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A Point-by-Point Response to the Film, Cessationist (Part Eight)


At one point in the film an appeal is made to Mattew 16:4 to prove that seeking signs and wonders is sinful. In addition, the statement is made that the Bible does not tell us to seek signs and wonders. Here is the text in question.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 16:4a).

In years past, when I was a cessationist, I believed that it was a sign of spiritual immaturity to seek signs, that it was a weak faith, born of theological ignorance, that prayed for healing or a demonstration of spiritual power. James Boice, now with the Lord, in his contribution to the book, Power Religion, quotes with approval the sentiment of John Woodhouse, to the effect that “a desire for further signs and wonders is sinful and unbelieving” (126).

But if that is true, what are we to make of Acts 4:29-31, which records this prayer of the church in Jerusalem:

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:29-31).

This text is important for several reasons. It shows that it is good to pray for signs and wonders. It is good to pray that God would act in overtly supernatural ways to bless his people. It demonstrates that it is not evil or a sign of emotional and mental imbalance to petition God for demonstrations of his power. It also shows that there is no necessary or inherent conflict between miracles and the message of the gospel, between wonders and the word of the cross.

But what about Matthew 16:4 (and Matt. 12:39)? Didn’t Jesus denounce as wicked and adulterous those who asked for or looked for or were in some way seeking signs (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22). Yes, but note carefully whom he was addressing and why he denounced them. These were unbelieving scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 12:38 and 16:1), not children of God. Those who made such demands of Christ had no intention of following him. “Seeking signs from God is ‘wicked and adulterous’ when the demand for more and more evidence comes from a resistant heart and simply covers up an unwillingness to believe” (John Piper, “Signs and Wonders: Another View,” The Standard, [October 1991], 23).

Seeking signs as a pretext for criticizing Jesus or from a hankering to see the sensational is rightly rebuked. But that certainly was not the motivation of the early church, nor need it be ours. Piper illustrates in this way:

“If we are carrying on a love affair with the world, and our husband, Jesus, after a long separation comes to us and says, ‘I love you and I want you back,’ one of the best ways to protect our adulterous relationship with the world is to say, ‘You’re not really my husband; you don’t really love me. Prove it. Give me some sign.’ If that’s the way we demand a sign, we are a wicked and adulterous generation. But if we come to God with a heart aching with longing for vindication of his glory and the salvation of sinners, then we are not wicked and adulterous. We are a faithful wife, only wanting to honor our husband” (23).

Do you come to God insistent on a miracle, being prompted by an unbelieving heart that demands he put on a show before you will obey him? Or do you come humbly, in prayer, with a desire to glorify God in the display of his power, and with an equal desire to minister his mercy, compassion, and love to those in need? The former attitude God condemns; the latter he commends.

So, let me be perfectly clear. Is it possible for Christians to develop an unhealthy hankering after miracles, to the degree that their faith hangs suspended on whether or not God performs some supernatural incident? Yes. Is it possible that some Christians travel from one conference to the next searching for a miracle to titillate their senses and enthrall their imaginations? Yes. Is it possible that some are simply looking for another emotional high to replace the last one that has long since faded? Yes.

But what if one’s desire is for God to glorify his name and magnify the cross of Christ and bless his children by setting them free from disease, depression, or demonic oppression? What if one has never suspended his/her faith in Christ on whether or not he performs a miracle on their behalf? The scribes and Pharisees were hard-hearted unbelievers who were simply looking for another excuse to denounce and reject Jesus. They were demanding that he perform another circus trick and insisted that if he didn’t, they had no intention of believing his claims to be the Messiah.

There is no reason in the world why any of us should approach God in prayer with the mindset of those religious leaders in the first century. But when we come humbly to the throne of grace, longing to see God vindicate his name and honor Jesus and bless his people through a healing or a prophetic word or a deliverance from demonic spirits, I am confident God that is pleased.

I’ll close with one more comment by Piper. He points out that if any generation was least in need of supernatural authentication, it was that of the early church. Yet they prayed earnestly for signs and wonders:

“This was the generation whose preaching (of Peter and Stephen and Philip and Paul) was more anointed than the preaching of any generation following. If any preaching was the power of God unto salvation and did not need accompanying signs and wonders, it was this preaching. Moreover, this was the generation with more immediate and compelling evidence of the truth of the resurrection than any generation since. Hundreds of eyewitnesses to the risen Lord were alive in Jerusalem. If any generation in the history of the church knew the power of preaching and the authentication of the gospel from first-hand evidence of the resurrection, it was this one. Yet it was they who prayed passionately for God to stretch for His hand in signs and wonders” (“The Signs of the Apostle,” The Standard [November 1991], 28).

1 Comment

I became a Christian in the early 70's and part of the Charismatic Renewal Word of God Community. I left when they started saying men could not change diapers and I had 7 children. I see that with all the Trumpism going on in the organization somehow the blessing that was the CR has deviated from their purpose and caused untold harm with defective prophecy. My heart longs for the grace and simplicity of the full love of Jesus we experienced in the days of our youth. Tell me you will all turn back and keep the light of Christ shining bright. Many prayers and encouragement to you all.

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