Is the gift of working miracles for today?

When we read the New Testament we read of awesome miracles of healing and restoration. Blind people are given sight, the deaf hearing, paralytics are walking and the mute speaking.

What is the purpose of these miracles? Why did Jesus and his close followers perform them? Was Jesus just being nice? Well, Jesus was being nice but there is more to it than that. Hundreds of years earlier Isaiah the prophet spoke about the new era of God’s salvation that was to come.

Isaiah said of that promised time:

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,

and the mute tongue shout for joy…”  (Isaiah 35:5-6)

Jesus’ miracles

Mark records some of the miracles of Jesus. In Mark 7 Jesus heals a deaf and mute man and the people are overwhelmed with amazement and say, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:37) In other words, the people seeing Jesus’ miracles remember the words of Isaiah and begin to realize that Jesus is no mere man.

John the baptizer

In Luke 7 John the baptizer finds himself in prison. John had been proclaiming that Jesus is God’s promised king who is establishing the promised Kingdom of God and ushering in the long-awaited era of salvation. But now John is a prison, not a palace. He is suffering in a jail, not serving in the new Messianic government. John is confused and asks himself, “How can this be? Is Jesus not God’s king? Why are God’s people still suffering?” He sends messengers to ask Jesus if he’s the king or if they should expect another. Jesus replied:

Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Luke 7:22)

To paraphrase, Jesus says, “Look around! Everything Isaiah said will happen is happening! I am the king!”

Spiritual gifts

What’s confusing for some is the passages in the New Testaments that refer to miraculous gifts like the gift of healing or the gift of working of miracles (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12). Other Christians may criticize the church and insist, “We should be healing people like in New Testament times. We should do all the things Jesus and his disciples did.” Generally these Christians forget that Jesus raised the dead and told his disciples to do the same. (Matthew 10:7-9) I would argue that we have to differentiate between three categories of gifts: Sign gifts, speaking gifts and serving gifts.

The sign gifts were the miraculous gifts that authenticated the gospel message and confirmed the gospel messengers (i.e. Jesus, the apostles and their close associates)

The speaking gifts are the gifts of apostle, prophets, evangelists, and pastors & teachers. (Ephesians 4:11)

Serving gifts are the non-teaching gifts like mercy, administration, hospitality, giving, leadership, music etc.

Sign gifts

Jesus and his message have been authenticated, so we don’t have need of those gifts today. God certainly does heal, but individual Christians don’t have these sign gifts to radically and instantaneously heal people like Jesus*.

Charles Spurgeon, who lived in the 1800’s, said this:

The miracles were the great bell of the universe which was rung in order to call the attention of all people all over the world to the fact that the gospel feast was spread.”

The Apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth:

The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance.” (2 Corinthians 12:12)

If every Christian was equipped with the ability to perform signs, wonders and miracles, then signs, wonders and miracles couldn’t be the identifying marks of an apostle. Jesus, the apostles and a few others had the gift of healing and working of miracles to confirm their message and validate their authority

The apostle Peter said:

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” ( Acts 2:22)

Peter tells us that Jesus was “accredited” by “miracles, wonders, and signs.” The apostles were also “marked” as genuine messengers from God by the miracles they performed. Acts 14:3 says,

So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.”

Another contemporary author says: “The New Testament miracles are viewed in Scripture itself as God’s stamp of approval upon the message of the apostles, which was an inspired record of the things they had seen and heard while with Jesus. Recalling these wonders should deepen our respect for the authority of their words and prompt us to give the more careful head.”

In other words, why would you follow Jesus? Why would you believe the Bible?

Not because you see so-called miracles in healing crusades or on TBN, but because of the miracles of Jesus and the apostles that authenticated that their message was true, factual and from God. Jesus, the apostles and their close associates did all the things that Isaiah said would accompany the great era of salvation.

Again, don’t hear me as saying that God doesn’t heal or perform miracles – he certainly does! But the gifts of healing and working miracles were for a specific time and for a specific purpose.

Showbiz Christianity

In every instance in the New Testament, the sign gifts were a confirmation of God’s message and messenger, so that people would hear and believe. Once the message was confirmed, the signs faded away. We don’t need those signs to be repeated in our lives, but we do need to receive the same gospel message. Some people seem to love the more spectacular gifts more than they love Jesus. But take away the excitement of their healings, the mystery of their tongues, and the fortune-telling of their prophecy, and there wouldn’t be much left to their Christianity. We’re really worried about these people. We’d hate for them to stand before Jesus one day saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?” Jesus’ answer will be, “I never knew you”. (Matthew 7:22)

Real bodies

Contrary to what Hollywood says, the Bible is very concerned about the physical body. Being a Christian does not only mean you are saved “spiritually”. Isaiah pictures blind eyes seeing, lame legs walking and deaf ears hearing. Jesus physically healed physical bodies; he didn’t just help people spiritually. The Bible teaches that when Jesus returns to establish the new heavens and new earth (i.e. the renewed universe) we will be given new, real, physical bodies and there will be no blind, lame, deaf, mute, diabetic or cancerous bodies anymore.

 

* I’ve never seen or heard of so-called “healers” or “workers of miracles” go and heal people in public hospitals or in hospices.

 

Thanks to Alistair Anderton for the help with this blog.