Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
It’s days like today that make me question my life choices. Way back in January, I sat down and planned out what I would be preaching on through the Easter Season. As I was looking at things, I realized that I’d never actually preached from the book of Acts before. I’ve been a pastor for just shy of four years, so it’s not all that surprising, but I figured it was time to do it. So that’s what I decided to do; I’d figure out the details later.
Then this week hit. Having been asked to fill in for Pastor Hoyer, I figured I’d better look at the text earlier rather than later so that I’d know what I’m talking about. Or at least, that was the theory. Then I read it. Signs and wonders. Multitudes of men and women. Peter’s shadow. The sick and possessed all healed. Even a miraculous prison break! What in the world!? Chances are, you’re having some of the same thoughts I had when I first read through these verses. First, it’s pretty incredible—the apostles working signs and wonders that help bring multitudes to the faith. Then, it gets a little out there for us, with people hoping that even Peter’s shadow might fall on them and heal them. But then we get really uncomfortable. If this is how God worked in the early church, why doesn’t He work this way today?
The more you think about it, the discrepancy seems to grow. Notice the words Luke uses to describe the miracles these apostles are doing. He calls them “signs and wonders.” Our God is a God of signs and wonders. And He has been from the beginning.
Way back in the book of Genesis, we hear about God creating signs for His people. After God floods the entire earth, He makes a covenant with the only people left on the planet, Noah and his family. “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh."
In the Exodus, as God is working to bring His people out of slavery in Egypt, He gives Moses signs and wonders to perform so that all people would know who the true God is. As Moses recalled later in life, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there.”
During the days of the kings, war was rampant, even civil war: Israel versus Judah, North versus South. In one instance, God promised He would not let Judah be defeated. To prove it, “the Lord himself would give them a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Roughly 700 years later, that Son was born. It happened in a small town that had become swollen with people because of a census. But how would this child be recognized? God sent angels to a group of shepherds to announce the Good News. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
When that child grew up, he performed sign after wonder: healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons, even raising the dead. But for some, that wasn’t enough. They needed bigger and better signs. “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign,” Jesus said, “but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Our God is a God of signs and wonders. Right along those same lines, we hear today’s reading. The apostles are performing signs and wonders, miracles that point to who God is, acts that prove their words are true. Here in the book of Acts, among these disciples of Jesus, God is at work. He is working the way He’s always worked by providing signs and wonders to bolster the proclamation of the Word, in particular, the word of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the salvation of all people.
And I am convinced that God is still at work through signs and wonders among us yet today. But more often than not, we are blind to them. It’s not that these signs or wonders are done in secret; they happen all around us. Every time a person comes to faith in Jesus because they’ve heard the words of an ancient book, that’s a sign. When you pray that a person be healed, and they’re healed, that’s a wonder. When God puts the old Adam to death through the waters of Baptism and offers eternal life starting now, that’s God at work. When Pastor Hoyer stands right over there and speaks the Word of God over simple bread and wine and they become the body and blood of Jesus, that’s one of God’s miracles. When you are full of joy in spite of a broken world, when you’re at peace in the midst of grief or pain, when you’re patient in a world of instant gratification, you are a sign and wonder, God at work to proclaim His love for all people in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Are there knuckleheads out these that claim to be performing signs and wonders in God’s name, but aren’t? Of course. And I get it, we don’t want to be one of those churches. We don’t want to go crazy, focusing on the miracle more than the message. But just because people abuse God’s gifts doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If only you and I have eyes to see, God is still at work around us, performing signs and wonders to bolster our message.
Because our job is the same as those apostles. The angel reminded them of it as it opened the prison doors for them, “Go, and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” When you and I proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God is at work. He will support and defend your proclamation with signs and wonders. It’s not about you or me; it’s about our God who is a god of signs and wonders. And the sign, the wonder above all signs and wonders is what we’re celebrating this Easter season—that just as Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of the great fish, so Jesus lay dead and buried for three days before rising again to life.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell