatural signs and wonders) should be “earnestly desired”.
Because signs and wonders, miracles and spiritual gifts are for the building up of the church and they are also a part of the good news of the kingdom Jesus demonstrated under the power of the Holy Spirit which he poured on the church – that’s us.
I agree with something Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached in 1965:
“It is perfectly clear that in New Testament times, the good news was authenticated by signs, wonders and miracles of various characters and descriptions. . . . Was it only meant to be true of the early church? . . . The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary – never! There is no such statement anywhere.” (The Sovereign Spirit, pp. 31-32)
Unfortunately Signs and Wonders have been getting a bad rap since Moses and Pharaoh.
However I can appreciate that people who have no knowledge of God or who do not encounter the supernatural realm rejecting the idea of signs and wonders. It just doesn’t make sense or reason.
But what about those who believe in God?
Why are they so skeptical and refuse to believe in divine signs and wonders?
Skepticism amongst believers is not new.
The Pharisees were just like this. Devout God believers who had made up their mind that God no longer acted in power on their behalf.
All they had was their devotion to God and his commands given to Moses. All they had was stories about the mighty deeds of God in the past and an expectation of a Messiah who would one day come with healing in his wings, and power to destroy the works of the devil and establish an eternal kingdom.
But they had not seen evidence that God still did signs and wonders. So they were skeptical and cynical, even unbelieving.
Back to the question – why do believers act so cynically or even seek to create doctrines that say the supernatural acts of God that operated through Jesus, the apostles and the New Testament church somehow ceased?
There are a number of reasons.
- There is a great deal of questioning over churches who seem to major on signs and wonders to the point that it becomes their main point. And I think that is a fair reason for concern. I don’t believe that signs and wonders are meant to be the main event so to speak.
- I can also see that there is the power of God and there is the foolishness of men. And unfortunately God’s power is at work in the foolishness of men whose methods of ministering can lack wisdom, sensitivity and even biblical support. This can be confusing because we can see power at work but it appears corrupted by the person. Why would God let this happen?
- Humans can quickly take something God intended for a purpose and a season and create a formula or misrepresent God’s nature.
- We also know that if you have the real thing, you can also have a counterfeit. And we know that Jesus warned that in the last days there would be false signs and even the elect would be deceived. So from time to time we see counterfeit signs and wonders that rely on human hype, manipulation or at worst even demonic empowerment. This is scary.
Having said all that I want to emphasize something about counterfeits.
Fear of the counterfeit can cause people to act suspiciously, cynically and lean towards an unbelieving spirit. In fact Jesus described blaspheming the Holy Spirit as calling something done by God as of the devil. So we can be so scared of counterfeits that we write off anything that we cannot explain or understand. The only trouble is that signs, wonders, miracles and spiritual gifts can only be explained by divine intervention which is not logical, reasonable or rational.
We are not called by God to be cynical or suspicious. We are called to be wise and discerning and led by the Spirit. We have been given his word and each other (the body of believers) to test the Spirit of what is said and done in the name of a supernatural sign, wonder or gift. The Spirit himself witnesses to us. We are called to listen to what he is saying to the church. We are called to hang onto his every word. He will never say or do anything that is contrary to His word, character or nature.
- And there are those who say that we don’t need signs and wonders at all – we just need to preach the good news and quote Romans 1:16, which says, “The good news is the power of God to salvation.” In 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 Paul says “Jews demand signs, Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified . . . the power of God.” Again in verse 18 of the same chapter we read “the word of the cross is . . . the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
But we do ourselves a disfavor when we limit the extent of the good news to only preaching Christ crucified. The good news of Christ crucifed is the power of God.
However the Greek word for salvation used throughout the New Testament is Sozo. SOZO is not just forgiveness of sins. The good news of Sozo is forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but as we read in Luke 4, Jesus described the Messiah’s kingdom reign fulfilled in his coming as:
– setting the captives and prisoners free,
– giving sight to the blind,
– lame to walk, broken hearts healed.
The good news of salvation is good for now and good forever.
It is a life transforming act of God and it is an encounter with God in every aspect of our life including things that require his power to set us free, now. And not just the power of sin, guilt and condemnation – addictions, sicknesses, and strongholds of the enemy that keep people enslaved.
But some would argue that Jesus himself said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign” (Matthew 12:39; 16:4).
Yes he did say that and on the surface you could argue that therefore signs are not good and anyone seeking to do signs is a part of an evil and adulterous generation.
But that would be ignoring the context of Jesus’ statement.
Seeking signs from God is “wicked and adulterous” when the demand for more and more evidence comes from a resistant heart and simply covers up an unwillingness to believe.
But if we come to God with a heart aching with longing to see people transformed by the good news of Jesus crucified and risen – encountering the compassion and mercy of God through a sign, wonder or supernatural gift that brings freedom, life and glory to Jesus – then we are not wicked and adulterous. Instead we the church are a faithful wife, only wanting to honor our husband.
If desiring signs and wonders dilutes the power of the good news then the early Christians and the apostles themselves were wicked and adulterous, because they so passionately wanted God to do signs and wonders alongside their powerful preaching.
For example, Peter and John and the disciples prayed in Acts 4:29-30, “Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Here we have godly men and women praying for signs and wonders to happen in the name of Jesus. And Luke does not portray them as a “wicked and adulterous generation.”
Not only that, Luke spends a lot of time in the book of Acts showing how valuable signs and wonders are in winning people to Christ.
He does not portray them as a negative or a threat but as a witness to the good news about Jesus.
In Acts 2 Peter, under the power of the Holy Spirit, explaining the signs and wonders that were occurring at that very moment, pointed to the purpose of Jesus’ signs and wonders when he said:
“You men of Israel, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man accredited and pointed out and shown forth and commended and attested to you by God by the mighty works and [the power of performing] wonders and signs which God worked through Him [right] in your midst, as you yourselves know.”
Peter shows that all these signs accredited, pointed out, showed, commended and attested to God’s work in Jesus.
So in one chapter we see signs leading to the sharing of the good news of Jesus.
In Acts 4:29-30 the reason the church prayed so passionately for signs and wonders was because they knew that God would use them to bring multitudes to Jesus.
There are at least 17 times where miracles help lead to conversions in the book of Acts. The clearest examples are in Acts 9:34-35 and 9:40-42 where Peter heals Aeneas, and Luke says, “And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.”
Peter raises Tabitha from the dead, and Luke says, “It became known to all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”
There is no doubt that the working of miracles – signs and wonders – helped bring people to Christ.
That is what Luke wants us to see and that is why the Christians prayed for signs and wonders to happen.
In Acts 14:3 he says that Paul and Barnabas “remained a long time [in Iconium] speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands”.
This is utterly crucial: signs and wonders are God’s witness to his word. They are not in competition with the word. They are not against the word. They are not over the word. They are divine witnesses to the value and truth and necessity and centrality of the word (see also Hebrews 2:4; Mark 16:20).