In my previous post, I discussed the reality and significance of God answering the early church’s prayer for boldness. In this post, we will look at another aspect of their answered prayer: their request for signs and miracles. We will see a strong relationship between God’s actions in providing such miracles, and the spiritual response of those who see them. But this is also an example of the “reflections” mentioned in an earlier post, in which the church today acts in a way reversed from the early church. Today, while we often pray for miracles within the church for our comfort, the picture in Acts is predominantly that of miracles occurring outside the church resulting in salvations. Is this significant? By looking at the passages in Acts, we can gain some insight into God’s heart for working miracles.
Last time, we looked at these two verses:
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29–30 ESV)
Part of their prayer was for healing and for signs and wonders to be performed through Jesus’ Name. Perhaps they saw a relationship between the lame beggar’s healing and the impact of Peter’s sermon (Acts 3:7-8, Acts 4:4). Certainly if they believed this, and their hearts were so broken for the lost as to pray for boldness, then they might also ask for His power again. And in fact, we can see this in the Lord’s answer:
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. (Acts 8:1–6 ESV)
In addition to God answering their prayer for boldness, He also answered their request for miracles. In this case, as Philip continued in his work, the eventual response of the people included many coming to faith (Acts 8:12). It’s as if the miracles opened the door for them to pay attention and receive the Word that Philip was speaking. In fact, this is far from the only example of such a response. Read through the set of verses listed below, and you’ll see how often a miraculous event resulted in Kingdom growth.
This relationship should not be surprising. In fact, it is exactly for this reason that John wrote about Jesus’ miracles:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31 ESV)
When the power of God is unleashed in such a manner, it points clearly to Him. *
Interestingly, it’s common today to minimize the role of miracles in bringing people to faith. Instead, our focus is on the role of miracles in bringing abundant life to those within the church. Thus, we have prayer for each other within the church, prayer for healing in services and sometimes even special healing services, and prayer rooms and ministries that are characteristically Christian. If people are saved as a result, that’s also good, but incidental. While it’s certainly true that God wants to heal today, is that really the only purpose? Looking at the passages below, it seems that God’s focus is to bring about the miraculous in order to validate the message proclaimed, and so bring people into eternal life. If lives are made more comfortable here and how, that’s also good, but incidental. After all, which is more important: life now, or life in eternity? It seems the church today has swapped these priorities. Could that have anything to do with why we don’t see miracles as they did in the early church? Interestingly enough, one of the most common reports of miracles I’ve heard of today is from the far reaches of the mission field, as if God’s priorities haven’t changed, and He’s still working miracles to bring people in.
How should we react to this observation? I think it’s a matter of individual seeking to see what role one should expect for healing in any particular situation, but one reasonable start for a fellowship could be to establish an evangelistic prayer ministry.
Imagine people committed to praying for others outside the church, and doing so in an open manner. The church can be open for prayer and people invited in, but more importantly, the church can reach out. Be available at the park on nice Saturday mornings for people to come for prayer in a non-religious setting. Or open a booth during the shopping mall’s craft fair, just for people to stop by for prayer. As God works in lives, people will be drawn to Him and want to know more. By making sure the Gospel is openly presented, the way to a relationship with God will be clear. Such an approach demonstrates a belief and faith in prayer, and produces fruit as God works, without any dependence on human efforts.
Whether such specific action makes sense or not, I think we need to allow ourselves to be challenged to echo the early church’s prayer, both for boldness and miracles. We need to let our hearts be so broken for the lost that we plead with God for their healing and provision, that they might come to know Him and His great salvation.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
Acts 2:1-3, 41
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-43, 47
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things. At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number,
Acts 5:1, 11-14
And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
Acts 3:7-8, 4:4
Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.
But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.
Acts 8:4-6, 12
Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.” Immediately he got up. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.
* Although most of the miracles in Acts were observed by those outside the church and resulted in people knowing God, a few did not. Several miracles outside the church evidenced little spiritual note from those who saw (Acts 14:3, 14:8-11, and 28:7-10). Some others occurred within the community of faith and had different reactions: the healing of Eutychus brought comfort to the disciples (Acts 20:9-12), the shaking that occurred after the prayer being considered here gave the disciples boldness by the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31), and a miraculous delivery from prison was accompanied by a command to preach the Gospel (Acts 5:17-20). But note that with these last two, the emphasis is still on proclaiming the Gospel. Only one miracle in Acts is focused on bringing comfort to the disciples.