Signs and Wonders
28 Jul 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
SIGNS AND WONDERS
Of all the Gifts given by the agency of the Holy Spirit to advance the cause of God's kingdom, it is those power gifts involving signs and wonders that are seen to be the most controversial and perhaps the least understood.
And yet we read in the book of Daniel 4: 2,3 where the prophet says: "It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the most high God has performed for me. How great are His signs, how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; His dominion endures from generation to generation.'
'These sign or power gifts are [seen to be] miracles, direct revelations from God, or actions by believers so startling they call the attention of non-believers to the Christian faith… When these gifts appear, there are nearly always dramatic actions and reactions by the people involved' (Gane, 1997: 113).
One of the many reasons for their controversial nature is that they can be often confused with the myriad of counterfeits that have appeared down through history to our modern day.
This is probably one of the many reasons that people tend to downplay the miraculous because they don't wish to confuse them with those counterfeit events that have all the air of being real.
Some of the gifts that fall into this special category are listed by the Apostle Paul in the first book of Corinthians and are referred to as: prophecy, miracles, healings, exorcism, tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
Any one of these has the potential to cause a range of reactions from just a raised eyebrow to outright hostility.
So what makes them so controversial?
Well, they have a number of characteristics in common. Apart from being highly unusual, they all have a touch of the miraculous and they do not occur all that often. Throughout Biblical history, they have often been used by God to solve extra-ordinary problems, usually during periods of crisis. In doing so, they demonstrate the power of God in highly visible and often spectacular ways. They are designed to attract the attention of non-believers to the faith. However, they also have the potential for creating divisions within the Church and without.The fact that they are very easily counterfeited allows the Devil the opportunity to deceive, if possible, the very elect
Hence, we tend to be very cautious about their acceptance whenever they do appear.
However, all of these gifts need to be understood in the bigger picture of the Great Controversy. While we understand that their appearance at various times in biblical history has been extremely limited, they have appeared during those times of crisis where we find Satan deliberately challenging the God of heaven.
These were to be extra ordinary times.
It is believed that there are four distinct periods that come into focus when the issue of dramatic signs and wonders are examined. Some of these periods have already occurred and others, the Scriptures tell us, would occur in the future.
Let's look first of all at the Old Testament period
The first of these times of crisis was to occur during the time of the Exodus and the time of Joshua. It was here that we see the Great Controversy being played out between Christ and Satan in a very visible way as God's plans for the Jewish nation come to fruition.
In reference to the Exodus period, Deut 34: 10-12 tells us that '…no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders, the Lord sent him to do in Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his officials, and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.'
It is here that we see the attempts by Satan, through the court magicians, to counterfeit these miracles that were all being directed at the gods of the Egyptians. Ex 7: 22 says that '…the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh's heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron just as the Lord had said.
After the death of Moses, it was Joshua who was given the task of leading the people in the conquest of Canaan. Because this undertaking was central to God's plan for the Israelite people, signs and wonders attended them at every step.
You know these stories very well.
The first involved the Crossing of the Jordan River. The people were told in Joshua 3: 5,6 to consecrate themselves because the next day the Lord was about to do some amazing things among them.
Joshua 3: 15-16 says the Jordan was in flood during that time of the year, yet as soon as the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant touched the water with their feet, the river stopped flowing. The water piled up in a heap some distance away at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan while the water flowing to the Salt Sea was completely cut off.
Why did God perform this amazing miracle?
Joshua 4: 24 provides us with the answer. It says 'He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.'
The walled city of Jericho was the next in line to feel the amazing results of God's leading for Israel and we see this outlined in Joshua 5: 13 -15; 6: 1-27. The fact that God was involved in this miracle is without question. As Joshua nears Jericho, a man confronts him with a drawn sword in his hand and announces to him that '…as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.'
The identity of this man is without question as Joshua is commanded in Joshua 5: 15 to take off his sandals for the place where he was standing was holy ground.
The unorthodox methods used to bring about the destruction of this proud city made it very clear, as stated in Joshua 6: 27 that '…the Lord was with Joshua and his fame spread throughout the land.'
The Lord again was to enable Joshua to gain victory over his enemies when He made clear in Joshua 10: 8 that the Amorites would be given into his hands. Apart from the large hailstones that were hurled down from the sky killing more of the enemy than the Israelite swords, it was to be Joshua's request for the sun to stand still over Gibeon and the moon over the valley of Aijalon that became the highlight of the miracles performed that day. Let's read what it says in Joshua 10: 13-14.
'So the sun stood still and the moon stopped, til the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. V14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel.'
The second major period of crisis in the Old Testament was to come after Israel had settled the land of Canaan. It was to involve two men as they endeavoured, under God's instruction, to bring about the revival and rescue of the Israelite people from the depths of apostasy. Both Elijah and Elisha were called of God to re-establish the nation at this difficult time.
What were the signs and wonders that took place during this difficult period?
1 Kings 18 describes the period when Israel followed after strange gods and it was Elijah's challenge in v 37, 38 to the fire God of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel that was to bring the minds of the people back to God. While the priests of Baal failed in their attempts to bring fire from heaven, the '…fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.'
This was a major defeat for the devil's forces and laid the way open for the people to, again, follow God.
However, it was to be the translation of Elijah outlined in 2 Kings 2 that becomes the greatest miracle of all. While Moses' resurrection was to provide hope for all those who have died in Christ in a final resurrection at the end of time, the translation of Elijah was to provide that miracle of hope for those still living on the earth when Jesus comes at the second advent.
With a double portion of Elijah's spirit falling on Elisha at the time He was taken to heaven, Elisha now performs many signs and wonders which are recorded for our view in the second book of Kings. He begins with the healing of the waters (2 Kings 2: 19-22), the widows oil (2 Kings 4: 1-7), the restoration of life to the Shunammite's son (2 Kings 4: 8-37), death in the pot of stew (2 Kings 4; 38-41), Feeding the one hundred (2 Kings 4: 42-44), Namaan healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5), and the axe head that floated (2 Kings 6: 1-7).
All these miracles in 2 Kings 2-6 were designed to turn the minds of the people back to God.
The third period of crisis was to see the Great Controversy at its height during the time of Jesus and the Apostles. This was a period that Revelation Chap 12 tells us began with the Great Red Dragon (Satan) waiting to devour the child, (Jesus), as soon as He was born.
This was to be a notable period of miraculous signs and wonders as the Devil opposed Jesus in every way possible. Spiritual darkness had never been greater among the people and there was more evidence of demon possession than at any other time in Biblical history. Miracles and Healings are two of the most spectacular of the power gifts and therefore are the ones most counterfeited by Satan.
Jesus the Creator of the world had now come to confront the devil on his home ground. He was to bring healing and restoration as he directed the hearts and minds of the people to the kingdom of God.
Jesus' miracles were signs of the presence of the kingdom of God.
- He had come to reveal the true character of God and to dispel misunderstandings that had developed over generations among the Jews.
- He had come to restore in man the image of His maker.
- He had come to restore the relationship that existed before the fall.
- And to proclaim deliverance to the captives of Satan.
Miracles were one of the effective ways for this restoration and healing to take place.
Jesus believed, and He was showing us, that one of the best ways to reach a heart is to minister to an individual's physical and emotional needs.
His ministry to sick bodies and minds was designed to save souls for his kingdom.
However, Jesus was not interested in stunning men with His power, but saving men by His blood. We need to remember that the greatest of all miracles is to be seen in the transformed hearts and lives of those He came in contact with. Those Christ once raised from the dead are no longer with us. Those He healed have long been forgotten in flesh and remembered only in word. Those miracles and their immediate usefulness are now past; except for the encouragement that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hembree, 1969: 14).
After the miracle at Pentecost where the people were to hear from the disciples the wonders of God in their own tongues, Paul makes it clear that gifts such as prophecy, miracles and speaking in tongues would continue to be exercised by Christians from all walks of life. However, in his letter to the Corinthians it becomes evident, even in this early period, that many were misusing these gifts, especially that of speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14).
While addressing the crowds at Pentecost he repeats the words of Joel 2: 28, 29 which make it clear that in the last days God would again pour out His Spirit on all people (Acts 2: 16-21). These are some of the most exciting words of Scripture as God's promises are sure.
However, after the New Testament period signs and wonders became less common. Sadly from the time of the Apostles to our day the Church has experienced some of its blackest hours as men have emphasised the spectacular to the neglect of the fruits of the Spirit. Jesus echoed the sentiments of this age in Matt 12: 39 when He says, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign…' Wars were carried out in the name of the Cross and many put to death because they would not comply with the teachings of the medieval church that dominated most of this period of history.
Though, the day of miracles is not past. The fourth period of crisis has already dawned and we can expect signs and wonders to increase in intensity. However, Mathew 24: 24 was to record the words of Jesus that warn, '…For there shall arise false Christ's, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.'
The influence of counterfeit signs and wonders in our modern day can be seen in the tragedy that overtook the Russian Empire just after the turn of the twentieth century in 1907. The events that took place at this time were literally to change the course of world history.
A little boy called Grigori Yefimovich was born into the home of a Siberian peasant family in 1872. No one at that time would have realized the harmful influence that this one life was to eventually have on the Royal house of Russia.
In his middle thirties Rasputin, as he later became known, joined a religious sect that was to lead him to St. Petersburg, now known today as Leningrad. It was in this city that he was introduced to Tsar Nicholas II and his German wife Federovna. This introduction was made for the purpose of providing healing for their son who suffered from haemophilia (a disease of the blood where it doesn't clot). After many years of anxious waiting the Royal couple had now produced a son and heir to the Russian throne, but it seemed that death was stalking every footstep and it seemed that the doctors could do nothing for him.
In this moment of crisis they turned to Gregori Rasputin who was seen by many in the royal court as a mystic with questionable credentials. Later to be known as the mad monk of Russia, Rasputin prayed for the boy with some remarkable results. Each time he prayed there would be a marked improvement. Even today doctors are at a loss to explain how these healings took place.
This mysterious ability to heal her son was enough to convince Alexandra that Rasputin, whatever people said of him, must have been sent by God. In her mind he was the answer to her fervent prayers for God to save her son
It came to the place where Rasputin warned the parents that the boy would only live as long as they listened to him. His power over the Royal family is a matter of record and became so great that, with a word, he could obtain the appointment or dismissal of any government official on the basis of their attitude toward himself.
Consequently the whole Russian government reeled under the unwise counsel of this very evil man. Seeds of revolution that were planted and watered with discontent were to result in the eventual murder of the royal family and brought the nation to the brink of civil war. While a group of high nobles assassinated this selfish dissolute monk prior to these final events, they were not able to save the Empire. It was the downfall of the Russian Empire that was to prepare the way for a communist takeover in what is now known in history texts as the February Revolution of 1917 (Hembree, 1969: 11, 12; Nault, 1988: 147).
People in every age have always been impressed with miracles and with those who carry them out. In the case of the Tsar and Tsarina, we can readily identify with their heartbreaking position and forgive them for their tragic mistake. However, when evaluating the situation in the cold light of history it is easy to see the great tragedy that was wrought on the world because of their acceptance of the outward appearance (Hembree, 1969: 12).
It is interesting that Matthew in Matt 7: 20 was not saying to look for great signs, wonders, miracles or the spectacular, but he is saying here that men will be judged by what they are, not what they do. 'Wherefore', he says, ''by their fruits ye shall know them.'
This is not to diminish the miracles of God or the gifts of the Spirit. God will continue to use them to His advantage to bring about His ultimate purpose. We know that the gifts of the Spirit remain in the church until Jesus returns.
However, the deceptions of the enemy will also continue and will be ones that will appeal on the basis of our senses. We will see the miraculous. The sick will be healed, and many undeniable wonders will be performed.
'So closely will the counterfeit resemble the true that it will be impossible to distinguish between them except by the Holy Scriptures. By their testimony every statement and every miracle must be tested' (Vendon, 1976: 15). We must be so fortified by God's word that these deceptions will not be accepted as genuine (Ibid: 19).
Isaiah 8: 20 makes very clear that 'If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.' By their fruits you will know them.
My challenge this morning is to encourage you to fortify your minds with God's Word. There is no other standard by which to test the character than the law of God and we, ourselves, must also be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. It is imperative that the Lord be made a part of our lives.
However, we are further given that wonderful assurance in Revelation 3: 10 where we will find in the God of truth a sure defence. 'Because thou hast kept my word, I will also keep thee.'
Gane, E. R. (Ed) (1997) Spiritual Gifts: Keys to Ministry. Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Co.
Hembree, C. R. (1969) Fruits of the Spirit. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Co.
Nault W. H. (Ed) (1988) World Book Encyclopedia. World Book Inc: USA
Venden, M. L. (1976) The Holy Spirit and Modern Revivals. USA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
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