Signs and Wonders and Suffering

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In last Sunday’s sermon I tried to answer the question why the prayer for signs and wonders (Acts 4:30) does not have to mean that those who pray are “wicked and adulterous” (Matthew 12:39) and does not have to mean that they belittle the unique power of the word of the cross alone to save (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24). I tried to show that these indictments against praying for signs and wonders are really indictments against the Christians in Acts because they prayed for signs and wonders to be done alongside their preaching (Acts 4:29-30).

Now there is another objection against praying for signs and wonders that makes the very same mistake. It goes like this: asking God to stretch out his hand to heal and do signs and wonders contradicts the biblical call to self-denial, suffering and the way of the cross. We live in a fallen and futile world (Romans 8:21-22). We groan in a body that will not be redeemed before the second coming (Romans 8:23). The power of Christ is made perfect in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We have the treasure of Christ in earthen vessels so that his power will show (2 Corinthians 4:7). Our afflictions are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22).

The answer to this objection is the very same answer given to the first one: the objection is really against Paul. Did you notice that all the texts quoted in the preceding paragraph about the place of suffering came from Paul? It is not surprising because at the very beginning of his call to the ministry Jesus said, “I will show Paul how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). Paul’s life was one long experience of suffering physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. And he told all his converts to expect something similar (Acts 14:22).

So we ask, “Did this make signs and wonders inconsistent in his ministry?” No. He summed up his ministry like this: “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:18-19).

In other words, a life of suffering and a ministry of signs and wonders were not inconsistent for the apostle. C.K. Barrett put it like this in his commentary on 2 Corinthians: “Miracles were no contradiction of the theology of the cross which Paul proclaimed and practiced, since they were performed not in a context of triumphant success and prosperity, but in the midst of the distress and vilification he was obligated to endure” (p. 321). Why, I ask, do some people say that the prayer for signs and wonders today (Acts 4:30) is a denial of the biblical call to suffering? It certainly does not have to be. And to say that it does is an indictment of Paul’s own ministry.

If we see a man in a wheel chair performing a healing ministry for others, I certainly do not want to be among the number who stand back and say the ominous words, “Physician, heal thyself.”

Praying Acts 4:29-30 with (most of ☺) you,

Pastor John