The Acts Example

Title: The Acts Example

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Text: Acts 5:12-16

Time: July 20th, 2008

Anybody who reads and studies of the Book of Acts quickly realizes that supernatural and miraculous things are happening left and right. This is interesting and exciting to read about, but it also raises the question for us today: how much of this is supposed to be happening now, today? If we simply want to be entertained by tales of miracles and the supernatural, we don’t have to look just to the Bible, because we can read about such things in fairy tales, classical literature, and in contemporary books such as Harry Potter for example, and watch them in movies such as The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia. There always seems to be some novel or some contemporary movie coming out that includes the supernatural. So if it’s just fascination we are seeking, we don’t need the Bible for that; we can find it in other books as well. But in the Bible we are reading history, reading accounts of what really happened, not made-up stories. But the question for us today is: ok, so now what are we to do with these historical accounts of miracles found in the Book of Acts? Are they there simply to give us an account of what happened so we can understand what took place way back when? Are they given to give us an appreciation for the special time period in which God worked mightily among his people? Or is the Book of Acts given to us in order to be an example for us of how real, authentic, supernatural Christianity is supposed to operate? We have to decide what the purpose of the Books of Acts really is, or else we won’t be able to read it correctly. If we are seeing it as purely history – something that gives an account of what happened in the past, period – and that’s all, then we can certainly be inspired by it, but we won’t use it as a guide for living the Christian life today. But if we see it’s purpose as something more than history, if we see it as given by God as an example for us today in order to teach us how to live out the Christian faith, we’ll read it carefully in order to copy its pattern as closely as possible because it describes how Christianity and the Christian church should be today. If we take this approach, we’ll realize that the Christian church today is hardly anything like what the Book of Acts describes, and so we’ll realize that we have a lot of work to do in restoring authentic Christianity to the world. In other words, if we see the Book of Acts as an example of Christianity for us today, then it sets the agenda for our faith and church in a way that straight history wouldn’t. Acts isn’t just a description of what did happen, it’s a prescription of what should happen today. We should be seeing the supernatural miracles of Acts happening today, just like they did back then.

Let’s look at Acts 5:12-16: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Notice that last phrase, “And all of them (the sick) were healed.” Do you know of any person or any group that can pray for the sick and report that “all of them were healed?” I don’t. But there was a time in the Christian church during the very first century when the apostles were leading when all of the sick were healed. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that fantastic? There was some kind of supernatural power operating back then that we seem to know very little about. There was a miraculous power that acted upon the people of that time period the likes of which we haven’t seen in 2000 years. Yes, we hear reports today of miracles. Yes, we see healing happen today once in a while, and see on television big evangelism crusades where people are healed, but can anyone say that everyone who is sick is healed at these events today? Can one say even that most are healed? Probably the best that can be said today is that some are healed or maybe a few are healed. That’s still fantastic and we should rejoice whenever anyone is healed of any illness, but imagine the power of God operating in the first century where everyone who was prayed for was healed of any possible illness. I’d love to see that again, wouldn’t you? Now because miracles are so few and far between today compared with the early church as described in the Book of Acts, some people have given up hope that the supernatural conditions of the first Christians can ever be restored today. Since after 2000 years of Christianity there hasn’t been a restoration of the miracles of the early church, some people have began to build theories and explanations as to why we’ll never, ever again see days like that. In other words, we can’t bring back the good old days of miracles like the Book of Acts describes. But like I’ve said before, that’s the easy way out, and it gives us an excuse for not striving to reestablish biblical Christianity in our day and age. It also cuts us off from the example of the Book of Acts. If we aren’t supposed to expect the supernatural miracles of the Bible to happen again today, what else of the Bible can’t we expect? What other things don’t apply to us today that applied to those people back then? If we start thinking this way, we might have to throw out much or most of the Bible because it’s not for us today. No. But still the question remains: if the Bible is for our example, what kind of example is it. I’d like to ask and try to answer 4 questions related to this topic. Hopefully they will help us relate better to what we read about in the Book of Acts.

First, Would God give us an example of Christianity in the Book of Acts that can’t be used today? Acts 5:12, “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.” The Old Testament and the New Testament is filled with supernatural miracles, if these same miracles aren’t possible today, what kind of example is the Bible for us today? Would God give us page after page of miraculous accounts only to deny us these same miracles today? What kind of example would that be? It would be like getting an owner’s manual or instruction manual for something you buy, like a computer, but it doesn’t apply to your specific model of computer. I’ve actually gotten instruction manuals for items I’ve bought that were made for another model, but they threw it in the box for the item I bought, but the manual doesn’t really apply to my model. That’s crazy. Have you ever gotten an instruction manual for something that didn’t match with the model or item that you bought, but because the manual came in the same box you assume it’s describing your model? After five or ten minutes of trying to figure out what the manual is talking about because it’s describing something other than your machine, you finally understand that the manual isn’t very helpful because it’s too general or it doesn’t apply to your specific item. Some people make it their habit of never reading the instruction manual before assembling, for example, a bicycle. They say the manual is too confusing and anyway, like we’ve been talking about, it might just be talking about another model altogether. So these people make it a policy to throw away the instructions and just put it together the best they can on their own. Well, apply that to the Bible and the church today. Would God give us instructions in the Book of Acts that don’t apply to the church today? Wouldn’t that be confusing? Wouldn’t that be frustrating? I’ve worked on assembling something out of the package before while working with the assembly manual and the instructions were similar enough to my item that I kept trying to make it work, yet it was different enough to throw me off. Is that the way the Book of Acts is for the church today? Is Acts similar enough to church as we know to lead us to believe that it’s instructing us as to how to live the Christian life, but then always frustrates us because it also is different enough to throw us off? That’s what it feels like sometimes. But God is not the author of confusion, as the Bible says elsewhere, and he wouldn’t give us instructions as to how to live the Christian life and how to do church that don’t apply to us today. That just doesn’t make sense. No, Acts must be a true example of us today.

Second, are we getting a false impression when we read the Book of Acts that miracles are happening all the time? Acts 5:15, “As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” This is an amazing miracle described in the Book of Acts. Evidently all Peter had to do was walk by someone and if his shadow fell upon them they got healed! Wow! That is real spiritual power. I don’t even recall Jesus performing that miracle. Maybe this is an example of the promise of Jesus coming true when he said that “greater miracles shall you do because I go to my Father in heaven.” Maybe this is an example of such a greater miracle. Nevertheless, it must have been an awesome thing to see. But did things like this go on all the time, every day in the early church? Or, is the Book of Acts a summary of the best miracles of the apostles? Is the Book of Acts a highlight account of all the major miracles performed in the early church by the apostles and others? For example, every day I try to watch at least one news report on television to keep up with what is happening in the U.S. and the world. Every news report has a sports segment in which they always give the highlights of the day in sports. Now in these highlight clips they always show the very best action of the day. For example, it’s the baseball season now, so the highlights are of homeruns and base hits. Now if you didn’t know about baseball and you watched the highlights on the news during the sports segment, you might get the false impression that every batter is hitting the ball over the fence for a homerun; but that would be untrue. If in the future 200 or 300 years – if they Lord hasn’t returned by then, and you didn’t know much about baseball, and the only thing you knew about baseball was from the highlight clips, you might think that everyone hit homeruns all the time, or that homeruns always happened; but again, that would be a false impression based on ignorance. Well, might that be happening in respect to miracles in the Book of Acts? Might Acts be basically highlights of all the best miracles of the early church all rolled into one account? If we aren’t careful we might get the false impression that every Christian is performing miracles all the time, or that there were so many miracles happening every day that nobody ever knew what was going to happen next. We have to keep this in mind when we read the Book of Acts. We need to look at the early church in a realistic way and not over-exaggerate things. Yes, there were many miracles taking place, but not all the time, by everyone. But there definitely were more miracles taking place then than are taking place now. Next question.

Third, are certain persons or groups today duplicating the miracles of the New Testament? Acts 5:16, “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” What separates the ministry of the apostles from that of contemporary healers is the quality and quantity of supernatural miracles. That last phrase says it all: “and all of them were healed.” What modern-day faith healer or evangelist can claim that all of those who come forward for prayer are healed? What church or denomination, be it Pentecostal or charismatic, can claim 100% healings? I’ve been to a Benny Hinn crusade and I can tell you thant everyone isn’t healed; in fact, many people he prays for aren’t healed. When you get right down to it, very few people he prays for are actually healed. Now we should rejoice when some people are healed by God in response to prayer, but we also have to be careful to not get the wrong impression that everybody is healed or most are healed; they are not. With clever television editing and video presentations, it’s possible to give the impression that everyone Benny Hinn prays for is healed, but that’s simply not true. When you see a miracle of healing on television, that’s one of the highlights of healing, it’s not a typical case. I’m glad that some people are healed today as a result of prayer, but I wish they wouldn’t hype healings on television or give the false impression that everyone gets healed, because that’s not true. There’s a group in town here, in Jamestown, that meets in a place called the Chautauqua County Healing Room. I see some of their advertisements in the Penny Saver newspaper. I think they are a little misleading when they say, “If you need healing, come to the Chautauqua Healing Room.” It gives the impression that all you have to do is come and get prayed for and you’ll be healed. That’s what many healing evangelists imply also, that all you have to do is come to their meetings, get prayed for, and you’ll be healed. Well, it’s not that simple, as anyone whose ever been prayed for knows full well. There is nobody, at least nobody that I know of, who can simply guarantee healing today. In fact, there probably isn’t anybody who can even claim that most people they pray for are healed. If it were so, they’d better make hospital rounds every day and heal the sick there, if they had that kind of power. No, we don’t see any person or any church duplicate the supernatural miracles of the early church, at least not yet we don’t see any. Maybe someday there will be a restoration of the healing power of the early Christian church, but as of yet it isn’t here. In the meantime, we do our best to pray for the sick and trust God to answer our prayers in his way, in his time.

Fourth, How can we see more supernatural miracles today? Acts 5:13-14, “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were add to their number.” So what do we do in the meantime, as we wait for God to restore to his church the supernatural signs and wonders of early Christianity? I think this verse above gives us an answer: we carry on as best we can, primarily in the work of evangelism and discipleship, and continue to pray and believe that God will work supernatural miracles in his own time and in his own way. Whether we ever see the quantity and quality of miracles the early church saw is really secondary to our primary task as a church – which is to evangelize the lost, and build up the saved. Two great tasks have been assigned to the church in our age: preach and teach the gospel of salvation to everyone, and then once people convert, teach them how to live the Christian life. Now these things are easier to do when God is working his supernatural miracles left and right like in the early church, but whether the miracles are happening or not, the work of the church must continue. It’s like a good marriage. It’s nice to have romantic feelings between the man and the woman like at the beginning when they first were married, but whether those feelings exist or not, they must still carry on in the marriage for better or for worse. A man can’t just say, “I don’t feel the same way towards you, I want a divorce.” Or a woman can’t say to the man, “I’ve lost the romance of our relationship, I quit.” People do that today and it’s totally wrong to think that a marriage must have romantic feelings all the time or it’s over. No. A solid marriage is built on more than romantic feelings, it’s built on lasting love and commitment. Well, it’s the same way in the Christian life and the church. We pray and expect and believe God for supernatural miracles, but whether we see them frequently or only occasionally or even hardly ever, that makes no difference in carrying on with our calling as Christians. There is no question that it’s better when there are miracles happening, it’s easier to trust and obey the Lord God after you’ve witnessed the supernatural, but whether we do or not, we are still called to trust and obey nevertheless. How can we see more miracles today in our Christian life and in the church? We need to pray more for miracles. Don’t be afraid of looking foolish for praying for a miracle? Just do it if you feel it’s important. Also, we need to dare to trust God more for miracles. Sometimes it’s easier to just say, “Well, I doubt that I’ll get a miracle, but I could, but I probably won’t.” No. That’s not faith, that’s doubt. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote that a double-minded person shouldn’t expect anything from the Lord. Read the miracle accounts in the Bible, get inspired, and expect some to happen in your life. Don’t get discouraged when they don’t happen when you think they should happen. Just be faithful in asking and expecting. Let God handle the time and place.

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