After several of our brothers read & began a very helpful discussion based on our sustain reading from Acts 14 ( http://know.gd/nt/2013-02-28 ), I felt prompted to write the following response. Suspecting that there may be others in our church family with similar ideas or questions about the passage, I thought I would edit my original response into the following blog article. I hope it proves helpful, building your confidence in the Scripture & your faith in the Son.
The main portion of our discussion centered around verse three:
Like many of you, I hunger & thirst for the Lord as much as I know how! I am one of the "richest" men I know. My bank account may not reflect it (compared to most of my neighbors), but I feel incredibly lavished with wealth: a home I didn't pay for (yet it is paid for); six acres that, again, I didn't pay for (yet is paid for); eight children (I am paying for :); a beautiful, loving, God-fearing wife; a pantry with some food; a fridge my loving stewardess empties nearly entirely every 14 days before restocking with groceries graciously provided by our loving & supportive South Church family... All of this & so much more!
Now, to briefly sound the trumpet of stewardship, we have no TV (nor the bills that come attached to it). I drive a 20 year old Chevy truck because it's paid for (yes, we paid for that) or a nearly 10 year old suburban for the same reason (another we paid for). But, my wife drives a "new-to-you", smokin'-hot 2008 chevy van ;) and, as you may recall from a previous blog post, we didn't pay for it! But then again, have *I* really "paid for" any of it. Hasn't it all been provided by the Lord who gives... and takes away?
None of this makes us "rich". In fact, as most of you know & Jesus often reminds: "wealth" more often makes poor: spiritually blind & destitute.
Like all of us, I absolutely want to see the glory of God flood the Burg! I would love to see the Spirit of God "break loose". (But, now that I think about it, the cross is the only time I can recall God ever being bound by mere mortals; so I'm not sure "break loose" is a very good choice of words. Sorry.) I'd love to experience powerful manifestations of the Spirit's presence liken to tongues, healing, prayers that shake the earth, shadows that fall on the lame who rise & walk to the glory of Jesus' name, etc., etc., etc. So, as you read the following, please know, dear family, that I share your hunger & thirst for the Lord. Maranatha!
After reading Acts 14.3, one of our brothers rightly & biblically observed, "Witness confirms the validity of something. The two witnesses here [... are 1.] preaching boldly [and 2.] signs & wonders." Then he asked, "Why has the church ignored the later of the two [signs & wonders]?"
I think I understand where he's coming from, but I'm not sure it's a fair accusation against the "Church". Let me explain...
If the biblical Gospel is being faithfully proclaimed (and I believe it is), yet it seems to lack the accompanying signs you think you should see, then perhaps the problem is NOT that "the Church" is "ignoring something", but that the "something" isn't there? I can honestly & more easily understand why someone might ask, "Why has GOD ignored the later of these two (the signs & wonders)?" After all, it isn't the Church, but God who is the "Witness" on the stand in this passage; He is the Performer of the signs & wonders, the Giver of the gifts to the Church, right? Perhaps the Church is "ignoring them" because God doesn't seem to be doing them? Or at least not in the way or with the frequency with which we think He did them in Acts.
Acts. Yes... Acts: a book written by a witness named Luke, a doctor, who gave precise testimony of the Acts of the apostles performed over a 30 year period. That's right: over a THIRTY YEAR period! Now, I haven't counted them up, but if I had to guess, I'd say that averages out to about one "sign & wonder" manifestation every two years.
To be fair, if we were to survey the last 30 years of the "acts" of the Body of Christ throughout our world today, I wonder if we wouldn't discover at least as many "signs & wonders" as recorded in the book of Acts?! Heck, I bet there's tons more in the last 30 years of the Church's history than in the first 30!
Here's another great question asked by one of our brothers (and I summarize), "Can a gospel without validating signs possibly be the real Gospel?"
Now, I'm sorry about this, but what I'm about to offer is, unfortunately, an answer that has so little appeal for many Pentecostals & Charismatics. BUT! I honestly believe it is absolutely the most solid evidence that exists today for the validation of the true Gospel. And that is why I am so deeply concerned for these "spiritual" friends who find the following answer so lack-luster. I hate to say it, but, if that's the case, it paints a pretty telling-tale of what they hold as most supreme: signs, not Savior.
According to Jesus, the most supreme, "validating sign" of the true Gospel is sadly NOT what many find rejoice-worthy, or what they would even call "miraculous"; for them, it is no "sign" at all; certainly not a "wonder" of preference.
But be not mistaken, though this wonder-of-wonders may not render much rejoicing from a cursed-generation, it is the very "sign" that renders rejoicing from heavenly hosts around His throne. What is it? It is the repentance of a single sinner!
Does that make you rejoice? Or does that answer fall short of your enthusiasm? If so, I'm afraid you may not, as of yet, know the marvel of the Master who laid down His life for His enemies!
Jesus absolutely baffled Nicodemus... not by signs, but by the message of rebirth, the absolute-necessity of resurrection from spiritual death. Broken bones miraculously mended, deaf ears made to hear, blind eyes granted sight... such physical wonders always fall short of the surpassing glory of the saving-sight of Jesus for the spiritually-blind. The physical always has & always will be subordinate to the Spiritual which has always been & always will be (and the same cannot be said of the physical). To prove the primacy of Spiritual health, just ask yourself: "Would I rather run into hell with legs strong, or stumble into heaven crippled & blind?"
Outside the resurrection of Jesus, the most validating sign of the Gospel is the transformation of a sinner's heart. Jesus did NOT say that the world will know we belong to Him by our "sighted eyes, straightened legs, or savvy smile," but by our savoring of the Savior, by our love for Him & one another.
In Acts 14, stoner-Saul became stoned-Paul, YET continued to lay down his life in Lystra for his love of rock-hurling Jewish brethren in hope that they, like him, might be salvaged from their sin... Wow! Now that's evidence of the power of the Gospel! Isn't this the power, love, and preference for Jesus & others that we so much want to see among our families, among our church family & throughout our community? YES!
I can't help but recall our Master making straight such crooked places among his followers when He said that it would be better to pluck the eye & cut-off the arm... to enter the Kingdom lame & blind than be cast into hell with sight & strength.
Dear Father, if it will ready us for Your kingdom, stricken us with the boils of Job, the mute-tongue of Zechariah, the scales of Saul, the bent-back of Nebuchadnezzar, the cross of Christ.
We've been discussing Acts 14.3. Ironically, in the very next section (Acts 14.8-18), it was a "sign" that prompted a major misunderstanding: Paul raised a crippled man to his feet. The onlooking Gentiles proclaimed Paul, the healer, to be a god! Because of the sign, these pagans brought sacrifices for their visiting Zeus & Hermes (aka: Barnabas & Paul). So, in this case, rather than serving to "validate the Gospel", Paul had to the validate his sign by the Word of the Gospel (Acts 14.14-17). And, according to verse Acts 14.18, even still, "they scarcely restrained the people" FROM their "vain things", TO the "living God".
And what do we make of what our "living God" allowed next? The Sovereign Lord stepped in and interrupted this false-worship service by rescuing Paul & Barnabas via another sign of sorts: stoning! Ouch!!! And from there, a very sore Paul & his fellow "god" Barnabas moved on to Derbe to continue the ministry of the Good News: the proclamation of the risen Lord, by word & work.
So ends our passage & my efforts in helping us through the manifest mine-field of marvel & Master. Dearest church family, one thing I think we're learning: more than the gifts of God, soul-satisfaction is in the Gift of God: Jesus Christ. Short of His second coming, at the end of our earthly lives, all of us will be stripped of every "gift" save One. No more tongues. No more toys. No more works. No more whys. The One thing we'll truly & finally have is the only thing we finally & truly want: Jesus, the eternal glory of God!