Let’s try a little bible study thought experiment. Read the following passage of scripture and answer this question, “Who performed the miracles?” It’s a simple question, but I don’t want you to answer based on your theology or preconceived notions. Answer only based on what the text actually says.
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.Acts 2:43
So, who performed the signs and wonders according to this passage? Answer: the apostles. Here’s what the passage didn’t say but what our own theology might expect it to say, “God performed many signs and wonders through the apostles.” Maybe that is what we wished it said. It would certainly be a bit less messy theologically if it was phrased that way. But that’s not what it said. It said the wonders and signs were performed “by the apostles.” Interesting.
Let’s try it again. Read the following passage of scripture and answer this question, “Who performed the miracles?” Answer only based on what the text actually says.
The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people.Acts 5:12
Just to provoke a little more reflection, I’ll ask this question. “According to this passage, not your theology, was it God who did the signs and wonders or the apostles?” I know, I know. Humans can’t do miracles, only God can. But this passage is clear that it was the apostles who did the signs and wonders.
Let’s look at some more passages and ask the same question, “Who performed the miracles?” Answer only based on what the text actually says.
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.Acts 6:8
Answer? Stephen. Now this passage helps us a little in telling us that he was “full of God’s grace and power,” but the passage is once again unapologetic about naming Stephen as the one who “performed great wonders and signs.”
Or how about this next one. “Who performed the miracles?” Answer only based on what the text actually says.
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.Acts 8:6-7
Last one. Except this time, I’ll change the question slightly. For this one I’m asking, “Who cast out the demon?”
Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.Acts 16:18
I know, I know. We want to be able to say God cast out the demon or Jesus cast out the demon or, even, the power of the Spirit cast out the demon. But what does the word of God actually say? Paul is clear when he says, “I command you….” Paul commanded that demonic spirit to leave and, at that moment, it left the woman.
So what am I getting at?
When God does the miraculous on the earth, He chooses to partner with us in doing it. The partnership is so close that scripture often fails to say the qualifiers that we would expect, like, “God did X through such and such person.” It often skips all of that and just says that the person performed the miracle.
What are we to make of this?
Scripture often describes the relationship between Christ and the Church as a marriage between husband and wife (see Ephesians 5:31-32 & John 3:28-29). There is a partnership and a union between us and Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, where the two become one (like husband and wife).
Imagine a husband who works and brings home all the household income and a wife who stays home to manage the house and the kids. Now imagine the wife is the one who organizes their family budget and makes sure all the bills get paid on time. So here’s the question, “Who pays the bills?”
On the one hand, the wife is the one who actually pays the bills, but on the other hand it’s the husband who provides all the income to pay the bills. There is a partnership happening here. It’s not totally correct to say the husband pays the bills (although he is the source of all their resources to do so). It’s also not totally correct to say the wife pays the bills (although she actually executes the action of paying the bills and the bills might not get paid if she didn’t). They both play a role in the bills getting paid. If one or the other didn’t do their part, the bills might not get paid.
This same dynamic is at play when we partner with God to see supernatural signs, wonders, and miracles. Jesus’s death and resurrection provided all the resources for healing. The power of the Spirit in us (not our own power) is what is operating in and through us as we pray for healing. Yet, we do have a part to play. And while our part is small, it is important. We must exercise the delegated authority given to us. We must release the power that is in us. By faith, we must act in prayer.
This is why the scriptures so often say that it was the apostles who performed the miracles, or Stephen, or Philip, or Paul. While we all know the power didn’t originate with them, it did flow through them. They were an essential piece of the partnership to see the Kingdom of God breakout on the earth.
There are other passages of scripture that highlight the fact that God wants to partner with us and work through us to see the miraculous happen around us.
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul…Acts 19:11
This passage makes it more clear that God is the one working through Paul. And Paul mentioned this supernatural partnership himself when he wrote to the Romans.
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
Notice the back and forth. Initially, Paul’s ministry is “what Christ has accomplished through me.” Then it’s “what I have said and done–by the power of signs and wonders.” Then it’s back to, “through the power of the Spirit of God.” This back and forth (it was God, it was me, it was God, it was me, it was God in me, etc) is all an attempt to use limited human language to try to describe this mysterious partnership and oneness with Christ (Christ in you the hope of glory – Colossians 1:27).
James does something similar when he discusses healing prayer.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.James 5:15
So, is it the “prayer offered in faith” that makes the sick person well? Or, is it that “the Lord will raise them up?” And of course the answer is “Yes.” Both/And. Partnership. Union.
In our previous analogy, if we asked the husband, “Who pays the bills,” what do you think he would say? I think he would say, “My wife does.” This, to me, explains Acts 2:42; 5:12; 6:8; 8:6; 16:8 and many other passages of scripture. Who did the miracles? The apostles did. Stephen did. Philip did. Paul did. You and I do.
Yet, if you asked the wife the same question, what do you think she would say? I think she would say something like, “I click the button but my husband is the one who brings home the bacon.” This is essentially how Peter responded after the lame beggar got healed in Acts 3:6-8. Peter said, “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?…It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see” (Acts 3:12-16).