Signs, Wonders and Plagues

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:3-4

The gospel was first announced by Jesus and confirmed by the early apostles. Then God testified to the truth of the gospel by demonstrating signs, wonders and miracles through the Church. God also testified to the truth of the gospel by distributing gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Church to use.

We still have the announcement of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. We still have the confirmation of the early apostles in the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, Peter, John and others. But if we reject signs, wonders, miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we miss out on half of the ways that God testifies to the truth of the gospel. Paul talks about how vital signs and wonders were in his ministry of delivering the gospel to the Gentiles:

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 

Romans 15:18-19

Signs and wonders have always been a primary way God reveals Himself to humanity. When God was creating for Himself a people by setting the Hebrews free from slavery in Egypt, God performed signs and wonders. Speaking about Pharaoh as God laid out His plan to Moses, God said:

…though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.

Exodus 7:3-4

Before entering the Promised Land, God reminds the people of all that He did for them and gives them this instruction:

 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today.

Deuteronomy 6:20-24

My co-pastor reminded me in one of his sermons a few weeks ago that we often call what God did in Egypt “plagues.” But God did not call them that, nor did Israel. To God and His people they were not plagues but “signs and wonders.” Only to Egypt and Pharaoh were these miraculous events “plagues.”

And I have found the same dynamic to be true today. When God heals someone, performs a miracle, or delivers someone from a demon, there will be those who see these things as wonders–signs of God’s imminent Presence, love, compassion and power. Yet, there will also be some who will see the same miracle and react against it as if it was a plague.

The same thing happened with Jesus. Some, usually the downtrodden and poor, celebrated as Jesus healed people and cast out demons. Yet others, usually the religious elite, did not see the miracles as wonders but instead as plagues–moments where Jesus broke the law, moments that threatened their established system of power, moments of offense.

Every time we hear a testimony of a miracle, a healing, or a deliverance, we have that same choice. Are we going to side with Egypt and Pharaoh or God and His people? Are these stories of miracles plagues or wonders? I believe this is essentially the question Jesus was asking the Syro-Phoenician woman who asked Jesus to get rid of the demon who was tormenting her daughter.

(Jesus) answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Matthew 15:24-27

I believe Jesus was seeing if the woman would get offended at God’s decision to heal and deliver the Israelites first before the Gentiles. He even uses somewhat offensive language, referring to Gentiles as dogs, as a way to see if she would react with offended entitlement or humility.

And we also face this kind of test with each testimony of healing and deliverance. Will we get offended at what God is doing, as He heals someone else first? Will entitlement get the best of us? Will offense get the best of us? Will stories of healing become plagues to our hearts? Or, will we respond in hope and humility as this woman did? Will we celebrate miracles as signs and wonders of God’s goodness?

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Matthew 15:28

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