The Miraculous Ministry of the Church

Acts 3:1-6; 5:12-16; 9:36-43

Miracles are associated with power. In 1 Corinthians 12:10, Paul lists “the working of miracles” as just one of the spiritual gifts given by the ascended to Church through the Holy Spirit. There are a total of nine spiritual gifts, and two of them seem similar, yet are different; the gift of healing and the gift of working of miracles. A lot of people equate the two but they are given as two separate and distinct gifts for the benefit of the Body of Christ. The English “miracles” is a translation of the Greek dunamis, meaning “power.” This refers to “extraordinary manifestations” that sometimes may include divine healing but generally refers to a wide range of supernatural manifestations, which could be covered under the general title: “signs and wonders.”

Miracles are always associated with power; a power beyond the normal range of human capabilities. Theologians write that the workings of miracles are literally an invasion of God into the kingdom of Satan and a sign that the sovereignty of God overrules any principality and power. In reading the New Testament, the manifestation of this gift includes things like:

  • resisting demons and the casting out of demons (Matt. 12:28)
  • the ability to afflict an unbeliever with physical symptoms (Acts 13:4-12)
  • bringing the dead back to life (Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-12)

These are just some examples of what this particular gift looks like. We will examine three instances of where this gift was exercised in the book of Acts, Luke’s second book of the history of Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

1. Acts 3:1-16, A Lame Man Walks

In the first two chapters of Acts, Luke had described the life of the Early Church in a very general way. With chapter three, he introduces one particular event that serves to illustrate the points he previously made.

It was the habit of members of the Early Church to continue the custom of participating in the Temple prayers, and this is what we find Peter and John doing. It was sometime in the middle of the afternoon when they encountered a beggar, lame from birth, being carried to the place of prayer. Albert Winn suggests this poor man was filthy, clothed in rags and covered in flies.

Peter and John had no money to give the man, but they knew he needed something far more important than mere money, and it was within their power to give this to the man. At this moment, the healing power given to the Church by Christ, her risen Lord, burst forth and the lame man is healed.

This healing is described as instantaneous. The lame man did not “recover” or “get better,” but was set right in a moment of time. The effect on the man was, to say the least, traumatic! The people who witnessed this astonishing event were “filled with wonder and amazement.” Richard Longnecker makes the excellent observation that was had taken place was a token, for those who had eyes to see, of the presence of the Messianic Age. It was also a harbinger of things to come. The prophet Isaiah wrote so long ago of a time when the lame would leap like a dear (Isaiah 35:6).

Throughout the long history of the Church, the miraculous power of God has always been demonstrated. Read the stories of Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Smith Wigglesworth and miracles stand out. In particular, miracles of healing. However, Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28 that not all believers had the gifts of healing. On his missionary journeys, Paul performed some miracles, but seemed unable to heal himself of his thorn, Epaphrus, a fellow pastor who seemed sick most of the time, and Timothy, who Paul advised to drink some wine to feel better. In short, in Paul we see how at least one spiritual gift operated. He was not able to use his spiritual gift of healing whenever, however, and on whomever, he chose.

James tells those who are sick that it is their responsibility to ask the elders of their church to pray for them. The elders are, James teaches, to come and anoint the sick person with oil and pray for them and the “prayer offered in faith will heal the sick person” (James 5:14, 15). Of course, experience tells us that sometimes the person does not get better. At times like that, God obviously has another plan in mind for that person, or He wants to strengthen our faith for His glory. The Bible teaches plainly that God answers at His time and in His own way. But no matter what the result of a prayer may be, we must always remember what He said to Paul:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

2. Acts 5:12-16, Miraculous signs and wonders

Again, Luke gives a general summary and description of the state of the Church. Scholars call this a “Lukan Summary.” This summary serves to demonstrate in dramatic fashion the signs and wonders accompanying the apostles. In fact, it appears there was such a demonstration of the supernatural swirling around the apostles at this time, that some in Jerusalem regarded them with an almost superstitious awe. They actually hoped that Peter’s shadow would heal the sick if but touched them. Even though their motives for believing were questionable, God honored the people’s earnest desire and healed them all. F.F. Bruce writes,

Peter’s shadow was as efficacious a medium a healing power as the hem of his Master’s robe had been.

This is another perfect illustration of God accommodating Himself to the limitations of man who so often need material symbols of spiritual realities.

These signs and wonders served to cause the infant Church to grow at an amazing rate. Luke began Acts with concrete figures, but by now he’s lost count, remarking simply that “more and more believers in the Lord…were being added to their number.” In fact, this church growth was so stunning that the phrase “were…added” is written in the imperfect tense, which denotes a continuous and repeated action. Of note here is the fact that Luke mentions women, a departure from the norm in literature of the day where women are never mentioned. As uncommon as it was for other writers, it was fairly common for Luke to stress the role of women in his church history.

It has been said that “faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible, and receives the impossible” and in this group of verses, we see that demonstrated. We see the relationship between miracles and the work of the Lord. What should be clear here is that the work of the Lord was not the healing of people’s bodies, but the salvation of their souls. The miracles only served to draw people to Christ.

3. Acts 9:36-43, The dead raised

The ninth chapter of Acts concerns itself, for the most part, with the conversion of Saul and subsequent career, for perhaps a dozen years. With verse 32, the story returns to Peter, the leading figure in the books of Acts, from chapters 1 to 12.

Along the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea was the ancient seaport for Jerusalem, Joppa. Joppa is a somewhat famous town in Biblical literature. Joppa served Solomon when timber was shipped by rafts from Lebanon. It was from Joppa that a prophet named Jonah boarded a ship on his mission. The Gospel was taken to Joppa by Philip, and among the many converts was a woman named Tabitha, whose friend affectionately referred to her as Dorcas. She was a disciple of Christ and commended for her acts of charity.

Verse 37 is a brief summary of life: About that time she became sick and died. This is the reality of life that not even the choicest of saints can escape. In the midst of a life of devotion to Christ and commitment to ministry, sickness visited this fine woman, followed by death. Why would the Lord cut short such a useful life? The reality of death must ever be the somber evidence of the reality and presence of sin.

Peter was about ten miles from Joppa and so the disciples there had no problem sending for him. Did they expect Peter to raise Dorcas from the dead? Perhaps, although it seems more reasonable that they just wanted some comfort and some words of wisdom as to why this happened.

When Peter arrived, nobody asked him to raise Dorcas or to perform any miracles. Previously, Jesus had, in fact, given him power to raise the dead:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:5-9)

Still, Peter sought the Lord, first sending the mourners out of the room for privacy. We don’t know what Peter prayed for, but we do know that what follows is patterned very closely after what Jesus did when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5). This suggests that Peter was asking God to raise Dorcas, so that she might continue to work for the Lord among the poor.

Having been assured of what to do, Peter confidently turned to the corpse of Dorcas, spoke directly to it, commanding it to rise. What Peter said in Acts 9:40, “Tabitha cumi” differs by one letter in the Greek from what Jesus said in Mark 5:41, “Talitha cumi.” Dorcas looked at Peter, and sat up, not only raised from the dead, but healed of the sickness that claimed her in the first place.

Kistemaker succinctly observed that the church of Jesus Christ was born in a single day, the Day of Pentecost, when, as the result of one sermon and a display of God’s power, 3,000 souls were added to the initial group of Christians. The book of Acts is really a record of the working of Christ, as the Holy Spirit, through the leaders of the church. Namely, Simon Peter and Paul are the two main players in the drama that is Acts. Simon Peter was the minister to his own people, the Jews, but was open to the possibility of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul was the missionary who took the Gospel to the Gentiles, even though he himself was a Jew. Luke records that each man raised a person from the dead. It is possible that they raised more, though we don’t have a record of that. Without a doubt, these men performed many miracles and healed many sick people and exercised what is known as the “sign gifts.” In the early church, these were the proof or evidences of an apostle. Some theologians refer to these gifts, healing and miracles, as “apostolic gifts.”

The apostle Paul teaches that the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles. This has led many scholars to conclude that, just as there are no apostles today, since the Church has been built on what they did, there is no longer a need for the “sign gifts” or “apostolic gifts.” What is needed today, they say, is not signs and wonders, but the teaching of doctrine. The apostle John, who wrote is epistles at the very close of the apostolic age, gives instructions on how to identify false teachers:

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. (2 John 9-10)

On the importance of doctrine, Paul wrote that if a man does not have correct doctrine–even if he is an angel from heave–he should be avoided:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:8)

The record shows that near the end of his career and life, Paul did not exercise the gift of healing. For example, in 2 Timothy 4:20 we read where Paul actually left Trophimus, sick, without healing him. In the early days of his ministry, whenever Paul entered a new territory with the Gospel, evidence of his calling was the “sign gifts.” But as time wore on, and the New Testament was being written and collected, the “signs and wonders” began to disappear from the work of the ministry and the emphasis shifted to the teaching of sound doctrine.

The question for believers today is whether or not the so-called “apostolic gifts” are still available. Since the gifts of God are without repentance, it is difficult to say that God will not work signs and wonders. We know, for example, that during the last days there will be signs and wonders in the heavens. However, in the day-to-day work of church, one must conclude that our emphasis must be on the Word of God and on the teaching of sound Biblical doctrine and not a reliance on signs, wonders and miracles. It is the Word of God that changes lives, not a miracle. God can do whatever He wants in His sovereignty. God heals today, but those healings rarely add anything to the church, and so they are rare in the church. I believe they are common in our personal lives, however, as they serve to comfort us and bring us closer to God.

The real miracle is not the healing of a body, but the restoration of a soul, and that is one “sign and wonder” we should desire to see continually.

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