Seeking After Signs & Wonders
A common argument amongst heresy hunters, cessationalists, and skeptics goes like this:
“any time the Bible mentions signs and wonders, it’s negative”. They also say, “a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.”
This view takes Scriptures out of context to the point of doing violence to them.
It IS true that Jesus said that those who seek after a sign were wicked – but pay attention to the sequence of events because that sequence is important to understand His words in context.
In John 4, a man came to Jesus seeking healing of his son, who was about to die. Jesus said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” The man was not interested in theology – he cared only that his son would die without Jesus’ intervention. What did Jesus do? Walk away? Tell the man, “Go home and quit seeking after signs?” No. He healed his son with a word.
In Matthew 12, starting in verse 22, Jesus cast a spirit out of a blind and mute man – who immediately saw and spoke. That would certainly count as a “sign and wonder” in my book! Then Jesus taught about the Kingdom, about blasphemy against the Spirit, and said that a tree is known by its fruit. What happens next? The Pharisees and scribes said, “Show us a sign. Prove who you are.” But Jesus answered them with, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.”
And again, in Matthew 16, Jesus fed thousands of people. Genuine, bona fide, miraculous sign and wonder. “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven.” Jesus told them that they should be attentive to the signs of the times (in other words, “wake up and smell the coffee, boys – Messiah is standing right in front of you!”) Then He said, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sig, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain and was transfigured before them and heard the voice of God speak. To my thinking, the mere words “signs and wonders” or “miracles” don’t even begin to describe that event!!
If Jesus’ ministry had NOT been marked with healings, miracles, signs and wonders, and He’d said, “Do not seek after signs and wonders”, we could conclude that it is in error to seek after such things. However, Jesus did not turn people away when they cried out to Him for healing, deliverance, and miracles. When they sought the sign, He gave it – and much more, He gave them Himself.
Jesus promised that His disciples would work signs and miracles…see, for example, Luke 9, where Jesus gave them the power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases, or Mark 16, where He said that those who believe will cast out demons, speak in tongues, take up serpents, be immune to poison, and heal the sick.
Furthermore, He told His disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. That power came in the form of visible tongues of fire landing on the heads of the 120 gathered in the Upper Room, and then they all spoke in languages they’d never learned. Definitely a sign and a wonder!
The very first sermon ever preached (Acts 2) explained the tongues – and much more – prophecy, dreams and visions in a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was promised by God through the prophet Joel. Not only did Peter explain the phenomena which just occurred in this way – he promised that those who accepted Christ would ALSO receive the Holy Spirit – and their children, and all who are afar off, as many as the Lord God will call!
What happened next? “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” (Acts 2:43) “And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people.” (Acts 5:12)
Following through the book of Acts, we see sign after sign. Wonder after wonder. Miracle after miracle.
What happened to those who sought after a miracle?
And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. Acts 5:14-16
It seems awfully strange to me that people flocked to Peter for a healing and God gave it to them, and people were saved too, if we’re supposed to reject signs and wonders!
Furthermore, we are given practical instruction throughout the Epistles in signs and wonders. (If we shouldn’t seek them – why teach them? Somehow I don’t think that God wastes words like that!) First Corinthians 12, 13, and 14 offers much in the way of teaching on spiritual gifts/signs and wonders, but we should especially consider 1 Cor. 14:1 – “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.”
Paul is saying that not only should we expect to see signs and wonders and miracles, but that we should expect that God will work those miracles through us! We should even be asking Him for these gifts! Paul exhorts Timothy to “Stir up the gift” that was imparted to him (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6).
Is it wrong to seek only what God can do for you, and not seek God Himself? Of course. Simon the Sorcerer made that mistake in Acts 8, when he saw the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Samaria. He offered to give money to receive that power. He was sharply rebuked – as should anyone be that ONLY desires what God can do. Fortunately, most people who are seeking something FROM God – such as healing – are also seeking God. They expect to see Him move in their lives because they desperately want Him – more and more and more of Him – in their lives! This is a vastly different heart attitude than the mage had!
It is also abundantly wrong to seek signs and wonders apart from God – for example, through the occult or new age. There are many avenues to false signs and wonders – and there is a price to be paid by those who seek them. Demons do not work for free. Christians should only seek miracles from the One who truly works them… and if they are asking God for a miracle, trust Him to provide it.
Jesus said that we would do the same works He did – and even greater ones! (John 14:12) Why are we willing to settle for so much less ourselves?