ACTS 14:1-3: “The same thing happened in Iconium. Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. Some of the Jews, however, spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders.” NLT
OBSERVATION: Whatever happened to signs and wonders? As you read the Book of Acts you see a regular flow of the miraculous in the life and ministry of the apostles and early disciples. They seemed to live and flow in a continual stream of the Holy Spirit’s anointing.
What was their secret?
This is a trick question. It assumes that the early disciples possessed something that we do not have today. Did they have more faith? Were they simply closer to the miraculous ministry of Jesus Christ? What was it that differentiated their life and ministry from ours?
Some teach that this outflow of signs and wonders ceased after the first century once the canon of Scripture was established. However, church history, both past, and current do not support this view. All one has to do is hear the testimony of missionaries overseas to discover that God is still performing signs and wonders in the world today. Why does it seem to be so different in the western world?
As I wrestle with this question I suspect there are two dynamics at play. While this is not exhaustive by any means, we can glean these two dynamics from this text in Acts and our personal experience.
- The first is we have abandoned our mission.
- The second is we have begun trusting in everything else but the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.
What is our mission? Someone has put this question in a different format. Is the church a luxury cruise boat or an aircraft carrier? A luxury cruiser offers all the amenities of comfort and entertainment known to man. Its main objective is to entertain the passengers on board. The boat is full and there is no urgency to add new passengers.
An aircraft carrier is on a mission. It is not worried about the comfort of those on board. It is concerned only about one thing – fulfilling its objective. The crew onboard are focused on ensuring that the pilots reach their destination and fulfill their mission. Everyone is focused on the same mission.
What is our mission? Is it to provide programs, entertainment, and comfort to the members of our church, or is it to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is our church a luxury cruise boat or an aircraft carrier? Is our ministry marked more by our outreach to the unsaved and unchurched or by our programs for the members who sit in comfort on our padded chairs and pews?
Is there room in our ship for the lost, discouraged, and disenfranchised?
The second factor is our utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit. We seem to forget Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John.
- “But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.” John 16:7-11 NLT
We must remember who does the work in human hearts. Our call is to proclaim the Good News of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts men and women of their sin, teaches them to walk in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and manifests His power over the enemy through signs and wonders. This is exactly what Jesus promised and what was happening in the Book of Acts.
- “And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.” Mark 16:15-18 NLT
- “And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.” Mark 16:20 NLT
This is exactly what was happening in the Book of Acts. The disciples were not holding “Healing Meetings.” They were not advertising a “Miracle Service.” They were focused on one thing and one thing only. They were going into all the world to preach the Good News to everyone. This is what Jesus had commanded and this is what they were doing. And, as they did this, the Holy Spirit did what He alone can do – “…and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.”
- “But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them the power to do miraculous signs and wonders.”
It was never the apostles who were doing the miracles. It was the Lord, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, proving their message through signs and wonders. Is it any wonder why most of the stories of signs and wonders come from missionaries on the front lines as they proclaim the Gospel to those who have never heard it?
Today, in our western culture, we live in a post-Christian world. Most people do not go to church. When they come to a crisis in life they do not even consider consulting the Bible for answers. The western world is now more of a mission field than many third-world countries. In fact, many third-world countries are now sending missionaries to us! If we can learn anything from the Book of Acts it is that we need to return to our mission and our full dependence upon the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word!
What would happen if we allowed the Holy Spirit to conduct a full and honest review of our churches and our ministries? Would He simply reshuffle the deck chairs and change the program schedule – or would He lead us in converting our cruiser into a battleship on a mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our dying cities, communities, and world?
Heavenly Father, I pray that You would move in our hearts so that when we hear Your call it will truly be – “All Hands On Deck!”
In Jesus Name!