Signs and Wonders

Jesus, the apostle of our faith, used the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit to grab people’s attention. In the 4th chapter of John’s Gospel we see Jesus using a Word of Knowledge to witness to the woman at the well. As a result of this “sign and wonder” she goes back into the village and tells everyone about Him. He then has an opportunity to speak to the whole village about the Kingdom of God (John 4:5-42). The gifts of the Holy Spirit can still help open people’s hearts today.

In the New Testament it talks about the “signs of an apostle” and thus the signs that will follow apostolic people who obey the command to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Although apostles were known as “miracles workers,” Paul made it clear that those involved in apostolic ministry should expect to see evidence of the power of God. “The signs of the true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance by signs and wonders and miracles.” (2 Corinthians 12:12 NASB). Supernatural manifestations (the gifts of the Holy Spirit – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) are not the only signs of an apostle, but Paul clearly considered them to be very valuable. So should we today.

Realizing that he would not be able to fulfill his ministry by virtue of superior intelligence or the ability to preach eloquently, Paul told the Corinthians, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). He was endeavoring to lay a true apostolic foundation in the churches, and he understood that this must be based on the power of God rather than human wisdom or persuasiveness.

Miralces are an important component of apostolic evangelism, but much of the Church still is not experiencing this aspect of apostolic ministry on a regular basis if at all. The reason we are not seeing miracles on a regular and consistent basis is that the Church has a very materialistic rather than a supernatural worldview. We also often lack the desperation and child-like faith found in those areas of the world where miracles, signs, and wonders occur on a regular and consistent basis. However, at a time when the devil is unleashing his perverted miracles as never before, it is crucial for the Church to regain its supernatural edge.

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From the “Psychic Friends Network” to occult elements in kids’ books, games, cartoons, and movies, there is a rising level of demonic influence in our society. In light of this, it is more important for apostolic evangelism to include the supernatural. At times this may mean direct spiritual warfare against satanic powers as we are seeing in many parts of the world today.

Now, I am aware we can become so focused on spiritual warfare that we actually neglect to do actual evangelism. But, the Bible clearly connects salvation and spiritual warfare: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV). If Satan is responsible for the spiritual blindness of unbelievers, we will have to do battle against him, at times, in order for people to see the Gospel. Again, the emphasis is on evangelism and spiritual warfare is simply a small but important part of the picture and must never become the main focus.

Deliverance, healing, and other miracles often have a widespread “ripple effect,” affecting many more people than just the one who received the miracle. An interview of David Adney in Christianity Today provided the following explanation about the explosive growth of Christianity in China:
“The most basic form of evangelism is through personal friendships in which the gospel is shared with relatives and neighbors. The testimony of answered prayer, especially in healing the sick, has led many to faith in Christ. In one of the large labor camps, a demented woman, whom no doctor or psychiatrist had been able to help, was placed in the same room as a Christian sister. As a result of the Christian’s loving care and prayer, the woman was completely healed. The whole came realized that a living God had acted. In one area where there were 4,000 Christians before the revolution, the number has now increased to 90,000, with a thousand meeting places.

The next time you encounter someone who is “demented,” consider the ripple effect you could have when you successfully cast out the demons.

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As with any issue of the Christian life, our primary model should be the life of Jesus. The same remains true with apostolic evangelism and the area of miracles, signs, and wonders. Look at the impact of His “power evangelism” ministry: “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various kinds of diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him…” (Matthew 4:23-25, emphasis added)

Jesus said we would do the same works as He did (John 14:12), and I believe that this will be a vital key for reaching “great multitudes” agains today. In many countries of the world there has already been a dramatic increase in signs and wonders, and the kingdom of God is rapidly expanding as a result.

In October of 1998, evangelist Rusty Russell held an evangelistic meeting in a hotel in Indonesia. One of those he prayed for was a Muslim man who was deaf in both ears. The man was also nearly mute, only able to make unintelligible noises. As Russell prayed, the man’s ears opened, and he began to shout “Praise The Lord!” About 50 people came forward to receive Christ that night.

A few months later Russell was in another city of Indonesia for a student conference and went to check in at his hotel. “Are you Rusty Russell?” the hotel manager asked him.

“Yes, I am,” Russell replied, “but how did you know my name? I’ve never been in your hotel before.”

“Two months ago I was the manager of the motel where you were staying in Semarang,” he explained. “I heard your message, and it was okay. But when I saw that deal man’s ears suddenly open, I knew I needed your Jesus. I repented of my sins and asked Jesus to live in me.” The hotel manager went on to explain that he had been a faithful Muslim all of his life but now was actively trying to reach the rest of his family with the Gospel.

Note the important part in the story…The hotel manager told Rusty that his preaching was just okay but what really got his attention was the miracle healing. Let’s face it: Most people could hear thousands of our sermons without being impacted as must as they would be by just one genuine miracle.

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We are looking at signs and wonders, miracles and healings, deliverances and the raising of the dead – the need for the supernatural when we are speaking to others about Jesus and His resurrection from the dead.

A few years ago an evangelism team went to Scotland to share the good news of Jesus. Some members of the team witnessed to a young man named Chris Harrison, a drug dealer who was very skeptical about God. Several people tried sharing the Gospel with him, but he would always change the subject and talk about some other religion or philosophy that he had heard about.

Finally one of the Christians asked the young man, “What would it take for you to believe God really loves you?”

The man had a ready answer: “My sister s seriously diabetic, and the doctors have said that in a year she will be completely blind. If your God is a God of love, let’s see what He can do about that!”

Only hours later his sister, Nicola, was across town in a tent crusade, where some of the other evangelism team members were praying for her healing. Her diabetes and her eyes were completely healed, leaving her brother Chris with no alternative but to acknowledge that God had given him the very miracle he requested. Although the Christians were unable to convince him by theological arguments, God intervened with a persuasive miracle.

A missionary in Belize recently prayed for an 11-year-old girl named Aisha who had a badly swollen leg, caused by a painful staph infection. There was no immediate healing, but the missionary told the girl that Jesus would come and touch her that night.

Sure enough, Jesus appeared to Aisha.He was dressed in a shinning white robe. He sat down on her bed, moved her teddy bear, and kissed her foot. Aisha was instantly healed! She got up to tell her sisters and started dancing on the leg she could hardly even walk on before. Her sisters were so scared by her account that one hid under the ned covers and the other hid under the bed. It was an experience none of them would ever forget.

Apostolic evangelism goes beyond talk to demonstration. According to Paul, the apostle, “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). Few people today will be won by persuasive words alone. Tired of our talk and bored with our theology, they are looking for evidence of the God who transcends our rationalistic and materialistic world.

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We are looking at signs and wonders, miracles and healings, deliverances and the raising of the dead – the need for the supernatural when we are speaking to others about Jesus and His resurrection from the dead.

We saw that apostolic evangelism goes beyond talk to demonstration. According to Paul, the apostle, “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). Few people today will be won by persuasive words alone. Tired of our talk and bored with our theology, they are looking for evidence of the God who transcends our rationalistic and materialistic world.

It must have been similar in Jesus’ day. The multitudes didn’t show much enthusiasm for the synagogue meetings conducted by the scribes and Pharisees. Even though the Word of God was taught and the standard prayers were said, most people realized there was little reality or authority behind all the religious talk.

The Gospels are clear that more people were drawn to Jesus’ miracles than to His messages. As John chapter 6 begins, “…a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased? (verse 2). Soon the crowd had swelled to more thyan 5,000 people and the miracles continued.

Next, Jesus amazed the crowd even further by feeding them all with only five barley loaves and two fish. He was not just doing “miracles for miracles’ sake,” but each supernatural event was an illustration of the Father’s love. Jesus was communicating His message not only in word but in deed. He not only gave people a Gospel they could hear, He gave them something they could see. The people became so excited that they proclaimed Jesus a great prophet and then tried to take Him by force and make Him king (John 6:14-15).

Can your Gospel be seen as well as heard? Are you able to demonstrate both the compassion and the power of Christ? Can you show people a living Savior, or must you just point to miraclesHe did many centuries ago? These questions will be crucial to the success of our evangelistic efforts in the years ahead.

Apostolic evangelism goes beyond talk to demonstration. According to Paul, the apostle, “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). Few people today will be won by persuasive words alone. Tired of our talk and bored with our theology, they are looking for evidence of the God who transcends our rationalistic and materialistic world.

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We have been looking at the role of signs and wonders in reaching out to the lost and making disciples. Apostles, and thus apostolic people, move in a calling and empowerment that brings about signs and wonders both to initially get a person’s attention as well as to confirm the words being spoken and the message being shared.

As vital as signs and wonders are for successful evangelism, John chapter six also includes a sobering warning. Although the chapter begins with great crowds and triumph, it ends on a far different note. Midway through the chapter, Jesus starts to challenge the multitude that the time for real commitment has come. Instead o remaining a crowd of freeloading miracle-seekers, they must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53-57).

How do people respond to Jesus’ message of total commitment? “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66). How would the sight of these mass defections affect Jesus’ original twelve disciples? Would they question their own dedication in light of Jesus’ sudden unpopularity? “Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:67-68). Despite Peter’s affirmation of the disciples’ unwavering commitment, the chapter ends with the tragic statement that Judas, one of the twelve, would ultimately betray Jesus.

John Chapter 6 describes a pivotal decision in Jesus’ ministry: He would build His Church around eleven dedicated followers rather than 5,000 people who were looking only for a good show and a free lunc. This is, in fact, one of the crucial “apostolic decisions” that every believer and Christian leaders must face: What kind of people will we build our ministry around and what kind of people do we want to invest time in discipling?

We need to understand the central paradox in John chapter 6. On the one hand, great crowds were attracted by Jesus’ signs and wonders; on the other hand, most of these people turned out to be fair-weather followers, who quickly disappeared when confronted by the call for true discipleship. So what are we to think and conclude? Is it therefore a waste of time to seek God’s power in order to draw people into the Kingdom? Or should we go the other direction, watering down Jesus’ call to full commitment because it hinders Church growth?

We need to be challenged by both sides of this apparent dilemma:

>> God wants to reveal His miracle-working power in every church today, drawing multitudes to come and see Him work

>> Churches that are experiencing the supernatural and attracting large crowds must honestly ask themselves whether they have taken the next step: presenting the cost of discipleship. If your church (ministry, personal outreach to the lost) is only portraying God as the “God of the goodies,” you may well have a lot of people – but you are deceiving yourself if you thing they are really committed, true disciples of Jesus.

HERE’S MY POINT: True apostolic evangelism combines miralces and discipleship, realizing that both are crucial to the growth and stability of the Church. Apostolic evangelism isn’t impressed by big crowds alone but inquires about the maturity and depth of commitment in the lives of the people. It realizes that the evangelism process isn’t finished until individuals have been built together as a healthy spiritual body.

One of my mentors, many years ago, told me that it was easy to gather a crowd or to have a circus but difficult to build a church. That has proven to be true in my life and ministry many times over the 30 years since I first heard it.

many Charismatics and Pentecostal-type Christians today have been gripped by a potential fatal disease: “miraculitis.” Like the children of Israel, we have seen God’s mighty acts but have not learned His ways (Psalm 103:7). We have received the message of the resurrection and Pentecost but have somehow bypassed the message of the cross: denying ourselves.

Christians infected by miraculitis do indeed look spiritual when they lift up their hands in worship, but don’t dare challenge them about their selfishness, pride, and lack of accountability to other Christians. And don’t risk offending them by mentioning your concern about their worldly lifestyles or habits of attending meetings only when convenient. Likewise, you will probably be disappointed if you expect them to give back to God even a tenth of their income, for this isn’t the ral church – it’s merely an audience.

God not only wants to do miracles among us, He wants to show us more miracles than we have ever seen before. But He doesn’t want us to live on miracles alone. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had the right idea about expecting God’s supernatural intervention. They told King Nebuchadnezzar that their God was able to save them from the fiery furnace, but they were committed to serve Him even if He DIDN’T do a miracle and rescue them. Their hope was in The Lord Himself, not just in getting what they wanted.

Christians and Christian leaders today should be wary concerning the fickleness of miracle-seeking multitudes. Jesus preached to the crowds, but He entrusted Himself to only a few. The reason He was careful about entrusting Himself to people was “He knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). He knew that the multitudes could change directions as quickly as the wind, as they later did in the few days between shouting “hosanna” and then “crucify Him.”

Paul, an apostle, felt the brunt of a miraculitis crowd when preaching in Lystra (Acts 14:8-20). After dramatically healing a lame man, Paul and Barnabas had to rebuke the crowds for worshipping them as gods. Yet, only a short time later, the same people turned around and stronded Paul. The “worshippers” had changed their minds!

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People ask me all the time – “How come we don’t see miracles, signs and wonders in our services?” The answer is not complicated. God wants to arise and do mighty miracles in His Church today. However, this will happen not so much because we have sought after miracles or sought to attract crowds – but we have sought Him. If we truly find Jesus, we will find miracles too. Crowds will again come to seek out the mighty miracle-working Jesus who lives within us by His Spirit.

What will we do with the multitudes when they begin to come? Will we treat them to a spectacular combination of supernatural and showmanship, telling them they can have God’s best and still hang on to their self-centered lives? Or will we tell them the truth about eating Jesus’s flesh and drinking His blood – the truth that only those willing to lose their lives will find them!

As The Lord restores apostolic evangelism to the Church, His Church, we will have an exciting opportunity to proclaim and practice both the power of God and the message of discipleship. Instead of reaping a harvest of shallow, self-absorbed “converts”, we will once gain produce a generation of world-changing disciples.

Note: Our next blog will begin to look at apostolic outreach – the work of “missions” that every local church, if they are apostolic in nature, should be considering.

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