The Gift of Miracles
June 12th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
1 Corinthians 12:28-29
THE GIFT OF MIRACLES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-12-1966 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Gift of Miracles. For a long, long time, for over a year, we have been preaching on the Holy Spirit. And in this long series we have come to a series within a series, preaching on the gifts of the Spirit. We began with a sermon on the basic ministries, the five basic ministries in the household of faith, in the church of God, in the implementation of the Great Commission; the gift of the apostleship, the gift of the prophet, the office of the prophet; then the evangelist and the pastor and the teacher. Then the next sermon was on the precious ministering gifts of the Spirit; the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, the gift of mercy, the paraklete gift of comfort, the gift of giving, the gift of government, the gift of helps, the Greek word is deacon, and the gift of faith.
Then, we now come to the sign gifts, and there are four of them; the gift of miracles, the gift of healing, the gift of tongues, and the gift of interpretation of tongues. This morning the sermon concerns the gift of miracles. Next Sunday it will concern the gift of healing, then the following sermon the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
The gift of miracles is not an inadvertent mentioning here in the Scriptures. In these passages that we look at, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, it is said, it is mentioned, it is named three times. The nine gifts in 1 Corinthians 12: to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge; to another faith; to another the gifts of healing; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another kinds of tongues; and to another interpretation of tongues. Those are the nine gifts names in 1 Corinthians 12: 8-10.
Now in the twenty-eighth verse of this same chapter, “God had set some in the church apostles, prophets, teachers, after that, miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” [1 Corinthans 12:28-29]. He names miracles in verse 28, and then in verse 29 he refers to it again, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?” [1 Corinthians 12:29]. This is not an inadvertent. This is a description of something that God placed in that primitive church; the gift of miracles.
There are three words that are used in the New Testament for miracles. All three of them are used several times in the Scriptures. I pick out one. I choose one, as typical of them all. In the Pentecostal sermon in chapter 2 in the Book of Acts, Simon Peter says, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs” [Acts 2:22]. Now there are three words; [sēmeion], teras, and dunamis; “dynamist” we’d call it. [Sēmeion], translated sign, [sēmeion], a [sēmeion] is a miracle that is an attestation, an authentication, a corroboration, a substantiation of a message from God, or a messenger from God; a [sēmeion]; a sign, a corroboration, a miracle that attests the divine message or the divine messenger.
The second word is teras, translated wonder. A teras is a miracle that is named for the affect it has upon the people who see it; one of astonishment and amazement; a wonder! The other word for miracle is dunamis, our dynamic, or dynamite. Dunamis, the word dunamis is power. So a dunamis is a miracle that is an exhibition of the power of God. If I were to define a miracle as we use the word, I would define it like this: a miracle is an intervention of God in the system of nature that we ordinarily observe. It is supernatural; it is a sovereign act of God intervening in the ordinary order of things as we observe it. The virgin birth is a miracle [Luke 1:26-35; 2:10-16]. Children are not conceived like that, children do not come into this world like that. It is an intervention of God in the course of nature. It is miraculous, the virgin birth of Jesus.
We use that word “miracle” figuratively. We say a sunset is a miracle of beauty and loveliness. Or a Christian is a miracle of grace, how God has changed him and made his life blessed and precious. Or we say a mother is a miracle of unselfishness and sacrifice. But the use of the word like that is in no wise in the context of a miracle in the sense of turning common dust into life, insects, as Moses did in Egypt [Exodus 8:16-19], or of the mantle of Elijah dividing the waters of the Jordan River [2 Kings 2:8], or of Jesus feeding five thousand with a few loaves and fishes [John 6:1-14]. It is a miracle in the figurative sense how on a thousand hillsides the vineyards turned water into the fruit of the vine. But that is not a miracle in the sense of turning water into wine by fiat, by the sovereign intervention or spoken Word of God [John 2:1-11].
Now the gift of miracles; to some the Holy Spirit bestows, says Paul, the gift of miracles, the working of miracles. In the verse above he said to some are bestowed the gifts of healing [1Corinthians 12:9]. Now healing is a specific category in the larger world of miracles. An example of miracle that is not healing would be when the Lord Jesus sent Simon Peter to catch a fish, for in the fish’s mouth he would find a shekel to pay the temple tax; a half shekel for each one born male in Israel. So that miracle paid the tax for Jesus and for Simon Peter [Matthew 17:24-27]. An example of a miracle that is not healing would be Jesus walking on the water [Mark 6:48]. An example of a miracle that is not healing was in Paphos, in the presence of the proconsul Sergius Paulus; when Paul called down blindness upon the sorcerer Elymas [Acts 13:9-11]. There are many miracles that are not healing. Healing is a specific category in the larger context of the gift of miracles.
Now what is the purpose of God’s endowing some with the gift of miracles? The purpose is very plain. It is for authentication. It is for corroboration. It is for substantiation. It is a divine pointing that this man or this messenger is from God, and the message that he delivers is from heaven.
As you read through the Bible there are five great eras; each one of which is introduced by the marvelous gift of miracles. Those five eras recounted in the Bible are first: creation; when you read the story in Genesis of creation, you read a miraculous story. Second: the age of the law; when you read the life of Moses, you read a story of miracle. Third: in the days of the apostasy, when you read the story of the revival under Elijah and Elisha, when the darkness of pagan idolatry was about to snuff out the life of the people of God, in that day of marvelous revival, you read of an era of miracle. A fourth: the era of the Christian dispensation; when you read the life of the Lord and the life of the apostles, you will read a continuing story of miracle. And the fifth and last is the consummation of the age; when we come to the denouement of all things and the end of history, you will read in the Revelation of a marvelous time of miracle.
So, miracle, the gift of miracles, rises and falls. There are times of intensive activity, as in the days of Moses; as in the days of Elisha and Elijah. There are times of extreme dormancy, as in the four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew, where there was not even of a voice heard of a prophet. Now, this gift of miracles is for authentication and substantiation. They are sign gifts that this man is from God and has a message from God. God said to Moses, “When you go down into the land of Israel, and they say, how do we know that God sent you? These shall be the signs that you shall present, they are accreditations. First: take the rod in your hand and cast it down, it will become a serpent. Pick it up by its tail, and it will be a rod again. Second sign, second miracle: put your hand in your bosom, throw it out, it is leprous; put your hand in your bosom, throw it out, it is whole again. Third sign: take water out of the river and pour it on the dry land, it will turn to blood” [Exodus 4:1-9]. These are authentications, this is God’s spokesmen.
You see that in the life of our Lord, a miracle as an attestation, an authentication. In the story of the healing of the paralytic, borne by four, let down through the roof. When the Lord saw the paralytic on his pallet, the Savior said, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” [Mark 2:1-5]. And the Pharisees and the scribes who were gathered round said “This Man blasphemes! Who can forgive sins but God?” [Mark 2:7]. And the Lord replied, “Is it easier to say, thy sins be forgiven thee or to say, rise up and walk?” [Mark 2:9]. You might try it sometime and find out for yourself! “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sin,” parenthesis, (then said He to the paralytic), end parenthesis, “I say to thee, rise take up thy bed and walk.” And the paralytic stood up, carried his bed and walked [Mark 2:10-12]. The miracle was an attestation. It was sign. It was corroboration that the Lord was God, able to forgive sin.
You have an instance of that in the life of the apostle Paul. In the defense of his ministry as an apostle to the church at Corinth, he says, “For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles. Truly” he says, “the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, [sēmeion], and in wonders, teras, and mighty deeds, dunamis” [2 Corinthians 12:11-12]. The signs, the corroboration, this man is an apostle, apostolos, a messenger from God! And his apostleship was corroborated by [sēmeion], by teras and by dunamis. You have an instance of that in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation, the two witnesses. They are evident spokesmen for God, for they can pray and it doesn’t rain, and drought burns and sears the earth. They can turn water into blood, and they can affect the earth with plagues at their will [Revelation 11: 6]. The miracle is a sign, an attestation.
No time ever, and there’s no exception to this, no time ever is the miracle used for entertainment, or ostentation; that the attention might be directed to the interest of the doer, the miracle worker. There’s no exception to that, never. When the devil took Jesus up on that pinnacle and set Him high above the city of Jerusalem, he said to Him, “Cast Thyself down” [Matthew 4:6]. Oh, what a wonder that would be, and all the people in the city of Jerusalem, seeing Jesus high, high, high: Josephus says, that wall of the temple over the Kedron, at the southeastern corner was so high when you looked down it made the mind dizzy. From that high elevation, “Cast Yourself down, and the people will gather round in splendid awe and amazement.” “Never,” says the Lord, “never!”
And when the Jews came and said, “Master, we would see a sign of Thee.” Jesus replied, “Never, no sign but that of the resurrection from the dead” [Matthew 12:38-40]. And when Jesus was arrested and Pontius Pilate heard that He was from Galilee, he sent the Lord to Herod Antipas, the king. That was his dominion up there, and the Book says that when Herod Antipas saw Jesus, he was glad; for he wanted to see Him do some miracle [Luke 23:8]. And the Bible uses that word, “miracle,” for Herod Antipas wanted to see Him do some miracle. But Jesus refused even to answer him a word [Luke 23:9], whereupon Herod Antipas and his men of war mocked Him, and scourged Him, and sent Him back in contempt and scorn to Pontius Pilate [Luke 23:11].
A miracle is never wrought for entertainment or ostentation, again, and they make few if any converts. Isn’t it a remarkable thing when Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and [two] fishes? When Jesus had performed that marvelous miracle, the people who were fed and satisfied were overwhelmed by what had been done. They followed the Lord all the way around the head of the lake from the east up to the north to Capernaum. And there Jesus delivered that famous message in the sixth chapter of John on the bread of life [John 6:31-58]. And when Jesus finished that message on the bread of life, every disciple forsook and left Him [John 6:66]. And Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “Will ye also go away?” [John 6:67]. Why, these people had just seen that marvelous miracle of turning a few loaves of bread and a few little fish into an incomparable repast to feed five thousand [John 6:1-13]. But there was not a heart changed among them, not one. Not one was saved to believe by it.
And the Jewish leaders who saw the Lord raise the dead, as Lazarus [John 11:43-44], and perform all those other marvelous things; the Jewish leaders slew the Lord and delivered Him to be crucified under Pontius Pilate [Mark 15:1]. Their hearts were not changed by the signs, the miracles that they saw. Jesus said, in the parable or in the story, whichever it is, Jesus said in the story of Dives and Lazarus, when Dives pleads with father Abraham “Send Lazarus back to my brothers, my five brothers, lest they come to this place of torment,” Jesus said, “If they will not believe the Bible, Moses and the prophets, neither would they be convinced though one was raised from the dead” [Luke 16:27-31]. We are not saved and people are not converted by miracles.
In the life of the apostle Paul, when he came to Lystra and healed that crippled man, unable to walk from his mother’s birth [Acts 14:8-10], they bowed down before him as a god, and the prince of Jupiter, the temple of Jupiter, brought out sacrifices to make to Paul and Barnabas [Acts 14:11-13]. And the next verse I read they stoned him and dragged him outside the city for dead [Acts 14:19]. Not a single convert had been made in that marvelous miracle! And when Jesus in the sixteenth chapter of Acts at Philippi, when Jesus healed that demon possessed girl, instead of making converts out of those men, they haled them before the magistrates and beat them unmercifully, and put them inside the lowest, darkest dungeon [Acts 16:18-24]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? You would think that miracles would just turn the whole world God-ward. It has no such effect at all, none at all.
It is a remarkable thing that the apostles who had the gifts of miracles depended upon them not at all for conversion or for evangelization. They depended upon the convicting and regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, just as we do today. The miracle was to us who believe, an attestation, a sign, an authentication. “This is God’s messenger with God’s message” [Hebrews 2:3-4]. But if the Holy Spirit did not convict and regenerate the human heart, the miracle had no effect whatsoever––none at all. So, when I read in the Holy Scriptures of the gift of miracles, I find to begin with, and you listen to this carefully, I find that as the story proceeds in the Bible, miracles practically disappear.
In the first of the Book of Acts, they are much in prominence, and as the story continues, they are hardly mentioned, until finally the second generation of Christians had never seen them. In Hebrews the second chapter—and Hebrews is written by a second generation Christian. Some people say Hebrews was written by the apostle Paul; how they can believe such a thing is beyond my understanding, for listen to the author of the Book of Hebrews. He says:
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation: which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him;
God also bearing them witness, with signs and wonders and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.
[Hebrews 2:3, 4]
Whoever it was that wrote this Book of Hebrews was a second generation Christian, and when he wrote that Book of Hebrews, the gift of miracles had ceased. They just knew that those who had seen the Lord and had delivered the message of the Lord, that they were confirmed in that message with signs and wonders and diverse miracles [Hebrews 2:3-4]. In Ephesians 2:20 Paul writes that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The office of the prophet has ceased. They have no successors. The office of the prophet has ceased, he has no successors, and the miracle that attested the apostolic office and the prophetic office ceased also. There is nobody, Paul says, that has all the gifts, and there is no generation that has all the gifts either. What shall we say then in conclusion regarding the gift of miracles?
This is what we are taught in the Word of God. The gift of miracles is a sovereign endowment from heaven. There are times when God has bestowed it. He did in the days of Moses. He did in the days of Elijah. He did in the days of Christ and the apostles. But it is a special gift. It is a specific gift, and it is always a temporary gift. The gift of miracles is not one that God bestows continuously and through all the generations. They have specific purposes of attestation and introduction, and when those specific purposes are wrought in God, as in the apostolic office, as in the prophetic office, when the work is done, the attestation is complete, and the gift ceases to be [1 Corinthians 13:10]. And our attestation of the great truth of our message now is not that we are looking to the pastor or for some member of the church to do some marvelous miracle as raising the dead, or dividing the waters of a river, or feeding five thousand. For us to look to these signs and wonders for attestation is to be vainglorious and presumptuous; our attestation today lies in the immutable and inspired and unchanging Word of God.
Now shall we limit God as if the days of miracles is past forever? Nay, and a thousand times nay! As we read of the prophecies of the future in the Book of the Revelation and in 2 Thessalonians, there are returning days of God’s intervention. He doesn’t change:
Thou Lord didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou remainest. They shall wax old as a garment; and as vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but Thou remainest, and Thy years shall not fail.
[Psalm 102: 25-27]
The fires that forged the strong bands of Orion are the fires that burned in the bush at Horeb [Exodus 3:1-3], that burned in shekinah glory above the tabernacle [Exodus 40:34], and in the temple [1 Kings 8:10]; they are the fires of God that licked up the trenches of Elijah [1 Kings 19:38]; that burned in lambent, amber flame before the rapt visions of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 8:2]; that sat in cloven tongues above the heads of the apostles [Acts 2:3]; that blinded the apostle Paul above the light of a meridian noonday sun as he in his persecuting wrath sought to hale the disciples of the Lord into prison on the way to Damascus [Acts 9:1-3]. It is the same fire and glory as shall cover the appearance of our Immanuel from His loins upward and from His loins downward when He comes in clouds of glory [Ezekiel 8:2]. He does not change [Psalm 102:25-27].
And in His sovereign will, the Book of Acts is not finished. There is a chapter 29 and a chapter 30. And there is a chapter 31 and a chapter 32. And the power and the miracle-working grace of the Holy Spirit is with us today as in the days of the long ago. It is just that the gift of miracles is a specific gift in the sovereign grace of God for a specific time.
I read them in the mission fields, I read those divine attestations in heathen lands, and once in a while God will intervene and interpose in a miraculous sign, even among the churches and the preachers of Christ today. But as a gift, it has that specific allocation, and God uses it in His grace for a specific purpose. So my strength and ours shall be found in the Word of God. And if the Lord bestows a sign, we shall, we shall be filled with gratitude in His grace and mercy. But, sign or no sign, our hope and our persuasion is not in the light, or a vision of an angel, or a miraculous demonstration and exhibition of the intervention of God. Our strength and hope lies in the immutable Word and in the witness of the Holy Spirit in our souls, and it is enough [Romans 8:16-17]. I ask for nothing more. Lord, the Book I believe, and the witness; it’s enough. And if God shall give me a sign, I shall rejoice. But if God does not vouchsafe, I shall still rejoice nonetheless and just the same. This is the will and the way of God for His people in our generation and in our day.
Now we’re going to sing our hymn of appeal. Somebody you, give your heart to Jesus; somebody you, come into the fellowship of the church. As the Spirit of God shall open the door and lead in the way: “Today I take the Lord as my Savior,” or “Today I put my life in the fellowship of the church.” However God shall say the word, shall speak to your heart, come. “Here I am, pastor. I make it now.” A family, a couple, one somebody you, while we sing, come. Come, while we stand and while we sing.
three times(1 Corinthians 12:10, 28-29)
words translated “miracle”(Acts 2:22)
– a sign
– a wonder
– a power
of a miracle – a sovereign intervention of God in the system of nature we
1. Sometimes we use the
word in a figurative sense
of healing a category in the large context of the gift of miracles
There are many miracles that are not works of healing(Matthew 14:25, 17:27, Acts 12:7-10, 13:8-11)
II. The gift of miracles
– authentication, corroboration, substantiation
Five great eras of miracles, each introducing a new age, era
for show, entertainment(Matthew 4:5-7, 12:38-40,
not won by them(John 6, Luke 16:27-31, Acts
gift temporary and passed away
At first much in evidence; then less common
Was not possessed by second generation Christians(Hebrews
Church built upon foundation of apostles and prophets(Ephesians 2:20)
a. Apostolic office ceased
– no more need for authentication(2 Corinthians 12:12)
one person has all the gifts – no one age has all the gifts
III. Miracles today
does not change – His power and wisdom are today what they were before creation(Hebrews 1:10-12)
of miracles has been bestowed, and will be again – but in the purposes of God
Book of Acts is an unfinished book