Why did Jesus promise signs and wonders?
If we believe all of the analysis about our postmodern, post-Christian culture, it is not going to be an easy task to share the gospel in the twenty-first century.1 Many are disillusioned with organized religion and have rejected the Bible as a reliable source of truth. “You can decide what’s right for you,” we are told, “but don’t tell me what’s right for me.”
As followers of Jesus, we long for His return in glory and the establishment of new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells, but first we have a mission assignment to complete: “‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’ ” (Mark 16:15).2 However, those of us who are called to share the truth about Jesus in the twenty-first century face a massive challenge. This is the same daunting task that the apostles faced when they set out to share the gospel 2,000 years ago. They were called to be witnesses, not only in welcoming communities but “ ‘in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ ” (Acts 1:8). The apostles were also dealing with an uninterested, hostile culture. Rational argument or quoting from the Sacred Writings was not enough. What would it take to get a hearing and for people to sit up and listen?
Jesus knew the answer to that question. Right after His challenge to “ ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,’ ” He gave this promise: “ ‘These signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover’ ” (Mark 16:17, 18). Jesus was aware of the challenges His followers would face preaching the gospel to an uninterested, hostile culture. But why did He promise that supernatural signs and wonders would accompany the preaching of His word?
Not to entertain the curious
Clearly, Jesus did not promise supernatural signs and wonders to entertain the curious. How do we know that? Consider an incident from the life of Jesus: He had just stood before Pilate and heard the declaration, “I find no fault in this Man.” But Pilate refused to take the responsibility for releasing Jesus. So, hearing that Jesus came from Galilee, Pilate shifted the responsibility over to Herod Antipas, tetrarch over Galilee. This is the same Herod Antipas who ordered the execution of John the Baptist.
Luke records the following encoun-ter between Jesus and Herod Antipas: “Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him” (Luke 23:8).
Was Herod Antipas genuinely interested in the word of truth that Jesus had brought from His heavenly Father? Not in the least. Notice Herod’s behav-ior when he does not get his way: “Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate” (v. 11). Herod was not interested in the truth. He did not want to hear the testimony of Jesus. He was just curious. He wanted to be entertained. But God does not send supernatural signs and wonders to entertain the curious.
When Jesus sent the apostles out to preach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, He never intended that they should gain a hearing by conducting a religious circus, a supernatural road show, as it were.
Not to appease the critics
Why, then, did Jesus promise that supernatural signs and wonders would accompany the preaching of the gospel message? It was not an attempt to appease the critics.
In Luke 23, Jesus has been unjustly condemned to death, even though Pilate found no fault in Him. And Jesus could have delivered Himself by calling 10,000 angels to come to His aid. But He willingly laid down His life as an atone-ment for our sins. As He was hanging on the cross, His critics taunted Him: “ ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God’ ” (v. 35).
Were these mockers anxious to hear the life-changing testimony that Jesus could share with them? No. They were determined to kill Him. And yet they taunted Him, urging Him to perform a supernatural sign by coming down from the cross. Could Jesus have done that? Absolutely. But He never performed supernatural signs and wonders to appease the critics, for nothing would be accomplished by such action. Some of the critics who stood before the cross, mocking Jesus, had already witnessed several supernatural signs and wonders just a few hours before in the Garden of Gethsemane. They had witnessed a miraculous demonstration of Christ’s glory as the only begotten Son of God, and they had also witnessed a miracle of healing. But they persisted in their opposition of Jesus. No supernatural sign or wonder would convince them.
Their response was the same when Lazarus was raised from the dead. Without a doubt, this miracle was one of the most remarkable signs that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah. Lazarus had been dead for four days. No one challenged that fact. But Jesus made His way to the tomb and commanded that the stone be rolled away. Then He cried out in a loud voice, “ ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ ” And the Scripture records, “And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go’ ” (John 11:44). As a result of this amazing, supernatural sign, many believed in Jesus as the Messiah—but not His critics. The enemies of Jesus began to develop a plan to kill Him. By the time of His trial, His enemies were more determined than ever to silence Him. They would not believe even if someone came back from the dead. No supernatural sign or wonder would have made any difference to them.
To confirm the Word that is proclaimed
Why then did Jesus promise that signs and wonders would accompany those who went out to preach the gospel? Mark provides this testimony: “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20). Jesus promised supernatural signs and wonders to confirm the word that was proclaimed.
Jesus was teaching in Capernaum when four individuals brought their invalid friend to Jesus. They carried this paralytic on a stretcher and were so determined to get their friend to Jesus that they literally tore up the roof. What a picture of godly friendship! Mark records, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you’ ” (Mark 2:5). Apparently, Jesus discerned that this man needed spiritual healing even more than he needed physical healing. When Jesus offered forgive-ness to the paralytic, His authority was immediately challenged: “ ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ ” (v. 7). Jesus responded, “ ‘Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Arise, take up your bed and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ Immediately, he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’ ” (vv. 8–11).
The supernatural wonder that occurred was a confirmation of the word of truth that Jesus had pro-claimed. The sign validated the word. The sign did not make the word true. The word that Jesus spoke was already true, and the supernatural sign simply confirmed that fact.
The same was true for the apostles as they boldly preached the gospel of the kingdom. Peter bravely declared on the Day of Pentecost, “‘This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. . . .“‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ’ ” (Acts 2:32, 36).
Undoubtedly some questioned, “How can I know that Peter’s testimony about Jesus is true?” The answer comes in Acts 3. Peter and John were on their way to the temple to pray. At the gate called Beautiful, they came across a lame man who was begging. Peter focused his attention on the lame man and said, “ ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk’ ” (v. 6). The subsequent supernatural sign, performed in the name of Jesus, confirmed the word about Jesus that was proclaimed. What the apostles had testified about Jesus was true.
The promise of Jesus for today
What about today? Can we expect that the promise of Jesus recorded in Mark 16 will be fulfilled in our day as we prepare for the imminent return of Jesus? Is it still God’s plan that super-natural signs and wonders confirm the word about Jesus that we proclaim? I would suggest to you that we need this promise of Jesus fulfilled more than ever. Ellen White makes this bold asser-tion regarding signs and wonders in our day: “The promise is as far-reaching as the commission. Not that all the gifts are imparted to each believer. The Spirit divides ‘to every man severally as He will.’ 1 Cor. 12:11. But the gifts of the Spirit are promised to every believer according to his need for the Lord’s work. The promise is just as strong and trustworthy now as in the days of the apostles.”3
Quoting the words of Jesus recorded in Mark 16:17, Ellen White affirms:
This is the privilege of God’s children, and faith should lay hold on all that it is possible to have as an indorsement of faith.
“They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” This world is a vast lazar house, but Christ came to heal the sick, to proclaim deliverance to the captives of Satan. He was in Himself health and strength. He imparted His life to the sick, the afflicted, those possessed of demons. He turned away none who came to receive His healing power. He knew that those who petitioned Him for help had brought disease upon themselves; yet He did not refuse to heal them. And when virtue from Christ entered into these poor souls, they were convicted of sin, and many were healed of their spiritual disease, as well as of their physical maladies. The gospel still possesses the same power, and why should we not today witness the same results?4
We can expect the promise of Jesus, recorded in Mark 16, will be fulfilled in our day. In the midst of an uninterested, hostile culture, the gospel will be heard. The strongholds of the enemy will be torn down. People will be transformed.
We always need to remember that the supernatural signs are not an end in themselves. If we preoccupy ourselves with simply looking for supernatural signs and wonders rather than boldly proclaiming the word, we will be deceived. Why? Satan can also perform signs and wonders. The apostle Paul prophesied, “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9, 10). Jesus warned, “ ‘Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” ’ ” (Matt. 7:22, 23).
We should not focus on signs and wonders. We should focus on Jesus and His word. As we boldly proclaim that word, God will perform the signs. We proclaim; God performs. We focus on the proclamation; God gives the confirmation. The supernatural signs and wonders are God’s responsibility, not ours. He will confirm the word that is proclaimed in the way that He chooses, at the time that He chooses. But of this we can be certain: as we boldly proclaim the word, God will perform the signs.
In response to the promise of Jesus, the apostles prayed a bold prayer that I believe would be a very appropriate prayer for us to pray today, both as individuals and as a church. In the midst of an uninterested, hostile culture, this was their prayer: “‘Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus’ ” (Acts 4:29, 30).
The early Christian leaders realized the challenges of their mission assignment were great, but they knew Jesus had promised divine assistance. Supernatural signs and wonders would confirm the word that they proclaimed. The same supernatural confirmations can be expected today as we complete our global mission assignment with the promise of Jesus ringing in our ears: “ ‘This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come’ ” (Matt. 24:14).
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1 See “Engaging Adventist Millennials: A Church That Embraces Relationships,” by Clint Jenkin and A. Allan Martin, Ministry, May 2014.
2 All quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible.
3 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 823; emphasis supplied.
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