Monday, March 03, 2003

Jesus' Miracles and What They Teach Us

This is part 8 of a series that looks at why Jesus performed miracles and what He taught us through them. The series will work its way through:

  1. Why Jesus performed miracles.
  2. More Reasons
  3. His Authority Over Disease
  4. His Authority Over Satan
  5. His Authority Over Death
  6. His Authority Over Nature
  7. His Authority Delegated to His Disciples
  8. His Authority Delegated to His Church

You can get to any of the available lessons by clicking on the lesson title. If nothing happens you are either already at the lesson, or I have not written it yet.

Jesus' Miracles and His Authority

Jesus proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. As its King, we would expect Him to rule. On earth He spoke and taught as one who had authority, and thus could command and expect obedience from His subjects. 

His miracles, however, demonstrated that His authority extended beyond the rule of citizens. In each of the next sections, I will provide several stories from the gospels and then add my comments

His Authority Delegated to His Church

Not Just for the Apostles

Jesus delegated authority to His disciples so that they could heal the sick and deliver people from demons. We know that they were successful both before and after the resurrection of Jesus. The question arises whether the authority that He delegated was only to the apostles or to the church at large. It is a question complicated by the fact that the source of healings, deliverance, and miracles remains in the hands of the Father. It is by His will and bidding that we accomplish anything. Also the Holy Spirit distributes His gifts "as he decides" (1 Corinthians 12:11,  The Net Bible). Finally the issue of faith and experience come into play. This is one area where the church tends to teach experience, and our experience is that miracles are not in play.

There is a section in Paul's letter to the Galatians that contains a well hidden nugget along these lines. I find it interesting, because theologians for centuries have seen great and important truths, but somehow this nugget never surfaces:

You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? Have you suffered so many things for nothing? —if indeed it was for nothing. Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard? (Galatians 3:1-5)

This is a great passage on the role of faith in our salvation and walk. Paul asks, "did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what your heard?" This is totally in keeping with Paul's admonition to the Galatian believers not to come under the Jewish religious system, but to understand that our life is a life of faith in Jesus the Messiah. But note these words, "Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you...?" This indicates that miracles were a part of the life of faith in the early years of the church. It would seem that miracles were normal.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul suggests that miracles are part of communicating the gospel to the world:

So I boast in Christ Jesus about the things that pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15:17-19)

To bring about the "obedience of the Gentiles," Paul, through Jesus the Messiah, used

  • "word and deed" that is preaching and good works.
  • "signs and wonders" to demonstrate the kingdom of God on earth and to show God's mercy and compassion.
  • "power of the Spirit of God" to change the hearts of men and yield the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

It is significant that "signs and wonders" are in this list. Very often the working of a miracle opened entire communities to the gospel message (e.g. Acts 9:26-43. Also note that Peter raised Tabitha from the dead in the same manner that Jesus did).

The presence or absence of gifts is according to the gifting of the Holy Spirit:

Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. For one is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing to each person as he decides, who produces all these things. (1 Corinthians 14:4-11)

Perhaps the case could be made that the miracle works the apostles died with them, but the above passage is not about the works of the apostles, but rather the gifts of the Holy Spirit for "the benefit of all." There is no indication in the scriptures that the Holy Spirit now withholds the miraculous gifts in this list. Why would they not still be useful for building up the body? Dan Wallace, professor of Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary, has this criticism of cessationist evangelicals:

At the same time, the problem with non-charismatics is that although they claim that God can heal, they act as if he won't. I don't really think they believe in God's ability--they don't really believe that God can heal. Thus, the problem with charismatics is a denial of God's sovereignty; the problem with non-charismatics is a denial of God's ability or goodness or both. (The Uneasy Conscience of a Non-Charismatic Evangelical)

God's miracles are an expression of His love and mercy and sovereignty. Whether a miracle occurs or not is His prerogative. On the other hand, the gospels tell us that our lack of faith will inhibit God's ability to heal. Let us learn not to rely on experience, but to trust His word.

John Wimber, who saw a significant healing ministry arise in the Vineyard churches, recounts the history of the first healing that he saw. He had been having altar calls for healing for over a year, and no one was healed. Yet he persisted Sunday after Sunday even after half the church left for other bodies. His persistence paid off and healing then flowed in abundance and changed the face of the church in the world.

It only takes compassion and faith to ask God to heal someone. You do not have to change the tone in your voice or say great words. Not an ounce of your effort will make a difference. Just as not everyone responds to the gospel, not everyone is healed. But if no one shares the gospel, no one will be saved. If no one prays for the sick, no one will be healed.

Tuesday: Church Journey

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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