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27 December 2019

Signs and Wonders or Christ Crucified?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
I hear a lot of stress these days on seeking “signs and wonders.” Seemingly, church “leaders” are convinced, or they want to convince you, that it is through mighty supernatural “signs and wonders” that God will reap a final harvest of souls before the return of Jesus, an idea that does not fit comfortably with the gospel accounts of the New Testament.
I am all for genuine miracles that meet real human needs, but Jesus did warn of coming “false prophets that will show great signs and wonders; so that, if possible, they may deceive the elect.” Whether such men perform false miracles is not stated in the text. Taken at face value, one can assume that Jesus meant that these false prophets will produce very real “signs and wonders.”
Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount with the sobering words, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Again, he did not deny that real miracles would occur, yet he categorized at least some miracle workers as “workers of iniquity.”
I suppose miraculous “signs and wonders” can stimulate faith; however, Jesus also complained of men and women who were attracted to him by his healings and exorcisms, declaring: “Except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
A theme in the Gospel of Mark that is easy to miss is how before his death no human being recognized who Jesus was despite his many miraculous deeds. But the demons that he exorcised certainly did recognize him! Only at his death did one man perceive Jesus to be the “son of God, and he a pagan Roman centurion to boot! Very likely, the same officer in charge of the execution squad that nailed Christ to the cross. The Jesus of scripture cannot be known apart from Calvary; it is not his miracles that mark him out as the Son of God, but his self-sacrificial obedience unto a shameful death on the cross (Philippians 2:6-11).
Paul described “Christ crucified” as the very “power and wisdom” of God, not “signs and wonders.” Only the truly “spiritual” understand this. God defeated sin, Satan, and death through the unjust death of His Son, Israel’s Messiah. No matter how many visions you have or trips you take to the "third heaven" to converse with angels if you do not understand and appropriate Christ crucified in your life, you are not spiritual (1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5)!
In the book of Revelation, Jesus exhorted the churches of Asia to “overcome.” But to do so, a believer must overcome in the same way Jesus did - “Just as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne.”

And how did the Son of God overcome evil?  As Revelation declares, the Lamb “overcame” through his sacrificial death; likewise, so does anyone who follows him wherever he goes.  Believers overcome the Dragon, not by “signs and wonders,” but “by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony; even they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11).
The saints in Revelation do not overcome by escaping persecution and tribulation, or by "taking dominion" over human society, but by perseverance through the onslaughts of the Dragon, the Beast, and Babylon while bearing faithful witness along the way.
There was a time when we were taught to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses daily, and to follow Jesus whatever the cost and wherever he led. Apparently, that message has been replaced with something else and with “another Jesus” in far too many churches.

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