Editors note- this is a sermon that I presented in 2004 at the Knoxville VCF, and again in 2007 at the Dupage Vineyard. It has been further modified to allow for my on-going understanding od this important doctrine.
The tension was amazing. Stomachs tossed up and down like the waves of the sea. It was quiet, eerily quiet. Just the sound of the motors and the fierce storm swept waves beating the hauls of the countless metal barges. No talking. No laughing. No horseplay. Just men standing face forward, seeing nothing but the man in front of him and hearing nothing but the occasional person getting seasick, the motors humming along, a few sea gulls fishing, and those cursed waves pounding. Then all at once the motors stopped running, the cries of the sea gulls were replaced with the sounds of the dying, and the pounding of the waves overwhelming by the pounding of machine guns and artillery. It was on and soon it would be over. Sort of…
Historians tell us that the battle on the beaches of Normandy marked the end of Nazi Germany and its dreams of a worldwide Aryan nation. Each battle, each casualty, and each bridge or town from then on put the Allies one step closer to Berlin and the wild parties of V-E Day.
As a history buff I have always been fascinated with what you might call the true end of things. Rome may have died in the fires of the barbarian horde, but the true end may be found in the rise of the Caesar and the corruption that the following tyrants and dictators would bring.
This love of seeing when the thing is won or lost continues into my love of basketball. And this is a particularly fun time for that little hobby. Hours upon hours have been spent attempting to call one game after another. My roommate Eric and I have been uttering such memorable lines as…
“If Duke hits one more 3, we just need to switch to the Kentucky- IUPUI game because this one is over.”
“Oh Son! Did you see that dunk on the break. Butler is done…D…U…N… done.”
This desire to see the end before it comes is a rather human desire. All of us spend large parts of our lives seeking out the true measure of things. Seeking to find out whom we are… where we’re going…. and what’s the next move willbe. All the while hoping that this last mistake or this last victory is not the last that we will see. It’s also a desire seen in those men and women we read about in the Bible. Turn with me to LUKE 7:18-33.
“The Disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another.” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news brought to them. and blessed is anyone who does not take offense at me.”
When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is one whom itis written:
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare the way before you.’
I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John: yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he. (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they were baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)
To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another:
‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance
We wailed and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine and you say, ‘He has a demon’: the Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by her children.”
The Jews have spent years, decades, and entire centuries waiting for the Messiah. Listen to the voice of the prophet. Hear the passionate yearning in his voice as he breathlessly intones the prophecy of the coming Messiah. And here comes John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness.
“Make way for the Kingdom of God is at Hand.”
Then one day a simple carpenter’s son walks down to the river Jordan and John looks up and yells at the top of his lungs, breathless in his excitement…
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
He is here and it is over. And it is not. Hear the confusion in their voices. “Is this it. Is this the answer? Have we missed it or have we messed up?”
Now listen to the words of the Messiah, the God made man…
“THE BLIND SEE, THE LAME WALK, THE DEAF HEAR, THE LEPERS ARE CLEANSED, THE DEAD RAISED, THE GOOD NEWS PREACHED.”
The story of Christianity is the story of the miraculous. The Sun stands still. Rivers part into dry land. The sick are healed. Demonic forces cast into pigs. The Pharaoh’s army crushed underneath the Sea. God becomes man. A tombstone rolled away. And humanity is forever invited to cast their sins upon a piece of wood and become sons of God.
The story of Christianity is also the story of the mundane. The glory of God is revealed in the seeds of a tree. The Good News of Great Joy explained in the farmer’s field. God, himself, found in a manger attended by a carpenter, his betrothed, and a few shepherds. We see God himself get hungry in the wilderness, sleepy during the storm, and saddened by the death of a friend. And we are encouraged by Paul and the Apostles to remain ever vigilant, to stay at our jobs, and to pay our taxes.
Christianity is a curious blend of boredom and excitement (Hopefully that boredom is not right now of course). But what we are talking about this morning are those times that the miraculous and the awe-inspiring break into the mundane and shakes us awake. And suddenly we are able to see the end of it all just as clearly as historian’s view D-Day and Eric can decide it’s time to change the channel to the next game.
Definition One– “A Direct Intervention of God in the world…”
The Problem- Is the miraculous the only way God intervenes (DEISM)
Definition Two– “God working in the world without means…”
The Problem- Does God consider the physical naturally evil (GNOSTIC)
Definition Three- “An exception to natural law…”
The Problem- Is God bound to his measures (DIVINE SELF LIMITATION)
MY DEFINITION: “The natural experience of God’s supernatural care as revealed in the context of our particular experience; designed to inspire wonder and to authenticate God’s message.”
TRANSITION: Sign Illustration.
3 ANSWERS GIVEN BY MODERN CHURCH
1) Miracles Have Ceased. (1 Cor 13:10)
PROBLEM- What is perfection?
2) It is Wrong to Ask for Miracles.
PROBLEM-What is God’s Command?
Isaiah 7:10, Mt 10:7-8
3) A Spiritual Gift for the edification of the body.
WHAT MIRACLES DO:
– Miracles AUTHENTICATE the Gospel and CALL to Repentance. (Heb. 2:1-5)
– Miracles DEMONSTRATE the Coming of the Kingdom.
– Miracles PROVIDE Divine Care to the Afflicted.
– Miracles REMOVE Hindrances from Ministry
– Miracles GLORIFY God
As we discuss these beliefs we do so mindful of those who disagree with us. We are reminded that there are many (even within the church) that would argue that these things are not done and of no importance. To what can we answer? How can we continue to speak of his works? An answer may be found in an understanding of that great doctrine of the church, namely the empty tomb. We serve a living God who is active in the world around us. Listen to the questions of the church father Athansius as he answers some of the critics of his day, who would claim that Christians serve a dead orthodoxy, and further a dead religion:
“Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds, and bow down to the teachings of Christ? If he is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if he is dead, how is it that he makes the living to cease from their activities, the adulterer from his adultery, the murderer from his murdering, the unjust from avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious? If he did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that he routs and persecutes and overthrows the false gods, whom unbelievers think to be alive, and the evil spirits whom they worship? For where Christ is named, idolatry is destroyed and the fraud of evil spirits is exposed; indeed, no such spirit can endure that Name, but it takes to flight on sound of it. This is the work of One who lives, not of onedead; and more than that, it is the work of God.”
The idea of the living Savior is an idea that is within the core values of the Vineyard movement. The men and women that came before us in this move of God came to where they were because they saw that their lives and ministries as Christians was lacking something. Something was missing, they taught a god who saves, a god who wins. Yet they lived and walked out a god who is powerless in the face of evil, a god who does not seek to move in the lives of his people.
Yet, when the Spirit is allowed freedom to move and perform His works in us and through us. God is allowed to present a challenge not only to us but also to the watching world around us. It is a challenge echoed in the words of the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:16 “What will we do with them? For it is oblivious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them, we cannot deny it.”
You see that you can deny Christ. And you can deny the Cross. You might even deny the empty tomb. But you can never deny it when the lame begin walking, the blind begin seeing, and the deaf begin hearing. When the mute speaks of the glories of God who can deny it. How can an unbelieving world deny it when the mountains cast themselves into the sea, water turns to wine, and strange things happen again and again and again. It leads straight to the last words of the Messiah that John would ever hear, “Blessed is the one that is not offended by me.” It is in the miraculous that the end is seen as clear as day. As clear as D-Day revealed the end of the war and TJ Ford’s behind the back pinpoint assist leads me to hunt a new game. Yes there is a lot ahead but I can go on knowing that the end is come and smile.