The Gift of Miracles
June 12th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
1 Corinthians 12:10
THE GIFT OF MIRACLES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 12:10
6-12-66 10:50 a.m.
Abraham Lincoln said, "When I go to church, I like to see a man preach as though he were fighting a swarm of bees." I feel that same way when the choir gets up to sing. I like to see them turn blue in the face. I like that. That has life in it, glory in it, praise in it, and pleases the Lord and me.
On this radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor preaching on one of the hardest subjects that any man could ever address himself to. And the reason is very plain. It is very simple. We do not use words with a consistency of meaning. We give them other meanings. Consequently, it looks as though in presenting a message like this today that we are limiting or denying the power of God, and that we are confessing that the Lord today has changed. But not so at all; the sermon is an attempt to get us to see, to understand the truth of God. And in my studying, to me it is very plain and very clear. Oh, may the Spirit help the preacher that he makes others see what he himself so clearly sees, or thinks that he sees!
For a long time, we have been preaching on the Holy Spirit. And the sermons are all being written down and being published in a book [The Holy Spirit in Today’s World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1966)]. And in that series on the Holy Spirit, we are following a series in the series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are four listings of them in the Bible: one in the twelfth chapter of Romans, two in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, and another one, a fourth one, in the fourth chapter of Ephesians. Paul names there, thirty different gifts of the Spirit. And when we check off reiterated ones, duplicates, there remain about eighteen or nineteen left. There are about eighteen or nineteen separate gifts of the Spirit.
In the first sermon, I preached on the basic gifts of the Spirit. The purpose is the implementation of the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20], the evangelization and teaching of the world. Those five gifts are and were: the apostleship; the prophetic office; the evangelist; the pastor and the teacher [Ephesians 4:11].
Then the sermon last Sunday morning was on the precious ministering gifts of the Spirit: the gift of wisdom; and of knowledge [1 Corinthians 12:8]; of mercy, the paraklete gift of comfort and encouragement [Romans 12:8]; the gift of giving [Romans 12:8]; helps, deacons [1 Corinthians 12:28] the Bible calls it; governments [1 Corinthians 12:28], the bishop [1 Timothy 3:1], the elder [Hebrews 13:7], the pastor [Ephesians 4:11], the ruler of the church. Do you know I’ve come across that so many times until I never felt so self elevated in my life about my office? When you study that Bible you will learn without doubt and with much reiteration that the ruler – and that’s the word the Bible uses – the ruler of the churches of God are the pastors, the bishops, the elders [1 Timothy 5:17]. And the deacons are the helpers of the pastor [1 Timothy 3:8-13]. Do you men hear that? That’s the word of the Lord. That’s what God says. I haven’t known that until just lately. I’m going to start changing things around here.
As I have studied I can plainly see the meaning of Paul in the third chapter of 1 Timothy when he says, "The man that would aspire, that would desire the office of a bishop, of a pastor, of an elder, desires a great work" [1 Timothy 3:1]. Oh, I could never understand! I suppose most of the preachers when they stand up to preach would introduce themselves like this, "Now I fought against the ministry all the days of my life. I wanted to be something else, or something else, or something else, and God made me to be a minister." I don’t even know what he’s talking about. Ever since I could breathe I’ve wanted to be a preacher. Ever since I was conscious I’ve looked forward to the day when maybe God would help me to be a preacher. I love being a preacher, and I love being a pastor, and I love being pastor of this church. What got me off on all that? Oh yeah, these gifts of the Spirit: the gift of government, of rulership, and the gift of helping, the deacon!
Now today, we are entering these studies and sermons on the sign gifts of the Spirit. They are four: the gift of miracles, the gift of healing, the gift of speaking in tongues, and the gift of interpretation of tongues [1 Corinthians 12:9-10]. The sermon today is on the gift of miracles. The sermon next Sunday will be on the gift of healing. The sermon the following Sunday will be on the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
Now I know that this gift of miracles is not an accidental inadvertence. It is something that God placed in the heart of that primitive church for it is mentioned here by name as a gift of the Holy Spirit three different times in this twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul writes, "To one is given the spirit of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge, to another faith, to another healing, and to another the working of miracles" [1 Corinthians 12:8-10]. And in the twenty-eighth verse, he lists another group: apostles, prophets, teachers [1 Corinthians 12:28]. After that, miracles then the gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Then in the next verse he mentions the gift of miracles again: "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?" [1 Corinthians 12:29] The gift of miracle working.
In this Bible, there are three words that are translated in different places "miracles." And in several places in this New Testament, all three words are used in the same sentence. An example is the apostolic Pentecostal sermon of Simon Peter when in the second chapter of Acts, witnessing to the resurrected Lord, he says, "Ye men of Israel, hear. Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs" [Acts 2:22]. Those are the three words that are used in the Greek language that are translated miracle.
First, semeion, semeion literally and translated here, is a sign. A semeion is a miracle that is used of God to authenticate, to substantiate, to corroborate. "This man is an ambassador from heaven, and he has the message of God; a semeion, a sign, a corroborating testimony." The second word that is used is teras – translated "wonder" and translated there "wonder" – teras is a miracle that is named from the effect it has upon those who see it; of astonishment and amazement! The third word for "miracle" is dunamis. You’d say, "dynamis," our word "dynamic," our word "dynamite" comes from it. Literally, it means "a power." So the third word for "miracle," dunamis, is a miracle that exhibits and presents the power of God.
Now if I could define a miracle in my language, I’d say it like this: a miracle is a sovereign intervention of God in the system of nature that we ordinarily and usually observe. Goes along a certain way as miraculous in itself as anything that could be named but as we observe nature going along in a certain way, nature has an order in it. It has a law in it. It has a usualness in it, but sometimes God intervenes and He does something above nature. He does something supernature, supernatural.
The virgin birth is a miracle [Luke 1:26-35; 2:10-16]. No child is born without a father. No conception without a mate. It never happens. But it did happen, and it happened by the sovereign intervention of God. That is a miracle in the sense that the Bible uses the word "miracle," a dunamis, a wonder, a sign, a teras, a semeion.
Now our confusion so often falls upon us. And this is why it’s difficult to preach like this. We use the word "miracle" in a figurative sense. We say, "The sunset is a miracle of love and beauty." That’s correct. The sunset, any sunset, is a miracle of God but not in the sense of being unusual, or a divine interposition upon nature, or a divine intervention in the course of nature. It is a miracle of God, but only in a figurative sense. We say this Christian here is a miracle of grace. That’s right. That’s correct. He is if he’s been saved. He is a miracle of grace but not in the sense of being a wonderful sign. We say of another, that she is a miracle of love and patience and self-sacrifice.
That is the use of the term figuratively, but it is not a miracle in the sense that Moses turned common dust into lice [Exodus 8:16-19]. It is not a miracle in the sense that Elijah took his mantle, and smote the waters, and they divided to the right and to the left [2 Kings 2:8]. It is not a miracle in the sense that the Lord took a few loaves and fishes and fed five thousand people [John 6:1-14]. It is a miracle that a vineyard on the hillside can turn water into the fruit of the vine, but not a miracle in the same sense as Jesus by fiat did it without the processes of nature [John 2:1-11]. A miracle in the sense that we are talking about in the Bible as the gift of miracles, a miracle is an intervention of God in the system of nature, in the ordinary course of our observations.
Now as Paul names the gifts here, he names, "to another the gifts of healing, and to another the working of miracles" [1Corinthians 12:9-10]. And in the next list he puts the working of miracles right next to the prophet; "the apostle, the prophet, the teacher, and the working of miracles" [1Corinthians 12:28]. Well, I would think as I look at this that the miracle of healing is a specific, a section, in the larger context of the gift of miracles.
There are many miracles that are not works of healing. When Jesus walked on the water [Matthew 14:25]: that was a miracle. When Jesus sent Simon Peter to catch a fish and in the fish’s mouth was a shekel, a tax to the temple for both the Lord and the apostle [Matthew 17:27]; that was a miracle. When an angel came, and loosed the bands of Simon Peter, and the iron door opened of itself, and he walked free [Acts 2:7-10]; that was a miracle. When Paul called down blindness on Elymas – the sorcerer in the court of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cypress in Paphos [Acts 13:8-11]; that was a miracle. These are miracles, not of healing. Healing is a specific – a category in the great open inclusive category of the gifts of miracles.
Now what purpose do they serve and why do you see them in the Bible? You cannot escape the supernatural in the revelation and Word of God. It is inwoven. And if you ever take it out, there is nothing left. You have shredded the divine inspired revelation. Wherever there is God, there is miracle. Their purpose is authentication, attestation, corroboration, substantiation. They are signs. They are imprimaturs. They are divine approbations. They introduce the great separate eras in the presence, and power, and working of God in this earth. And every one will be introduced by the gift of miracles.
There are five of those eras. There are five of those groupings of miracles that you will find in the Bible. The first is in Genesis [Genesis 1-2]. When God created this earth, there was one miracle after another; by divine fiat God did it. He spake and there was light [Genesis 1:3]. He spake and there were planets [Genesis 1:16]. He spake and the thing was done. The era was introduced by miracles [Genesis 1:1-19].
The second great era introduced by the miraculous is in the life of Moses and the giving of the law; one miracle after another [Exodus 1-20]. A third era introduced by the miraculous was the great revival in the days of Israel’s apostasy in the prophets of Elijah and Elisha. It looked as though the flame and the spark of Jehovah would die from the earth. And in that awful hour of apostasy and rejection, these men of God were raised up and they had the gifts of miracles [1 Kings 17-2 Kings 7]. A fourth great era is that of the Christian dispensation. In the life of Christ and in the life of the apostles you have another marvelous recounting of miracles [John 20:310-31]. And there is another yet to come. At the consummation of the age described in the Book of the Revelation there will be one marvelous, miraculous intervention of God after another. It will be another time of marvelous outpouring, the gift of miracles [Revelation 4-19].
They are never used for purposes of entertainment or ostentation, never, never. They are specifically used and ordained in the work and economy of God for the delivery of His message and never anything else. For example, when Satan took the Lord Jesus up to the height of the pinnacle of the temple, Josephus says it was so high from the top of the temple down to the Kidron floor, down to the Kidron Valley, that the mind was dizzy looking over the abyss. Satan took Jesus there and said, "Cast Thyself down" [Matthew 4:5-6]. What a wonderful thing. Oh, how the people would be attracted to the one who could jump from such a height and be unhurt! But the Lord refused such a thing [Matthew 4:7]; impossible.
You have it again in the life of our Lord when the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and the scribes said, "Lord, show us a sign". And the Lord said, "No sign shall be given save the sign of the prophet Jonah" [Matthew 12:38-40], which was His resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. No sign for entertainment or ostentation to draw attention to the doer. The Lord stood in the presence of Herod Antipas. When he was arrested and brought to Pontius Pilate, Pilate heard He was from Galilee and sent Him off to Herod Antipas, king of Galilee. And the Bible says that when Herod saw Jesus, he was glad, expecting to see some miracle – – and that’s the Bible word – – some miracle done by Him. The Lord never spoke a word to him, never answered. And in contempt, Herod and his men sent Him back to Pontius Pilate [Luke 23:1-11]. Miracles are never used and never wrought for fame, glorious, and ostentatious purposes.
Nor do they convert. Isn’t that strange? Wouldn’t you suppose that if you had in your presence a man who had the gift of miracles that it would convert the human soul and convert the human heart, just the terror of it, just the amazement and wonder of it? Human nature is so strange. It has no converting power in itself. Look at it as we follow through the Word of God for just a moment. On the other side of the Sea of Galilee the Lord fed five thousand, a miraculous repast. And they ate and were filled. With a few loaves, with a few fish, the whole multitude were fed [John 6:1-13].
And when the Lord returned across the lake, they all followed the shore all the way around to the north and to the city of Capernaum [John 6:22]. And in the sixth chapter of John you have recorded the sermon that Jesus preached on the bread of life [John 6:31-58]. And Jesus said, "You are here because of the loaves and the fishes" [John 6:26]. And when the Lord preached His spiritual doctrine, the Book says the entire multitude forsook Him so much so that the Lord Jesus turned to the apostle and said, "Will ye also go away?" [John 6:67].
They had seen that miracle. They had eaten of the flesh and of the bread, but there was not a single convert in the throng, not one, not one. You have it again in the life of the leaders of the Jewish nation. They saw Him raise Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44]. They saw the marvelous signs by which God affirmed Him. But they slew Him. "Not fit," they said, "that He live in the earth; crucify Him, crucify Him" [Matthew 27:20-22; Mark 15:13]. And it was in the teaching of our Lord. You listen. You listen. The Lord spake in that story about Dives and Lazarus in hell and in heaven. Dives says, "Father Abraham, tormented in this flame [Luke 16:24]. Send Lazarus to my father’s house to my five brethren, lest they come to this place of agony" [Luke 16:27-28]. And the Lord Jesus said:
They have the Bible, Moses and the prophets, they have the Word of God.
And if they will not repent, and turn, and be saved by the witness of the Word of God, neither will they turn though the miracle of seeing one raised from the dead were to happen before their very eyes.
Isn’t that an astonishing doctrine? There is no power in the miracle to convert or to regenerate or to change.
You have it in the life of the apostle Paul. When he came to Lystra, he healed the man lame from his mother’s womb who had never walked [Acts 14:8-10]. And when they saw that marvelous miracle, that miraculous sign, they said, "This is a god; the gods in human form have come down like men," and they bowed and worshipped and offered sacrifice [Acts 14:11-13]. Then when Paul dissuaded them from such worshipful obeisance [Acts 14:14-18], they turned the other way, stoned him and dragged him outside of the city for dead [Acts 14:19]. Can you imagine that? Wouldn’t you have thought so great a miracle would have made such a marvelous impression? Why, they stoned the disciples, left them for dead in the ditch outside the city wall.
Or take the story in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts when Paul healed miraculously that demon-possessed girl [Acts 16:16-18]. When their owners saw that their hopes for profit were gone, they haled the apostles before the magistrates, who beat them and put them in an inner dungeon [Acts 16:19-24]. Isn’t that amazing? There is no converting, saving power in a miracle, none at all. And you will find that the apostles did not, that the apostles did not depend upon miracles for the evangelization of the world. But they depended as we do today upon the regenerating, convicting power of the Holy Spirit of God in the hearts of those who listen to the gospel message of the Son of God.
Now we shall follow through this gift of miracles here in the Word of the Lord. First of all, may I point out to you that as you begin reading the story of this primitive church, ah, the miracles, the miracles, the miracles! But as you proceed and as you turn the page, they become fewer, and fewer, and fewer. You will never hear of one in the city of Antioch, in Derbe, in Thessalonica, in Berea, in Athens, in the story at Corinth; never referred to, until finally, they are hardly mentioned at all.
And until finally, whoever it was wrote this Book of Hebrews was a second generation Christian, and they had ceased altogether. Whoever he is – – I think it was Apollos, the Alexandrian orator – – but whoever it is that wrote this Book of Hebrews said, "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" [Hebrews 2:3]. He’s a second generation Christian. He never saw the Lord. He never heard the Lord. He just heard from the lips of those who were first generation Christians. "And that message was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him [Hebrews 2:3]; God also bearing them witness with signs, and wonders, and divers miracles" [Hebrews 2:4].
Not "that the Word of God is confirmed unto us by signs, and wonders, and miracles," he never wrote it that way. He said that the word spoken by the Lord was confirmed unto "them who heard" [Hebrews 2:3]. Simon Peter, the apostle Paul, that first generation Christians, it was confirmed unto them. But it was not confirmed unto him. He belonged to the second generation, and in the second generation the gift of miracles had ceased. It had passed away, even here in the Word of God. And when you look at that closely it is very apparent.
In Ephesians 2:20, Paul says that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The apostolic office passed away when the apostles passed away. There are no other apostles. They have no successors. When their ministry was finished, the office ceased. The prophetic office passed away. When the Bible was written, there was no need for the office and the office passed away, and there are no more prophets. And the sign and the seal of the prophetic office and of the apostolic office was the miracle by which God attested it.
For example, Paul will write to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, he says, "For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles [2 Corinthians 12:11]. Truly the signs, the miracles of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience in signs and wonders and mighty deeds" [2 Corinthians 12:12]; those same three words, semeion, teras, and dunamis. The semeion, the teras, the dunamis were God’s approbation, and affirmation, and corroboration, and substantiation that this is an apostle of God. And when the apostolic office ceased, the sign, and the miracle, and the gift ceased with it. "No one," says Paul, "has all the gifts and no generation has all the gifts" [1 Corinthians 12:4, 28].
"Well, pastor, now let us see. Let us see. Are you limiting God? Are you denying miracles among us today? Are you saying God has removed Himself and no longer interposes in human life and in human history? Is that what you’re saying?"
No, that’s why it’s difficult to preach. God does not change [Malachi 3:6; James 1:17]. He is the same yesterday, and the same today, and the same forever [Hebrews 13:8]. The same Lord God who did the miraculous fiat of bringing and speaking this universe into existence [Genesis 1:1-25] is the same Lord God that presides over it in glory and in power today. That eloquent author of the Hebrews said:
Thou, O Lord, hast laid the foundation of the world, and the heavens are the works of Thine hands.
They shall perish; but Thou remainest: they shall wax old as doth a garment;
As a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.
God is everlastingly the same [Hebrews 13:8]. And the power of God never wanes. God does not evolve. God does not change. God is the same and forever. The fires that forged the strong bands of Orion are the same fires that burn in the bush on the back side of the desert of Horeb [Exodus 3:1-3]. The same fire that burned in the Shekinah glory above the tabernacle [1 Kings 8:10] – – in the day looked like a cloud, in the night looked like a lambent flame [Exodus 13:21] – – the same fire that destroyed Abihu the false priest in Israel [Leviticus 10:1-2], the same fire that licked up the trenches of Elijah [1 Kings 18:38], the same fire in amber glory before the mystic gaze of the prophet Ezekiel [Ezekiel 8:2], the same fire that burned in cloven tongues above the heads of the apostles at Pentecost [Acts 2:3], the same fire that blinded Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus [Acts 22:11], and the same fire that shall clothe Immanuel when He comes with clouds, dressed in the Shekinah glory of God from His loins upward and from His loins downward [Ezekiel 8:2]. It is just that.
The gift of miracles is in the specific purpose of God and is bestowed temporarily at seasons and at times. As in the days of an Elijah, oh the miraculous presence of God! But as between Malachi and Matthew, four hundred years when there is not heard even the voice of a prophet. It lies in the sovereign choice of God not in us. The gift of miracles has been bestowed, will be bestowed again [Revelation 11:5-6]. But it lies in the purposes of God.
The Book of Acts is an unfinished book. It leaves off with Paul in the Roman prison. It is not complete. The reason is manifest. The Holy Spirit is not done. There is a twenty-ninth chapter to the Book of Acts. There is a thirtieth chapter. There’s a thirty-first. There’s a thirty-second and God is still writing marvelous chapters to the Book of Acts. And God still intervenes in miraculous power in human history.
On these mission fields, this godly saintly consecrated missionary himself has witnessed marvelous miracles of God. But they lie in His purpose, in His will when He chooses to affirm and to substantiate His message and His testimony. We do not need it. We have the Book, and we have the Spirit witnessing in our souls. If I were to see an angel of light, or the heavens roll back as a scroll, or any miraculous intervention of God, I would rejoice in it that these human and mortal eyes could have seen such a wonder. But it would be an addendum. I would not base my conversion, or my salvation, or my hope of heaven upon having been privileged to see the vistas of the glory that is to come. This Book is enough. It says it, I believe it, that settles it.
And the Spirit that witnesses in my soul is enough. And the miracle is in God’s sovereign grace. If it is bestowed, we shall rejoice. If it is not bestowed, we believe, and are saved, and are blessed just the same. And may God help us to understand the truth of His mercy and presence in our lives, in our world, in this church, in this day, and this time. Now, may it please the Holy Spirit to add to the message His blessing.
May God give us somebody you today; somebody taking Jesus as Savior, "Here I come, pastor, and here I am." A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today." Or a couple you; as the Spirit of God shall whisper and make appeal to your heart, come. The throng of people in this balcony round, there’s a stairway at the front and the back, and time and to spare, come. In the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor. Today I have decided for Christ." I cannot say the appeal. The Spirit must press it to your heart. If it’s the voice of a man, it is nothing. If it is God that speaks, answer with your life, come. In a moment when we stand and you stand, stand up coming, "Here I am, pastor. Here I come, giving my heart to Jesus," or consecrating your life in a new way to the Lord, or putting your life in the fellowship of this precious congregation; as God shall lead in the way, make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.