John 4:43-45: After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.
Our Lord, as we noticed, instructed them for two entire days as to the truth of the gospel, and with the result that God had mercy on them and granted them to believe – not a coincidence as some might suppose, or based on their great faith, of which they would have none before regeneration, but according to the working of the triune God of the Scriptures, the one true God, as we have already spoken of, and as we will much more, for as Paul said, to write the same things to you is no trouble to me and it is safe (of a safeguard) to you. We need such guarding of our souls; we need to be reminded again and again of the great and free grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord; we need to be reminded not only where the power for us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called comes from, but how very gracious it is to know that (He) satisfies us in the morning with (His) steadfast love, that we may be joyful all our days (Psalm 90:14). Truly, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Now, we have a brief parenthesis, and it tells us that Jesus did not go to Nazareth (we know this is the “hometown” referred too, for Jesus there grew to a man, though not born there) again, even giving the reason (cf. Matthew 13:53-58). It is noteworthy to see that those in His hometown had a lack of faith; then again, we must remember where that faith comes from (Ephesians 2:8-9); I think that I would say that God has designed it so that those closest to us are often the last to come to faith, if they ever do, because they trust in that which they know of us because of past associations, unless God has mercy on them, grants them the knowledge of the truth in His mercy, that they may believe, and be set free from the snare of the devil to which they have been taken captive to do that evil one’s will, and notice: it is according to God’s mercy and judgment that these things happen, for only His gracious mercy can break the hold of the devil on any man (2 Timothy 2:23-26). The hold the devil has on every man before such grace that transforms the man, bringing them to their senses, makes that resurrection power that raises our dead-in-sin natures to life eternal with our Lord that much more worthy of our humble praise, worship, and thanksgiving (Ephesians 2:1-7).
However, the Galileans welcomed Him, and the reason given is that they had seen, with the result that it remained fresh in their memories, those things He had done in Jerusalem at the feast, which they had been at while He was there, performing His miracles. Here again we see the purpose of miracles in the time of our Lord Jesus; they were to point to Him. They could result in gaining Him a welcome, and honor with that welcome, but they were to always point to His Person, and so the Person of the Father. The duration of this honor and welcome are not spoken too; the fact that it is again the miracles mentioned, though not recorded exactly, at the end of chapter 2, is apparent, for He had done no others in that region since then, as recorded in the gospels.
The reason we know the main purpose of the miracles is from our Lord’s own words (John 14:9-11); however, we may note that it was to the words our Lord spoke of the Father’s authority which were to have preeminence to His disciples, and this is always the case in Scripture: we are to look at that which is spoken by the Lord, as the miracles generally point to only two things; that is, the reality of God among us, in His saving, redemptive work, as well as the judgment of those who hate Him at the same time; such it was with even the cross and resurrection (Acts 13:6-12; 17:16-34; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Indeed, if miracles had been the basis on which men’s hearts changed, the entire generation of Israel that perished in the wilderness would have been saved; so it is in the New Testament. We should remember the miracles God was pleased to perform, during various periods of redemptive history, with awe; we should never seek to elevate the signs themselves to that place that is reserved only for God, for of such things comes idolatry and all types of evil doctrine.
Thus, we deny, categorically, that the gifts of signs and miracles, as performed by our Lord Jesus Christ, ever had any other intent than those things we have mentioned, and in this, we go beyond our present study, and enter into the realm of the formation and building of the church under the apostles, and those elders they appointed.
A pastor, whom I will not name, states that he counts at least 17 times in the book of Acts where miracles help lead to conversions; what he also notes is “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). What he does not note, however, is that in most of these places in the book of Acts, there were some who believed, and many who did not. Since he does not name each of these places, but only the ones that support his position, it is hard to determine what he means; since he uses the corrective letter to the church in Corinth as support for his position, this makes it even more tenuous. He does, however, note one thing that I can agree with: signs and wonders – or gifts of miracles and healings – were to point to the fact of God, especially of God’s purpose of redemption (or judgment, as each case is different) in our Messiah and Lord, Jesus Christ.
It is precisely at this point that the charlatans of the modern church have always failed. People state they believe in God, but they are looking for the signs for the wrong reasons. The argument John MacArthur makes of the chapters in 1 Corinthians which deal with these things (12 and 14) is, to my mind, a very good one, although I may not agree with every conclusion that he arrives at.
Also, that those who are already believers should seek such as miracles of healing and other such by commanding, in the name of our Lord, as the apostles did, is not Scripturally warranted, for these were done to unbelievers, proving again that such are done to unbelievers, who then may become believers, or not, as the Lord our God wills. There is no indication – I repeat, none – of those already saved performing such signs on others already saved, or seeking such, as this was not the function of such signs.
Another, and very telling thing to notice, is that aside from Paul correcting the abusive use of false gifts in Corinth (those who say that God’s gifts can be misused misunderstand His sovereignty – such would be akin to God telling a lie, it is contrary to His very nature; it cannot happen), and the brief mention of the signs in Galatians 3:5, in which we hold that Paul was speaking of God working signs through himself during his missionary journeys in the region, (for it is not recorded that any other did such; especially is it not recorded that those who believed did such, ever, as far as I can tell), there is absolutely no emphasis on signs in the remaining literature of the New Testament epistles; indeed, the next time signs are mentioned, we see them in Revelation, in agreement with the prophets, speaking of the final judgment of God on His creation, and our long-awaited redemption being completed by our great and glorious God.
So, the rest of the New Testament, after the Galatians passage, only mentions that such are to come again at the hand of first, those the Lord sends, and second, at the hands of the angels He sends, for the same purposes as before (to gather His elect and judge those who hate Him), with the exception that this is the final time where God will directly and visibly intersect human history with His mighty miracles, and this is in the book of the Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Noting the final outcome of that which God has performed in this last book of Holy Scripture, we may see that, as with unbelieving Israel, it is to show the Lord’s judgment upon a world that hates the God who created it – that is, the people upon the earth – and our final perfection in His glory – the end of our hope of salvation (Philippians 3:20-21; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:5; cf. Romans 8:18-25).
Now, to treat fairly of these things, we may note that we are not told that such signs and wonders have stopped, yet the record of the New Testament, in silence about these things among so much written concerning the present, gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit by godly, holy living, in training in righteousness, reproof, correction, and teaching, and all other of Christian graces given of our God, that we may live in a manner that shows the reason we are to give for that hope that is in us (and this is a verbal giving of that reason – 1 Peter 3:15), speaks very loudly, for if such was to be the norm for Christians of all ages (which itself is against the teaching of the New Testament, as only selected individuals of the Lord did these things, and that, to those who would either believe, or not, as the Lord willed), why, then, no mention of them in the other letters of Paul, or of Peter, or of John, James, Jude, and the writer to the Hebrews?
This is a question that must be answered, and I believe is answered very completely; although an argument from silence is usually a last resort, in this case, it is both complete and loud. God has set the distinction for what constitutes the Christian life, and even where it shows the believers being told they seek the best gifts earnestly (1 Corinthians 12:1) although it is most often translated in the imperative (the mood that normally expresses a command, intention, exhortation, or polite request. The imperative mood is therefore not an expression of reality but possibility and volition ), the verb form does allow for the interpretation of it in the indicative (The mood in which the action of the verb or the state of being it describes is presented by the writer as real. It is the mood of assertion, where the writer portrays something as actual (as opposed to possible or contingent on intention). Depending on context, the writer may or may not believe the action is real, but is presenting it as real. ), which simply means that the Corinthian church was seeking for these gifts as that which they wanted, which gives the reason for Paul’s assertions, throughout the chapter, that God gives the gifts as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 18, 28). Our seeking the gifts, therefore, does not dictate whether we get them or not, but God does. If we keep the tense in the imperative, it still does not negate the sovereignty of God in dispensing His gifts as He wills and pleases, but simply points to the fact that we will desire those gifts which, as we have studied in the LBCF 1689, are confirmed both by the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit, and the outward testimony of our brethren, to the proper and harmonious building up of the body to display the glory of our Lord and for the mutual benefit of the entire church.
Again, we are not told that such have stopped (although some make such an argument from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13), but we are left with a New Testament record that does not teach us to seek such, but rather, practical instruction in how to live, in the power of a new life imparted, by the power of the Holy Spirit putting us in eternal union with our God and one another.
The last part of this argument is that outside of the Scriptural record, but we may note the great amount of false miracles and false tongues-speaking that have accompanied such a departure from the Biblical record that has occurred – and still occurs – and what has been the result of these things: The name of the Lord is dishonored among the unbelieving, period. This is the historical record which is in full accord, or agreement, with the Scriptural record, and all reports of the signs and miracles that are said to be as those in the New Testament, no matter what part of the world we hear them from, have always been proven false. Never have we known of medical, factual verification of a miracle that mirrored those in New Testament times, and it is not for lack of investigation.
Please notice this is not the same thing as praying for a miracle of healing – we are praying to our sovereign God to do that which we know is possible, within his will, and there are many records of unaccountable healings, recoveries from illnesses, etc., that are documented, which, in almost all cases, the doctors are forced to acknowledge they have absolutely no answer for – such is the power of the God who raised our Lord from the dead, and who raised our dead-in-sin spirits from the dead – for it is the same power that works in us (Ephesians 1:16-23).
This is relevant to our study, because we have spoken of the miracles of our Lord Jesus, and because of the great excesses of false teaching leading to false practice that is completely contrary to the way we are to walk in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 4:1, 11-17; 5:2). When that which contradicts our “sanctifying the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts” runs rampant; when our personal experience is contrary to the very life our Lord lived, and those examples of the apostles and disciples, and all the godly men of old, as well as those of the present, then we must question the experience, and the teaching that gave rise to that experience, since the very words we speak are part and parcel with our actions (Mark 7:1-23; Luke 6:43-45); indeed, the thoughts that have accumulated in our Christian experience, as to whether they are of sensuality (that which I want to be true, as opposed to that which God states is true), or of that very truth and power of God by which we are to be controlled (filled), will be seen by that which we teach and speak to one another and to unbelievers.
I submit to you that the overwhelming experience of the visible church at large, often in New Testament times, directly following New Testament times, and all through the ages to this present time, not only dishonors the Lord, but disqualifies those who participate in such, unless it is repented of – and thank God, it often has been and still is true that our God has reserved His remnant who do not seek to turn His Word into occasions to bow the knee to Baal. Thank God for His ever present mercy and forgiveness!
Soli Deo Gloria – Bill