The Centrality of The Resurrection
In part two of our series on the centrality of the Resurrection we saw how the apostle Peter used the Resurrection as the centrality of his argument for the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1-38). As we move on in the book of Acts to the third chapter, we find the apostle Peter and John speaking the message of Christ to a multitude of people.
However, before looking at that sermon we need to talk a little bit about the miraculous. It seems that modern man has a hard time believing in the miraculous. The question is, why? I think one of the reasons is because that modern men compare modern-day miracles with those in the Bible, thinking that they are the same. The reason for this is their lack of scriptural knowledge and the assumption that the word miracle is used today as it was in biblical times. When you begin to study the subject of miracles in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, you begin to see a clear distinction between modern-day miracles and the miracles of the Bible. The clearest distinctions are is that in the New Testament the miracles which were attributed to Jesus were never questioned as to their authenticity, as miracles are today. The closest thing to challenging the miracles of Jesus was when the religious leaders made the charge that he performed miracles through the power of the devil and not God. However their accusations, in this there was no denial that he was not performing miracles. Another difference was that the miracles done by Jesus and the apostles were complete. There were no partial healings and the majority of the miracles were done in public. I mean that they were wonders that were accomplished right before your eyes. They were not vague demonstrations of the miraculous like curing an unseen cancer or tumor, nor could they be explained by the natural healing processes.
Let me summarize the difference by pointing out that in the first century Jesus and the apostles proved their words by their miracles. Today, men try to prove their miracles by their words. Because of this, their words seemed to be somewhat hollow and lacking a ring of truth. Why the difference? The difference is seen in their purpose. Modern day miracles, if that is the right word to refer to them by, seem to be for the purpose of comforting the afflicted. Now there’s nothing wrong with comforting the sick and afflicted. However, I do not believe that comforting the afflicted was the main purpose of the miracles of Jesus and the apostles. Their miracles were performed to confirm their authority and the authority of their message. The writer of the book of Hebrews infers this when he says, “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb 2:3-4). Here the writer says that the apostles confirmed their witness of the Lordship of Jesus to the early church and the world by their miracles.
In the gospel of Mark chapter, two we find the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man who could not walk. However, when the man was brought to Jesus for healing, Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven. The story tells us that some of the lawyers of the law who were sitting there heard statement and challenged his authority to forgive sins. In response to their challenge Jesus said to them “but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins… he said to the paralytic. I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” When the onlookers saw the man get up and walk the Bible says that they were all amazed, and they praised God, saying, we have never seen anything like this! Here again, we see the same pattern. The miracles were done to establish the authority of the speaker; in this case it was Christ.
Why do we not have miracle workers today like Jesus and the apostles? Well, it’s quite obvious; Jesus went back to heaven and the apostles and those that were given the gift of working affirmation miracles died out. The early fathers of the Church in the second century seem to indicate that in their lifetime, there were fewer and fewer authoritative and verification miracles. This seems to indicate that these kinds of miracles were limited to the first century and the early part of the second century. This is in keeping with the fact that God, throughout history, has been a God that hides himself and only reveals himself miraculously in certain periods of time, and to special people (Isa 45:15). When the kingdom draws close, and is present in certain people, then the miraculous becomes more frequent. Jesus said the kingdom of God is near, and he also said that the kingdom was present in him. The word ‘kingdom’ is a symbol that stands for the authority and rule of God. So Jesus was saying that the rule and authority of God were present in Him, and his authority and power were being confirmed by the miracles that he performed.
Some may be asking why are verification miracles not happening today? Let me give you a number of answers which may explain why we don’t see these kinds of miracles today. Any one of the explanations is sufficient to answer the question. It could be that a lack of true faith mighty be a hindrance to God working miracles today, just as it was sometimes in the first century. Jesus said a “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But, none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”. Many have misunderstood the words of Jesus in this passage believing that Jesus was talking about the actual resurrection. However, if that was the case he would be contradicting himself, because the resurrection was the miracle of miracles. What he was talking about was that the only thing which the people of that faithless generation would see is the presence of the son of God. In other words, you cannot kill the truth, for God will resurrect it. Even as he rescued Jonah from the ocean, He rescued his son from the grave. Today we have a similar situation; we live in an adulterous unbelieving generation. The only sign unbelievers will receive is the presence of the Son of Man, in his Body, called the Church.
It is also self-evident to those that know the overall context of the Scriptures and the history of God’s people that God never intended for his people to live on a mike and toast diet of miracles. The Scriptures are clear that we live by faith not by sight. Those who are constantly looking for miracles are immature and carnal, they need to grow up and learn how to live by faith. The history of God’s people demonstrates that there had always been long periods of time where there were no miracles (Judges 6:13). In fact, if miracles were commonplace and frequent they would no longer be miracles. The word miracle itself means something that is out of the ordinary and supernatural. When you make miracles normal or daily you destroy the meaning of the word.
We also need to remember that miracles were signs to the unbelieving people of God, not to unbelievers in general. Signs and miracles were to confirm the word not to people in general, but mainly to the Jewish nation (I Cor. 14:18-25). The apostles and the prophets of the first-century church confirmed the word to the nation of Israel by signs and wonders and miracles. If this is true, then their purpose has been fulfilled, and in being fulfilled they are no longer needed for that purpose.
¶When the apostle Paul spoke to the Greek philosophers in Athens he did not work any miracles to confirm his word, but rather, he reasoned with them from their own authors and personally bore witness to his experience with Jesus (Acts 19:23-41). I believe this is evidence that the confirmation miracles were mainly for believers (mainly Jews) and not for Gentiles. However, there are exceptions for example; the story of Cornelius in the book of Acts in the 10th and 11th chapters. But even there Cornelius was a Gentile convert to Judaism and was a believer before he heard the gospel. Then there is a man who was crippled from birth listening to Paul preach at Lystra in the Book of Acts. Even there it says that the crippled man had faith; he was not an unbeliever (Acts 14:9). In that chapter of Acts, we may see the reason for God limiting signs to believers. It is clear from this particular chapter that pagans were prone to worship those who were performing the miracles. So working miracles for unbelievers would’ve been confusing for them and counterproductive in the preaching of the Gospel (Acts 14:11-18). In contrast, the Jewish people understood the purpose of miracles, that purpose was to confirm God’s word (Deut. 18:21, 22). In fact, the Jews expected anyone claiming to be speaking for God to prove their words by miracles. Paul said that “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified:” (1 Cor. 1:22). Paul understood that the power of God is not in the miraculous or human reason but rather in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A lesson that sign seeking Christians need to learn.
This raises the question; does God need to confirm his word to every person in every generation to create faith? No. The main purpose of the signs, wonders and miracles were to confirm and establish a body of knowledge that God’s people would look to as authoritative. That body of knowledge was formed by God through his providence by creating the New Testament Scriptures through the work of Christ, his apostles and the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures have forever been confirmed to the believer and are sufficient to create faith in those that are truly seeking God (John 20:30, 31). The reason for this is because Jesus put his Spirit in his word and when one believes the word, the Spirit is imparted to them by the word of God. The spirit that is born by the word creates the life of God. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63 also note 1Tim 3:16).
In the Gospel of Luke we have a further confirmation of what I have been articulating. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, you have the rich man asking father Abraham to send Lazarus back to his five brother’s that they might become believers. He seemed to think that a miracle of someone coming back from the dead would persuade them to believe. Abraham responded by saying to him that “they have Moses and the prophets” in other words, the Scriptures. However, the rich man continued to insist that they would believe if a dead man appeared to them. In response, Abraham tells the rich man, “if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:27-31). This appears to confirm what I’ve been saying; that miracles in themselves do not create faith and their purpose never has been to create faith. Their purpose was to confirm the word of God’s and create a body of knowledge for future generations to believe through all time.
It is interesting to note that all miracles spoken about happening after the death of the apostles and prophets of the first-century church are worked by the antichrist and the false prophet spoken about in the books of First Thessalonians and the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:9-11, Rev 16:13-14). This alone should cause people to be skeptical about modern-day miracles and the men who claim to perform them.
All this has been said about miracles, to demonstrate the fact that an intelligent person can question and not believe in the so-called signs and miracles of modern-day religion, and still believe in the miracle of the Resurrection and other New Testament miracles. It is also important to know that the author believes that God is still actively working in his creation, healing the sick and comforting the afflicted. However, His work today is hidden and can only be seen with the eyes of faith. In this way, God confirms his existence and faithfulness to the faithful and hides himself from the unbelievers. Our ancestors called this the providence of God and believed that God was absolutely in control, but worked behind the veil to accomplish his will.
To be continued
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.