Do you believe?

I have a special corner of my house that I use almost exclusively for reading my Bible. There’s a comfy couch, pillows, and a blanket from Mexico. Surrounding said couch is books. Lots of books: Bibles in at least five translations and two languages, dictionaries, concordances, sermon references, and commentaries. I love reading through other’s thoughts on what I’ve read. Sometimes theses books confirm my own ideas. Sometimes they open up a new way of thinking. And sometimes, like today, they are downright disappointing and even disturbing.

I read this today in a popular commentary:

The signs authenticated the faith the early believers proclaimed, not the personal faith that any one of them exercised. In light of this and historical evidence it is reasonable to conclude that these authenticating signs were normative only for the apostolic era.

To what signs is the writer referring?

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Mark 16:15-18 (NIV)

Nothing in Jesus’ commission to his disciples indicates that signs would only follow for a few decades. There is no time frame or limit in this passage. Jesus simply stated that signs will follow believers. Period.

So what happened? Why do we Westerners see so few signs, wonders, and miracles? Ask yourself this question:

Do you believe?

If a well-respected commentary can state that miracles were only for the early apostolic period, imagine what is being taught in our churches all over the world.

Allow me to break this down logically.

Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news. What good news was that? That Jesus had come to save them, to offer a new covenant through his blood rather than the blood of a sacrificial animal. This new covenant would bring eternal life to the spirit of any who accepted it.

Jesus told the disciples to baptize the new believers. Why? Baptism is an outward confirmation of an inward decision. You don’t need to be baptized to be saved, but it is a physical affirmation of a spiritual awakening.

Jesus told the disciples that miraculous signs would follow them.

Observe what power the apostles should be endued with, for confirming the doctrine they were to preach. These were miracles to confirm the truth of the gospel, and means of spreading the gospel among the nations that had not heard it.

Matthew Henry

Here’s my question: If signs and wonders aren’t for today, how is our message supposed to be confirmed? Why did Jesus go around healing people and teaching his disciples how to do the same if he didn’t mean for that practice to carry on? If miracles weren’t needed, why did Jesus bother at all? If the message is supposed to be enough, why is our message getting lost?

I believe in miracles. I have seen them firsthand. I have seen broken bones mend. I have seen stunted limbs grow. I have seen life when there should have been death. And I have seen people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of those things. Miracles aren’t a sign for believers. They are a benefit to us because we believe, but they are a sign to the unbeliever that there is power in the blood that washes away our sins.

At the risk of reducing the Word to a new low, let me put it simply. You’re watching television late at night and a loud Australian appears on the screen with an incredible new product. He spends ten minutes yelling at you, touting the near-miraculous qualities of the product he’s trying to sell. You stay tuned because you’re moderately interested and oddly enthralled. Then he puts the product to use. You’re sold. You dial the 1-800 number before the five minutes runs out and, for just the added shipping and handling, you will receive a second item for free! It wasn’t his words that sold you, it was the product in action.

The Word of God draws people in. And for some, that’s all they need. But others need that extra confirmation. They need to see the product in action. They need to see what it can actually do. And if the world can’t see our “product” actually do anything, what are we really trying to sell?

God didn’t fill His Word with the miraculous only to stop once Jesus left the stage. His Word is filled with wonders because He is a God of wonders. We do Him (and ourselves) a great disservice by setting the miraculous aside when it was a miracle that brought us where we are in the first place.

So I will ask again, do you believe?

Read: Deuteronomy 29-30, Mark 16

Faith and forgiveness

Read: Deuteronomy 3-4, Mark 11:20-33

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.

Mark 11:22-26 (NIV)

In Mark 11, we can’t wait to get to the good part about telling a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and then we quickly skip over that uncomfortable part about forgiveness and move on to the next parable.

Who doesn’t want to see a miracle? We should long to see the miraculous. Signs and wonders should be following every believer. But what if the miracle God wants to perform has to do with you forgiving your brother? What if the sign He wants to show someone has you asking for forgiveness from your neighbour?

Not every miracle, sign or wonder has to do with healing or provision. Sometimes they seem so insignificant to us that we wouldn’t even deem to call the event worthwhile. But to the person who’s been forgiven, it can be life-changing.

If grace does not produce joyful obedience it has been abused. Forgiving is the very essence of grace.

The Weston Study Bible

Forgiveness isn’t something we should look at that we need to get out of the way so we can see the mountain move. Forgiveness may be the mountain itself.

When Jesus took the time to explain to his disciples how they should pray, he didn’t include the miraculous, but he did include forgiveness.

This, then, is how you should pray,

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Jesus then went on to say that when we forgive those who sin against us, God will forgive us, but if we withhold our forgiveness, God will not forgive us.

It would seem to me, then, that as much as it is impossible to please God without faith, it is also impossible to please him without forgiveness.

Signs

The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. And the Lord did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people.

Exodus 13:21-22 (NLT)

I’m going to be organised today and pull this one apart point by point. There is so much in these two verses we can learn from:

  1. The Lord went ahead of them. Not beside or behind. Ahead. God was in the lead. Israel followed. God isn’t on a leash to be taken out for a walk when we feel He needs to come out to play. He’s not there for us to drag along as a reluctant participant. He’s there to lead. We’re here to follow.
  2. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. We often make the incorrect assumption that God will only call us to move when conditions are optimal. I wouldn’t call travelling at night the best time to travel—especially not how the Israelites were doing it with young and old, wagons and flocks. Can you imaging trying to move not only a million plus people, but all the animals and goods that went with them? The optimal time to move is when God says so.
  3. If you don’t see a sign, maybe you should stay where you are. Now, this isn’t taken directly from this passage, but it speaks from it nonetheless. If you know that God has led you to a certain place and suddenly the sign disappears, maybe it’s time to stick it out where you are for a while. Don’t immediately rush out looking for the next sign. Perhaps God needs you to grow and learn for a season rather than move on to the next one right away.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 13-15, Matthew 19:1-15