Last week we began with John 14:12 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
It is important that we recognize our tendency to interpret the Bible with the lenses of our own experience and our cultural values. We must do our best to let Jesus speak for himself and let him do the interpreting.
That’s what we tried to do last week. If we let the New Testament interpret the word works for us, we get something like this:
The works of Jesus were miracles that authenticated his message and were enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Those miracles included spiritual miracles, healing miracles and miracles of the natural world.
Today we continue to look at John 14:12, with 3 questions:
- Did the believers do the works that Jesus did?
- If so, which believers did those works?
- What was the effect of those works?
Let’s start with question 1.
1. Did the believers do the works that Jesus did?
If you were to sit down with a non-believer or someone unfamiliar with the New Testament to read the book of Acts, what do you think would stand out to them? It’s pretty obvious isn’t it?
“Did that really happen?”
“Do you really believe that?
The book of Acts is jam packed with supernatural events. It’s easy for us to filter that out over time. Our experience is so different than what we read in those accounts that they eventually fall off of our field of vision in Acts. What we see in Acts often becomes lessons about church community, leadership, strategy for missions and church growth and general church history.
What Luke wrote however, is something different. When I take in the scope of the supernatural in Luke’s history, I am forced to admit that it is a history of signs and wonders. It’s the story of how the Holy Spirit established the church and spread the gospel through the combination of preaching with signs and wonders.
Let’s get a flyover of those signs and wonders.
The Frequency Of Miracles
The book of Acts records over 30 miraculous events and tells of 10 times when clusters of them occurred.
- Sound of rushing wind (2:2).
- Tongues of fire (2:3).
- Miraculous speech (2:4).
- Lame man healed (3:1-10).
- Building shaken (4:31).
- Sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11).
- Imprisoned apostles freed by angel (5:17-21).
- Stephen transfigured, sees vision of heaven. (6:15, 7:55)
- Peter and John communicate the Holy Spirit. (8:14-17)
- Philip meets the eunuch at exact moment he is reading Isaiah. (8:30)
- Philip transported from desert to Azotus (8:40).
- Light and voice at Saul’s conversion (9:1-9).
- Ananias sees a vision. (9:10)
- Saul blinded and healed (9:8-19).
- Aeneas healed of paralysis (9:32-35).
- Dorcas restored to life (9:36-41).
- Peter and Cornelius see visions. (10)
- Cornelius’ household speaks in tongues. (10)
- Peter rescued from prison by an angel. (12:7-17)
- Herod’s violent death (12:20-23).
- The Holy Spirit speaks to the church at Antioch. (13:2)
- Elymas the sorcerer blinded (13:6-11).
- Cripple at Lystra healed (14:8-10).
- Paul’s vision to go to Macedonia (16:9)
- Demons cast out of a slave girl (16:16-18).
- Paul freed from prison by earthquake (16:25-27).
- God speaks to Paul in vision to stay in Corinth. (18:9)
- Paul communicates the Holy Spirit (19:1-6)
- Eutychus raised from death (20:7-12).
- Angel visits Paul who foretells safety (27:23-37)
- Paul unaffected by viper’s bite (28:3-5).
- Father of Publius healed (28:8).
- Supernatural love, unity and joy (2:44-47)
CLUSTERS OF MIRACLES
- “Many wonders and signs” (2:43).
- “Many signs and wonders” (5:12).
- “The shadow of Peter” apparently healed some, and “a multitude gathered bringing their sick and those tormented by unclean spirits… and they were all healed” (5:15-16).
- “Stephen… did great wonders and signs” (6:8).
- “The multitudes… heeded…, hearing and seeing the miracles which [Philip] did” (8:6).
- “21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. (11:21)
- “The Lord… [granted] signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (14:3).
- “Barnabas and Paul [declared] how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them” (15:12).
- “God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul… even handkerchiefs or aprons” (19:11-12).
- “The rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed” (28:9).
It needs to be said that the great prevalence of miraculous intervention did not equate to a universal experience of health and wealth.
ABSENCE OF MIRACLES
- Peter and John arrested, imprisoned, and scourged (4:1-8; 5:22-41).
- Stephen stoned to death (6:8–7:60).
- Christians scattered through persecution (8:1-3).
- James executed (12:1-2).
- Paul stoned (14:19-20).
- Paul and Silas arrested, scourged, placed in stocks (16:22-28).
- Paul arrested and tried (chs.21–28).
- Paul (during the Acts period) was whipped with 39 lashes 5 times, beaten with rods 3 times, shipwrecked 3 times, adrift on the sea for 24 hours, often sleepless, hungry, thirsty, and cold (2 Cor. 11:22-27).
- Paul (during the Acts period) was afflicted with a “thorn in the flesh” from which he was not delivered (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
For every illness cured, we must assume that there were many more that God in His providence did not cure.
Yet, God did intervene in many situations. And those interventions became signs which attested to the message and messengers of the gospel. There are roughly 17 times in Acts when miracles were followed by belief and conversion.
Times people believed following signs and wonders:
- Pentecost (2:41)
- Daily additions in the early days (implied 2:43-47)
- Healing at the temple (4:4)
- Multitudes added as signs, wonders and witness continue (5:12, 14)
- Philip’s converts in Samaria (8:4-12)
- Simon (8:13)
- Ethiopian Eunuch (8:38)
- Paul (9:18)
- Residents of Lydda and Sharon after Aeneas walks (9:35)
- Residents of Joppa after Lydda resurrected (9:42)
- Cornelius’ household after visions (10:44-48)
- Antioch (implied 11:21)
- Proconsul at Cyprus after Elymas magician struck blind (13:12)
- Lystra after Paul heals disabled man (conversion implied 14:8-11, 21)
- Philippian jailer (16:14)
- Ephesus after sons of Sceva beaten by demon possessed man (19:17)
- Malta, after Paul survives snake bite and heals Publius’ father (28:10)?
The answer to our first question is a resounding yes. The believers in Acts most definitely did the works that Jesus had been doing.
That leads to our 2nd question.
2. Who performed signs and wonders?
The apostles were at the epicenter of those of miraculous events, but the working of the Holy Spirit was by no means limited to those few. Here is a short list of some of the people through whom the Holy Spirit worked His wonders:
- The apostles (Acts 2:43, 5:12)
- Deacons (Stephen -Acts 6:8)
- Evangelists (Philip -Acts 8:6)
- Evangelists’ daughters (Acts 21)
- Random guys (Ananias in Acts 9)
- Galatian churches (Galatians 3:5)
- Messy churches (1 Corinthians 12)
- Wherever Paul went (Romans 15:18)
As J.D Greear pointed out, “Jesus’s vision for transforming society never consisted of platforming a few hyper-anointed megapastors to pack an auditorium with their electrifying sermons. His vision of the greatness of the church consisted in each believer being filled with, and used by, the Holy Spirit.”
What was the result of the Spirit’s working through the believers?
We’ve already seen that conversion was often the result.
I took a quick look at the responses recorded by Luke and wrote down the descriptors he used:
- Amazed – 8x
- Astonished – 3x
- Astounded – 1x
- Wonder – 3x
- Awe – 1x
- Perplexed – 3x
- Fear – 5x
- Speechless silence – 2x
- Glorified – 2x
The general effect of signs and wonders was a sense of the presence and power of God. That effect produced 3 responses:
The first and most appropriate response to the realization that God is present and active in my vicinity is fear. Here’s how C.S. Lewis described that kind of fear:
“Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear.
But if you were told ‘There is a ghost in the next room,’ and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind.
It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is ‘uncanny’ rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous.
Now suppose that you were told simply ‘There is a mighty spirit in the room,” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking — a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant of prostration before it — an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare’s words “Under it my genius is rebuked.”
The beginning of awakening in the major revivals in history most often begins with fear. It begins with a humbling and often terrifying conviction of sin and unworthiness.
But that fear is not like the fear that some of us experienced in the presence of the angry and punitive authorities in our lives. As conviction becomes repentance, the next experience is almost always relief and comfort.
“And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
We have seen that many experienced faith which led to conversion after witnessing signs and wonders.
There was also a faith that led to expectation and experimentation. When word got out about the apostles’ healings, people began to bring friends and relatives just to catch the shadow of one of those men with the thought that God might use that to work wonder.
Witnessing the power of God led to an openness and expectation that more wonders could follow. That expectation also led to bold witnessing.
3. Fearless Witness
Outside of the signs and wonders, maybe the most prevalent description of Luke is the bold and sacrificial witness of the early believers.
What’s the most natural response to experiencing a miracle? To tell everyone you know. That’s exactly what we see in Acts. Beginning with the greatest wonder of all, the Resurrection, the wonders the Spirit worked produced a passionate, fearless testimonial witness in the early believers.
Let’s review: did the believers do the works of Jesus, as he said? Most definitely. Not just the apostle, but an army of believers witnessed to Jesus with the power of signs and wonders. The effect was an incredible experience of the presence of God which produced reverential fear, faith and a fearless witness.
Now the next question we will consider next week is a big one – what about today?
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown