Hebrews 2:4 (NLT)
And God confirmed the message
by giving signs and wonders
and various miracles.
What is a miracle?
- A rare and good event
- Something only God can do
- Over-rated and passé
There are people who find a miracle in every good thing. And others who offer a rational reason for every unusual thing. Let’s see what the book of Acts tells us about miracles.
We’ll start with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now that’s something that can’t be explained by natural law. Surely it is the work of a divine hand.
Acts 2:1-6 (NIV)
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
Our apostolic friends are in Jerusalem waiting, as Christ instructed:
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Waiting, obediently. But for what? It is a “you’ll know it when you see it” miraculous moment. They hear the wind, see the fire and speak the unknown. This isn’t a private event. A crowd gathers. And each one hears their own language.
This miracle isn’t just for the waiting disciples. It is a miracle for the world. Angels announced the earthly birth of God’s Son. Earthly beings announce coming of the Spirit. The shepherds couldn’t explain away the angels’ words. The crowd cannot explain away the apostles’ words.
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
The excuse itself requires a miracle—folks never get smarter as they get drunker.
Continuing in Acts:
. . . people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
The apostles teach and heal . . . just like Jesus.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
Prison doors miraculously open in Acts, first for a group of apostles:
But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.
In Acts 12, an angel leads Peter out of prison, and an earthquake shakes open the jail doors for Paul and Silas in Acts 16 – proving that God doesn’t work the same way every time.
God sends Philip to the Ethiopian and, mission accomplished, whisks him away.
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.
And the eunuch packs up his new-found faith and carries the Church to Ethiopia.
Miracles do good, right? It depends on which side of the miracle you’re on.
On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Not good if you’re the likes of Herod. But a boon to the Church.
But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed.
Paul used the miraculous technique on Elymas that worked on him (later in Acts, Paul describes his experience).
My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
Perhaps Elymas eventually “sees the light,” like Saul-to-Paul. Sorcerer-to-believer? Possibly. Acts doesn’t tell. The proconsul believes, that we know.
The miracle of tongues is repeated, for a surprisingly different audience.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
God is building his Church among the Gentiles (good for us!), and he doesn’t want his circumcised (Jewish) believers’ preconceived notions getting in the way. So he provides a miracle. This gift of tongues seems directed more at the hearers than the speakers.
“Miracles are the swaddling clothes
of infant churches.”
Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)
Some claim that God no longer uses miracles to build his Church. Clearly, he used miracles to build his Church in the time of the Apostles. Why not now?
Also in Acts is the story of young Eutychus, who fell asleep while Paul preached. He fell from his windowsill seat to the ground below and died.
Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” . . . The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Maybe, just maybe, some miracles are simply for our comfort.
Look back to the verse from Hebrews at the start of this study: signs, wonders, miracles. From the Greek: signs, sémeion, given to confirm or authenticate; wonders, teras, done to get a reaction from others; miracles, dunamis, able, “power through God’s ability” (http://biblehub.com/greek/1411.htm).
These events in Acts (and others we don’t have space to cover) grab the attention of onlookers (wonders) and confirm that God is behind them (signs). The Church is built by human “power through God’s ability” (miracles). It is that same power of the Spirit promised by Christ:
But you will receive power (dunamin) when the Holy Spirit comes on you.
Miracle comes from the same Greek word as dynamite. Think of a construction crew using dynamite, blasting through rock to build a highway.
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Among other things, the Church is a highway in the desert for our God.
O God, so often I stand by the wayside, afraid to take action. I forget that you promised me the dynamite of the Spirit. Use me to blast a highway to you. Use me (with or without miracles) to build your Church. Amen.
True confession: all too often, my spiritual dynamite works more like a sparkler. I start with snap, crackle and glow. But it doesn’t last. My sparks soon fizzle away, and I no longer light the darkness.