Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Supernatural Power for All Disciples

Peter and John Healing the Lame Man
Have you ever noticed that some Scriptures seem to indicate that in the early church only the apostles functioned in the supernatural? And then there are other Scriptures that show that all believers can do so. Let’s examine those in order to determine whether they are limited to the apostles or for all.

First we will look at the ones that show how God’s supernatural power seemed to be limited. Then we will look at the ones that show us how all believers can function this way.  Let me encourage you to put aside all your existing ideas, as well as anything you have been taught, and just let the Word speak for itself.

Power limited to the apostles
Jesus told the apostles gathered with Him just before his ascension, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."  (Act 1:8)

Luke’s account of the early church reveals that the apostles were functioning in the supernatural.  “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico.” (Act 5:12)  However, we do not see any record that signs and wonders were taking place at the hands of the thousands of other disciples in the early church – just the apostles.  

Although at least 5,000 people believed in Christ in Jerusalem during the early days of the church, it was the apostles who were giving testimony with great power.  “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” (Act 4:33)

Peter Healing the Sick with his Shadow
In those days, there were constantly multitudes of people added to the church.  Yet did they bring their sick to any one of the thousands of disciples for prayer and healing?  No, they looked to Peter.  Luke states, “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.” (Act 5:14-15).  It was Peter’s shadow they were hoping would fall on one of the sick, so that they would be healed.  This seems like a unique sign that followed His apostolic ministry.

Luke states the general sense of awe in the church at that time.  “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” (Act 2:43).  Again, notice how there were many signs and wonders taking place specifically through the apostles. No mention is made that these were taking place through every member of the church. In fact, in this passage, no mention is made of signs and wonders taking place through anyone else but the apostles.

Paul Healing the Cripple at Lystra
In the accounts of the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, we find that he performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  In addition to healings, miracles, and casting out demons, there was even miraculous power connected with articles that belonged to him. Luke write, “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.” (Act 19:11-12). It’s amazing what God did through Paul.  Yet throughout the biblical accounts of his ministry, we don’t find similar accounts about such things happening through his companions. We never read about the apostle Barnabas, nor Silas, nor Priscilla and Aquilla, nor Apollos, nor Timothy, nor Titus performing signs and wonders.

Paul taught the Corinthians about the gifts God has appointed in the church. He wrote: “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.”(1Co 12:28)  It was obvious from the context that these gifts were given to individuals, and they are not all given to every believer.

In this same context, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” (1Co 12:29-30). These were rhetorical questions, and the answer was obviously negative.  Everyone is obviously not an apostle, and neither is every believer a prophet, a teacher, or a miracle worker.  Not every member of the Body has gifts of healing, speaks in tongues, or interprets tongues either.

Luke records in his account how the baptism of the Holy Spirit was bestowed at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, and Simon the sorcerer’s response to seeing this.  Luke wrote: “Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Act 8:17-19)

It was the apostles who laid hands on the servants chosen to distribute food to the widows in the early church community. “And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.” (Act 6:6)

The Lord initially spoke the message of salvation Himself.  But those, who heard Him speak, later confirmed the message to others by signs, wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit that God did through those people.  The writer of Hebrews stated, “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” (Heb 2:2-4).  This passage could be used to show how the Lord gave signs and wonders to confirm His Word spoken by the apostles, the ones who initially heard Jesus.

Paul explained that all the members in the Body do not have the same function.  He wrote to the Romans, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Rom 12:4-8).  He explained that each one has different gifts, and he mentions some of them given to the members of the Body, including prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, ruling, and showing mercy.  God did not paint us all one color. He did not make every member of the Body to have the same gifts. 

These signs will accompany those who have believed
Up to this point, if we had only read the Scriptures I cited above, we might believe that the supernatural power was limited to the first apostles.  But if the Lord had limited the spiritual gifts, signs and wonders to the first apostles, then the Great Commission would have also been limited to them.  When Jesus told them that they would be His witnesses, He also told them to first wait until they baptized with the Holy Spirit, so that they could be endued with all power they would need. Receiving power must precede being His witnesses.  

The apostles had already walked with Jesus for over three years, seen Him with their eyes perform miracles, and heard Him teach. They ate with Him and prayed with Him.  He had previously commissioned them along with the seventy disciples, while he was with them, to go and preach.  They had already cast out demons and healed the sick.  They even saw Him after He was resurrected from death!  So if those, who were privileged to have such prior experiences, needed to be endued with power to be His witnesses, you can be sure that every other disciple without such experiences must also receive the power of the Holy Spirit. If it was necessary for the first apostles to receive power in order to be His witnesses, then it is certainly necessary in order for anyone else to be His witness.   If Jesus limited that power to the first apostles, then how could He expect the successive generations of people in the church who came after them to fulfill the Great Commission?

We can be certain that there was no such limitation of power. Mark’s gospel ends with the following words of Jesus: “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. [And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.] (Mar 16:15-20)

In this passage, Jesus said that those who have believed will be accompanied by signs that include the following:  in Jesus’ name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.  This shows us that it is the Lord’s will to confirm His word by signs that follow it whenever it is preached. It proves that signs and wonders are essential in order to fulfill the Great Commission, and those who have believed will perform these, not just apostles.

One Scriptural example of this is Philip.  He went to Samaria to preach Christ, when the church was scattered through Saul’s persecution.  “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city.” (Act 8:4-8).  The Bible tells us that he was a man full of the Holy Spirit.  The one connection we can make between Philip and the apostles is that they had laid their hands on him when they appointed him as one of the seven to distribute food to the widows.  However, he himself was not an apostle.  Yet when he preached, he also performed signs and wonders that included miracles, healings, and casting out demons. 

In one situation, Philip was even supernaturally transported through space.  After he had led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ on the desert road to Gaza, and baptized him, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away and carried him to Azotus.  “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.” (Act 8:39-40).  So we can clearly see from Scripture that the Lord performed signs and wonders through others besides the apostles.

Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit after He went to the Father, and that the Spirit’s power would be given, so that believers could do the works that He did.  He said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” (Joh 14:12).  This promise is for those who believe in Jesus, just as Jesus said when He gave the great commission as recorded in Mark’s gospel.  It’s not limited to apostles only.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, he gave a more complete list of spiritual gifts that are given to the various members of the Body: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” (1Co 12:1-11) Paul referred to these supernatural signs and wonders as both gifts (Greek, charisma) and manifestations (Greek, phanerosis). It is very clear from this passage that the Lord has distributed these among the various members of the Body, and they are not all given to one person or even to a select few. 

After explaining the spiritual gifts in detail to the Corinthian church, and teaching that some gifts are greater than others, because they build others up, Paul exhorted them to earnest desire the greater gifts.  He wrote: “But earnestly desire the greater gifts.” (1Co 12:31a).  The words in the original language reflect that all believers should covet these greater gifts and should be very zealous to function in them, even with a white-hot passion in their hearts.  He repeats this exhortation again a second time, saying, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” (1Co 14:1).  Paul acknowledged that the members of the Corinthian church were all zealous for spiritual gifts, and he encouraged them in that pursuit.  Paul repeated his exhortation to them yet a third time, saying, “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.” (1Co 14:12) Since this is repeated three times, we can assume it is important for us.  The Lord wants each disciple to passionately desire the spiritual gifts in our lives, especially prophecy, which is so important for edifying others.   Paul’s message to the Corinthians is still the same for us today.  We should seek to abound for the edification of the church, and ask the Lord for the specific gifts we would like to have in order to do so.  That’s a godly pursuit the Lord will surely honor!

Putting it All Together
It’s clear from Scripture that the Lord desires to confirm the message of salvation with signs and wonders, whenever it is preached.  These manifestations of power are essential, in order to be a witness for Christ to the ends of the earth and complete the Great Commission.  The Lord also desires to give gifts to members of the Body, so that they can build themselves up, but especially so they can build up the rest of the Body. 

Initially all one hundred twenty disciples in the upper room, which included the apostles, received the gift of the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  However, as I have explained more fully in my previous post, called “Baptized with the Spirit,” whenever disciples anywhere were baptized with the Holy Spirit, they received the same kind of power as the apostles and other disciples did initially in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.  They experienced manifestations of God’s power, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy. 

The gift of the Holy Spirit was clearly not limited to the apostles, although the early accounts highlight how they were the ones who primarily functioned in the supernatural. Jesus promised that he who believes in Him will do the works He did! While not all members of the Body have the same gifts, and not everyone functions in all the gifts, these gifts are available to all believers.  In fact, not only are they available to us all, but we are also exhorted to earnestly seek the greater spiritual gifts that lead to the edification of the Body. 

Let me encourage you today to do this.  First of all, if you have never been baptized with the Holy Spirit, then you have not yet received a very important gift that God wants to give you. Begin by praying to be baptized in the Spirit.  If you want to understand this gift better, you can read my above-mentioned blog on the topic.

Once you have been baptized with the Spirit, go before the Lord in prayer with a burning, passionate desire in your heart to edify the Body.  There may be specific gifts that you would really like to have in order to bless others.  Ask Him specifically to give you those gifts, and tell Him why you want them.  Then wait expectantly for the Holy Spirit to manifest them in you with all His omnipotent and enabling power.  And don’t forget to have faith.  When you ask, believe that you have received what you asked for, and it will be given to you. I assure you that you will not be disappointed. 

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. The image of Peter and John Healing the Lame Man is an Oil on canvas painting done by Nicolas Poussin is France.  The picture was painted in 1655 for a Monseur Mercier of Lyons. This artwork is currently on display in Gallery 620 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The image of Peter Healing the Sick with his Shadow is a fresco painted in 1426-27 by Masaccio, who was originally named Tommaso Cassai and born in San Giovanni Valdarno.  The fresco is located at a chapel called Cappella Brancacci, in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy. The image of Paul Healing the Cripple at Lystra is an oil on canvas painted by Karel Dujardin around 1663. The artwork is on display at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. 

Author's note:
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the links in the side bar. I recommend reading The Name of Jesus.  You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

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