INTRODUCTION – Progress reports or assessments of the early church = 2:42-27; 4:32-37; 5:12-16. 7 things from this passage, though really only 6 of them are signs or marks of a healthy church that concern us.
Signs and wonders at hands of apostles – vs. 12
Unity among the church – vs. 12b
Healthy reticence to want to join this group – vs. 13a
Esteemed highly or healthy respect by watching world – vs. 13b
Constant growth of new believers being added to the church – vs. 14
Peter’s anointing for healing was being especially sought out – vs. 15
People from cities around Jerusalem coming for healing and “all” getting healed – vs. 16
I. The Prevalence of Signs, Wonders and/or healings then & with Jesus
At this point in the growth and expansion of the church in Jerusalem, the original 11 apostles and the added one – Matthias – were leading the people of God. Vs. 12 tells us that at their hands – MANY signs and wonders were taking place.
Only sign and wonder recorded so far was lame man in ch. 3 healed; So we don’t know what the “many” were – other than the prophesied or declared sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. Most likely most were miracles of healing and deliverance as referenced in vs. 16. Could have been some miracles of provision. And even some accounts of raising the dead.
Interesting that Luke states in vs. 16 “and they were all being healed.”
Matt. 8:16 “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.”
Matthew 12:15 “But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all.”
So there wasn’t just an occasionally lucky healing among the early church. Pretty much everyone who came and asked for healing was healed.
II. Four Reasons Why the Early Church Thrived Supernaturally
A. they prayed/asked for signs and wonders in acts 4:29,30 while luke told us in acts 2 that they were together often for teaching, prayer, fellowship, etc., acts 4 is the first actual worship/prayer gathering described after the birth of the church. Very significant that their prayer meeting was not all protect me and bless me centered or even bless and protect their families centered, but rather it was very missional centered. Even though they had been warned to never speak about Jesus again, and thus consequences could be severe if they did so, that was not their concern at all.
B. they dealt righteously and forthrightly with compromise and hypocrisy in their midst Acts 5:1-10 (easily could have decided some $$ are better than none – at least they (Annanias & Saphira) by being with us continue to get exposure to the truth and the presence of God)
Psalm 24 & Psalm 15
C. Fear of God was strong and widespread in the church (5:11). “over the whole church”. Could that be said of the church in our region – Los Osos, Morro Bay and Cayucos? Do the believers in our region live in a constant awareness of the Holy presence of almighty God and do we feel about sin the way He does? Do we hate the things He hates and love the things He loves? Well those folks did.
Any time sin is dealt with in the church – those who know about it have two choices: 1. We can take sides and blame and criticize and get offended; or 2. We can humble ourselves and cry out for mercy and cleansing of our own stuff.
D. Their faith and theology was strong and pure. It was unadulterated. They didn’t have the theological and faith hang ups that many of us adults have
1. Problem of Cessationist theology, commentaries, seminaries & ministries
My commentaries on the whole book of Acts = 9 or 10 on the whole book; and several on various portions of the book. I was interested to see how they handled this passage and whether there would be any encouragement for we readers to pursue this bar or standard of church growth and health, which on the front end is bookmaked by signs and wonders, and on the back end by every sick, afflicted and/or demonized person being healed.
Beacon Bible Expositions: p. 64 top of pg.
Lectures on the Book of Acts by harry ironside – p.133 bottom, top p. 134
Bible Study Commentary by Curtis Vaughn p. 39 2nd para.
Now lest you think all my commentaries were all like this Lloyd J. Ogilvie the long time pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood and chaplain to the U.S. Senate strongly urged his readers to pursue this kind of supernatural ministry. C. Peter Wagner – long time professor at Fuller Seminary and Sunday School teacher at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in his commentary did the same. But the reality is many believers in our nation have been more influenced by the likes of Harry Ironside and Curtis Vaughn and John MacArthur than they have of the likes of the Lloyd Ogilvies and C. Peter Wagners. I’m fairly confident that is true of the believers in our region.
One of my griefs and deep disappointments when I was in Israel was a discussion I had with a young pastor/church planter named Sean who was also in his spare time a tour guide for groups coming from outside Israel to see the holy land. One of his tours some time in the last year or two was a group of donors of Dallas Theological Seminary led by its president and one or two other profs. These people didn’t know Sean from Adam nor did Sean know them from Adam. That is – they didn’t know Sean was the primary leader of a movement of house churches in Israel that are seeing both Jews and Arabs come to Christ and are seeing them unite in Christ. Sean didn’t know that Dallas Seminary believes and teaches all over the earth that signs and wonders and the charismatic gifts all ended with the death of the 12 original apostles. So when some of the donors pulled Sean aside at a point in the day when the president wasn’t around and sincerely asked him if Jews were coming to Christ in Israel – – Sean exuberantly and innocently answered – Yes of course! And when they asked him how they were coming to Christ, Sean very sincerely and honestly answered “Often by miracles, signs and wonders and healings and visions, which was the case of his own wife, born and raised in Israel and totally hardened against the Christian faith until she had a dream or vision of Christ in her sleep one night.” Well evidently a little later on one of these donors very innocently told the president about this wonderful news, and he then immediately went and found Sean and rebuked him soundly for speaking of such things – informing him that they do not believe these things and warning him of the consequences of ever saying such a thing again. Sean in utter disbelief and shock wept – wondering how the simple honest answering of a simple sincere question could arouse such venom by a well known respected Christian leader. To his credit – that is Sean’s – he held no resentment or judgment against the DTS president , and only told me this because of questions I was asking him.
So should we aspire to these benchmarks of a growing healthy church or was this just for the apostles? Was this just history, and not a model for us to aspire to?
III. Four Reasons why the church today can be the same
A. If signs and wonders and healing were solely done by the apostles to authenticate that they were apostles, what do we do with the healings that Stephen in ch. 6, Phillip in ch. 8 and Annanias in ch. 9 did? These men were clearly not apostles, clearly not super heroes, but God used them to heal the sick and perform miracles. And the Holy Spirit led Luke to tell us about them. Listen to how Luke described the ministry of Stephen – the table server – in Acts 6:8 “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.”
B. Contrary to what Curtis Vaughn said about healings cooling off after this account in ch. 5, healings occur off and on throughout the book of Acts including in the very last chapter where Paul is found healing all who came to him on the island of Malta. Mr. Vaughn’s theological bias unfortunately has blinded him from the truth about healing sprinkled throughout this book.
C. While perhaps it can be said that one of the purposes of God pouring out signs and wonders and healings at the hands of the 12 was to authenticate their ministry, that certainly wasn’t the only reason. God from day one has cared about our bodies and has been found to heal our sicknesses and diseases. Many scholars consider Job to be the oldest book in the old testament. Satan caused him to suffer greatly with various physical ailments, and God eventually healed him of them all (Job 42:10). Abraham prayed for King Abimilech, his wife and his maids in Genesis ch. 20 and God healed them. God revealed Himself to the people of Israel as their Healer in Exodus 15:26, and in Psalm 103 as the One “who heals all our diseases.” Jesus sometimes healed people solely because He had compassion on them. No other reason or motive is mentioned in those passages. (Matt. 9:18-36; & 20:29-34). When John the apostle wrote his third epistle he told them in vs. 2 that one of the things he prays for them is “that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” John cared about their health because God does. And it was John who by the way said in his first epistle, ch. 2 vs. 6, that “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as he walked.” Which is why John prayed for the good health of those he sought to shepherd. Jesus cared about the health of those He ministered to. And so did those He left in charge of His fast growing church.
D. The more we get involved with those in our society who are held captive to satan and sin; I believe the more we will see signs and wonders accompany our efforts. This is the clear pattern in the book of Acts. And it is the way of God in general. Doesn’t mean that every person needs to be healed to be saved. Clearly in Acts – many came to Christ without being personally healed. But it does mean that there will increasingly be expressions or manifestations of God’s power as we get increasingly involved with the lost.
So how should we pray and respond to all of this?
IV. The Path Forward
1. Well if you are young here today – – you need to thank God that you were able to grow up in a spiritual family where healing the sick is a normal thing to pray for and expect to see; some of us spent 25 or more years in the church without ever knowing God still is in the business of healing and doing all of the other miraculous stuff He was known to do in the days of the Bible.
2. All of us need to pray for the church in our region along these lines. Many of the adult Christians in this region either do not believe God heals and pours out signs and wonders today – or they may believe it but do not in any way seek to be used by Him in this way; some of our leaders actually teach that the charismatic gifts all died off with the original apostles and with the creation of the bible. Some of the good ministries that the children and youth in our region have been impacted by like Awanas and Child Evangelism Fellowship were founded and are still led by people who believe this way.
Jesus said when He walked the earth that His ability to do miracles was in part dependent upon the faith or lack of – in a given city. Listen to these words in Matthew 13:58 “And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” We want King Jesus to see an ever rising level of faith in this region and to therefore grace our cities with signs and wonders and healings where they are appropriate and necessary.
I Cor. 12:8-10
3. All of us need to always be praying for the purity of Christ’s church in our region and for courage for its leaders to deal with blatant unrepentant sin in our midst – regardless of the potential financial impact – referring back to the way Peter dealt with the sin of Ananias and Sapphira and the impact that had on the growth of the church.
4. All of us need to ask God to reveal Himself to us as our Healer. Just as we want to know Him increasingly as our Savior, and provider, and protector and deliverer, we must know Him as our healer. Until we see how much He cares about our bodies as well as our souls, we will not be much used by Him to heal the sick.