Shaping Theme in Acts: Signs and Wonders
One Bible dictionary defines signs and wonders as “events which unmistakably involve the immediate and powerful action of God.” These two words are nearly synonymous and are almost always seen together in both the Old and New Testaments. They do have shades of meaning that are a little different: signs identify the work of God so that people see it as the work of God, wonders make people marvel.
Signs and wonders could be miraculous healings, casting out demons, speaking in tongues – any kind of work that is unmistakably attributable to God and that makes people just stand back in awe and wonder at His glory. As you read through the book of Acts, it is unmistakable that this is our heritage as the church; signs and wonders are all throughout the history of the church.
Signs and Wonders Accompanied Gospel Proclamation
When you see signs and wonders in Acts, someone was sharing the gospel nearby. In Acts 2:17-22, we read of Peter looking back on the ministry of Jesus’ and telling the Jews that they knew what God did through Jesus to validate that He was the Messiah. God did signs and wonders to authenticate that Jesus was who He claimed to be. And that was a central part of the gospel message to the Jews. The signs and wonders were never an end in themselves; they were always pointing to Jesus Christ.
In Acts 3:1-16, we see Peter and John healing a man who had been lame from birth. But it wasn’t about the healing. Immediately they pivoted to the gospel. Once they had everybody’s attention with this sign, they turned people toward Jesus Christ. This was the place that signs and wonders held in the early church. They authenticated the gospel and the gospel preachers and woke people up to it.
This was not just how it was for the apostles, though. It was also this way for those called to serve the tables: the sort of prototypes for modern-day deacons. Stephen was one of these men, and he was speaking the gospel with wisdom and was authenticated with signs and wonders (Acts 6:8-10). We see this also later on with Philip (Acts 8:4-8) and Paul (Acts 13:1-3).
The big question for us is: Is that still part of the ministry of the church? Is there still any place for signs and wonders in the ministry of the church? Surely God is still motivated to authenticate the gospel now as He was back then. It is a powerful reminder that this not about us – God is at work, especially where the gospel is being proclaimed.
Signs and Wonders Resulted in Gospel Fear
“And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs
were being done through the apostles.” (Acts 2:43)
This word “awe” could be translated as “fear.” In fact, the word “wonder” has the same root word that we use for “terror.” There is something frightening about coming into contact with God. Consider the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).
Is the power of God meant to be so evident among us that visitors should not only feel welcome, but also some sense of trepidation? That we’re dealing with God and not just some nice, religious people? Where there is no fear, it probably means there is no power of God present. And where there is no power of God present, there is probably no proclamation of the gospel.
The Church Prayed for Signs and Wonders
After Peter and John healed that lame man, everybody was excited about it except for the Jewish religious establishment, who felt threatened. So they arrested them, questioned them, and told them to stop it. When they were released, they went back to their brothers and sisters and told them what had happened. And they prayed for “boldness, while you [God] stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed” (Acts 4:29-30).
Where to Start
So how should this shape us? For one, we shouldn’t start with signs and wonders – the Bible makes it clear that Jesus did not have patience for people who were just there for signs and wonders. Signs and wonders are never a thing in themselves; they only and always point to God and the gospel. The place to start is with gospel proclamation. With gospel proclamation comes God’s power, and with God’s power comes a fear and reverence.
If you are a Christian, you have been entrusted with the message of good news for a spiritually dying world. It’s scary and difficult and there is great opposition to us boldly proclaiming it. So pray for boldness – for yourselves and for the church – to proclaim the gospel.
From the sermon series: Shaping Themes in Acts.
- Read and discuss Acts 2:17-22; 3:1-16 together.
- What was the purpose of signs and wonders?
- Read and discuss Acts 2:42-43; 5:1-11.
- Why did fear accompany signs and wonders?
- Are signs and wonders still part of the church’s ministry today?
- What does it look like to boldly proclaim the gospel?