This sermon is number 3 in a series of 6
When God ACTS! - Part 3
"The Miraculous Is Displayed"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2014 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
It's a great privilege for me to be studying the book of Acts with you these nights, and I do trust that we're knowing the Lord's voice as we look at it together. We're turning tonight to Acts chapter 4. If this is your first night, let me just fill you in a little on what we've been doing. We've been doing a little study, thematically, of the book of Acts - and we've entitled it "When God ACTS!", what happens when God does His work His way. On Sunday evening we looked at how, when God does His work His way, 'The Gift of the Holy Spirit Is Released'. We saw that that is running right throughout the Acts, where the Holy Spirit is being poured out on all flesh. Then last evening we saw that when God does His work His way, there will be 'Boldness in Witness'. The Holy Spirit was given, and the primary reason that He was given was that we should be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world. We saw how that happened in the lives of the early disciples, and how we need to be bold witnesses for the Saviour. Tomorrow evening, if you're with us, it would be a good one to get along to, is that when God does His work His way 'Unity Is in the Body'. We're going to see tomorrow evening how the body of Christ is one, and how that actually works out in our everyday expression of Christianity in the 21st-century - at least how it ought to.
Tonight we're looking at how, when God does His work His way, 'The Miraculous Is Displayed' - you just cannot read the Acts without seeing the supernatural. But this is something, as we saw in our introduction, that is not just an historic account of the way God used to be and the way He used to behave, but He is the same today - He is the unchanging God, 'I am the Lord who changes not' - and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. There is something for us to learn from the miraculous. So we're turning to Acts chapter 4, and we're not going to read too much just at the moment, but Peter and John have been arrested, and there has been the miraculous displayed: there has been the healing of a lame man. A lot of the discourse that happens is in reaction to that, and how the Jews are really appalled by what has been happening, because it has been done in the name of Jesus of Nazareth who they regard as an impostor and a false, counterfeit Messiah.
We're just taking up where there has been a lot of threats made against the early disciples and the apostles, and they take it to God in prayer - what a lesson there is there right away. Whenever you have opposition in the work of God, take it to God in prayer. What we see happening in our land is atrocious, and an indictment against the name of Christ, where people are taking their animosities against one another to the press, some are taking it to the law - we are meant to be taking it to God in prayer, and taking it to one another in love. They took this opposition to the Gospel to God in prayer. Look at verse 29 of chapter 4, wonderful prayer - oh that we could pray it tonight - the apostles pray: "'Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word", there's the boldness in witness we thought about last night, this is what they're asking God to do, "by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus'. And when they had prayed", imagine this, "the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness".
Let us pray, and as we pray let me invite you again to pray for yourself that God might speak to you tonight - will you do that? Do you want to meet this supernatural God? Have you a need of a miracle in your own life? We all certainly need to encounter the Living Lord Jesus, and certainly the church of Jesus Christ, and this church, needs to rediscover His power - we all do. So let's pray and ask the Lord to meet with us: Abba Father, we come to You again in the lovely glorious name of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only name that we kneel under tonight, the Captain of our salvation, the one and only Head of the church. We meet as members of His body in the temple of the Holy Spirit, living stones fitted together by Your sovereign power. We thank You, Lord, for Your grace tonight, we thank You for what we have in common in our Lord Jesus, we thank You for the communion of the saints and the fellowship in the Holy Spirit. We just pray now, Lord, that we might know Your omnipotent power to be operative in our lives. Lord we need You to come tonight - and, listen Lord, I don't want to talk about Your power as if it's something conceptual or theoretical, I want, Lord, You to display Your power tonight, to show Your power, to show that You are the same today as You always have been. So I say with the psalmist tonight: 'Summon Your power, O God; show us Your strength, our God, as You have done before'. You haven't changed - we believe, Lord, help our unbelief. We take authority in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ over any spirit of unbelief, or doubt, or tradition, or religion that might be working to cause us to disbelieve in Your power, Father. May You give us a revelation tonight to our minds and spirits, that You are able to do exceeding abundantly more than we ask or think, through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.
Our faith is supernatural, and it's vital that you come to that realisation. The whole of Christianity, well, it's built, of course, on the greatest miracle of all - the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, His burial, and subsequent resurrection on the third day - it's all miraculous! When you come to faith in Jesus Christ, it's not just a mere human decision - and we have to realise that today, because often that's all that Christianity is for people, just a decision of what they're going to do with their life, turning over a new leaf, or going a new avenue - but, no, it's more than that! Salvation is a miracle, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit comes upon us - John 14, John 16 - and we realise our sin, and we then respond to the grace of God, and we trust in Christ, repenting of our sins. There is this work of regeneration that takes place in our lives, where we are given a new heart and the very life of God comes to our being.
Paul made that timeless statement: 'It is not I, but Christ who lives in me'. I may have said it on another evening, but you've got to understand very quickly, when you become a Christian, that you cannot live the Christian life. The Christian life is utterly impossible to live - it is the very life of God, the life of Christ that is lived in us through the power and instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. The sooner you give up and die the better! Maybe you're struggling tonight with this Christian thing, and you really can't make it work - well, praise God for that, because you can't make it work! It's time you gave up and gave over to God - I'm not saying that you don't have a part to play, you have to cooperate with God, but it is that life, that very nature of God in us. Someone once described to me what is to surf - and I've never surfed and probably never will surf! You would know that to look at me! I'm told that what you do is, you go with the wave, you just go with the power of the wave - and that's what it's like to live the Christian life. There is this dynamic of the Holy Spirit poured out at Pentecost, we saw the miraculous change that that made in the life of the early disciples, but we have got to go with that flow - we've got to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and allow God's life to be lived through us. So from new birth, when we are born again - and I trust you are born again tonight - right through to sanctification, this whole process of being conformed to the image of God's Son, it's all by the power of the life of God in the Holy Spirit - it's impossible to live this life without the supernatural. So if you're not into the supernatural, you're really not into Christianity - it's as simple as that.
This story of Christianity is punctuated with the miraculous. As soon as you read the stories of the Gospels and the book of the Acts, they are filled with signs and wonders attesting to the power and the claims of God. If you look at chapter 2 and verse 22, the Day of Pentecost, we read this last night, our first verse that we read in our reading, this great Pentecostal sermon of the apostle Peter - he said: 'Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know'. The supernatural was an attestation that Jesus was who He said He was, that His message had the divine imprimatur, the stamp of authority that God's power was behind His Christ. So to reject the supernatural, in a sense, is to reject Christ. I know that's a strong statement, but it's something you have to come to terms with if you have an aversion at all to the supernatural.
Now that aversion might come from abuses and misuses of supposed supernatural phenomena in the name of Christ. We must beware tonight - it would be wrong of me to preach on this subject without a caveat: we must beware of the unhealthy lust that there often is for supernatural phenomena. Some Christians are like twister chasers - have you seen them boys? They're mad, they have a drive to chase tornadoes, and to journey right into the midst of a tornado just for thrill and for an adrenaline rush. They are addicts to adrenaline - and there are people who are like that in the spirit, they are just hunting the latest spiritual thrill and high. They seek 'a new anointing', they want a new buzz, and so they hop from meeting to meeting, and conference to conference, to get zapped with the latest thing that God apparently is doing. They are like supernatural junkies, craving a bigger high than the last one. I have to say that some parts of Christendom have become veritable spiritual Disneylands when it comes to this sort of stuff. People are driven solely by the need to tantalise the sensory faculties of the body and the mind.
Now not only is this suspect on many levels, it is highly dangerous. We ought to remember that Satan is also a supernatural being, and Satan can arrange supernatural phenomena to satisfy the superficial seeker. You remember how Pharaoh's magicians were able to duplicate some of the miracles that Moses did in the name of the Lord. Paul the apostle warned the church in Corinth that Satan himself is able to transform himself into an angel of light. Just because something is supernatural does not mean it has come from the Divine source, that it is holy and of God. So there are strange powers that can manifest themselves, so you have to be very careful in just seeking some spiritual thrill.
Then there are those who are more like illusionists, and what I mean by that is: they try to manufacture the appearance of the supernatural to help people believe that God is all-powerful - and surely that is one of the most innovative forms of bearing false witness that you will ever see. It's lying! God doesn't need your help to do a miracle, or to counterfeit one - as if God needed our childish skits to kickstart His omnipotent power! Vance Havner once quipped: 'Jesus performed miracles, but didn't advertise them. We advertise them, but don't perform them'. Here's a passing rule of thumb when it comes to the supernatural and the miraculous that will help you: beware of any trend that does not emphasise two things - one, the person and centrality of Jesus Christ. First John tells us it is another spirit that denies the Father and the Son, in fact it is the spirit of antichrist. So whenever you get a trend that is totally obsessed with the Holy Spirit at the expense of the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, it is more than likely not the Spirit of God. Secondly: beware of any trend that does not emphasise a deepening spiritual experience of holiness. A lot of the emphasis is on a soul-ish lust - that is the soul, I believe, being the mind, and the emotions, and the will - those who are looking a mental tantalisation, or an emotional sensual experience, but there is no depth to it in the spiritual. There is no desire to be Christ-like, to be more holy - and that leads you into doors of danger where New Age practices are rife in certain circles, I believe, of Christendom. Others, and I tend to agree with them, believe that false spirits have even invaded the church under the label of the Holy Spirit.
I will be preaching tonight that we need to be open to the Holy Spirit and the supernatural, miraculous power of God - but that does not require you to be a gullible fool, and just swallow everything that you're told is God's power. On the contrary, Paul tells us to be careful - turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 5, and here's the biblical balance that we all must seek to strike, and must be struck in the church, verse 19 of 1 Thessalonians 5: 'Do not quench the Spirit' - so we're not to be anti-the works or the gifts or the signs or the instrumentality of the Spirit - no, no, no. We're not to quench His moving, we're - verse 20 - not to despise prophecies, but we are - verse 21 - to test all things, to weigh everything, and to hold fast what is good and abstain from every form of evil. So we are to test the spirits and see what is of God and what is counterfeit, and there will be counterfeit expressions of spiritual life - but we are to have that discernment, which is also a gift of God, to know what is the true, and to hold on to the true and reject that which is false.
That being said, the tragedy is that the fear of the counterfeit in many circles, particularly those most biblically literate circles - conservative, evangelical, Bible believing churches - the fear of the counterfeit and the spiritually perverse has robbed many of the desire for and expectation of the supernatural. I believe it's a masterstroke of the enemy: he wants you to be afraid of the Holy Spirit and His work in us. Well, are you? I mean be honest: all of us, maybe, are a little bit nervous about the Holy Spirit. God never intended it to be that way. Look with me at the gospel of Luke, chapter 11 - remember this is the same chap writing the book of Acts, it's more than likely one book with two volumes, as we saw on Sunday night. Luke 11, and you remember that this is the portion of Scripture I referred to as the promise that we have, our birthright: 'If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!', verse 13. So that's the context of the Holy Spirit, and in verse 11 we read that Jesus said: 'If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?', if he wants food is he going to give him gravel? 'Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?', if he wants to be fed on the sustenance of a fish, will he give him something poisonous and harmful? 'Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?', a scorpion to sting him and kill him? The implication here is that the Lord of Glory in Heaven, your Abba Father, is not going to give you anything that's harmful. If you open up to Him, to the full ramifications of all the supernatural life that He has, and you do beware of anything counterfeit or not of God, but you trust Him, your life is before Him, surrendered, He is not going to give you anything to harm you - you don't need to be afraid of the Holy Spirit!
Acts, if ever there was a book, shows us that when God acts, when He does His work His way, the miraculous is displayed. Look at chapter 3 till we see this miracle that the prayer that we read together was a response to, chapter 3 and the first 10 verses we're going to read: 'Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, 'Look at us'' - look at us! I wonder could we say that? We maybe say [despairingly] 'Look at us!', but they said 'Look on us', there was something in them, there was a power deposited in their lives that they knew could, in a certain way, be communicated to this lame man to help him. They hadn't any money, but they had something that could be seen when they were looked upon. Incredible, isn't it? What does the world see when they look at the church today? Verse 5: 'So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter 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'. And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them; walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him'.
'Look at us!'. Remember I quoted to you last evening, considering the bold witness that the early disciples had, 1 Thessalonians 1:5? I'll read to you again: 'For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance', but here's how the verse ends, 'as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake'. You see, part of the power of the Gospel is integrity of those who minister the Gospel. Peter and John could say, 'Look on us!', because there was something in their life that was emanating - that's what Jesus said, 'The Holy Spirit will be in you, rivers of living water that would spring up unto eternal life', but that they would flow out to touch those that you come into contact with. That's what is meant to happen! Those whom we encounter are affected by the power of the Holy Spirit in us! Paul says: 'We didn't just preach to you, but the gospel came in power - and you know the kind of folk we were, because we lived among you. You knew we were the real deal'. 'Look on us!'.
This man was healed by the power of God, and I believe that power is the same today as it ever was. I believe Acts, and this chapter, is a fulfilment of what Jesus said in Mark 16, if you look back at it. Mark 16:17, Jesus said: 'And 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'. We see this played out in the Acts of the Apostles. Incidentally, these last two verses of Mark 16 are almost a summary of what goes on in Acts - look at 19 and 20: 'So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen'. You see it, don't you? You do see it, don't you? It's been there all that time - when God acts, and He does His work His way, there is a miraculous display of Divine power. In this instance of this healing of the lame man and in other miracles, there is a platform that is erected for the preaching of the Gospel. We see it in chapter 3 of Acts, if you go there, verse 11, the response: 'Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon's, greatly amazed. So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: 'Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered...' - and you know the rest of the sermon, we read it last night. He goes into this great discourse of preaching the Gospel. The miraculous became an attestation, a platform for them to preach the Gospel.
Now here's a little warning again: beware of any ministries or emphasis on the miraculous at the expense of the preaching of the Gospel. There are a lot of trends and movements that emphasise the supernatural, but you'll never hear the Gospel - it's all about miracles, but you'll not hear about how to have your sins forgiven and have peace with God. You see, the miraculous is never an end in itself, but it is to verify the message, to attest to the power and the claims of Almighty God and His Servant, Jesus Christ. It was the undeniable nature of the miraculous in the Acts that shook the authorities, particularly in reaction to this miracle. Look at chapter 4 verse 16, they didn't doubt these miracles, they said: 'What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it'. They couldn't deny it, but do you know what they're going to do? They're going to suppress it. Now, what kind of religious spirit would do the like of that? Verse 17: ''But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name'. So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus'. It was in response to that that they prayed for God to stretch forth His arm, and to attest to their claims and the preaching of the Gospel.
They knew that there was a need for genuinely supernatural acts to vindicate the claims of God's truth, but healings were not the only demonstration of God's power in the Acts of the Apostles. In chapter 9, we're not going to read it, but in chapter 9 there are visions, in chapter 9 there is the raising to life of Dorcas, or she is also known as Tabitha, and in reaction to that in the city of Joppa many believed, it says, because of the supernatural power of God. We also read of a man called Eutychus in chapter 20, some of you can identify with him tonight - he fell asleep in a very long-winded session with Paul the apostle, and he was perched on the windowsill and he fell off and died. Paul came, and there was a miracle, he was resurrected or revived. In chapter 12 we read about Peter, he was freed from prison by an angelic host, by angelic interventions. Do you believe in angels? Now we're not to worship angels, and we're not even to look for angels in a sense - we are to worship the Living God - and yet the Bible tells us that there are angels who are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those who inherit salvation, Hebrews 1 verse 14. We see miracles by the hands of angels in the Acts, we see the gifts of the Holy Spirit evidenced in tongues, in prophecies, even prophetesses ministering in the name of Jesus. We see deliverance, where people are free from all sorts of spirits and demons. We see a slave girl delivered of a spirit of divination, fortune-telling.
Turn with me to Acts chapter 19 and verse 11, Paul is in Ephesus, and we see: 'God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, 'We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches'' - these were not Christians, they were Jews. They saw what Paul was doing, they saw it was effective, and they saw that it was in the name of Jesus, so they copied him. 'There were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said', this is quite humorous, if it wasn't so serious, ''Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?'. Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded'. The demonic man beat them up, basically.
Verse 17, look at the reaction because of this supernatural occurrence, and this deliverance or at least attempt at it: 'This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified', now look at the response of the Christians, 'And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds'. The result here was not tantalising excitement, but godly fear and reverence, and it led to repentance among the church. The English Standard Version reads in verse 18: 'Also many of those who were now believers came confessing and divulging their practices' - the implication was that these Ephesians had been dabbling in dark arts, traditional spiritual occultish practices, and they had one foot in the Kingdom of God but they also remained with one foot in these practices. When they saw what the devil could do when you're in contract with him, even a Christian, fear came upon them - and they brought all the things that they had, dubious instruments, and I don't know what it was, books of spells and what have you, and they brought them all together and they burnt them. It says in verse 19: 'Many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver' - that's 50,000 drachma, and one drachma was a day's wage in those days. I googled it, I'm not sure if you'll agree with it or not, but they tell me that £95 is a day's wage today in the United Kingdom, and if you multiply that by 50,000 that comes to a cool £4,750,000 - that's the worth of all these artefacts that they brought together to destroy. Look at the result in verse 20: 'So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed'. I'll tell you, there's a lot of people in Ulster, there's a lot of people that need in Ireland as a whole, the United Kingdom, and even Europe, they name the name of Christ but they need to finish with dark arts, they need to finish with secret societies, they need to finish with family charms. You might fall out with me for saying some of the things I'm going to say tonight and on subsequent nights, but I can go away from here - and you don't have to invite me back - but I've got to tell you what God has spoken to me. What God tells me is that many are like these Ephesians, they are dabbling in the kingdom of darkness and think it's all right - and it's not.
But there is deliverance, praise God, and it's for today. We've touched on so many supernatural things, but I want to ask you tonight: are you sure you really want the supernatural when you look at this? I mean, are you sure? Turn with me to chapter 5 - everybody wants a revival, don't they? We all want revival - hmmm - wait till you see what happens when God comes in power and does His work His way. Acts 5 verse 1: 'A certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God''. Now the problem was not that they didn't give everything, the problem was they gave the impression they were giving everything, but they didn't, they kept back some. God doesn't require you to necessarily sell everything you have and give it, although God might lead you to do that - but that wasn't the sin, the sin was that they gave the impression they were doing something that they weren't doing. They lied to the Holy Ghost, they lied to God - look at the result, verse 5: 'Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last'. What? A lot of people want to fall down under the power of God, but they don't want to breathe their last! You can fall down under the power of God, but this is something strange: 'Great fear came upon all those who heard these sayings' - and the wife then came in later, and exactly the same thing happened to her. Do you want the supernatural? I mean, who doesn't want a miracle - but this is not visiting some gifted person in a tent at the town fair and getting your future told, that's not God's supernatural. God's supernatural requires repentance, it requires surrender and dedication - and godly fear came upon them all.
Now, let me deal with some potential objections there might be. 'Hold on a minute now! Is this not a minefield of dangers?'. I mean, take healing for instance, I mean is that not full of traps and potential heartache and pain for people who are suffering, and so on and so on. Of course it is - but there are dangers with many things. Jesus said there is danger with praying, there is a danger with fasting, there is a danger with almsgiving - but we don't reject praying, fasting, and almsgiving, do we, because there are dangers with them? Others say: 'Well, is this not something that was unique to the apostles, and when the apostles died out, then this power died out?'. Well, I've already said to you in our introduction on Sunday evening, Acts is not about the apostles alone. It's not really about what the apostles did - as I said to you then, we read a lot about Peter and Paul, but almost nothing about the other apostles. In fact characters like Stephen and Philip have a greater prominence in the book - why? Because this is not a history of the apostles and what they did, it's an account of the acts of God's Spirit through ordinary disciples.
Turn to chapter 9 till I show you this, chapter 9 verse 10. Paul the apostle has met the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, and he has been converted. There is an instruction given to a man called Ananias, verse 10: 'Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, 'Ananias'. And he said, 'Here I am, Lord'' - that's very matter-of-fact. If the Lord appeared to you in a vision what would you do? ''Here I am, Lord'. So the Lord said to him, 'Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying'. I love verse 10, it says: 'a certain disciple'. Was Ananias an apostle, was he? If he was, I never heard of him. He was a disciple, that's all he's called here, a certain disciple - but look what he experienced. He experienced a vision, he experienced the risen Lord Jesus speaking to him, he experiences divine direction - that's all just in verse 10. Then we see he reaches Paul were he's residing in verse 17: 'Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on Paul', previously Saul, 'he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit'. Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized'. So this certain disciple, non-apostle, a guy we don't really know much about at all other than that he was a Christian - he has visions, direction from God, he goes and acts in obedience to that revelation, he lays hands on Paul, he heals Paul, Paul not only is healed but he receives a filling of the Holy Spirit. In verse 18 this ordinary Christian baptises Saul in water, and in verse 19 the implication is: 'So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus' - in all likelihood this man Ananias also discipled Saul for a little time. Was he a big shot? Whatever a big shot is? He was just 'a certain disciple'.
What Jesus began to do and to teach that we read about in Luke's gospel is not just continued by the apostles and the early church historically, but by every disciple that would follow - God wants to act through you! When God does His work His way, it's not through the clergy, it's through the Body. When He does His work His way, He releases the Spirit upon all flesh. There is a bold witness coming from every believer, and the miraculous is displayed even in the life of ordinary Christians. It's just disciples that we are reading about here in Acts, I mean, where do you look in the Bible to find out what a disciple is like? Well, you could go to the Gospels, and you will read there what Jesus requires of a disciple, what He expects of a disciple. You can even read about the experiences of the first disciples, the 12 and the 70 who followed Christ, but that was all before the cross, that was before the resurrection and the ascension, and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost. The only place that you can see historically what a disciple is like is the Acts - and what is it like? This is authentic Christianity, I believe.
But here's the big question: why do we not see this? Why do we not see it more, at least, today? I'll put my hands up, I believe there is a shortfall of this supernatural power at work in the church, certainly in the Western world and here in Ulster - I have no doubt about that. I know God's power is being displayed, I know that, but it's certainly not the way it was in the Acts, and the way I would like it to be. But here's a little warning: people would say to me when I preach like this, 'Oh, no, no, be careful now, don't argue from experience, don't argue from experience. People have all sorts of experiences, but you must not argue from experience' - well, what are you doing when you say to me, 'Oh, I haven't seen any of these things happen'? What are you doing only arguing from experience, lack of it? You haven't seen it, so you don't believe it. There are many reasons why we don't believe in these things today, there is a materialist Western psyche that we don't even realise we've been inoculated by from our education. From we are knee-high we are taught by empirical science to only consider those things around us that we can see and experience with the senses to be real. But people in other parts of the world aren't like that, and so when they become Christians they instinctively understand in the spiritual realm - of course they need instruction and teaching in truth, but nevertheless there is a belief - but we have been effectively educated against spiritual realities, and the great tragedy is that it's not just done in a biology or physics classroom, it's done in churches! We are encouraged to disbelieve in the supernatural, there are whole theologies that are devised to explain away the supernatural power of God - 'I have never seen it, so I don't believe it'.
Well, let me ask you: why does it appear that many of these signs are quite common in certain places of our world, particularly on the mission field; and some of the church, particularly in Third World countries, are experiencing the miraculous and the supernatural in ways that we could only dream - but we aren't? Why is it? May I make a suggestion to you: could it be because they are looking for it? James said: 'You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war' - that's like a description of Northern Ireland, isn't it, the church in Northern Ireland alone? - 'Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive', so some people are asking, but they don't get, 'because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures'. Some people do want supernatural experience and miraculous dealings of God, they want it just for the thrill, just for the buzz, or just to be able to say, 'Oh, that has happened to me and it hasn't happened to you' - they don't actually say that, but that's what they mean. Are you seeking and asking God? Paul said 'desire earnestly the best gifts that God's Spirit has to give'. Remember Luke chapter 11 that we were reading there, about how God wouldn't give us anything harmful - again, in the context of seeking the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, listen: 'So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened' - in the context of this power of the Holy Spirit, that there is much more of, that our Heavenly Father wants to give us.
So, have you asked Him? Do you seek after this? Not in a carnal way - you've got to realise, God responds to faith, God rises to expectancy. Hebrews 11:6: 'He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him'. If you're not expecting the miraculous, it ain't going to happen - unless God is very gracious to you. But if there is a little openness in your life to the supernatural, to God's dealings with you, and you come and you ask in faith - I believe God will respond to you. He might require you to do certain things... but perhaps most significantly, the reason why I believe many of us in the West are not experiencing God's supernatural power is that we are not honouring the commission of our Lord Jesus Christ in going forth with the Gospel. You see, the Lord Jesus said it would be when we were bold witnesses to Him that these signs would accompany our preaching to verify and vindicate the message. It is as we go that He has promised this great power to us.
Look at Matthew 28, 'The Great Commission' we call it, Matthew 28, we read the counterpart from Mark. Matthew 28 verses 18-20: 'Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe'', that literally means 'put into practice', ''all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age''. I think I'm right in saying that in the whole of the Acts there are 40 miracles, 40 - and 39 of them took place in the marketplace, the Market Square. Isn't that interesting? As the early church went out of the walls, whatever walls they did have, and went into the community with the truth, God verified the message with signs following. Do you remember where the disciples were before Pentecost, they were in an Upper Room praying - and what happened? The Holy Ghost came, and what did the Holy Spirit do? He flushed them out into the street!
I think this is beautiful, this glass business [in the new church building]. It reminded me of that book 'The Church without Walls' - maybe that was the idea behind it, I don't know, but the community can see. Ah, but you need more than a glass window, you need to get out there! Is there not something here, am I not touching on something, that it is our reluctance to go forward with the Gospel and to pay a price for it - like we talked about last night - that's one of the great reasons not just we're not seeking the supernatural, or we've got theology that debunks it, but we're not prepared to go and do what Jesus said, and then He said, 'These signs will follow'? Duncan Campbell, the great man of God in the Faith Mission who was used in the Hebridean revival, he said: 'Our need is for a demonstration of the supernatural, lifting men from the plane of the ordinary to the realm of the extraordinary, to the higher heights of God's realisation'. That's what we need, I believe, that's what I believe 21st-century United Kingdom and Ireland needs more than ever - Europe, Western Europe, in all their pride, in all their education, in all their civilisation and sophistication, need raw demonstrations of the power of God. In this sceptical, materialistic society, we need God to show His arm again!
During the Lewis revival, Duncan Campbell and about 30 men gathered to pray - and this is his account with which I finish. He said: 'While the hours were passing by, I found myself fighting and not getting anywhere in prayer. After midnight, I turned to a young man and said, 'I feel led by God to ask you to pray'. This dear man got up and said, 'O God, You made a promise to pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground, and, Lord, it's not happening'. He paused and then continued, 'Lord, I don't know how the others here stand in Your presence; I don't know how the minister stands, but, Lord, if I know anything about my own heart I stand before You as an empty vessel, thirsting for You and for a manifestation of Your power'. He halted again, and then after a moment of tense silence he cried out to God, 'O God, Your honour is at stake, and I now challenge You to fulfil Your covenant engagement and do what You have promised to do''. Duncan Campbell says, 'Believe it or not - and you can check it if you like - the house was shaking like a leaf, the dishes were clattering on the sideboard'. Campbell says that an elder who was standing next to him remarked, 'Mr. Campbell, an earthquake'. He said, 'Yes'. He gave the blessing right away, and when they went outside of that home, Duncan Campbell says they found the community awake with the awareness of the presence of God. Men and women were carrying chairs and stools and asked: 'Is there any room in the church?'.
I think that account is nothing but what we read here in Acts chapter 4, read it again with me in closing, verses 29 to 31 - and you tell me that God is not the same, you tell me that He's not the same! Dare to tell me that He's not the same! Dare to tell me that the power of God died with the apostles! Dare to tell me that this power was only necessary for the first 150 years of the church, but we don't need it now, we know better! Pray with me, along with these apostles tonight, verse 29: ''Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word', what's coming first? Bold witness! ''By stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus'. And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness'.
When God acts and He does His work His way, the miraculous is displayed - what do you know of it? Let us pray. Has God spoken to you? I'm not going to make any form of appeal or public display in anyway tonight, but I want you - where you are - and I just take these few moments to make space for you to deal with God. There is much more. Are you satisfied with 'read your Bible, pray every day if you want to grow'? Are you satisfied with Sunday-go-to-meeting, and maybe if you're extra special the prayer meeting? Or do you want to know this God of the Bible who has not changed? We have changed, we have erected edifices of tradition and religion that has blocked the Lord getting into our lives and into our churches. I believe, in this country, and particularly in Ireland, but particularly in the north, there are strongholds, spiritual strongholds of religion in the heavenly realms that are actually battling against the extension of God's Kingdom - and they need to be broken down. Do you know where they will be broken down? In the churches, because the churches invented the half of them!
Now, you deal with God - you're not responsible for anyone else but yourself. If you have a hunger and thirst and a desire after God, you tell Him. You might need to repent of sin, you might need to confess it before the Lord, you might need delivered of something - there might be a stronghold in your life, some people don't get through to the fullness of the Spirit because of all sorts of associations in their life, all sorts of things they dabbled with even before they were converted. That's controversial to some people, but I've seen it. Some people are involved with organisations like the Masonic, organisations based on the Masonic in our land - I'm sorry if I offend you, but I must tell it as it is. You've taken oaths on your life and upon your family, and it's affecting the spiritual life and health of you and your children and your grandchildren. It's time we got real: we cannot go forward until these strongholds are pulled down. God's word says you have got the tools to do the job, the weapons of your warfare are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds - but the church has got to do it herself!
If we want the Lord we're going to have to do some breaking up of fallow ground, but it is time, it is time to seek the Lord. You deal with the Lord, just in the quietness - cry out to Him from your heart: 'Lord, much more, I want to know You more. Deep within my heart, Lord, I want to know You. I don't want to know what others say about You, I want to know You for myself, personally. I don't want second-hand information, I want first-hand relationship. I want to have everything that You have for me'. I believe everything the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, everything - I didn't always, but I do now - and I want everything that God has for me. I hope you'll not fall out with me, but if you do - well, that's just tough, because I want God, I want God, I want all that He has! All that Jesus purchased for me with His precious blood, I want it all! All of His resurrection power flowing through me - I'm one spirit with the resurrected Christ, and I want His resurrected life now! I don't want to wait until He comes again to get it - although it will not be complete until then - but I want it now! Who wants it now? Or are we just playing at this thing?
Father, bless Your word, and help us to be real with You - but we cry to You tonight: You be real to us! Blessed Father, I pray that there will be those tonight who will feel the kindling of the sacred flame upon their spirits tonight, that they will know the witness of Your Spirit with their spirit, that they are sons and daughters of God; that they might know the joy of full salvation, they may know the victory that is this life of faith, the life of Christ in you, the hope of glory. Deliver people tonight from religiosity, from the power of the flesh, and even the powers of darkness. Lord, set us free, like Lazarus, in the resurrected life - let us loose, and let us go for Your glory. May there even be signs following the preaching tonight - for the glory of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Union Road Presbyterian Church in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the third recording in his 'When God ACTS!' series, entitled "The Miraculous Is Displayed" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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