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Pursuing Presence, Not Signs: Balancing Pentecostal Experience with Biblical Teaching

Miracles are those things which occur outside of the typical creative order—signposts directing us into the knowledge of God.

A second example involves God’s power to afflict human beings with leprosy, or other diseases, as in the case of Miriam (Nu. 12:9), or even to God’s power to heal the afflicted, as with Naaman (2 Kgs 5:14). The ability to inflict disease and heal disease is indisputable evidence of God’s power over the human body, also created by Him (Ge. 1:26-27, Ge. 2:7). Romans 1:20 testifies of this very thing: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” From this we comprehend that everything has been created, without any miraculous re-ordering, testifies of the power and nature of God. We may, therefore, properly view miracles as those things which occur outside of the typical creative order,13 and which are signposts directing us into the knowledge of God.

In addition to pointing us to the glory of God in creation, signs and wonders validate the message and identity of God’s servants. When Moses told God that the Israelites might not believe his divine commission, God equipped him with three signs to show the elders of Israel—to legitimize his mission as divine, and to validate his message (Ex. 4:1-9). In Elijah’s case, the miracles validated the messenger as well as his message. The widow of Zarephath initially believed Elijah to be a servant of God (1 Ki. 17:12, 15) and a miraculous supply of food was provided for her and her family. But after Elijah raised her son from the dead, the widow said to him “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (1 Ki. 17:24). Thus, Elijah’s identity as a man of God, as well as his message were validated by the miracle he performed.

When Christ calmed the storm and stilled the waters he demonstrated the same power over the elements shown by God in creation.

With respect to Christ, who is both God and human, the miracles testify of something even more compelling—they testify of Christ as God in the flesh, and as being sent by God. In the Gospel of Mark, when Christ calmed the storm and stilled the waters (Mk. 4:39). He demonstrated the same power over the elements shown by God in creation (Ge. 1:6-7). His power to heal the sick pointed directly to His power over the human body—also created by Him (Ge. 2:7, Jn. 1:3), and He showed power over life and death in raising Lazarus from the dead (Jn. 11:43). Finally, in John 5:36, Jesus told those questioning Him that “…the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.” The miracles of Christ’s ministry validated Him both as God, and as sent by God.

The third sub-category of the miraculous includes signs and wonders which, though claiming to function as pointers and validators, do not point to God as creator or identify God’s messengers or message. Instead, these “pseudo” or false14 miracles attempt to cast doubt on the power and nature of God, and on God’s messengers or message. Often such miracles occur in opposition to and juxtaposed with divinely mandated miraculous events. When Aaron cast down his rod in Egypt, and it became a serpent, Pharaoh’s wise men and magicians were able to perform the same miracle (Ex. 7:8-11). But the purpose of the wise men and sorcerer in doing the miracle was to oppose the notion that God had sent Moses and Aaron and to frustrate God’s intentions of delivering the Israelites. The conclusion of the narrative makes manifest the superiority of God to the magicians when the serpent from Aaron’s rod swallowed the other serpents from the magician’s rods (Ex. 7:12).

The miracles of Christ’s ministry validated Him both as God, and as sent by God.

The other purpose of false miracles is to legitimize false teachers and false prophets as God’s representatives, and their teaching as the doctrine of God. In this sense, the miracles are false not because they did not happen but because they validate false doctrine, false prophets, and false teachers. In Matthew 24:24-25, Christ warns His disciples that false prophets and teachers will show “great signs and wonders.” These false miracles do not point to God as creator and do not validate God’s servants or their messages. Instead, they attempt to frustrate the purpose of God by validating those who are not sent by God and supporting doctrine which does not originate with God.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2009

About the Author: Jessica Faye Carter, J.D. (Duke University), M.Div. (Princeton Theological Seminary), is a lawyer, entrepreneur, and nationally-recognized expert on cultural and gender diversity. She is the author of Troubling Her: A Biblical Defense of Women in Ministry (Purple Girl, 2010), Double Outsiders: How Women of Color Can Succeed in Corporate America (JIST Works, 2007), and “Known and Yet Unknown: Women of Color and the Assemblies of God.” LinkedIn. Twitter.

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