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Charismatic Chaos - Part 5

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/02/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, By John MacArthur Jr.  It was transcribed from the tape, GC 90-56, titled "Charismatic Chaos" Part 5.  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412.

I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original tape was made.  Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary from accepted English conventions.  This is due primarily to the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in placing the correct punctuation in the article.

It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription of the sermon, "Charismatic Chaos" Part 5, to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.

                        Charismatic Chaos - Part 5

                        "Does God Do Miracles Today?"

                              Copyright 1991                                     by                           John F. MacArthur, Jr.                             All rights reserved.

In our ongoing study of the Charismatic movement today, I want to jump right into a subject that I know I can't completely cover.  But I want you to learn to think Biblically about this because I am very concerned about it. 

Today, we hear an awful lot of talk about miracles.  Somebody says, "I had a financial need and a miracle happened.  The mailman came and in the mail was a check for just the amount of money I needed.  It was a miracle!"  Or, you hear someone say, "I went to the Mall and there was a parking place right by the entrance.  It was a miracle!"  Or, a mother might sense something wrong in an adjoining room and investigate just in time to stop her little toddler from putting a paper clip into an electrical outlet or something, and say, "It was a miracle!"  Or, maybe you were thinking and praying for somebody and just seemingly at the time you were doing that, the phone rang and it was the very person that you were thinking about and they were right there to be encouraged.  And you say, "That was a miracle!"

Well, we call those things miracles, but they are not miracles.  A miracle is a supernatural event which has no human explanation.  More than that, a miracle is a supernatural event which suspends natural law.  In other words, natural law stops and is suspended while God acts; moves back out and then the natural course continues. 

When you find a place to park at the Mall, when you catch your little toddler just at the right moment, or when you get a check for what you needed, or when a friend calls at precisely the right moment in time, those would be acts of providence.  Those would be acts whereby God is simply orchestrating natural events; not suspending the natural, but controlling the natural so that it does what He wants it to do. 

A miracle then is an extraordinary event wrought by God that cannot be explained by any natural means.  That would be the technical definition.  It might sound something like this,

      A miracle is an event in nature, so extraordinary in itself, and       so coinciding with a prophecy or a command of a religious       teacher or leader as fully to warrant the conviction on the part       of those who witness it, that God has wrought it with the design       of certifying that this teacher or leader has been commissioned       by Him.

Now, that takes us to another dimension, and I wanted to read that.  That's from Augusta Strong written way back in 1907.  And what he is saying there is, that anytime a miracle occurs, it is associated with the certification of a teacher or a leader commissioned by God.  Theologians prior, of course, to the Charismatic movement, the Pentecostal movement in this century, were united in the understanding that miracles did not happen randomly.  They did not happen through history in a "willy-nilly" sort of way.  God did not do them capriciously, or whimsically.  There wasn't a continual flow of miracles at all times and places through Church history, but rather, miracles, that is God stepping into the natural world suspending natural law, doing something that had no natural explanation and pulling back out again and letting natural law then run it course, did that only in certification of a specially commissioned teacher.  In fact, miracles in Scripture all the way from Exodus through Deuteronomy, to Nehemiah, through the Psalms, Jeremiah, Daniel, into the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, John, Acts, Romans, 2Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Hebrews--miracles are called "signs and wonders." 

They are signs.  And what is a sign for?  A sign is to point to something.  And what were they signs of?  They were signs authenticating a divinely commissioned teacher.  When God, supernaturally, superhumanly, suspended natural law, and acted in human history.  He did so as a sign to point to a teacher who was speaking for Him. 

I've collected through the years a very large file of supposed miracles.  They range all the way from 1977's newspaper article about Maria Rubio of Lake Arthur, New Mexico, who was frying tortillas in her kitchen.  She noticed that one of them seemed to have the likeness of a face etched in the burn marks.  She concluded that it was Jesus, and even built a crude shrine to the tortilla!  Thousands of people visited the Shrine of the Jesus of the Holy Tortilla, and concluded that it was indeed a miracle.  "I do not know why this has happened to me!" Mrs. Rubio said, "But God has come into my life through this tortilla!" (from the Chicago tribune)

In 1980, in Deptford, New Jersey, Bud Ward, the town's fire dept photographer was driving with his wife when he accidentally took a wrong turn.  Noticing flames in an abandoned chicken coup behind the Naples Pizzeria, he pulled into the parking lot and began taking pictures.  When the slides came back from K-Mart Ward's nine year old daughter noticed what seemed to be an image of Christ in one of the photographs.  Word of this discovery spread and soon people from all over New Jersey were talking about the "Pizza Jesus of Deptford Township."  Several people knelt and prayed under the image projected from the slide and others asked that the image be projected onto their chests.  Hundreds believed that it was a true miracle.  Again, according to the Gloucester Country Times. 

Such apparitions are often seen as miracles.  In August of 1986, in Fostoria, Ohio, the image of Jesus seemed to appear every night in the shadows and rust marks on the side of a soybean oil storage tank.  Hawkers sold thousands of "I saw the vision" tee-shirts and coffee mugs to those who came to see the miracle.  Nearly a year later, Arlene Gardner of Estill Springs, Tennessee noticed that when their neighbors turned on their porch light the image of a face appeared in the glow reflected off her freezer.  She believed it was the face of Jesus, although several observers said it looked more like Willie Nelson.  Arlene and her husband were so convinced that it was a true miracle, they quit the church when the pastor expressed skepticism. 

Well, eventually, such skepticism is a rare commodity these days.  People's hunger for the mysterious and the astonishing and phenomena is at a level unsurpassed in the history of the Church.  It's pretty popular stuff in the secular world and it has found its way into the Church.  Eager to witness miracles, many people seem willing to believe that almost anything unusual is a genuine heavenly wonder.  The problem with that is, it poses a severe danger for the Church, because it plays right into the hands of Satan, doesn't it?  False wonders and false signs, false miracles--extremely believable ones, the Bible tells us will be the primary tool of Satan in the end times.  Jesus said, "False Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect."  Then He added, as if knowing that many would ignore the warning, "Behold, I have told you in advance" (Matt 24:24-25). 

Surely in the light of the warning of Jesus and the warnings of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, we should have a healthy skepticism on the part of these supposed miracles.  Now, I want you to understand, that I am not by nature a skeptic.  I am not a naturalist and a humanist and an anti- supernaturalist.  I believe in miracles.  I believe that every miracle recorded in the Bible literally happened exactly as the Bible described it.  I believe, for example, that Moses and the Israelites actually walked through the parted Red Sea and didn't get their feet wet or muddy.  I believe that Elijah raised a widow's young son from the dead.  And that fire called down from heaven was actually heavenly fire and consumed water.  I believe with absolute conviction that Elisha made an axe head float, an iron axe head.  I believe that all the healings signs and wonders attributed to Jesus in the four gospels happened exactly and precisely as they are recorded there.  And I believe the Apostles literally performed all the miracles which the New Testament describe.

That's not all.  I believe God can still do miracles.  I believe all things are possible with God, as Matthew 19:26 says.  His power has not diminished the least since the days of the Early Church.  But even though I believe all of that and I believe that if God chooses to do something miraculous He can do it, I am convinced that most of the miracles, signs and wonders, if not all, being claimed today in the Charismatic movement have nothing in common with what we know about Biblical miracles.  They do not fit the Biblical criteria.  And I am persuaded by both Scripture and history that nothing like the New Testament gift of miracles, noted in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, is operating today.  The Holy Spirit has not given any modern day Christians miraculous gifts comparable to those He gave the Apostles. 

Now in spite of that, many Charismatics are making quite remarkable claims.  Oral Roberts, for example, speaking at the Charismatic Bible Ministry Conference, in 1987, said, "I can't tell you about all the dead people I've raised.  I've had to stop a sermon, go back and raise a dead person."  No less an authority then Dr. C. Peter Wagner, Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Seminary, School of World Mission, believes such things do happen,

      I too now believe that dead people are literally being raised       in the world today.  As soon as I say that, some ask if I       believe if it is normative?  I doubt if it would be normative in       any local situation but it probably is normative in terms of the       universal Body of Christ.  Even though it is an extremely       uncommon event I would not be surprised if it were happening       several times a year.

John Wimber of "The Vineyard" lists raising the dead as one the basic elements of any healing ministry. 

Now, with the supposed large number of people being raised from the dead, you would imagine that somebody could manage to come up with one who could give testimony to the validity.  But not one modern occurrence of raising the dead can be verified.  You say, "What about Oral Roberts' claim the he has raised many people?"  Well, he was challenged to produce the names and addresses of the people he raised and he balked.  Later he recalled only one incident more than 20 years before when he had supposedly raised a dead child in front of 10,000 witnesses.  "During a healing service," he recalled, "A mother in the audience jumped up and shouted, 'My baby is dead!'"  Roberts said he, "prayed over the child and it jerked, it jerked in my hand."  Roberts conceded that neither that child nor others he said he had brought to life had been pronounced clinically dead.  "I understand," he hedged, "there is a difference in a person dying and not breathing and a person being clinically dead." 

Well, what are we suppose to make out of that confusion?  It certainly is a far cry from Jesus raising Lazarus, who had been four days in the grave.  And if, as Dr. Wagner supposes, dead people are literally being raised several times a year, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect that he would bring one along so that we could meet him or her?  The truth is, those who claim miracles today are not able to substantiate their claims.  Unlike the miracles in the New Testament which were usually done with large crowds of unbelievers watching who would be skeptical, modern miracles typically happen either privately or in some religious meeting where there are a lot of people who are in a wild kind of frenzy expecting a miracle, where it is a lot easier to fabricate one in the imagination.     

And the types of miracles that are being claimed today are absolutely nothing like New Testament miracles: absolutely nothing like them.  In fact, the types of miracles today could be distinctly seen as different than New Testament miracles.  Jesus and the Apostles instantly and completely healed people born blind, a paralytic, a man with a withered arm, all obvious indisputable miracles.  Even Jesus' enemies didn't challenge the reality of His miracles and He had the people there to verify them.  He raised the dead, of course, as we well know.  They never did a miracle that was slow.  They never did a miracle that took time.  They never did a miracle that was less than permanent.  By contrast, most modern miracles are partial, gradual, temporary, sometimes reversed and almost impossible to verify.  And the only instant miracles today seem to be those that deal with psychosomatic diseases.  People with visible disabilities are rarely, if ever, helped at all by modern faith healers. 

I recently watched a televangalist interview a man he had supposedly healed of lameness.  The man said he was free from his wheelchair for the first time in several years, however, the man was walking with crutches and had heavy braces on his legs.  That's not a miracle at all like any in the Scriptures.  No modern miracle worker claims the kind of unequivocal success seen in the ministry of Christ and His Apostles. 

Now there are some in the Charismatic movement who try to defend these supposed miracles which are not verifiable by saying that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, so it's the same Jesus today.  The Holy Spirit is still with us today, and therefore with Him we have the Age of Miracles.  David DuPlasee (sp.) who is sort of the patriarch of the movement, who has been called "Mr. Pentecost," believed (he's dead now) that the Age of Miracles never ended, and that we are still in the Age of Miracles.  And he said that the miracles and the events described in the Book of Acts should be normative throughout the Church's history.  And it is that view that most Pentecostals and Charismatics hold, that whatever the Holy Spirit did in the past, He is still doing now; that miracles go on and on as long as there is the Holy Spirit.  They say that the Holy Spirit never changed.  They say the Early Church changed; it became doctrinal; it became formal; it became ritualistic, and so the Holy Spirit pulled back His power, and now after nearly 2,000 years He's released it again.  And the thing that always amazes me is, if the Holy Spirit were going to release His power, why would He release it to authenticate the people who teach bad theology?  If He wanted to authenticate anybody with miracles, you could be sure it would be those who were the truest and the purest and the most profound and Biblical, and the most skilled and dedicated teachers of the Word of God who were teaching the truth. 

Many Pentecostals and Charismatics talk about the restoration of the New Testament Holy Spirit Power through their movement.  They say they are doing again what the Apostles did in the first century.  Is that true?  If so, why do modern revelations, visions, tongues, healings, and miracles differ so dramatically from those done by the Apostles.  And why is it that they're associated with people who do not understand properly the truth of God?  And if miracles, and signs and wonders are so vital, then why is it that for nearly 2,000 years the Holy Spirit didn't do any?  Do you mean that there weren't even a few people around who would have been worthy of such?  Should Christians today expect miracles?  Is Oral Roberts right when he says, "Everyone of you out there should expect your miracle today?"  Are we supposed to be able to do miracles?  Heal people?  Raise the Dead? 

Well, in answer to all of this we need to take a look at Scripture, and I want to give you just a fast look and overview at this matter of miracles, that I think will set your thinking in the right frame. 

Most Biblical miracles happened in one of three relatively brief periods of Biblical history.  You need to note this.  Most Biblical miracles happened in three relatively brief periods of Bible History: 

      1.  The days of Moses and Joshua       2.  During the ministries of Elijah and Elisha       3.  In the time of Christ and the Apostles

None of those periods lasted much more than a hundred years.  Each of them, each of the three, experienced a proliferation of miracles unheard of at other times in God's redemptive history.  But even during those three times, miracles were not just normal everyday occurrences that happened to anybody and everybody.  The miracles that did happen in the time of Moses and Joshua--involved Moses and Joshua!  The miracles that happened in the time of Elijah and Elisha, happened around the ministries of Elijah and Elisha.  And the miracles that happened to Christ and the Apostles and through them, happened through their ministries. 

There weren't just miracles happening all over everywhere to all kinds of people.  And aside from those three intervals, the only other miracles recorded in Scripture are very, very, isolated events.  It is true in the days of Isaiah, the Lord miraculously defeated Sennacherib's army, then healed Hezekiah and turned the Sun's shadow back (2Kings 19-20).  It is true, in the days of Daniel, God miraculously preserved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in the furnace (Daniel 3).  But those are very uncommon and very unusual.  It is true that God did miraculously preserved Jonah in the belly of a great fish.  But for the most part, those are very isolated.  And miracles like those didn't happen to God's people as a course of life.  Now, God, of course at anytime can inject Himself into the human stream supernaturally, and do a miracle.  But He chose to limit Himself primarily to three periods of history, and very rarely will you ever find a miracle in the times in between.  The rest of the time God just works through providence.  He doesn't need a miracle: He can just work through providence.  The reason that He did a miracle is because a miracle can only be attributed to God.  It can only be explained supernaturally, and there were times when that was crucial. 

Let me give you some points.  Three characteristics of the miracles in Scripture will help you understand this:

1.  Miracles Introduced New Eras of Revelation. 

All three of those periods of miracles were times when God gave His written revelation. 

    a.  Moses and Joshua--the time of the giving of the Law.

    b.  Elijah and Elisha--introduced the prophetic office, the prophetic     age, and all of the Books of Prophecies (Major Prophets, Minor Prophets).

    c.  New Testament--obviously.  Christ did miracles, the apostles did     miracles.  That introduced the era of the New Testament revelation. 

So whenever God was going to pour out His word, he wanted to certify certain prophets and teachers of His word; to authenticate them.  Moses was given the power to do certain miracles that people might know he spoke as God's spokesman.  There was no other way to explain what God used him to do other than, "God was doing it," and therefore this was God's man; and when he spoke, he spoke for God.  And the same was true in Joshua's case when he wrote his book.  You come to Elijah and Elisha and the miracles that attended their ministry as they were the prophets of God, and they were introducing a very long era of prophetic literature as God revealed Himself through the prophets, of which, really, they were sort of the introducers.  And even those rare miracles that occurred in other eras, involved people who were used by God to write Scripture. 

Hezekiah's healing involved Isaiah; the three men in the fiery furnace involved Daniel.  Those two were what we call "Major Prophets," who spoke and wrote for God.  Moses performed many miracles in an attempt to convince Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go, to convince Pharaoh that this was not some normal man.  This was not some natural man, but this was God's man who spoke for God.  Miracles seemed to accompany the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt, and miracles came in their journey through the wilderness to remind the people of God that God was their God, and that Moses was God's spokesman.  How else would they know who to listen to?  They certainly didn't want to listen to Aaron or anybody else.  And even when God gave His law to Moses on the mount, Moses encounter with God was accompanied by signs so dramatic--fire, smoke, a trumpet, a thundering voice, that even Moses himself knew it was the voice of God (and Hebrews 12 says, it was fearful).  And thus began the first period of revelation.  And Moses recorded the truth of the Pentateuch (the five books), and Joshua wrote the book that bears his name.  Other books were added intermittently after the time of Moses and Joshua, Samuel probably wrote Judges and 1st and 2nd Samuel, David wrote the Psalms, Solomon penned most of the Wisdom literature.  But those books were not accompanied by the great outpouring of miracles that had distinguished the days of Moses and Joshua.  They were kind of a continuation in some ways of that revelatory era.

The second major cluster of miraculous events accompanied a new era of Biblical revelation, "The Age of the Old Testament Prophets."  Following Solomon's reign the nation of Israel divided into the northern kingdom, Israel; the southern kingdom, Judah.  The northern Kingdom quickly deteriorated because of idolatry and hit a low point under King Ahab.  Remember his wife Jezebel?  At that time God raised up two spokesmen, Elijah and Elisha.  The prophetic office in their lifetime was marked by dramatic miracles to certify them as the spokesmen for God and to call back the people to God.  The prophets that followed them were the continuation of that era.  Then when that era closed out and the Old Testament was done, there was a 400 year period of silence in which no prophet spoke for God and no miracle is recorded to have occurred. 

Then came the New Testament, and the first miracle was the Virgin Birth.  And then the miracles began to flow out of the life of Christ, and they began to flow out of His Apostles.  Why?  Because it was a new era of writing the revelation of God--The New Testament.  Always the miracles were associated with the certification of those who were giving us God's revelation. 

2.  The second point, and that is the point we just led into, "Miracles Authenticated the Messengers of Revelation."  They only happened in three eras and they authenticated the messengers of revelation.  Elijah raised the widow's dead son.  And what was the widow's reply?  Verse 24 of 1 Kings 17, she said, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of Lord in your mouth is truth."  That's a very important verse.  That's the whole purpose.  So that anybody listening to Elijah would know this man is a man of God and in his mouth is the word of the Lord and it is true. 

You come into the New Testament in John 10, Jesus having a confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders: they challenged Him, "How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."  Jesus said, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in my Father's name, these bear witness of me."  He was saying, "The miraculous works that I do authenticate me and my message as being from God."  In his Pentecost sermon, Peter told the crowd that Jesus was a man attested to them by God with miracles, wonders and signs.  And the same kind of power belonged to the Apostles.  You'll remember that on Paul's first missionary journey, he and Barnabas were ministering at Iconium, and it says, "They were speaking boldly, with reliance on the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands."  Beloved, that is always the intention of the miracle.  God does not need to do miracles for everybody to accomplish His will.  He does not need to do miracles for every Christian everyday to prove His love.  He does not need to do miracles everyday to make people believe He exists.  He only authenticates the Word, and when the authenticated Word is revealed there is no need any longer to authenticate a preacher.  You can find out whether he speaks for God by comparing Him with this [Bible].  And God can still control everything without ever doing a miracle through providence. 

It's foolish to assume that everybody should be able to do a miracle; that we can go to a seminar in four days and learn how to do miracles.  It's equally foolish to assume that God is going to do miracles for you everyday.  People who keep saying they saw this miracle and that miracle have got caught up in the fact that everything is a miracle, and their definition of miracles lacks greatly Biblical parameters. 

The Apostles performed miracles, signs and wonders, in Acts 5.  Why?  To call attention to the fact that they were supernatural servants of the living God, who spoke the truth.  In Acts 15, it says, "The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through them."  These things that mark an Apostle, signs and wonders, and miracles, Paul said to the Corinthians, "Were done among you."  They mark an Apostle. 

Moses, Joshua, introduced an era of revelation.  Elijah, Elisha, introduced an era of revelation.  Jesus and the Apostles introduced an era of revelation.  And with all the spokesmen and no written word, with all the spokesmen, God had to authenticate the right spokesman, and so He gave them the power to do supernatural things in order that people might know this is no human mortal teacher, this is a man of God who speaks the truth. 

3.  Thirdly, and tied right in with the others, miracles are designed to call attention to the revelation.  Miracles are designed to call attention to the revelation.  God did the miracle so that the people would listen to the Word and see it as His truth.  The miracle didn't stand alone--that's the point.  God doesn't do miracles for miracle's sake.  The purpose of the miracle was the effect of the miracle.  For example, the miracles Moses did in Egypt were meant to enlighten two groups, the Israelites and the Egyptians.  In Exodus 7, we read about Moses' first miracles and it was then that the Israelites started to believe in the power of their God.  Pharaoh was a "hard case."  He didn't believe until the tenth miracle, "the Death Angel," then he finally let them go. 

But the purpose of the miracle was not just to stand on its own, but the purpose of the miracle was to get people to understand that God had something to say!  The miracles of Elijah and Elisha were effective in convincing both believers and unbelievers that what these men spoke was the Word of God.  And a graphic illustration of that can be seen in 1 Kings 18, where Elijah defeated 400 Prophets of Baal before a large crowd of Israelites, and the Scripture says, "When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'The Lord, He is God; The Lord, He is God.'"  They believed. 

In the New Testament, miracles and signs were again used to confirm believers and convince unbelievers.  John said the miracles of Jesus were done so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you might have life in His name; and the same was true with the Apostolic miracles. 

Only three eras, always to authenticate those who spoke the revelation of God, and always with the purpose of pointing to the revelation so that it is the revelation that is the important thing!  And beloved, I submit to you, that if you have this Book in your hand--you have what is the end product of God's miraculous intervention.  This is the purpose for which He did the miracles.  You possess this--you don't need the miracles!  You have what

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