Amazement

People were overwhelmed with amazement.

Mark 7:37

Jesus went into the region east of the Sea of Galilee called the Decapolis. This region was known for ten cities that were networked with each other and Greek in culture. It would have been likely to find a high Gentile population in this region. Yet, word of Jesus’s miracles had spread and people brought Him a man who was deaf and mute.

Jesus touched the man’s tongue, put His fingers in the man’s ears, and commanded them to “Be opened!” In the original language this is a passive imperative in the second person. That means it is a command that can only be obeyed passively. One way we see Jesus heal in the Gospels is to command parts of the body to “be healed” or “be opened” or “be made well.” Jesus isn’t commanding the unhealthy body part to heal itself. Instead, because these are passive imperatives, He’s essentially speaking to the unhealthy body part and commanding it to receive healing from God (passive).

When the man’s hearing and speaking were immediately healed, the people “were overwhelmed with amazement.” And these were likely Gentiles or, at the very least, Hellenized Jews. Jesus was getting a better response from these folks than from many of the Jewish leaders.

Being overwhelmed with amazement is the proper response to the Kingdom of God invading earth. It is the proper response to seeing or hearing about a healing, a miracle or a deliverance. This is how we were supposed to react to these things. Unfortunately, cynicism, skepticism, and the fear of being tricked by charlatans has left a deep wound in the heart of the American church. And this has caused muted reactions to moments when God moves in power.

Here are some reasons why many Christians are no longer overwhelmed with amazement when God moves in power:

  • Unbelief: they’ve heard too many stories, or witnessed it themselves, of fake healings or church leaders trying to use the miraculous for personal and financial gain. So when they hear of a testimony of someone getting healed or set free from demonic oppression, they just don’t believe it.
  • Indifference: they don’t necessarily doubt the stories of healings and miracles, they just have been taught that these things aren’t important. They’ve been taught an almost Gnostic version of the gospel that says the really important story is the one where a soul gets saved. Material/physical stuff doesn’t matter. Or an updated version of this is where a person gets really excited about a person outside the church finding loving community inside the church, yet all other stories of God moving in power get a shrug of the shoulders.
  • Confusion: they hear these stories and don’t really have a compartment in their brain to put it. They’ve lived in the American culture that is saturated with the worship of rationalism and empiricism, so God doing the supernatural is disorienting. They don’t know what to do with these stories of healing and miracles so the stories are mostly met with blank stares.
  • Familiarity: they have been a part of a church community where healings and deliverances happen regularly. Over time, people become so accustomed to God moving in supernatural power that they take it for granted. It becomes so commonplace that people stop living in awe and wonder of the Lord.

All of the above reactions are understandable, but they’re also unhealthy. The people of the Decapolis had it right. When God moves in power, when the Kingdom of God invades the kingdom of darkness, when someone gets healed or delivered, the proper response is worship. The proper response is awe and wonder. The proper response is deep gratitude and thanksgiving. And if we see it happen right in front of us, the proper response is to be overwhelmed with amazement!

Attending to Jesus

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Mark 1:12-13

It is astounding to me that Jesus––God incarnate––needed angels to attend to Him after His time of fasting and testing in the wilderness. The fact that Jesus would humble Himself to the point of needing attending to is amazing to me. He allowed Himself to be in need. He allowed Himself to suffer. He allowed Himself to go through the fire of trial and temptation.

This truth also points to the reality that Jesus continually chose not to tap into His power as God and instead continued to act only as a man. God does not need help. God does not need attending to by angels. But we do as humans. Jesus chose not to pull from His divinity. Instead, He chose only to pull from His connection to His Father and from the Holy Spirit within and upon Him. He did this to model for us the resources we have in our own connection to the Father and the Holy Spirit within and upon us.

The apostle Paul said it this way:

…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-7

Jesus, although He was in very nature God, never used His divinity to His own advantage. He chose to stay dependent on the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. All of Jesus’s strength came from the Father and through the Spirit. All of Jesus’s miracles, healings, and power came from the Father and through the Spirit. Though He could have tapped into His divinity at any point, He continually chose not to. And in doing so, He left us without excuse.

We don’t get to read through the Gospel accounts and let ourself off the hook by saying, “Yeah, but that was Jesus. He was God.” Jesus didn’t leave us that out. He modeled full dependency on the Father, complete obedience, and total cooperation with the Spirit as a man. When we are called to be Christ-like, this is what that means.

Jesus implied our ability to imitate His life when He said:

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

John 14:11-12

Jesus expected that we could look at His miraculous works and allow that to foster faith in Him. He also expected that whoever believes in Him would be able to do the same miraculous works, and even greater. What an incredible claim! And if that claim was spoken by a televangelist, I wouldn’t believe it. But it wasn’t. It was spoken by Jesus Himself and recorded in the word of God.

Jesus is our goal. He is our benchmark. His life is what we are trying to replicate by the transforming power of the Spirit within us. Our goal is to imitate the life of Jesus…full obedience and dependence on the Father…full cooperation with the Holy Spirit…total surrender to God’s will. And along with this the expectation that we too will face trials, temptations, and hardships in this life just as Jesus did. We too will face moments of such depths that we’ll also need angels to attend to us.

Expensive Miracles (Part 2)

In my original post entitled Expensive Miracles I discussed how Jesus expects our thinking and our actions to change if we have experienced miracles in our midst. We can’t go back to business as usual. Here is a summary quote from that post.

As Bill Johnson said, miracles are expensive. Once they are happening in our midst, we can’t go back to business as usual. Jesus expects more. He expects that they change how we operate in the world, that they change how we think and reason. If they don’t, we become like the Pharisees who saw so many of Jesus’s miracles and walked away with hardened hearts.

In this post I want to explore the consequences of seeing miracles happen and then not responding. Jesus warns that there is a greater responsibility for those who have witnessed the supernatural. When we’ve seen people radically saved, miraculously healed, or powerfully delivered from a demonic presence we are held accountable to those experiences. We don’t get to ignore them, hide them, or make little of them. Here is Jesus in His own words:

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus expected that the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum––after having seen so many healings, deliverances and miracles––would embrace the miracles and repent. But repent of what?

We should always repent of our sin regardless of whether we’ve seen miracles in our midst. Yet here in this passage of scripture Jesus is specifically expecting repentance for unbelief. They had the absolute honor of seeing miracles in their midst, yet their response to them was lukewarm at best. Rather than embracing the miracles and Jesus––the One who did the miracles––they were likely offended or embarrassed by them. Jesus does not take lightly that kind of response to His supernatural work. It’s as if we are almost better off not experiencing the supernatural side of the Kingdom of God than experiencing it and rejecting it.

Remember what happened in Jesus’s own hometown when they responded similarly.

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue,and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus was amazed by the people in His own hometown but not in a good way. He was amazed at their lack of faith. Their rejection of Jesus and His supernatural ministry caused a limitation in what happened in their midst. Miracles did not happen. What we learn here is that God will not continue to move supernaturally in a community that continues to reject Him and His miracles.

This is a sobering warning for those of us who have experienced the Holy Spirit move powerfully in our midst. God is slow to anger and abounding in love. But He will not throw His pearls to pigs and see them trampled (see Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:6). He will not continue to entertain the sin of unbelief. He is a good Father who disciplines His children. Part of His love for us includes leaving places where He and His miracles are not welcomed.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled“(Matthew 5:6). God is looking for the teachable, the humble, and the hungry. He is looking for those who won’t be offended by His supernatural work. He’s looking for a people who refuse to be cavalier about His wonder working power. He’s inviting those who are curious about the supernatural possibilities of God’s Kingdom to lean into faith and embrace the impossible.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 19:26

When miracles happen in our midst, we can choose to lean into them rather than away from them. We can choose to get curious about the supernatural gifts of the Spirit and how they can operate in a healthy way in the church. We can choose to take greater risks praying for healing and deliverance. We can see the miraculous in our midst as an incredible honor rather than a burden to be managed. The Holy Spirit didn’t have to come in power and perform miracles in our midst. But if He decides to show up in this way, we can embrace Him with open arms. We can celebrate that a measure of the Kingdom is breaking out among us! Praise God for His generosity and kindness! Praise Him for His miraculous power in our midst!

Words of Knowledge for Healing

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:46-52

Sometimes on a Sunday morning before church, I’ll ask God if He wants me to focus on praying for anything in particular in the church service that morning. Sometimes I don’t hear anything. Sometimes I sense that He wants me to invite people to give their lives to Jesus or pray for people dealing with emotional needs. Other times I will hear a particular physical ailment to pray for.

I want to be obedient to do whatever it is He asked me to do. People tend to be fine with me praying for salvation or for emotional healing. Yet, when I pray for physical healing, that can sometimes cause some discomfort in the room.

The reason I pray for healing like this is multifaceted. I’ll admit that I don’t always hear the Lord correctly. My gifts have a lot of room to grow, and I am still a work in progress. But here is why I try:

1) The Lord has given me spiritual gifts that I want to faithfully steward. This requires their use. I want others to discover their gifts and put them to good use as well.

2) I want to take risks of obedience that don’t always make rational sense. I want to model obedience over rationalism and skepticism.

3) I believe it is loving to pray for healing. Those who desperately desire to be physically healed tend to love healing prayer. Those who live with the privilege of a healthy body sometimes don’t.

4) The Sunday morning worship service is my workplace. Praying this way is me stepping out in faith at work. I want people in our church to do the same. I want them to sit at their work desk, ask the Holy Spirit who and what they should pray for that day, and then obey…even if it doesn’t make sense…even if it is a little awkward.

5) I want to see people get miraculously healed in our midst. I’ve seen it happen a lot at our church. I want to continue to see it happen more and more. The only way for it to continue is for us to continue to step out in faith and ask for it.

6) I want to normalize the supernatural side of the Kingdom of God. I believe this is what following Jesus was always meant to be. This is what Christianity looks like in the rest of the world. The church in the West is lagging behind. Healings, signs & wonders, casting out demons, words of knowledge, prophesy, prophetic dreams, encounters with the Holy Spirit…I want all of it to become “normal Christianity” for my whole church just as it has become normal Christianity for me and some others. This is what following Jesus looked like in the Gospels and the book of Acts. This is what normal Christianity currently looks like in the Southern Hemisphere of the world and in the East.

A “word of knowledge” is a supernatural download of information from the Lord to our mind from the Holy Spirit. It’s often about another person. It is one of the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Many followers of Jesus have gotten little bits of information about people from the Spirit and didn’t know that’s what was happening. Maybe they didn’t know it was the Holy Spirit or that it was a gift meant for the church. A word of knowledge for healing is a supernatural download of information about someone else’s physical illness as an indicator that God wants to heal it.

I was asked by a friend if standing up and giving a word of knowledge and then praying for healing was ever in the Bible. It’s a question that is rooted in legitimate skepticism about the charismatic tradition and the abuses of televangelists in the past.

There are a few things that came to mind when this question was asked. First, you can’t read more than two paragraphs of the Gospels without Jesus healing someone, performing a miracle, or casting out a demon. Healing was a regular, daily part of Jesus ministry and the ministry of the disciples.

Secondly, one must believe that Jesus used supernatural gifts of the Spirit to do His supernatural ministry in order to find an example of Jesus using “words of knowledge.” Some Christians believe Jesus just used His divinity to do all of His miracles. But if one holds this view, then we could never expect to find any example of Jesus using any of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

I do believe Jesus used the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in order to set an example to His disciples and to us. If He simply used His divinity, we could never follow His example (something we’re asked to do repeatedly). And I do believe that, in many of these scenarios of healing, Jesus used what we would call a “word of knowledge” to determine the source and identity of the illness. We see this specifically with the crippled woman in the synagogue in Luke 13:10-17 and the demonized boy after the Transfiguration in Mark 9:14-29. In both cases Jesus supernaturally diagnoses the source of the physical ailment and the solution. These were words of knowledge for healing (maybe with a little “discerning the spirits” mixed in, another gift listed in 1 Corinthians 12).

I also believe there were lots of instances with Jesus that resemble what we do when we give words of knowledge for healing in a church service. For instance, when the demon in the man at the synagogue in Capernaum starting yelling at Jesus, He immediately cast the demon out of the man in front of the whole congregation (Mark 1:21-34; Luke 4:31-37). We likely wouldn’t be that bold in our church. We’d likely drag the person off to the prayer room and do deliverance there. In other words, in so many ways, we are much more tame with the supernatural than Jesus ever was.

We know that Jesus dropped a bunch of words of knowledge on the woman at the well, and these words of knowledge actually exposed her sin (John 4:1-42). We would rightly hesitate to be so bold as that! Yet Jesus didn’t hesitate at all. The woman’s own testimony was, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!” Again, we are much more tame with the supernatural than Jesus ever was.

But the scenario that most resembles doing words of knowledge for healing in a church service is the interaction between Jesus, the disciples, and blind Bartimaeus. Here is the sequence from Mark 10:

  1. Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus for healing.
  2. Jesus sent a message to Bartimaeus through His disciples indicating that Jesus wanted to heal him.
  3. The disciples delivered the personal message to Bartimaeus in the midst of a large crowd of people.
  4. Bartimaeus identifies his need for healing, his desire for healing, and his faith for Jesus healing him.
  5. Jesus heals Bartimaeus through the conduit of Bartimaeus’s own faith.

That same chain of events is what happens when a person gives a word of knowledge for healing in a church service. Jesus is sending a message through a disciple that indicates what Jesus wants to do. That person/disciple must be obedient and say what they heard. The person needing healing then responds in faith, acknowledging their need and believing that Jesus wants to heal them in that moment. Their faith becomes a possible conduit through which Jesus heals them.

I’ve personally seen this happen a number of times in a number of different worship services. And once you’ve seen it once, you believe it can happen again and again. But it requires obedience and faith, both on the part of the “disciple delivering Jesus’s message” and on the part of the “Bartimaeus” in the room.

Even after all of these biblical examples, I understand the skepticism that still may exist. There have been abuses with this kind of healing ministry in the past in certain streams of the church. It makes sense that people would be wary of the improper use of words of knowledge for healing. Someone may read all of the above and respond with something like, “Yeah, but we aren’t Jesus. His ministry was different.” I get it. But to this objection I would offer Jesus’ own words.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

John 14:12

I am fine with the critique that argues that there are better ways to pray for healing in a church service than doing words of knowledge for healing. Maybe so. If so, let’s discover what those are. But I believe not praying for healing is just not an option for churches moving forward. The churches around the world that are growing are the ones who are fully embracing the gifts of the Spirit. Our post-Christian culture is resembling the rest of the world more and more. And so, I believe we must resemble the faithful global church more and more.

Consider the possibility that you have already been getting words of knowledge and just didn’t know what they were. Maybe you don’t use that terminology, or maybe you didn’t know it was a gift of the Spirit. Yet, many of you reading this right now have experienced the Lord give you a small nugget of information about someone through the Holy Spirit that you couldn’t have possibly known otherwise. Consider how God may want to use that gift in your life to love others. Could seeing others get healed be a part of that?

Expensive Miracles

Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Mark 8:13-21

Jesus was warning the disciples against a worldview that put politics at the center (yeast of Herod) and a worldview that put religion at the center (yeast of the Pharisees). The yeast of Herod doesn’t want faith to come into the public square (Matthew 14:3-5). The yeast of the Pharisees was a form of godliness with no power (2 Timothy 3:5; Matthew 22:29).

But the disciples had minds that were still set on the wisdom of the world and not the wisdom of God. They thought Jesus was talking about the fact that they only had one loaf of bread and forgot to bring more.

Aware of this, Jesus reveals to us His expectations of the disciples. The disciples were there when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fed 5000. They were also there when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fed 4000. And because they had seen and experienced these miracles, Jesus expected a change in the way they processed things. Jesus expected those miracles to change their thinking, their faith, and their reasoning. He expected them to see now with different eyes and hear with different ears and, at the very least, remember what God can do with a little bread.

Bill Johnson says it this way, “Miracles are expensive because they require change. Miracles that are just observed and applauded but haven’t shifted my perspective have not had their full impact. They are supposed to actually change the way I deal with the situations of my life.

Once we’ve seen miracles happen right in front of us, we lose the right not to believe it can happen again. Once we’ve seen people healed right in front of us, once we’ve seen people delivered from demonic oppression, once we’ve seen God supernaturally provide, we can’t go back to standard western Christianity. Jesus, having shown us our inheritance in the Kingdom of God, now expects us to think differently about how we do church and about how problems get solved.

Jesus expected the disciples to look at that one loaf of bread differently. Since they had seen the miracles of feeding the 5000 and feeding the 4000, He expected them to look at that one loaf of bread and see the potential for abundance rather than scarcity. He expected them to have eyes of faith, hearts that were softened, and ears that could hear what the Spirit was doing.

The apostle Paul said it this way to the Corinthians:

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom…

1 Corinthians 2:4-7

Paul had shifted from human wisdom to God’s wisdom. He wasn’t interested in using reasoning that was common to the kingdoms of this world. He wanted to use reasoning that was common to the Kingdom of God. He wanted their faith to rest on the fact that the message of the gospel came with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. His desire was to declare God’s wisdom, not the so-called wisdom of the current culture that he was in. Paul had seen too much, he had experienced too much, to go back to thinking with human wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. He had seen too much not to expect God’s demonstration of power.

As Bill Johnson said, miracles are expensive. Once they are happening in our midst, we can’t go back to business as usual. Jesus expects more. He expects that they change how we operate in the world, that they change how we think and reason. If they don’t, we become like the Pharisees who saw so many of Jesus’s miracles and walked away with hardened hearts.

Afraid Yet Filled

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Matthew 28:5-8

Afraid yet filled with joy. The women just had two encounters. They first encountered an empty tomb. This caused confusion and fear. Why would Jesus’s enemies desecrate His body by stealing it from the tomb? And before they could process it all, they had a second encounter, this time with an angel.

Their fear was not the sinful kind of fear that is steeped in distrust of God and worry about the future. The fear they were experiencing in this moment was the fear of the Lord. It was a holy fear of reverence and awe having just been in the presence of an angel who was dripping with the glory of the Lord. God was doing something glorious and yet so far outside of their understanding that it brought both fear and joy.

Afraid yet filled with joy.

This sums up the whole of a life walking with Jesus as He does the unexpected, the miraculous, the unthinkable. The disciples regularly experienced this mixture. When Jesus walked on water, when Jesus healed people who hadn’t been able to walk for decades, when Jesus cast out demons that no one else could, when Jesus touched people He shouldn’t have (like bleeding women and leprous men), the disciples lived in wondrous awe. They felt the fear of the Lord and the joy of the Lord all at the same time.

As followers of Jesus, we follow Him to our own cross and to our own tomb. We put to death the selfish, sinful things that hold us back from fullness of life with Christ. And we also follow Him out of that tomb, walking into new life as a new creation, a new kind of humanity that the world has never seen before.

When we believe in the impossible because of resurrection power coursing through our veins, and when we witness the impossible become possible right in front of us, we will regularly feel as the women did that day–afraid yet filled with joy. The holy fear of the Lord–the reverent awe of His holiness and power–mixes with the incredible, abundant joy of seeing heaven come to earth, and we are never the same!

He is risen!

Good Soil

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Matthew 13:3-8

After telling the people the Parable of the Sower, Jesus pulled His disciples aside and explained it (Matthew 13:18-23). The seed is the message about the Kingdom of God. The different soils represent the various conditions of our heart. The fruit produced doesn’t have to do with the quality of the seed but the quality of the soil. And the truths found in this parable are true not only for the message of the Kingdom of God but also the demonstration of the Kingdom.

For instance, why didn’t everyone believe after seeing Jesus do so many miracles, signs, and wonders? They had just witnessed a demonstration of the Kingdom of God coming to earth. How could someone not believe after seeing that? The Parable of the Sower explains it. Witnessing a miracle is a seed of the Kingdom. Our response to a miracle reveals the condition of our hearts.

Jesus’s miracles were not occasional. They were a staple in His life. He was demonstrating the Kingdom everywhere He went. It was not a side ministry. It was His ministry.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“He took up our infirmities
    and bore our diseases.”

Matthew 8:16-17

The Pharisees were particularly bothered when Jesus cast out demons. (This is still true today!) Maybe because they had seen faith-healers before who were easily falsified. But having authority over demons and casting them out was something no one could fake and something they couldn’t do. The soil of their hearts got exposed. Their only recourse was to claim Jesus was demonized Himself and using demons to cast out demons.

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

Matthew 9:32-34

A little while later, they accused Him of being demon-possessed again after he delivered another man, so Jesus decided to clarify the situation.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?…But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Matthew 12:25-28

The Kingdom had come in their midst. It had shown up right in front of them in the form of healings and deliverances. People being set free from illness and from demons was supposed to be a sign of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. It was good seed scattered by the Good Sower. It was supposed to be good news that people rejoiced over. Instead, because of their path-hardened hearts, the Pharisees used it as an accusation against Jesus. The very thing that should have been a reason to crown Jesus King of Kings was used against Him to bring a crown of thorns upon His head.

Stimulus

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. 

Acts 2:42-44

Everyone knows that the economic stimulus package that is being sent out to people, while temporarily helpful, is just a band-aid. Strangely enough, stimulus checks like this are most helpful in stimulating the economy when they are given to people who aren’t struggling financially. Only those who have an economic engine–like a good job or investment strategy–and are responsible with their money can take that check and pour it back into the economy. Those really struggling need it just to survive and pay debts. The check stops with them.

This same principle applies to our life with God. Moments where we might have a spiritual encounter, like at a retreat or conference, are helpful but can’t be expected to sustain a person. Strangely enough, these moments are most helpful to the Kingdom when they impact those with a spiritual engine already established in their life. For those really struggling, the moment often stops with them. But for those with an established spiritual engine, the moment turns the person into a conduit of the Spirit, impacting all the people around them.

A spiritual engine is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that daily connect a person to the Lord. This is what truly sustains growth in the Christian life.

For the early church, they had this kind of spiritual engine. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. For us this would be regular time in God’s word, studying and meditating on scripture. The early church devoted themselves to fellowship and the breaking of bread. For us this would be regular times of gathering with other believers to be encouraged and challenged in our walk with the Lord. And the early church devoted themselves to prayer. For us this would be daily time talking to Jesus, laying out our requests, and listening to the Spirit for comfort, guidance, and direction.

When we have these disciplines in our life, they become a spiritual engine that helps to keep us on fire for the Lord. And the fruit from this kind of intimacy with the Lord is undeniable. For the early church, the apostles regularly engaged in signs and wonders, miracles, healings, and deliverances, etc. The miracles were signs pointing people to the reality of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God among them. And all the believers shared their possessions with each other. They took care of each other and the outsider. They were a close-knit community.

When moments of spiritual encounter come, they fuel the fire of those who are already operating with a spiritual engine in their life. Without this, these incredible moments become a flash in the pan. Too many followers of Jesus think that spending one-on-one time with the Lord is optional. It’s not. Daily time in the word, in prayer, and regular time connecting to other believers is essential for growth.

Residential and Occasional Gifts

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Corinthians 12:7-11

There is some confusion in the church about the gifts of the Spirit and how they operate. One point of misunderstanding revolves around gifts of the Spirit like healing and miracles. The comment usually goes like this, “If someone has the gift of healing, why don’t they just walk around and go into hospitals and just heal everyone.” The logic is that if they have the gift, they should be able to use it whenever and wherever they want. People often think of “gifts” as no more than supercharged abilities that we can control at will.

But this shows a lack of understanding of how many of the gifts of the Spirit work. All spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit are not always fully controlled by the will of the person who has them. It is true that some gifts are “residential” in nature in that they are always able to be accessed and used by the person who has that gift. Examples of a residential gift would be the gift of mercy, gift of hospitality, or gift of teaching. In nearly every setting, a person is able to access this gift and use it for the glory of God. The gift seems to “reside” in the person in a way that doesn’t depend on a special request of God. The person is a kind of reservoir for the gift.

Other gifts are “non-residential” and are sometimes called “occasional” gifts by theologians. By occasional they don’t mean temporary or rare. They mean that these gifts show up in particular occasions and can’t be fully controlled by the person who has this gift. Examples of “occasional” gifts are gifts of healing, gifts of miracles, gift of prophecy, etc. Those who have operated in these “occasional” gifts usually have to request that the Lord move through them in that way for that particular situation. The gift is there, but it is not released automatically. It must be released by God through the person. Rather than a reservoir, the person is simply a conduit of the gift.

We could say that a person with one of the non-residential gifts has to wait on the Lord and has to invite the Lord to use them as a conduit in that moment. When we say they “have” the gift of healing or miracles or prophecy we don’t mean they own the gift and control it at will. We mean that we have seen the Lord regularly use them as a conduit of that gift. And as a person grows in a non-residential gift, they are used more and more often to be a conduit. It happens more regularly.

With a residential gift, a person can use it all the time. Growing in that kind of gift doesn’t mean that it happens more regularly but that, when it is used, it is used more powerfully. Meaning, the effect of the gift when it is used grows in impact.

We could use modern technology as an analogy. Having a residential gift is like having the song on your hard drive. Having a non-residential gift is like having to pull it down from the cloud. Either way, you have access to it, but it’s a different kind of access.

Knowing this distinction about the different gifts is important so that we can learn to cooperate with the Spirit in the operation of the gifts given to us. Different gifts require a different kind of cooperation. When we know this, we can wield these gifts for the sake of the Kingdom of God and for the glory of the name Jesus.

Familiar God

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Mark 6:1-6

A prophet is not without honor except in his own town. We tend not to appreciate things and people with whom we have become familiar. Jesus saw tremendous faith in all kinds of people as He traveled from town to town. Yet, when He got to His own hometown, people there could only see Him as the carpenter, Mary’s son. They couldn’t get past what they were familiar with. They weren’t able to honor who He really was. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.

This is a good warning for us, that we can get too familiar–too comfortable–with our friends and loved ones that we know the best. We can start to think we already know what they are about, and we can dismiss them because of it. Rather than continuing to learn from them and continuing to be curious, we can allow our familiarity to breed contempt.

This can happen with good friends, parents, siblings, spouses, and neighbors. I’ve seen it happen a lot in ministry. I’ve seen pastors forget to honor and appreciate their congregation because they were too familiar with them. I’ve seen congregations forget to honor and appreciate their pastor because they grew too comfortable and complacent.

The most troubling thing about Mark 6 is the warning that this is possible to do with God Himself. We can become so familiar with God that we think we already know. We’ve read the Bible. We’ve attended church for years. We’ve heard it all…or so we think. We can become so familiar with God that we stop pursuing Him. We stop learning new things about Him. We stop journeying deeper into our intimacy with Jesus. We stop believing there is more of God to experience than what we are experiencing right now. When this happens, our faith begins to dwindle.

Bobby Connor, a prophetic minister, said it best, “We are too familiar with the God we hardly know.” Let that sink in. God is unfathomable and incomprehensible in His vastness. What we do know about Him we only know because He decided to reveal it to us through scripture, through Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit. We hardly know this God we have become so familiar with. There is SO. MUCH. MORE!

The apostle Paul tried to articulate this truth when he wrote this to the church in Rome:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?” [Isaiah 40:13]
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?” [Job 41:11]
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36