Signs & Wonders

Acts 5:12-21     |    Sermon Resources       2 February 2020


We believe that when we pray God not only hears but answers our prayers.  This is a conviction we come to own from the testimony of the Bible and in time from our own experience as well.  Those first believers in Acts would have held this same conviction for these same reasons.  If they knew their Bible, they knew verses like Jeremiah 29:12, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” And just as importantly they watched as God answered their prayers.

A couple weeks ago we looked at one of the early church prayer meetings.  In their prayer they asked God to do three things– to look upon the threats they faced, to grant them boldness, and to continue to perform signs and wonders (c.f. Acts 4:29-30).  As we study the book of Acts, we will see that God answered all of these prayers!  In our passage before us this week, we’ll see how God answered that last prayer request for signs and wonders to be performed.

Luke begins our passage, which is now his third summary report of life in the early church, by telling us that many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles (v.12).  These signs and wonders were not sporadic or occasional or done in secret.  Quite the opposite!  We are told that they were: (1) abundant, (2) continual, and (3) public. The response was overwhelming.  The sick were laid on mats so that as Peter walked by at least his shadow might fall on some of them (v.15).  The apostles did not even have to leave Jerusalem as people came from the towns around Jerusalem including the sick and those with an unclean spirit (v.16).

As we look to the early church as a model to teach us how to pray, we perhaps wonder what the role of signs and wonders are for us.  Should we be praying for signs and wonders today?   Should we expect to see these same signs and wonders repeated for us?

This is one of the areas that makes us feel as if the early church was wildly different from the church today.   Many people dream of “returning to the days of the early church.”  And when they long for this return, it’s usually these signs and wonders that they are referring to.  You don’t tend to hear much about returning to the persecution of the early church or to the days when people dropped dead for lying to the Holy Spirit.  But of course all of this was taking place as well.  Miraculous signs and wonders were just one of many things going on.  Nevertheless, we still ask the question – how should we be thinking about signs and wonders?  I want to attempt an answer to a few questions on this topic.


#1 What are the objections to signs and wonders?

It’s interesting that when this topic of the miraculous days of the early church comes up, the conversation seems to immediately go in the direction of justifying why we don’t experience the miraculous now.  When I was pursuing ordination in our denomination, I felt pressure (perhaps it was mostly internal) to make a definitive statement on the cessation of signs and wonders.  The problem was (and is) that I don’t see any clear statement in Scripture indicating that miraculous signs and wonders have ceased.

(I am fully aware that some people think Paul says exactly this in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.  They teach that the “perfect” has arrived in the completed canon of Scripture and therefore prophecies, tongues, and knowledge have all passed away.  It’s not that I think Scripture is not perfect, but that I believe what Paul really has in view here when he speaks the perfect, is Jesus’ final return to consummate the perfect kingdom of God.)

Nevertheless there are substantial objections that have been raised to seeking signs and wonders and we need to take these to heart.  Let’s begin with Jesus (seems like a good place to start doesn’t it?)


Matthew 12:39 The Pharisees come to Jesus asking precisely for what the early church was asking for – a sign.  And his response?  “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”  That seems pretty clear to me!

1 Corinthians 1:22-23 The apostle Paul seemed pretty strong in stance on the subject as well.    “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” So that’s two strikes against signs and wonders!


But why then do we see the early church – led by the apostles themselves – praying for these very things?  Was that prayer in Acts 4:29-30 a wrong prayer to pray?  And if so, why does God answer it? To answer this question, we need to ask another question first.


#2 How are signs and wonders used in this passage?

Was the focus of the early church really on signs and wonders or was it on something else?  Let’s go back to that prayer the believers prayed.  Before they asked for signs and wonders, they asked that God would “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.”  Their desire to seek signs and wonders was not a separate prayer request.  They primarily wanted boldness to “speak your word.”  They asked God to perform signs and wonders while they shared his word.

This is no small point.  And sadly, these two items are often separated.  There is boldness to preach God’s word on one hand and signs and wonders on the other.  In some places they even seem to compete with each other.  Or worse yet, the emphasis is not on the teaching of God’s word but on some “sideshow” of signs and wonders.  We are reminded of Paul’s opening words in his letter to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).”  The power of God is found in the proclamation of the gospel not in the performance of signs and wonders.  And notice Paul doesn’t say the gospel comes with power but that it is the power of God.  It’s the sharing of the gospel that has power.

So again we ask, was the focus of the early church on signs and wonders or was it on something else?  Look at our passage this week.  First, notice that signs and wonders were not used as a platform to gather people.   They actually had the opposite effect.  We are told, none of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem (v.13).   There was genuine fear that spread through the church after Ananias and Sapphira were killed.  There was a fear as well that spread throughout the general populace who knew what was going on – such that they did not even dare to join the gathering of believers.  These signs and wonders were not sources of entertainment but were seen as evidence of the holiness and complete otherness of God.  But nevertheless more than ever believers were added to the Lord (v.14).

Secondly, notice what happens after the angel releases the apostles from prison.  (And take that in for a moment too – an angel from God came and released the apostles!  Jesus said this would happen – Luke 4:18.)  The angel sets them free and gives them clear directions, Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life (v.20).

Two items to note.  (1) The angel does not send the apostles out to work signs and wonders but to speak all of the words of this life.  The priority was clearly on preaching not on the working miracles.  (2) The angel does not go himself.  If the angel was capable of miraculously breaking the apostles out of prison, certainly he could have gone and preached himself. But this is not a ministry reserved for angels – it is a ministry for man, for us.

So we can make three conclusions about the role of signs and wonders in the early church.  (1) They did not exist separate from the proclamation of the gospel.  (2) They did not prop up the proclamation of the gospel.  (3) The people’s response to signs and wonders was fear not entertainment.


#3 Should we pray for signs and wonders today? 

We come now to the main issue for us today.  Is it right for us to pray like the early church?  To pray for signs and wonders?  Let’s first remember again why the early church prayed for these things.  They did not pray just for signs and wonders.  They prayed for boldness to share God’s Word and that while they were sharing, that God would work signs and wonders.   So let’s pray first for boldness and the proclamation of his word.  Let’s pray that God would send us out to boldly put to words the hope we have found in him.

We must also remember the motivation that led the early church to pray for these things.  They weren’t asking for signs and wonders to “prove” God existed or to “prove” Jesus was the Messiah.  This was the attitude of the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked but it was not the attitude of the early church.  No, these first believers were eager to see God glorified in a hostile culture.  They longed to see the gospel shared with power.  They wanted to see lost people coming to faith.  And they did all this in a culture that was not just apathetic (our challenge today) but actively hostile towards them.

There is difference between asking God to work with power – including signs and wonders – as his word is shared and demanding that he prove to us that he exists through miraculous signs.  Paul was right.  It was wrong for unbelieving Jews (or anyone for that matter) to demand signs be performed so that they might believe.  Signs and wonders do not produce faith.  They never have and never will.  Even if we witnessed a miracle firsthand, an unbelieving heart would still look for some explanation.  Faith does not come from signs but from his word — Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

So should we pray for signs and wonders today?  With the above qualifications, the answer is a resounding yes!  As the Spirit leads we ask for boldness to share his word and as that word is shared we pray God would work with great power!


Discussion Questions

  1. What are some ways you’ve seen God answer your prayers?
  2. Do you tend to pray specifically enough to know whether or not God answered your prayers?
  3. Do you believe that signs and wonders continue today? If so, how so?  If not, why not?
  4. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees (c.f. Matthew 12:39) for demanding a sign. What is the difference between the Pharisees demand for signs and the believers prayer (c.f. Acts 4:29-30) for signs?
  5. What do we learn about signs and wonders in this passage? How were they used?  What is the connection with apostles’ preaching ministry?
  6. Why is it significant that the angel sent the apostles to preach but didn’t go himself to preach?
  7. How can you develop a greater hunger for prayer?