Thursday, November 19, 2015

Signs, Wonders and Miracles

I recently received the following question: “I've been studying signs, wonders and miracles. Can I ask what you think the definitions of each are or are they the same thing?” I post the answer publicly, hoping that perhaps this information will prove useful to others as well.

The terms are used concerning Jesus in Acts 2:22, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know.”

These identifiers were also associated with the apostles in both 2 Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles,” and in Hebrews 2:3-4, “After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, [4] God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”

Signs were used to authenticate the message of God's spokesmen. They accompanied the revelation of the word, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. An excellent example concerns the deacon, Philip, in Acts 8:6, “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.” The signs manifested confirmed the word preached.

Wonders are events that are supernatural and extraordinary. As Thayer's lexicon states, a wonder is “something so unusual it arouses close observation.” Examples of wonders are the healing of a man who had been lame from birth (Acts 14:8-10), casting out a slave girl's spirit of divination (Acts 16:16-18), and the raising of Eutychus from the dead in Acts 20:9-12.

Miracles are special demonstrations of the Holy Spirit's power. Paul described such miracles in his second epistle to the Corinthians. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; [9] indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; [10] who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10).

He further clarifies that thought later in the letter. “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. [26] I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; [27] I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).

The point the apostle makes isn't that such things don't happen to others, but that the escape provided from these particular predicaments were very clearly not of human origin. Such miracles are clearly associated with the grace of God. By definition, grace is what God provides for us that we could not possibly provide for ourselves. As we near one of our primary texts, this association is made clear as Paul writes of the Lord, “He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. [10] Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

The difference between wonders and miracles is that wonders cause one to focus on WHAT was being done, while miracles should focus one's attention on WHO is receiving them and WHY.

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul identified those who were “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). While it is popular to associate everything miraculous today with the Lord, we should know this is not the case. Jesus stated clearly that “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). The deeds of such men are anti-Christ, and thus are to be associated with “the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, [10] and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).

Again, wonders cause one to focus on WHAT was being done, while miracles should focus one's attention on WHO is receiving them and WHY. True miracles are the result of God's divine providence, as He proves without question that He cares for His own. As it is written, “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Timothy 1:9).

The differentiation between true workers and deceitful workers is not as difficult as most would make it. Supernatural evidence can be rejected as false if either the life or the message of the worker are not in harmony with the word of God. False teachers “are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.” But an inspired apostle writes, “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:5-6). As he had earlier stated, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).

I hope this answers covers the subject sufficiently. I always welcome sincere questions concerning the word of the Lord! :)

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