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!

Simon the Leper

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

Matthew 26:6-7

The scene that follows the above verse is all about the woman. There is a whole discussion about whether she “wasted” all that expensive perfume on Jesus. But Jesus makes clear that what she did was a beautiful thing. He receives her gift as a form of preparation for His impending burial, and He notes that her extravagant act of love and worship will be forever be told wherever the gospel is told.

But did you miss the opening line?

Jesus was invited to dine at the home of man named Simon the Leper. That became the name he was known for in the region. The only way a person gets a name like that is if he actually had leprosy. But if he still had leprosy he couldn’t be in a home and he definitely couldn’t have a dinner party with a bunch of important guests.

So while we don’t know much about Simon the Leper, we can deduce a couple things. He lives in Bethany. He somehow knows Jesus. He once had leprosy. He no longer has leprosy. In fact, his healing had to be so complete that the people in that area were no longer afraid to be near him or his house.

I think it is safe to assume that Simon the Leper was one of the many people Jesus healed of leprosy. Or, even more intriguing is the possibility that Simon the Leper was one of the many who were healed when Jesus sent out the twelve (Matthew 10) or the seventy-two (Luke 10) to do the work of ministry. Many were healed as a result of the ministry of the disciples being sent out. Maybe Simon the Leper was one of them.

Either way, whether Jesus healed the man directly in person or indirectly through the disciples, this dinner party seems to be Simon the Leper’s way of saying thank you to Jesus.

The idea that people would be gathering in the home of a leper is astonishing. A leper was not only unclean but everything they touched was unclean. After Simon the Leper was healed, he went from someone who had to stay outside the village to someone who could have a dinner party full of guests in his own home. It’s a radical transformation, not only of his physical well-being but of his social standing in the community.

This is why people getting physically healed is so important. Physical healing rarely just stops at the physical. We are whole beings. So when one part of us gets radically healed, it often impacts the rest of our life. The abundant life we experience in our body flows over to our heart and mind and relationships and intimacy with the Lord.

The point of physical healing is to be a starting place for the holistic healing of a person.

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.

Normal Christianity

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues,proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Matthew 4:23-25

Imagine that you’ve never heard anything about Jesus. So you open the first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and you read all the way through it. What would you encounter there? A Jesus who just preached sermons? A list of “dos” and “don’ts?” No.

If you weren’t contaminated by western culture’s preconceived notions of Jesus, you’d encounter a Jesus who proclaimed a message about a new kind of kingdom on the earth. You’d also encounter a Jesus who was constantly healing people everywhere he went. You might expect that followers of Jesus would heal people everywhere they went.

Physical healing was central to Jesus’s ministry. So was setting free those who were bound by demonic darkness. These were not side ministries for Jesus. They were two out of the three main ways that Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom of God coming to earth. The third was His teaching/preaching about the Kingdom.

Jesus did not come to bring a disembodied gospel. Jesus came in a physical body and cared about physical bodies. It wasn’t about spiritual truths that help us escape the world. It was about the truth that His Kingdom came to transform this world, including physical bodies. Jesus did not bring a Gnostic gospel. He brought an embodied one.

Over and over again we see that healing physical sickness was central to the Kingdom of God. Besides story after story of Jesus encountering an individual and healing them, we get passages of scripture that seem to summarize mass healings as if there were too many to name. And we learn that this healing ministry wasn’t a side show. It was central to the fulfillment of prophecy about the coming Messiah.

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.” [Isaiah 53:4]

Matthew 8:16-17

When Jesus wanted to assure John the Baptist that He was, in fact, the Messiah, the message Jesus sent to John was all about healing. Healing physical sickness was one of the main signs that Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies about the coming Messiah.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Matthew 11:2-5

Physical healing wasn’t just something Jesus did on the side. It was one of the main things Jesus did with His limited time here on earth. It was central to demonstrating that God’s Kingdom had invaded the kingdom of this world. The light was breaking through the darkness.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

Matthew 9:35-36

It was also something He empowered His disciples to do. In other words, healing wasn’t just a ministry of the Messiah. It was something expected of every disciple of Jesus. Seeing people get healed by the power of God and seeing demons get cast out of people was always meant to be “normal Christianity.”

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “… As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

Matthew 10:1, 5-8

Healing the sick was something Jesus did everywhere He went. Healings were physical demonstrations of the truth of His Kingdom. They were evidence that He really was the Messiah and the Kingdom of God really was being inaugurated on the earth.

And the early followers of Jesus picked up this mantle and continued to carry it. They continued to proclaim the message of the Kingdom and continued to demonstrate the Kingdom through healings, deliverance, signs, wonders, and miracles. We see this reality all throughout the book of Acts.

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

Acts 2:43

The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.

Acts 5:12-16

The prayer of the early believers was, “…enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). They simply wanted to continue the ministry of Jesus. They wanted to boldly proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and then demonstrate the Kingdom through signs and wonders. This was “normal Christianity.”

In the West, many churches have denounced physical healing and deliverance ministry. Or, if it is believed at all, we have relegated them to side ministries. How could something so central to the gospel, so central to the Kingdom, so central to Jesus and the early church get shoved aside? Church, we have to do better than this!

Our culture is tired of hearing about Jesus and the gospel. They are crying out, “Show me! Prove it! Demonstrate it!” And two of the primary ways Christians are meant to demonstrate the Kingdom of God coming to earth is through physical healing and deliverance. It was never meant to be a “special” ministry reserved for “elite” Christians or the “crazy charismatic” Christians. This was meant to be normal Christianity.

Normal Christianity looks like every church member praying for their co-workers and seeing them get healed right there in the office. Normal Christianity looks like having dinner with neighbors and, for dessert, praying and seeing them set free from the demonic oppression they’ve experienced for years. Normal Christianity looks like delivering a prophetic word to your boss that then shapes the future of your company. Normal Christianity looks like getting a word of knowledge for the person in front of you at Walmart, giving the word, and then leading them to give their life to Jesus. Normal Christianity looks like getting a prophetic dream for a family member that ends up encouraging them about their true identity.

Normal Christianity looks like every person in the church doing this all week long so that it becomes such a regular occurrence that there is no need for any fanfare about it. There’s no arguing over the legitimacy of these things because everyone experiences them daily. There’s no need to debate when it is just normal life. This is normal Christianity.

We need to return to the Bible’s definition of normal Christianity once again!

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.

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).

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

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.