Many Christians suppose that the “miracle stories” in the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles were a kind of “shock and awe” gambit to authenticate the message, and to prove Jesus’ claims to divinity. We have an interpretive problem with that. While the John is quite pleased to tell us about Jesus’ divinity, the synoptic gospels don’t keep that notion front and center, and certainly don’t do any business with a “divine essence.” In the synoptic gospels and particularly Mark, Jesus can’t seem to get his hands on enough demons, as he rampages to and fro through Galilee healing and exorcising at a breakneck pace. These works seem to be part and parcel with his proclamation of the kingdom, and this is a power he imparts to his disciples in the gospels and particularly in Luke-Acts. This isn’t because the apostles are divine, but because these works are part of the Kingdom’s arrival in our space.
So I suggest to you (and I’m not the first, go read E.P. Sanders and N.T. Wright, by all means) that the evangelists present the “miracles” of Jesus and the Apostles as bound up in the Kingdom initiative: the restoration and reconstitution of Israel. The blind see, the lame walk, and the Powers That Be are put to flight. This is what happens happens when the Kingdom comes.
The Reign of God brings the healing and restoration to God’s creation that he so deeply desires. When Yahweh shows up on the scene, the Judge of All the Earth will indeed do what is right – and put everything right. So when Jesus shows up on the scene proclaiming the Kingdom of God, we see what it looks like when the Future breaks in to the Present: healings and exorcisms. Those acts were (and are!) foretastes of the New Creation, taking us all by surprise.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and threw down in the courts, Yahweh returned to Zion, weeping over his city. When God’s anointed was killed and raised up, we saw the inauguration of that new Creation: the resurrection, that great “end-times” event, was brought back into the present. Something that was supposed to happen to the entire Nation at the end, happened to one man in the middle of time. Jesus’ resurrection establishes him as the eschaton, that great end-times event that brings the new Creation.
So what happened after the old world died and the new one was birthed in AD33?
The Holy Spirit descended upon the Church, baptizing it by fire to be the sign and instrument and foretaste of the Kingdom, God’s coming Reign, in which he will restore the Creation.
In posts upcoming, I’ll talk about hospitality, and what it means to “evangelize” out of such a self-identity.
In the meantime – do you see what I’m getting at? The biblical writers didn’t sit around thinking in terms of “natural” and “supernatural.” There were acts of God. The idea that “supernatural manifestations,” or “signs and wonders” could or would cease after the Apostles died has no basis in the Church’s self-understanding. If what modernists (both religious and secular) call “supernatural occurances” stop, the ministry of the Church stops. Either God is doing something in us, or he is not. The odd notion of “cessationism,” that these things were supposed to cease after the last canonical letter was written, is little else but an attempt to write a theology to match one’s own spiritual impoverishment.
(Go read Stephen Harris' recent post for some quality argumentation on this)
What’s our implication for evangelism? Healing happens. Healing happens in the life of the Christian community. Maybe we should just sit with the notion for a bit.
Shew, it's been a busy week. I'll pick up with part four of the series sometime next week. In the meantime, I'm going to start posting some lighter things. See the post below for some interesting discussion on post-modernity and the "emerging churches," and don't forget to click on my new Google ads at the bottom of the left sidebar. I get a few pennies when you do.