Miracle of Freedom

When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

Acts 8:6-8

We know that it is a miracle when someone is instantly physically healed. But scripture also calls the casting out of an impure spirit a miraculous sign. When demons are evicted from a person in the name of Jesus it is a miracle because nothing else can get a demon to leave.

When Jesus went to the synagogue in Capernaum and a demonized man stood up and started yelling, Jesus commanded the demon to leave the man. Here’s what happen next:

The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 

Mark 1:26-27

It’s not that Jewish exorcists didn’t have their rituals that attempted to help those who were demonized. That already existed. What astonished people was the authority that Jesus had. He commanded the demon to leave and it left. No ceremony. No ritual. Just authority. Everyone in that synagogue knew that demons didn’t listen to anyone. Demons did what they wanted to do in a person. But they had to listen to Jesus.

Likewise, the early believers walked in the authority of Jesus and were able to cast out demons. It was miraculous because nothing else would make them leave. And this is still true today.

I love science. I come from a family of nurses, pharmacologists and doctors. But medicine will not make a demon leave. Certain drugs will mute the physiological effects of the demons, but it won’t make them leave. In fact, I’ve prayed for a number of medical professionals–nurses, doctors, etc–and cast demons out of them in the name of Jesus.

I regularly encourage people to seek professional counseling and therapy. I’ve seen counseling help some of my friends. But therapy won’t make a demon leave. It can help people reject the lies that the demons are whispering in their ears, but it won’t make the demons leave. In fact, I’ve cast demons out of a number of therapists whose whole occupation is to do professional counseling.

Only the name of Jesus carries the authority to make a demon leave. Only a person walking in relationship with Jesus, in His authority and power, can cast out demons. Some sons of a Jewish priest tried to use the name of Jesus to cast out demons, but they didn’t have a relationship with Jesus or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They got a rude awakening.

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

Acts 19:13-16

“Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you.” Every demon knows Jesus and is terrified of Him. And Paul had cast out so many demons that the demonic kingdom of darkness began to learn his name. But the demons knew these sons of Sceva didn’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. They could sense their lack of authority and the absence of a relationship with Jesus.

This is what makes deliverance such a miracle. Nothing else in all of creation has the power and authority to make demons leave. The name of Jesus and the authority of that name is it. People have theological debates about the exclusive claims of Christ. But that debate can only happen in a theological ivory tower full of doubt and skepticism. When you’re on the ground fighting for people in spiritual warfare, there is no debate. Christ alone can get people free from demons. Christ alone can save.

And when you’ve seen the truth of this reality first hand, when you’ve witnessed that only the name of Jesus has the power and authority to cast out demons, it confirms what Peter preached to the crowds that day in Jerusalem, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Understanding Physical Healing

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. 

2 Kings 20:1-6

We can learn so many things from this dramatic healing of King Hezekiah. First, prayer changes things. I don’t like it when people say, “Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes us.” Nope. Prayer does both.

Hezekiah got a direct word from the Lord through the prophet Isaiah that he was going to die from the illness he had. Then, Hezekiah cried out to the Lord and the Lord healed him. Prayer matters. Prayer for physical healing matters. The fatalistic idea that “God’s going to do what God’s going to do” is a poor understanding of God’s sovereignty. God has chosen to be in covenant relationship with His people, which means that what we pray and what we ask for in prayer has an effect on things.

Secondly, most people don’t understand the connection between “small” healings and “big” healings. All miraculous healings are “big” in the sense that God chooses to divinely heal. But what I mean is that people don’t seem to care much about physical healing until they or someone they love is in Hezekiah’s position with an illness that is heading toward death.

I’ve encountered this attitude with people in my own church and people I’ve talked to about physical healing. They ask me why I think praying for physical healing is so important. They always use the argument that it is more important that people get saved and experience the loving community of the church than it is that they get physically healed. But this argument borders on gnosticism (an early heresy that thinks “spiritual” things are of ultimate importance while “physical” things don’t matter).

When a person doesn’t understand why I get so excited about “small” healings like a injured knee getting healed or a migraine problem going away, I start asking them about whether they would have that same cavalier attitude about stage 4 cancer getting healed or someone with traumatic brain injury getting healed. In every case, the person who was relatively indifferent about physical healing two seconds ago suddenly agrees that physical healing in those situations is supremely important. And what becomes clear is that they don’t understand the connection between the knee getting healed and the cancer getting healed. Most people don’t.

First of all, Jesus did not make this distinction between small and big healings. He healed blindness and He healed fevers. He raised the dead and He healed crippled hands. Jesus treated sickness as an attack on the body that God created. Whether it was a fever or blindness, Jesus wanted it gone.

Secondly, any spiritual gift must be used faithfully in order for it to grow. We accept this as a truth of the Kingdom when it comes to gifts like teaching or hospitality. We intuitively understand the parable of the talents applies not just to our financial resources but also to how we steward our spiritual gifts. This line of the parable should be ringing in our ears, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things“(Matthew 25:23).

The gift of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9) is no different. As we are faithful to pray for smaller physical needs and see God heal those, our faith grows. As we are faithful with “smaller” miracles, God can begin to trust us with “bigger” ones. When the apostle Paul talks about spiritual gifts in Romans 12, he teaches that we operate in our gifts in accordance with our faith (Romans 12:6). So while different gifts are given simply by God’s grace, we grow in these gifts by faith. We must exercise our faith as we use our gifts in order to mature in them.

So, when it comes to gifts of healing, praying for the “smaller” healings is what prepares you and your faith for the day you pray for life-threatening illnesses. Indifference toward small healing is a recipe for powerlessness and doubt when you need a big miracle. This is how all spiritual gifts work. If you’ve never preached to a group of 200 people, you wouldn’t assume you could step into a stadium full of people and preach an amazing sermon to thousands. Yet, this is exactly how we treat healing prayer.

Someone might say, “But couldn’t God move powerfully anyway?” Yes! Of course He could. He could also help that person who’s never preached to preach an incredibly powerful and moving sermon to a stadium full of people. God loves to do that! But on our end, we are being irresponsible and arrogant if we are relying on God’s sovereignty to bail us out of our indifference.

Paul’s advice to his protege Timothy was, “…be prepared in season and out of season…”(2 Timothy 4:2). This advice applies to all the spiritual gifts. And when it comes to healing, being prepared means we are praying for small and big miracles alike. It means we grow in our ability to hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance in healing prayer. It means we are seeing “small” healings happen and allowing those to build our faith.

So we celebrate every healing, big or small, because it is a tangible expression of God’s grace. We pursue and celebrate the healing of every disease, big or small, because healing is a sign of God’s Kingdom breaking into this world. We pray for healing because it is an act of love and compassion that was modeled for us by Jesus. Cavalier indifference toward physical healing is an unbiblical and irresponsible reaction that dishonors Jesus’s activity in the world.

What was important to Jesus should be important to us as His followers. And clearly, from reading the Gospels, physical healing was extremely important to Jesus.

Is it important to you? Who have you prayed for recently?

Suddenly

Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria. There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels…

Elisha replied, “Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!”

2 Kings 6:24-25; 7:1-2

The king of Aram had laid siege to the capitol city of the northern kingdom of Israel. The army surrounded the city and didn’t let any food or other products in or out of the city. Eventually the people ran out of food and money. Donkeys were considered an unclean animal and, not only were they eating them, but they were in high demand. Cannibalism had even set in. Hopelessness and despair were crushing the people of the city.

The king of Israel asked the prophet Elisha to seek the Lord for guidance. Elisha declares that their situation would change so suddenly that not only would they have food but they would have an overabundance. Prices on all goods would dramatically drop because of the outpouring of provision. Not only that, but all of this would happen within 24 hours.

One of the chief officers of the king couldn’t believe what Elisha was saying. He was a practical kind of guy. He reasoned that even if the siege somehow miraculously lifted, it would take weeks and months to get back to normal. Then it would take another set of miracles for crops to do well and for there to be an abundance. As this officer did the math, practically speaking, even if Elisha’s prophetic word came to be true, it would take months and months to happen. It was impossible for it to happen so suddenly.

Yet, that is exactly what happened. In the middle of the night, while the city of Samaria was asleep:

…the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!” So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

2 Kings 7:6-7

So within 24 hours, the Israelites had an overabundance of food, clothing, gold, silver, horses and all the other items that the Aramean army left behind. The Israelites could not have predicted what God did nor how He did it.

Over and over again in scripture we see that God is not only a God of process but also the God of the “suddenlies.” After a lifetime of having no children, Abraham and Sarah suddenly have a son. After a lifetime of deceptive actions, Jacob has a night of wrestling with the Lord and suddenly becomes Israel, the father of a nation. After 400 years in slavery, the Hebrews were suddenly set free. After 400 years of waiting for the Messiah, Jesus was suddenly born. After 30 years of living a normal life, Jesus suddenly gets baptized and starts His public ministry. After waiting 40 days from the time Jesus resurrected, the disciples suddenly experience an outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. After persecuting the early church, Saul, who becomes the apostle Paul, suddenly encounters the glorified Jesus on the road to Damascus. After being a faithful, God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius hears the gospel and suddenly has a life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit.

We worship the God of the suddenlies. There seems to be a period of waiting before every suddenly of God. But when God decides to act, things move quickly. Things change faster than what a normal process would allow for. Things fall into place in rapid succession. Through the prophet Isaiah, God describes His tendency to act in this way:

I foretold the former things long ago,
    my mouth announced them and I made them known;
    then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.

Isaiah 48:3

Notice that there is often a prophetic word first, then a time of waiting, then a sudden action from the Lord. This is a biblical pattern that happens over and over again in scripture.

I believe we are living out this pattern right now with the COVID-19 crisis. As the coronavirus was first hitting the U.S. a number of prophetic voices said that this thing would end suddenly. In other words, they were saying that it won’t take a year to get back to normal. Right now, many of the experts would disagree with those prophetic words because they are doing the math on how long normal processes would take. But what if God is about to do a “suddenly?”

Just like the people of Samaria, I have no scientific evidence to suggest that there is a “suddenly” coming. All I have is the word of the Lord delivered by prophetic people who may or may not have heard the Lord correctly. But I am choosing to lean into faith and believe that a suddenly of God is right around the corner. I don’t know if that means months, weeks or days. But in the waiting, I am going to choose to believe. Count me among the foolish ones who are choosing to live by faith and not by sight.

Lord, may your sudden action surprise and delight us all, and may Your Name be lifted up and glorified through it all!

Elisha & Jesus

Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’ [Malachi 3:1]

Luke 7:24-27

The Old Testament prophets prophesied that an Elijah-figure would precede the Messiah in order to prepare the way. Jesus identifies John the Baptist as this Elijah-figure and identifies Himself as the long awaited Messiah.

This can help us make sense of so many of the signs, wonders and miracles of Jesus. In the Old Testament, Elijah’s protege was Elisha. When Elijah was taken up to heaven, he left a his prophetic mantle to Elisha as well as a double portion of his anointing from the Spirit. So we can understand that if John the Baptist is the Elijah-figure, Jesus then becomes the Elisha-figure. Only when we compare and contrast the signs, wonders and miracles of Elisha with those of Jesus, we see that Jesus was not-so-subtly declaring that He was even greater than Elisha in word and deed.

Elisha healed the water in a well that had been contaminated (2 Kings 2:19-22). Jesus calmed an entire sea and declared that those who trusted in Him would have a well of living water springing up from within them.

Elisha caused jars to be miraculously filled with olive oil (2 Kings 4:1-7). Jesus caused the water in huge water jugs to be miraculously turned into wine.

Elisha miraculously fed 100 men with 20 loaves of bread and even had some left over (2 Kings 4:42-44). Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish and had 12 baskets of leftovers. He also fed the 4000 with seven loaves and some fish and had seven baskets of leftovers.

Elisha helped out one of his prophet buddies when an axhead flew into the Jordan River and sank. Elisha cut a stick and threw it on the water where the axhead sunk, and the axhead miraculously floated up to the surface. The prophetic friend reached his hand in the water and retrieved it. Jesus, however, walked on the Sea of Galilee. Then He invited one of His own buddies to come out on the water with Him. He enabled Peter to walk on water for a short time.

Elisha healed Naaman, who had leprosy, by telling him to wash in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10-14). Jesus healed leprous people everywhere he went with just a touch.

Elisha raised the Shunammites’s son back to life (2 Kings 4:32-37). After his death, his bones cause another man to come back to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). Jesus raised a young boy, a young girl, and Lazarus back to life. Then He Himself was raised back to life and the sheer power of His resurrection caused many in Jerusalem to be raised out of their own tombs (Matthew 27:52-53).

The point of all of this is that Jesus wasn’t random in His signs, wonders and miracles. Besides being moved with compassion for the person in front of Him, Jesus did many things that showed that He was, indeed, the Messiah. He was the one preceded by the Elijah-figure only He was much more powerful and more amazing than even Elisha was. Many of his signs, wonders and miracles fulfilled and completed all the miraculous events of the Old Testament and pointed forward to a day when the Kingdom of God would be in all its fullness on the earth.

Jars of Oil

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 

2 Kings 4:1-5

Hundreds of years before Jesus turned jars of water into wine, before His head was anointed with oil, before blood and water flowed from His side while He was on the cross, Elisha performed signs, wonders, and miracles that foreshadowed the ones done by Jesus.

The widow was in danger of the creditors taking everything, including her sons. Yet, through Elisha, God had an abundance for her. She kept pouring oil, and the oil kept pouring out. Jar after jar of olive oil was filled. By the end, she had enough to pay the debts and enough to live on. God was her provider.

The prosperity gospel has ruined large sections of the American church. It is a false gospel that is materialistic and empty. Yet, we can become so cautious about not falling into the trap of the prosperity gospel that we can forget that God does care about our financial situation. He does want to be our provider. It matters to Him whether the creditors come and take everything away. He wants to provide for us in our time of need.

The other truth the emerges from this story comes from the oil. In the Bible, oil was used for a few different reasons. First, there were the practical reasons. Oil was used in cooking, as fuel for lamps, and as a medicinal balm on skin that’s been injured.

Secondly, however, oil was used to consecrate people and items that were to be set apart. Oil was used to anoint kings and priests, to set them apart for a unique purpose. It was also used to consecrate items in the tabernacle as holy and set apart. In this same way, in the New Testament, people were anointed with oil before they received prayer for physical healing (Mark 6:12-13 & James 5:14-15). It was a way to mark them and set them apart for healing.

This same language of “anointing” is used when talking about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38; 2 Cor 1:21-22). Jesus was not only anointed as priest and king with oil but also with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and power.

So oil has this multi-faceted connotation in the New Testament of consecration and healing through the power of the Holy Spirit. This gives new meaning to the 2 Kings passage above. The oil of the Lord, the filling of the Holy Spirit, gets poured out in increasing measure. There is always more oil. Each empty jar gets filled to the brim. God always has more oil for us, more of the Spirit, more healing, more consecration. There’s always enough…more than enough.

If you need financial provision, God wants to provide. But most of us need more than just money. We need more of God’s Presence in this time. We need more of God’s peace and comfort. We need more of His power and healing. We need more of the tangible reality of the Holy Spirit flowing in us and through us. We need our empty jar to be filled with oil.

Jesus said this:

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.“

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:9-13

The Humanity of Jesus

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Matthew 26:53-54

Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane when guards came to arrest him. One of His disciples thought about putting up a fight against this wrongful arrest, but Jesus stopped him. And then Jesus said the comment above about angels. This comment is peculiar on so many levels.

Some people believe the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are no longer in operation today. They say these gifts were only for the early church and are no longer happening. One of their arguments is that the reason Jesus was able to do all of His miracles was because He was God in the flesh. Even though we are commanded to imitate His life, they say, we can’t expect to imitate this part of this life. He was operating as God, revealing His divinity with each miracle.

If that is true, then so many passages of scripture make no sense whatsoever. For instance, why would Jesus need to call on His Father to send Him twelve legions of angels? If He was operating out of His divinity, Jesus could just call on the angels Himself and they’d have to come. And why would He even need to call on angels at all if He was operating out of His divinity? He is infinitely more powerful than they are. But Jesus suggests here that not only is He not requesting angels to come to His rescue, but that even if He did request them, He’d have to make that request through the Father.

This is just one of the many instances where we see evidence that Jesus was not, in fact, operating out of His divinity while He walked the earth. Yes, He was God in the flesh, but He set aside His divinity in order to operate only out of His humanity while on the earth. [Also note that on two different occasions Jesus needed angels to attend to Him (Matthew 4:11 & Luke 22:43). If He was operating out of His divinity, would this have been necessary? It only makes sense if Jesus is operating only out of His humanity.]

Jesus Himself confirms this reality when speaking to His own disciples:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 

John 5:19

If Jesus was operating out of His divinity, He could do whatever He wanted by Himself. Instead, by operating only out of His humanity, Jesus stays completely dependent on the Father. He can do nothing by Himself. Nothing.

Jesus operated only out of His humanity throughout His formative years. Jesus submitted to the human reality of the need to grow. Luke confirmed this:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2:52

Make no mistake, God does not need to grow in wisdom or in stature or in favor with God. If Jesus was operating out of His divinity, He wouldn’t either. But He chose to humble Himself fully and live a completely human life. This included the need to grow in various aspects of His life.

The apostle Paul tried to articulate this truth to the church in Philippi:

…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 was God, but He never used His divinity to His own advantage. Instead, He operated only out of His humanity. He could have used His divinity to do all those healings, deliverances, and miracles, but He decided not to. Instead, He did all of those healings, deliverances, and miracles while operating out of His humanity. But how?

Luke gives us a couple clues.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 

Luke 4:1, 14

If Jesus was operating out of His divinity, why would He need to be full of the Spirit and then to be “in the power of the Spirit?” He would already be both. Instead, we see Luke make a point to record that Jesus shifted into a fullness of the Spirit that led to Him operating in the power of the Spirit. Because Jesus was operating only out of His humanity, in order to do any miracles, He had to stay surrendered to the Father and allow the power of the Spirit to flow through Him.

In the very next chapter, Luke again reveals this truth about Jesus.

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.

Luke 5:17

Why would Luke need to mention that the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick if Jesus was operating out of His own divinity. It’s a silly thing to say. But it makes complete sense if we understand that Jesus was operating only out of His humanity. He was completely dependent on following the direction of the Father and being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus chose to operate only out of His humanity, if He wanted to heal someone, He had to be dependent on the power of Spirit to be present.

The implications of this truth about Jesus are profound. It means that we no longer get to sit back and marvel at Jesus’s healings and miracles as spectators. We no longer get to excuse ourselves from the life of the miraculous with, “…yeah, but Jesus was God.” Yes, He is God. But Jesus was modeling for us what the fullness of humanity looks like. Jesus was showing us what is possible when a human is fully surrendered to the Father, fully empowered by the Spirit, and sin-free. He set the bar that we now pursue with our own lives.

The apostle Paul even makes the claim that the power that raised Jesus out of the grave is now inside of us as believers!

…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms..

Ephesians 1:19-20

And Jesus Himself expected that we would use the power of the Spirit in us for the sake of the Kingdom. Jesus expected that we would be surrendered to the Father, empowered by the Spirit, and freed from sin (because of His own atoning work on the cross). He layed out these expectations to His own disciples.

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

If Jesus was doing His miracles by operating out of His divinity then this claim is ridiculous. We could never do what Jesus did because we are not God. But Jesus expects that not only will we do the miracles He did, but that we would do even greater things. This statement only makes sense if Jesus did all that He did by operating out of His humanity. It also means we now have the reward and responsibility of pursuing the same kind of life Jesus lived, miracles and all.

Power Problems

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:10-11

Imagine a person came to you and said, “I want to know the power of God.” Many people in the church would give that person a strange look and wonder what was wrong with them. But this is exactly what the apostle Paul wrote here to the church in Philippi, and he wasn’t ashamed to say it. He knew that to know Christ more deeply he’d have to know His power. And we know that Paul not only pursued the power of the Holy Spirit but actually demonstrated it through signs, wonders, miracles and the proclamation of the gospel.

To the Romans, Paul wrote:

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

Why was Paul so comfortable pursuing and exercising the power of the Holy Spirit while so many in the church today get squeamish with any talk or mention of the power of God?

I believe the squeamishness about power and avoidance of the pursuit of the power of God stems from a misunderstanding of power in the Kingdom of God. People are applying their understanding of power in the world and assuming it works the same way in the Kingdom (Hint: it doesn’t).

Americans are skeptical of those in power and anyone who would pursue power. There is a distrust of anyone who would want more power because of all the abuses of power that we’ve seen. We are inundated with stories of those in power misusing and abusing their power for their own selfish agenda. Americans have resisted those in power, rightly or not, since we broke away from the King of England in the Revolutionary War. The whole idea of a government with a “balance of powers” came from this deep distrust of those in power.

So when someone starts pursuing the power of God, all of those assumptions get launched at that person. Skepticism rises, distrust abounds, and questions about agendas get asked. But behind all of this is a profound misunderstanding of the power of God in the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom, and God’s power through the Holy Spirit, does not work like power in the world.

God’s Kingdom is upside-down compared to the world. The first will be last and the last will be first (Mark 10:31). Whoever wants to become great must become a servant (Mark 10:43). The ones listed as the top leaders of the church, the apostles and prophets (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11), are actually at the very bottom as the foundation (Ephesians 2:20).

Some people take this upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God to mean we shouldn’t pursue greatness, but that is not the case. God wants us to become great; He just wants us to know that greatness is a journey downward into servanthood and humility not a climb up an organizational chart. God enjoys exalting His sons and daughters like any good Father would, but He’s called us to humble ourselves first (James 4:10).

This same principle is at work in the power of God. Jesus walked with tremendous power. The evidence of that power was all the healings, deliverances, signs, wonders, and the power with which He spoke. Scripture is clear that our journey in the Christian life is a pursuit of becoming more like Jesus. If we are going to become more like Jesus, one aspect of that journey will include a pursuit of the power of God flowing in our lives like it flowed in His.

The apostle Paul was unapologetic about wanting to know the power of His resurrection. He was unapologetic about operating in the power of the Spirit. The reason he was unapologetic about it was because he knew that identifying with the power of Jesus also meant identifying with His sufferings. The power of the Spirit and the suffering of Christ go hand and hand. To identify with one is to identify with the other. The same is true of God’s love. His love and His power go hand in hand. They are inseparable. So to pursue His power is to pursue His love. Many people don’t understand this because they’ve been too squeamish about power to find out for themselves.

Pursuing the power of the Spirit is like someone saying they are going to run a marathon. When someone says they are going to run a marathon, those who are insecure and those who don’t really know the sacrifice involved in training for a marathon might react by thinking, “Oh yeah? Who do you think you are?” They might assume the person is running for their own personal glory and recognition.

But people who are emotionally secure and people who know the tremendous sacrifice of time and effort it takes to train for a marathon react differently. In other words, they understand that the sacrifice of training for a marathon is GREATER than the personal glory of the finish line. They know that training for a marathon takes so much “dying to self” that the danger of self-glorification is itself usually nullified by the training it takes to finish the race. So their response will be something more like, “Oh wow! That’s amazing! Way to go!”

This is the same with the pursuit of the power of God. The pursuit of the power of the Holy Spirit is a journey downward into humility. It is a pursuit that will demand that you go low and stay low. It is not only identification with the resurrection of Christ but also with His sufferings. It is a million occasions of “dying to self.” The journey itself requires so much sacrifice that it usually nullifies any danger of self-glorification. It is a pursuit of becoming more and more like Jesus every day. The pursuit of the power of Spirit is also the pursuit of the love of the Father and surrender to Jesus.

I have found that in my own personal pursuit of the power of the Spirit, the power comes much later in the process. What God does first is have you encounter His love and, in turn, calls you to love others. Then you get humbled, over and over again. Often in this process is the reality of getting misunderstood and ridiculed. In other words, identification with the sufferings of Christ comes before identification with the power of His resurrection. And because of this, many people do not stay on the journey. It requires too much dying to self.

Pursuing the power of God is nothing like pursuing power in this world. It is an upside-down journey of becoming the last and the lowest. Anyone who doesn’t understand this truth has likely never taken the risk of pursuing the power of the Spirit. It’s much easier to stand at a distance with arms crossed and self-righteously declare their disinterest in power, as if that is some badge of humility. It is much easer to never attempt to be like Christ in His power and therefore to avoid the inevitable suffering that comes with it.

Crossing the Jordan

He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

Joshua 4:21-24

The people of Israel were to set up memory stones, a memorial, to help them and future generations remember the miracles of God. Just as God created a way through the Red Sea when they were getting free from slavery, God again created a way–this time through the Jordan River–as the people entered the Promised Land. The purpose for both miracles was less about Israel and more about the nature of God. These miracles demonstrated the power of the Lord.

The Red Sea crossing was a kind of water baptism. It was a type, a foreshadow, of our baptism in water when we trust in Jesus. Jesus saves us from slavery to sin. As we leave our old life behind, we go through the waters of baptism.

If the Red Sea crossing was a kind of water baptism, what was the Jordan River crossing?

This second crossing wasn’t about being set free from slavery but about entering the promises of God. It was about stepping into the fullness of the inheritance that God had for the people of God. The Jordan River crossing was a kind of baptism in the Spirit. It was a type, a foreshadow, of what we see in Acts 2 when followers of Jesus are filled with the Spirit.

This second crossing was necessary for Israel to step into the fullness of what God had for them. He didn’t just set them free from Egypt so they could wander around the desert. The purpose of the Red Sea crossing found its fulfillment in the Jordan River crossing.

The same relationship exists between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit. We didn’t get saved from sin and death just so we could continue to wander around as a slave to sin. We must also be filled with the Spirit in order to experience the fullness of the inheritance that we have been given in the Kingdom of God.

The apostle Paul wrote to a group of Christians who had the Spirit dwelling in them and said, “…be filled with the Spirit“(Ephesians 5:8). In other words, having the Spirit dwelling in you because you are saved is not the same thing as being filled with the Spirit. Israel was technically “saved” in the desert, but they didn’t enter all that God had for them until they crossed the Jordan.

Baptism in the Spirit isn’t you getting more of the Holy Spirit; it’s when the Holy Spirit gets more of you. It’s when your surrender and obedience allows Him access to more and more rooms in your heart, mind and body. As He fills your house with His Presence, there is an overflow that happens. More and more of the Kingdom of God is not only within you but begins to pour out of you.

Have you crossed the Jordan? Have you been filled to overflow with the Spirit?

Some Doubted

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Matthew 28:16-17

Some doubted!?! Let that sink in! They stood in the presence of the resurrected Jesus and still doubted. What? This is the same Jesus that casted out all manner of demons, demons who couldn’t stand to be in His presence. This is the same Jesus who healed all manner of diseases. This is the same Jesus who conquered sin and death.

To me it begs the question, “Why wasn’t doubt obliterated in His presence?”

I believe the root of this reality is that Jesus refuses to override our free will. Our faith will never be forced. God is not a coercive or abusive God, forcing Himself upon people. Instead, God patiently waits for our “Yes.” It doesn’t have to be a big yes. It can be as small as a mustard seed. But He won’t force Himself upon us.

This means the opportunity to doubt will always be there. Even if the resurrected Jesus stood right in front of you, you would still have the option of doubting. You will always have that option. We will also always have the option to believe and not doubt. This is the beauty of it all.

If people can still doubt Jesus even when His miraculously resurrected body stands right in front of them, then people will find reasons to doubt any sort of miraculous event. The spirit of unbelief is a demonic weed that will find any crack in your heart and set down roots as soon as possible.

Faith is choosing to trust. And no matter what we face, no matter the impossible situation in front of us, we can always choose to trust God, to trust His character, to trust His nature. He is worthy of our trust.

Have the seeds of doubt found a way into your heart?

Signs of Unbelief

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

Matthew 16:1-4

The Pharisees and Sadducees, religious leaders in that community, asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven. They wanted to test whether they could really believe Jesus was legitimate. Jesus refuses.

It’s important that we understand why Jesus refuses. This is not Jesus saying He won’t do signs and wonders. He had already performed hundreds and hundreds of healings. He had already cast out an overwhelming number of demons. He had already miraculously fed the 5000 (Matthew 14) and then turned around and miraculously fed the 4000 (Matthew 15). And with these miracles we see it bolster people’s faith. Jesus expects miracles to increase faith. But the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) teaches us that it all depends on the soil of our heart.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were around for most of these healings, miracles and deliverances. They had already seen sign after sign from heaven of Jesus’s legitimacy. But their pride caused their hearts to be full of unbelief, doubt and skepticism. So they wanted another sign. Jesus refused to bow down to their unbelief and doubt.

Jesus refuses to bow down to our unbelief and doubt. Instead, He invites our unbelief and doubt to bow down to Him. Jesus is more than willing to show us miraculous signs, but He is unwilling to throw pearls to pigs (Matthew 7:6). He refuses to be treated like a side show, a novelty act, just for the sake of people’s stubborn unbelief.

Right now, so much of our culture operates with the unbelief, doubt and skepticism of these Pharisees and Sadducees. I’ve seen many of my friends go through a process that is called “deconstruction.” I went through it too. It is basically a process of doing surgery on your faith. It’s like breaking a bone that’s not growing correctly in order to set it properly. At least that is what it is supposed to be.

But so many of my friends didn’t go through this process in an atmosphere of faith. It would be like doing surgery on yourself in an open field. It’s not so much the surgery that causes so much damage; it’s the infection that comes from doing the surgery by yourself in an unclean environment that ends up doing the damage.

When deconstruction is attempted on your own in an environment that is filled with doubt, inevitably the infection of unbelief seeps into your bones. Deconstruction itself–when done with spiritual guidance, in community, and in an atmosphere of faith–can be useful. But when it’s done in isolation, without spiritual guidance, in an environment of doubt, unbelief is often the result. Deconstruction in this context will tear down a person’s faith without reconstructing a healthy faith on the other side. It’s like breaking a bone and never resetting it.

If we’re looking for a sign to overcome our unbelief and doubt, Jesus advises us in this passage to look first to the sign of Jonah. In other words, look first to His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead three days later. That is our primary “sign from heaven” that builds faith. The apostle Paul said it this way:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

While uncertainty is a normal part of the Christian life, unbelief is not. Unbelief (often labeled “doubts”) is an infection that can grow to the point of killing one’s faith. Don’t let it. We are not helpless, passive victims of unbelief as if we can’t do anything about it. Root it out of your heart as soon as possible. Choose to trust God. Choose to trust scripture. Choose not to give in to your doubts.