God can bring massive spiritual revival to a community (despite resistance or timidity) through the preaching of the gospel coupled with miraculous power, therefore believers who long for kingdom growth must fervently pray that God would work supernaturally and give us boldness for witness.
Introduction – Revival is exciting for many, for others it is the only hope for the church today, and controversial for the rest. Third of three summaries of church life in Acts (2:42-47; 4:32-35). The first summary shows us the ideal community that held tightly to apostolic teaching, Christian fellowship, sharing meals and the Lord’s Supper together, and worshipful prayer. The second summary displays the church as so united in heart and soul and affected by the resurrection of Jesus that they generously gave of their wealth to eliminate poverty in the church. This passage, the third summary, teaches us the method by which the church grew—expectant prayer accompanied by supernatural power. Resistance to the gospel and fearful withdraw from God will hinder church growth unless God’s Spirit supernaturally changes hearts and brings revival.
I. Hearing About Signs and Wonders Should Give You Déjà Vu (vv. 12a, 15-16)
A. The supernatural in the ministry of King Jesus
The multitudes coming from the surrounding region echo the ministry of Jesus to Israel (Mark 3:7-8). People came from all over to see Jesus and be healed. Why did Jesus perform signs and wonders? (1) To demonstrate God’s compassion and meet human needs; (2) To authenticate his credentials as God’s appointed messenger; (3) To convey the spiritual truths that the miraculous signs pointed to; (4) To set people free from bondage and bring them under the merciful lordship of Jesus (Mt 4:24; 9:35; Mk 1:32-34; Lk 4:40-41). On Palm Sunday Jesus was welcomed as the King of the Jews, the Son of David. He had been giving healing to people all along, but when he finally sat at the right hand of his heavenly Father, he gave the best gift (the Holy Spirit) to his church.
B. The supernatural in the ministry of his apostles
Remember that it is Jesus who empowered the apostles with the supernatural gifts! Apostolic healings and exorcisms follow the pattern of Jesus. The Spirit of God that endowed Jesus with power, might, and authority is alive, and is now working in Jesus’ apostles! The miracles done in Jesus’ name prove that Jesus is continuing to build his Church.
Solomon’s Portico was likely the same place where Jesus’ enemies listened to him teach the people and were able to gather enough information to falsely accuse him (John 10:23). Jesus’ enemies were likely still nearby, yet this did not deter the apostles or the people from gathering there. Likewise we should not fear men who hate God and his gospel, but should boldly and fearlessly share the good news of Jesus to others—even in the presence of people hostile to the message. Fear not, God will protect us and provide for us when we are persecuted. The believers are to be commended for risking their lives by worshiping publically instead of keeping their faith in Christ to themselves in their homes. They demonstrated that their faith in Christ as savior was real by joining in the public assembly of the Church and by joining themselves to their number.
Unlike today’s faith healers, the signs and wonders they performed were convincing, and all who came were healed. Their miracles were so clearly works of God that the multitudes were being converted to God in Christ. Even the skeptics and unbelievers could not discredit them. Their only recourse was to stop the apostles from preaching the gospel and performing miracles in Jesus’ name—just like they tried to stop Jesus’ ministry. Déjà vu?
C. Supernatural signs and wonders point to the King and his kingdom
The purpose of signs and wonders is to bear witness to the gospel (Heb 2:3-4). Healing and exorcism benefit the body and represent the spiritual grace of Christ. Healing points to Christ as he makes sinners whole again; exorcism points to Christ as he set prisoners free from their bondage to sin and Satan. Jesus is Lord and King, and as the risen King he is now giving the gifts to his people (healing, exorcism, new birth, salvation).
II. Hearing About Signs and Wonders Should Leave You Dissatisfied (vv. 12b-14)
A. The state of the early Church (at this point)
1. The Characters: Although the language is not perfectly clear, there are most likely three groups of people in vv. 12-14: believers (including the apostles), hostile unbelievers (“the rest”), and the onlookers. Note that the ministry of the apostles is getting out of control from the perspective of the Sanhedrin. What to do with these troublemakers? Recall President Barack Obama’s inauguration party and first 30 days in office. Supporters were beaming with joy because of the historic achievement. Political enemies stewed in anger, filled with jealousy, and already plotting his downfall. Onlookers admired the historic nature of the election but did not join the celebration. They admired the occasion but did not jump on the bandwagon. Now back to the third group of characters in our passage. The third group of people is the indifferent ones, the temperate ones, the “balanced” ones. These kinds of people often have some knowledge of the gospel and the things of God, and they give a certain lip-service or even express approval of religion from a safe distance. But they do not put their faith, their trust in God. They are content to judge from the sidelines or may participate a little just to make themselves feel good. But their commitment to Jesus is shallow. When there is a price to be paid, or a good deed to be done, or difficult teaching to accept, or a suffering to bear, this third group is absent. They always have an excuse why aligning themselves with God and his people is inconvenient right now.
2. The Scene: Exhilaration and euphoria because God was obviously moving in power and multitudes were being saved. The healings were signs pointing to redemption, and the redemption that God brings to this world is not limited to forgiveness of sins (although that is the bleeding edge of redemption). These healings are signs that point to the new heavens and the new earth—the new creation where there will be no more sin, suffering, disease, pain, crying, and all other effects of the Fall that Adam and his children brought into this world. The multitudes flocking around the apostles knew that world had begun, and it was the most exciting thing they had ever seen! Multitudes of people, both men and women, are being added to the number by the Lord. The fear of God was sweeping the community. No superficial or half-hearted followers dared to join the church for fear—fear of God and men. The point of vv13-14 seems to be that all but the most committed disciples were scared away. Summary: miracles, multitudes, opposition, boldness revival.
B. The state of the Church today
Compared to the early church, are you satisfied with the state of the church today? What do people look for in a church today? What attracts people to the church today? Churches today seem to be more blessed than ever. But we seem to be short on people listening to apostolic teaching, rejoicing, sharing, worshiping, fellowshipping, and telling anyone who will listen about Jesus and the gospel.
C. The state of your heart
1. Disinterested in the fate of sinners, the plight of the weak/sick/marginalized, the mighty power of God, the kingdom of God advancing, kingdom-oriented prayer?
2. Disinterested in miracles because you are convinced they are past their expiration date? While God may no longer be authenticating his message through signs and wonders, he is still bringing sinners into his kingdom—the greatest miracle of all. The King still gives revival!
III. Hearing About Signs and Wonders Should Move You to Decision (Acts 4:29-31)
How should the accounts of signs and wonders in Acts shape our expectations for today? In Acts 4:29-31 the apostles prayed that multitudes would be brought into the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ the risen Lord. It was appropriate for God to answer this prayer with signs and wonders because God was doing a new thing in salvation history—authenticating and legitimizing the message of the apostles as his own message, the gospel of God. But subsequent history since the close of the apostolic age teaches us that God’s method of bringing multitudes to faith in Christ is true spiritual revival—a fresh and exciting move of God’s Spirit in the hearts of communities, bringing deep conviction of sin and longing for the love of God in Christ. That is what the disciples prayed for—revival! In these last days revival is the method God uses to open the floodgates to gather sinners into his kingdom.
A. Decide to Study
Educate yourself on the history and nature of revival, on the emotional excesses and dangers of revival, so we don’t make the same mistakes that previous generations made. Know the difference between counterfeit and true revival. In his book Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Jonathan Edwards identified 5 marks of true revival. (1) It exalts Jesus Christ; (2) it attacks the powers of darkness; (3) it exalts the Bible; (4) it honors sound doctrine; (5) it promotes love to God and man (which includes evangelistic and missionary zeal). But do not study first, study last, lest you stop at this step!
B. Decide to Pray
True revival has always begun with earnest—even desperate—prayers. How should we pray for revival? (1) Pray for revival in your own heart. Pray that God would give you deep conviction and genuine sorrow for your sin so you are driven to the cross for forgiveness. Pray that God would drive you to tears for your sin but shower you with the joy of the Holy Spirit, love for his Son, desire to obey his word, and fervency in witness to a lost world. (2) Start a prayer group to pray for revival to break forth in the lives of those who call this church their home. Pray for unity and reconciliation in broken relationships. God moves powerfully when 2 or 3 gather in his name and ask great things of God. We are far too easily satisfied with the spiritual status-quo. (3) Pray (alone and with others) for God to give revival to your families, your friends, your neighbors, and your community. (4) Pray that God would bless our missionaries with revival in their ministries.
C. Decide to Witness
Do not despair that somehow we “missed out” on the age of signs and wonders. We can be tempted to complain that we would have much more faith if only we had witnessed Jesus and the apostles in action. But God still works miracles today. The best miracle is the changing of a sinner’s heart. The miracle of regeneration is best because it lasts the longest (forever), it costs God the most (the death of Christ), and it meets the greatest need (forgiveness and new life). Those who believe the good news that Christ is King, that he loves you, and died to take the punishment for your sin experience this miracle—the rebirth from death to life. What a magnificent savior we have! What awesome gifts he gives! Tell everyone about King Jesus and bring them to church to repent, be forgiven, sing, pray, listen, taste, give, belong, and be changed forever by coming face to face with the living God.
Conclusion – Do you want to see a miraculous sign and wonder in your life? Then believe the gospel, place your trust in Christ alone, give your life, your ambitions, your all to him, and watch as he saves you from your sin and gradually transforms you into his likeness. No one else can perform such a sign and wonder! It is his greatest wonder—his miracle—in those who believe. Do you also want to see God do a massive miracle of revival here and in this community? Then pray for God to change the hearts of the multitudes through the preaching and sharing of the gospel. [Proposition] Pray for apostolic boldness like Paul who said: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).