Neither Jesus, nor the eleven apostles, nor Paul asked people simply to believe the message they proclaimed. Listen to Jesus, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (Jn 10:38). Neither He nor the early church tried to argue people into faith. They told the truth and then let people see the power of God at work. Reaching the lost was a genuine partnership: humans working with God. As they went out God accompanied them performing signs and wonders to confirm His Word (Mk 16:20). Jesus established this model of ministry and then His apostles merely continued where He left off (Portico of Solomon). And that model was so effective Christianity exploded in numbers. It only took 300 years to become the official religion of the Roman Empire. But its success became its undoing. As its political power grew it developed a rigid structure, the gospel was lost, signs and wonders ceased, people joined the church for political and financial benefit, and the passion to win the lost subsided. And as time went on it became virtually unrecognizable from the religion Jesus began. He had started a movement based on radical discipleship and the power of the Holy Spirit, and what emerged was loveless and powerless, and the damage that was done was so severe we’re still living with its repercussions.
But mercifully we have the Bible. In fact, now more than anytime in history a believer can go back and listen to Jesus speak again, they can read firsthand reports of what He did, they can watch that first wave of believers, fresh from His hands, carrying the gospel into the world. So, if anyone is willing to set aside the confusion and prejudice we’ve inherited from the past two millennia, we can return to the faith Jesus started and to the power He promised would accompany us.
What did Paul say? (Ro 15:14-19)
1) Signs: miracles that teach a spiritual truth
2) Wonders: miracles that shake our presuppositions and force us to listen to something new
How was it supposed to work?
1) Jesus set the standard
• (Jn 2:23) “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover during the Feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.”
• (Mt 8:16, 17) “When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed, and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.’”
• (Jn 11:47, 48) “…this man is performing many sings. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him…” (Lazarus).
2) Jesus passed it on
• (Jn 14:11-14) “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”
• (Jn 20:21) “…as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
• (Ac 1:8) “…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
3) The apostles heard Him clearly
• (Ac 2:38) “…Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
How did the early church respond?
• Ac 8:1-17 Philip in Samaria
• Ac 19:8-20 Paul in Ephesus
Paul would start at the synagogue and reach as many Jews as possible, then when resistance hardened, he left, taking the believing Jews with him, and ministering to the Gentile community. He preached a gospel that changed the heart of individuals. God came upon them, and into them, in power (Ga 3:1-5). He also ministered in such power people could see God at work. His preaching was confirmed by God. He didn’t work alone.
Where did the power go?
It was lost over the course of church history: ignorance, Greek philosophy, corrupt, greedy clergy, syncretism, heresy all eroded the faith Jesus had started. We calcified into a powerful political institution. We brought to Christianity our non-Jewish minds and turned it into a philosophy. We ignored the Old Testament and started guessing at what the Jewish writers in the New Testament were saying. We were embarrassed by the powerlessness of our own lives so we invented an explanation to protect our pride. We said, God stopped working in power when the last apostle died.
Where are we now?
1) Many continue to preach an inadequate gospel so church-goers become acculturated, not transformed. They remain unloving and powerless.
2) Few, even in Pentecostal churches are baptized with the Holy Spirit. The gift is given to everyone who repents and believes, but it must be received and we must learn to “walk in the Spirit.”
3) We are not being taught how to wait on the Lord and let His power come upon us afresh.
4) Few are willing to be pioneers and learn by trial and error. Growing in the things of the Spirit demands great patience and humility.
• Fragile egos: I grow angry if I pray and nothing happens
• Fragile faith: I doubt God if I pray and nothing happens
5) Ministering in the Spirit is hard work
• Long hours
• Spiritual opposition
• Love is the only reason a believer will do this for a long time
6) No area of ministry requires greater maturity. It is a very subtle line that divides the flesh from the Spirit. A person must be constantly discerning themselves and humble enough to stop the instant they realize they have shifted into the flesh. It requires complete integrity. I will only speak His word, not my own, I will only do what He leads.
7) To have this kind of ministry in a church requires pastoral maturity and courage. Church leaders must persistently avoid or correct the inevitable mistakes: inflated egos, more and bigger miracles, formulas and air-tight doctrines.
8) There is still widespread teaching against ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit. People have been taught since they were children: “These things are not for today.”
What must we do?
• Stop listening to man-made arguments against the power of God.
• Read the Word honestly.
• Ask God to teach you. Tell Him you want everything He has.
The world we face
Today, in the western world, we’re losing the battle. There are few counties in the U.S. where the number of believers is growing as a percentage of the population. People are still interested in God, but they’re not interested in religion, or they already have plenty and don’t want anymore. Our society can be reached, but not by business as usual, we must go back to the power of the Holy Spirit and let God work through us “by word and deed in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit.” Are you and I willing to let Him use us?
1) Have you ever seen a miracle? Tell us about it and how it affected you.
2) When you were young did people teach you “these things are not for today?” What changed your mind?
3) Where is God stretching you right now? Where is God pressing you to walk in the Spirit at a new level?