Message # 43 | 1 Corinthians 12:28 | May 7, 2017

Introduction

Last week we took some time to consider a couple of roles or people that were gifts to the church, namely apostles and prophets. This week we will consider, in a broad manner, the miraculous or supernatural gifts given to the church.

Any discussion concerning the miraculous spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament seems to demand that one answer the question of whether or not those same gifts are to be the normal experience for today.

In answering this question it is important to clarify that the question is whether or not the supernatural spiritual gifts have ceased, not whether or not God still does miracles. For instance, no believer, whether you believe spiritual gifts are for today or not, believes that God no longer can heal someone. But there are many that believe the supernatural gift of healing is no longer given to individuals in the church. Therefore, the question is not whether God still works miracles, but whether the Holy Spirit gives individuals in the church miraculous gifts in the same way that he did in the first century church during the time of the Apostles and Prophets.

My conclusion. Setting aside the New Testament Apostles and Prophets, I don’t believe Scripture offers enough evidence to say definitively that any specific spiritual gift has ceased, but I think Scripture does offer enough evidence to support that the miraculous gifts are no longer the normal experience for believers today.

Prominent Miraculous Periods in History

Throughout all of Scripture we find evidence of the miraculous. Often the miraculous came in the form of a prophetic word, but many other forms of miracles are present in Scripture. While there are miracles spread throughout all of Scripture, there appears to be a few very specific moments of magnified miraculous work.

The first momentous miraculous era, Moses and the Exodus. We see an intense period of time in which “signs and wonders” are accomplished through Moses and in the people of Israel. Whether it is a burning bush (Ex 3) or the miraculous events of the ten plagues (Ex 7-12), whether it was the supernatural deliverance from Egypt, the protection from Egyptians army, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground (Ex 14), manna and water provided (Ex 16-17), a fire and cloud to lead them (Ex 13), or a host of other miraculous events, this period of time boasts an incredible amount of supernatural, miraculous events.

The second momentous miraculous era, Elijah and Elisha. Through Elijah God stopped the rain and caused a drought (1 Kings 17:1). He multiplied flour and oil for a widow (1 Kings 17:14-16). He raised a widow’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17:22-23). He defeated the prophets of Baal with fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:25-38). He parted the waters of the Jordan River so that he could walk across on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8).

Elisha as well parted the Jordan River. He caused a flood to save Israel and thereby defeat the Moabites (2 Kings 3:14-25). He raised a child from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-37). He healed Naaman of leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-19). He struck the Arameans blind (2 Kings 6:18).

There were as well a host of other miraculous events during the ministry of these two prophets. Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, compares his ministry to these two Old Testament prophets. As well, the miracles that Jesus performed throughout his ministry are often likened to the miracles performed through these two prophets.

The final and most recent momentous miraculous era, Christ and the Apostolic Era. Of course a great number of miracles occurred during the ministry of Christ and the ministries of the New Testament Apostles and Prophets. It was said of Jesus during his ministry, that “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt 11:5 ESV). He as well sent out the Apostles “and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matt 10:1 ESV). The time of Christ and the Apostles was an intense and momentous period of miraculous work.

This was a unique period of time. Even those who believe that the gift of apostle is still for today acknowledge that the degree or manner of Apostle’s giftedness was more significant and authoritative than any time following. Clearly it was through these apostles that the foundation of the Church was laid in the New Testament writings produced by this group and their associates.

And since this role of Apostle was clearly a spiritual gift as both 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 indicate, then we can say with a level of confidence that at least this specific spiritual gift has ceased from use within the church. In this acknowledgement we can then conclude that it is possible, if not likely, that other spiritual gifts have ceased, at least with the same level of intensity or authority, as during the Apostolic era.

Miracles Throughout Scripture

The rest of Scripture includes miracles but to a lesser degree. Miraculous events were prevalent during the time of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Christ and the Apostles, but they were as well present at other times but to a lesser degree. Let me remind you of just a few.

The rapture of Enoch (Gen 5:24)

The supernatural call of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) and a number of other miraculous moments throughout his life.

Angels come to Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah, the men of the city are blinded by the angels. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, Lot’s wife turns to salt. (Gen 19)

Joseph’s dreams (Gen 37) and interpretations (Gen 40-41).

Shamgar kills 600 Philistines with an oxgoad (Judg 3:31).

Gideon interacts with an angel of the Lord, throws out a fleece, and defeats Midian with 300 men (Judg 6-7).

And a host of other miraculous moments in the life of Samuel, David, and Solomon. Isaiah experiences a number of prophetic and miraculous moments, and the life of Daniel and his three friends could likely be considered one of the more magnificent moments of miraculous intervention.

As we go through this list, we may wrongly conclude that miracles were normative for people throughout the Old Testament. That is not the case though. We must remember that these miracles occurred over the course of more than 6,000 years. Miracles were not the norm for the people of God throughout the Old Testament. Consider just the life of Daniel. The miracles in his life extend from when he was an early teenager being taken into Babylonian Captivity with Nebuchadnezzar to when he was probably around 80 being thrown in the lion’s den with King Darius. Even Daniel went many decades between miraculous events.

So then, the stage is set. There are a few periods in history in which miracles are regular and prominent. But, most of history is made up of long periods of time in which God is not directly (himself) or indirectly (through others) performing dramatic miracles. So then, let’s consider a couple of questions. First, what was the purpose of the miracles? Secondly, are we in one of the momentous miraculous eras or are we part of a time when miracles are not normal? Let’s answer the first question. What is the purpose of miracles?

The Purpose of Miracles

What then is the purpose of these miracles? “The primary purpose of the miracles was as signs of authentication pointing to God, his messengers or spokesmen, and their message which was the Word of God.”[1] Moses was struggling with the role God had planned for him, so God encourages him by offering him a miracle. God tells Moses that the miracles are so that “they may believe that the Lord . . . has appeared to you” (Ex 4:5 ESV). The same is true of Elijah. As Elijah raises the widow’s son from the dead, the woman says to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24 ESV). Jesus’ ministry and role was as well affirmed through his miracles. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2 ESV).

When John the Baptist was questioning whether Jesus was truly the “one who is to come” Jesus tells John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22 ESV). We are all directed to receive the truth of God’s salvation because “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb 2:3–4 ESV).

Therefore, miracles have primarily been used by God to authenticate both his messenger and his divine message. So then consider those few specific moments in history of heightened miraculous working. Much of Scripture, specifically the giving of the Law, came from the period of Moses. During the time of the prophets, God was reaffirming the law and speaking directly through the prophets to his people. He authenticated their message through miraculous events. Much of this prophetic communication was written and became significant portions of the Old Testament. Christ is the climactic time of God’s revelation to the world. It was through Christ and those with him that the message of salvation was offered. Miraculous moments were present as the Gospel spread from Jerusalem to the rest of the world. Scriptures were written concerning Christ, the early church, and the ongoing expectations for the church by the Apostles and Prophets. Therefore, once again, God confirmed or authenticated these divine moments with supernatural and divine miracles.[2]

Miracles for Today?

The question still remains of whether or not those same gifts are to be the normal experience for today. While I’m not going to definitively answer that question, I’m going to direct us towards some inferences. (1) The primary purpose of supernatural gifts throughout Scripture was to validate God’s divine messenger and their message. Those who received signs and wonders that validated their message where men who were offering new revelation. They were not just teachers but prophets. What they were saying were the very words of God. They were not simply teaching what had been previously revealed.[3] (2) The command by Jesus to heal the sick, cure disease, and raise the dead was given to a very specific group or people during a specific moment of redemptive history. The presence of those miraculous events died with those first century Apostles. (3) We are not receiving new divine revelation and therefore are not in need of signs and wonders to affirm a new divine message. (4) Therefore, we can infer that today would not be one of the prominent, miraculous moments of history. (5) With that said, this does not mean, that God cannot or is not doing miracles. Scripture does not seem to close the door to the possibility of miraculous spiritual gifts being exhibited in the church, but if they are manifest, they would not be normal but rare.

In saying that, let me challenge us to expect God’s divine and miraculous power more than we probably do. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to pray with expectation that God could do something miraculous. Consider James for one example.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:14–16 ESV).

The context of this passage in James points to the likelihood that the sickness in mind could be spiritual sickness, but I don’t think it’s necessary to limit the sickness to just spiritual sickness. We ought to pray for one another with expectation that God can heal both physical or spiritual sickness. But we must then as well pray with a submissive spirit, accepting God’s divine work in that person’s life. For we know that all kinds of trials “produce steadfastness” so that we may be mature and complete (James 1:2-4). We should welcome trial into our lives because it is what God uses to mold us into the image of Jesus Christ.

The primary evidence of miracles today is the transformation of people’s lives and the regenerating work accomplished in the salvation of souls.

Christian Brother Yun

There are thousands of testimonies of Christians in China who have paid a great price for their faith. . . . Sisten Yuen Meng’ en came from one of the wealthiest families in Shanghai. She was a widow with two young children; a son aged eleven and a daughter, nine, when she was imprisoned in 1967. After a year in prison the PSB thought they would have “compassion” on her. The chief warden said, “This past year you’ve shown excellent conduct, so now we plan to reward you. All you have to do is write a confession of your crimes and you’ll be free to go home and take care of your children. Surely your God would want you to take care of your own flesh and blood?” The authorities arranged for her children to visit the prison. As soon as Sister Yuen saw them her heart was torn and tears of love welled up in her eyes. The authorities asked her, “What do you want, your Jesus or your children? If you want Jesus you’ll stay in this prison. If you want your children, you can go home.” They gave her a pencil and a piece of paper and asked her to write her choice. . . . They were amazed to find she had stated in large words, “Jesus cannot be replaced. Even my children cannot replace Jesus.”[4]

The warden yelled to the children that their mother had rejected them and they were sent away to be raised by the atheistic state as she remained in prison for the next 23 years. When she was released her son was 34 years old and worked in a government job in Tibet. She went to visit him only to be pushed from his home as he screamed that he had no mother. She never saw her son again.

This story is written in a biography of Brother Yun coauthored by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway. He goes on to write.

The path of following the Lord Jesus Christ is not an easy one. Along the way lies suffering and hardship, but nothing we experience will ever compare to the suffering Jesus endured for us on the cross. I have a problem with the “prosperity” teaching prevalent today, which tells us if we follow the Lord we’ll be safe and comfortable. This is completely contrary to Scripture as well as to our experience in China. In addition to serving years in prison; I’ve been arrested about thirty different times for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.[5]

Later in the book he writes of his miraculous escape from prison. In March 1997, Brother Yun, along with a number of other church leaders were arrested. During the arrest he was viciously kicked and beaten by the officers. He was beaten with an electric baton so badly that he lost consciousness.

When Yun was brought before the judge, the judge asked him if he would escape again like he had before. Yun thought about it and answered, “Judge, that is a good question. I don’t want to lie to you. If I have an opportunity, I will try to escape. I’m called to preach the Good News all over China, and I must do all I can to obey the call God has placed on my life.”[6] Furious, the judge told Yun that he would break his legs so he could never escape again. They took Yun into an interrogation room, spread his legs apart, and beat his knees and feet repeatedly. His legs turned black and he had no feeling in his legs. As a result there were three fellow believers that were responsible for carrying him from his cell to the torture room and the toilet.

It was at this point that he sat in his prison cell, crippled and resigned to rot in prison. One morning, in 1997, at the age of 39, he was reading through the book of Jeremiah. It was impressed on him that he needed to leave the prison.

I shuffled out of my cell and walked towards the locked iron gate in the hallway. . . . A guard who pushed a button when he wanted the gate to open and close sat at the top of the third-floor stairwell. . . . At the exact moment I reached the gate, another servant of the Lord . . . was returning to his cell and the gate was opened for him. . . . I walked through without even breaking my stride! The Lord’s timing was perfect! . . . There had been a guard accompanying Musheng back to his cell, but at the exact moment he opened the gate for Musheng, a telephone rang in an office down the hallway and the guard turned and ran to answer it. . . . An armed guard was positioned at his desk facing the second iron gate. The gate was sometimes left open. Somehow the Lord seemed to blind that guard. He was staring directly at me, yet his eyes didn’t acknowledge my presence at all. . . . I continued past him and didn’t look back. I knew I could be shot in the back at any moment. . . . I continued walking down the stairs, but nobody stopped me and none of the guards said a word to me! When I arrived at the main iron gate leading out to the courtyard I discovered it was already open! This was strange, as it was usually the most secure gate of all. There were normally two guards stationed at the first-floor gate, one on the inside and one on the outside, but for some reason neither of the guards was present and the gate was open! . . . I discarded the broom I had carried with me from the third floor and walked out into the courtyard. . . . I walked past several guards in the yard but nobody said a word to me. I then strolled through the main gate of the prison, which for some strange reason was also standing ajar! My heart was pounding! I was now standing on the street outside the . . . Number One Maximum Security Prison! I was told later nobody ever escaped from that prison before. Immediately a small yellow taxi-van pulled up next to me, and the driver opened the passenger door. He asked, “Where are you heading?”[7]

Brother Yun was taken to a friend’s home where he found that a group of believers had been praying for his release. They had prepared a secure home for him to stay in. One of the daughters of the family took him on a bike to the safe house.

The moment I started to pedal the bicycle was the first time I realized the Lord had healed my feet and legs! . . . I never felt any healing power. From the time my legs were smashed with a baton until the day I escaped, my legs had remained completely black and unusable. I couldn’t even stand up, let alone walk.[8]

We see in these two incidents a couple of things. First, God more often than not has chosen to not work in a miraculous manner and allows us to go through the trial. This is for our good and ongoing sanctification. Secondly, he can still work miracles.

We can conclude about this miraculous story that either the story is an outright lie, that those telling the stories have been deluded, that Satan has manipulated things for his devious plans, or that God can still work in miraculous ways. Whether or not this particular story is accurate in all its details or not, I have chosen to believe that God still works in miraculous ways.

Additional Quotes

ORIGEN. We have to say, moreover, that the Gospel has a demonstration of its own, more divine than any established by Grecian dialectics. And this diviner method is called by the apostle the “manifestation of the Spirit and of power:” of “the Spirit,” on account of the prophecies, which are sufficient to produce faith in any one who reads them, especially in those things which relate to Christ; and of “power,” because of the signs and wonders which we must believe to have been performed, both on many other grounds, and on this, that traces of them are still preserved among those who regulate their lives by the precepts of the Gospel.[9]

ROBERT SAUCY. Although the church fathers of the second and third centuries did not say it directly, there is considerable evidence in their writings for the opinion later explicitly taught by Chrysostom and others that the age of miracles was essentially over. The purpose of the miraculous activity of Christ and the apostles had been for the inauguration of the gospel and the church and was not intended for all subsequent time.[10]

ROBERT SAUCY. The witness of Scripture thus leads to the following three conclusions: (i) miraculous activity was clustered around certain crucial points in the biblical record of salvation history; (ii) these clusters of miracles had the primary purpose of “signs” authenticating God’s revelation and his prophetic spokespersons at crucial steps; and (iii) the era of Christ and the apostles was one such era of extraordinary miraculous signs.[11]

 

 

[1] Wayne Grudem et al., Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1996), 106. This chapter was written by Robert Saucy.

[2] It does not appear that the normal experience for early believers was that they would be performing such miracles. If so, why then were they primarily bringing their sick to the Apostles instead of just healing them on their own?

[3] Ibid., 106.  “When we examine the nature of those messengers of God who were accredited by signs, we find that they spoke God’s word not simply as teachers but as prophets. That is, they claimed to speak words directly from God, not simply teach the word previously revealed.”

[4] Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway, The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, 4th edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2002), 213.

[5] Ibid., 214.

[6] Ibid., 244.

[7] Ibid., 256–57.

[8] Ibid., 259.

[9] Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 397–398.

[10] Grudem et al., Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, 114–15.

[11] Grudem et al., Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, 112.

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