On Eagles Wings Ministries
We shall now examine one further important result produced by the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the ministry of the preacher.
How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? (Heb. 2:3-4).
The writer here states three reasons why the gospel message should command the most careful attention of all who hear it: 1) because it was preached initially by the Lord Jesus Jesus Himself; 2) because the message was then transmitted and recorded by men who themselves heard and saw all that took place; 3) because this message, so transmitted, was further supernaturally attested by the signs and wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit which accompanied the message.
From this we see that one main ministry of the Holy Spirit, in relation to the preaching of the gospel, is to bear supernatural testimony, through signs, wonders, miracles and gifts, to the divine authority and truth of the message preached.
With Accompanying Signs
This is in line with the commission Jesus gave to His disciples at the close of His earthly ministry.
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).
And these signs will follow [or accompany] those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:17-18).
In these verses Jesus specifies five supernatural signs ordained by God to accompany the preaching of the gospel message and to bear divine testimony to its truth.
- The ability to cast out demons.
- The manifestation of speaking with new tongues (elsewhere called “other tongues”).
- Immunity to harm from snakes.
- Immunity to harm from poison in drink or food.
- The ability to minister healing to the sick by laying hands on them in the name of Jesus.
The introductory phrase used by Jesus, “in My name,” applies to each of the five signs that are specified. Each of them is effective only through faith in the name of Jesus.
It should also be pointed out that these five supernatural signs are not limited to any special class or category of people. Jesus does not say, “These signs will follow apostles,” “These signs will follow preachers,” or “These signs will follow the early church.” He says, “These signs will follow those who believe.” All true believers have a right to expect that these supernatural signs will accompany and confirm their testimony as, in obedience to Jesus’s command, they seek to proclaim the good news of the gospel to all men.
This was precisely how the first disciples interpreted and applied the commission of Jesus.
So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs (Mark 16:19-20).
This supernatural testimony to the disciples’ preaching only came into full effect after the Lord Jesus had been received up into heaven and had taken His place at the Father’s right hand. Thereafter the Lord Jesus worked with His disciples and confirmed their testimony not by His own bodily presence on earth, but through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost. Thus it was the Holy Spirit who was actually responsible for the supernatural confirmation of the disciples’ testimony. It is His special office to bear supernatural testimony to the truth of God’s message.
We find this illustrated in the ministry both of Jesus and of the disciples. Up to the time of His baptism by John in the river Jordan, there is no record that Jesus ever preached or performed a miracle. At the time of His baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him from heaven in the form of a dove, and He was then led into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days by the devil. At the close of this period of temptation, Jesus immediately entered into His public preaching ministry. For the next three and a half years His message and ministry were continuously attested to by a great variety of miracles, signs and supernatural gifts.
By quoting a prophecy of Isaiah, Jesus publicly declared that this supernatural testimony to His ministry was the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted,
To preach deliverance to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed,
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).
Here Jesus very clearly ascribes to the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon Him, both in His preaching and the miracles of mercy and deliverance that accompanied it.
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matt. 12:28).
Here Jesus directly attributes to the Holy Spirit the power that He possessed to cast out demons.
That the anointing of the Holy Spirit was responsible for the supernatural confirmation of Jesus’s ministry is stated also by Peter in the book of Acts. He spoke to the Jews concerning Jesus in the following terms:
Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know (Acts 2:22).
Peter indicates that one purpose of the miracles, wonders and signs in the ministry of Jesus was to approve or to attest the divine origin and authority of His ministry, and that it was God Himself who gave this testimony to the ministry of Jesus. Speaking to Gentiles in the household of Cornelius, Peter describes the ministry of Jesus in the following terms:
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him (Acts 10:38).
Here Peter specifically attributes the supernatural ministry and healing power of Jesus to the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon Him.
As it was in the ministry of Jesus, so it was also in the ministry of His disciples. Before the day of Pentecost there was a measure of the supernatural in their ministry. The first twelve disciples whom Jesus sent out are described this way:
So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them (Mark 6:12-13).
The ministry of the seventy disciples whom Jesus sent out later was described similarly.
Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Luke 10:17).
We see therefore that even during the earthly ministry of Jesus, His disciples shared in some measure in the supernatural aspect of that ministry toward the sick and the demon-possessed. But this would appear to be on a strictly limited scale and merely an extension of the earthly ministry of Jesus through His close presence with them.
However, after the day of Pentecost the disciples immediately entered into a full supernatural ministry of their own, in which they were no longer dependent upon the bodily presence of Jesus with them on earth.
As a result of the descent of the Holy Spirit, one of the five supernatural signs promised by Jesus in Mark 16 was immediately manifested: “They . . . all . . . began to speak with other [or with new] tongues” (Acts 2:4). The next chapter of Acts records the miraculous healing of the lame man at the beautiful gate.
The remainder of the book of Acts is an unbroken record of supernatural testimony by God, through the Holy Spirit, to the message and ministry of the disciples. This supernatural testimony to their ministry is summed up in the verse which we have already examined in Hebrews 2:4.
God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, and with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.
Of the five supernatural signs which Jesus promised in Mark 16, four are actually recorded as taking place in the book of Acts. The speaking with other (or new) tongues was manifested on the day of Pentecost and on various subsequent occasions. The healing of the sick and the casting out of demons were manifested in the ministries of Philip, of Paul and of all the other apostles. Immunity to the bite of a poisonous snake was manifested in the experience of Paul on the island of Malta (see Acts 28:3-6). A modern record of these signs is contained in a small book titled Signs Following, published in the first half of the twentieth century. The author, William Burton, served for more than forty years as a missionary in the Belgian Congo.
In his book he considers each of the five signs in turn and records several detailed instances, attested to by his own observation and experience, in which each of these signs was manifested. In particular he records instances of immunity, on the part of missionaries and evangelists, both to the poison of snakes and also to other forms of poison placed in their food or drink by witch doctors opposed to the propagation of the gospel. Jesus promised that these signs would follow those who believe without any further limitations as to time or place or person.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father (John 14:12).
Notice the central part of this promise: “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also.” The phrase “he who believes in Me” occurs frequently in the New Testament. It is absolutely general in its application. It means any true believer, anywhere. It is not limited to any special age or place or group or class of persons.
How can it be possible that every believer can do the works that Jesus Himself did? The answer is given in the last part of John 14:12, where Jesus says, “Because I go to My Father.” A little further on Jesus says again:
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth [that is, the Holy Spirit] (John 14:16-17).
This statement supplies the answer to the promise of verse 12. It is the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, sent down upon the believer from the presence of the Father, that enables him to do the work that Jesus did.
The same anointing of the Holy Spirit, resting upon the believer as it rested first upon Jesus, leads the believer into the same type of supernatural ministry that Jesus entered into after the Holy Spirit came upon Him. This supernatural ministry is not due to any natural power or ability in the believer, but to the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon him.
Supernatural Revelation Demands Supernatural Confirmation
If we study the whole record of Scripture carefully, we find that this supernatural testimony to the truth of the gospel is in line with God’s dealings with His believing people through all ages. Whenever God has committed truth to man by divine revelation and man has been willing to obey that truth, God has always been willing to bear supernatural testimony to the truth which He reveals.
We find this at the very outset of human history in the account of the offerings brought to God by Cain and Abel (see Gen. 4:3-8). These two different types of offerings are typical of two main patterns of religion through the subsequent history of man.
Cain brought the fruit of the ground – but it was ground that had already come under God’s curse (see Gen. 3:17). Cain’s offering was the product of his own reason and his own works. There was no revelation of God; no acknowledgement of sin, with its ensuing curse; no acknowledgement of the need for a sacrifice to make propitiation for sin.
Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock, which he offered in sacrifice. By this act he acknowledged the fact of sin and the need for a propitiatory sacrifice with the shedding of blood. This came to him not through his own reason but by divine revelation. His religion was based not on his own works but on faith in God.
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts (Heb. 11:4).
As already explained in Section II of this book, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). That is, it is based on the revelation of God through His Word.
Because Abel received and obeyed such a revelation, God was pleased to bear supernatural testimony to his offering. Most commentators believe that the supernatural fire of God from heaven fell upon Abel’s sacrifice and consumed it.
On the other hand, God refused to give His approval to Cain’s offering.
And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering (Gen. 4:4-5).
In a similar way, ever since, God has always been pleased to give open, supernatural testimony to the truth which He reveals to man. In Exodus 4 we read that when God commissioned Moses to take His message of deliverance to the children of Israel in Egypt, God gave him three definite, supernatural signs which were to accompany and to attest his message.
Later, when Moses and Aaron had completed their sacrifices to God in the tabernacle:
Fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces (Lev. 9:24).
When Solomon had concluded his prayer at the dedication of the temple:
Fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple (2 Chron. 7:1).
The Lord similarly confirmed the message and the testimony of Elijah in his contest with the prophets of Baal.
Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice [that is, Elijah’s sacrifice], and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” (1 Kin. 18:38-39).
The supernatural testimony of God to the message of the prophets did not end with Elijah but continued on through the ministries of Elisha, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and many others.
In the New Testament, with the advent of the gospel, God’s supernatural testimony to the truth of His Word was not decreased or withdrawn. On the contrary, it was greatly increased and extended, both in the ministry of Jesus Himself and in the subsequent ministry of the whole early church.
Throughout all ages it has been the special office of the Holy Spirit to bear supernatural testimony to God’s revealed truth and to confirm the words of God’s messengers. The more abundantly the Holy Spirit is poured out upon God’s people, the more this supernatural testimony is strengthened and increased.
It has sometimes been suggested that a high degree of learning and education in God’s ministers may render superfluous the special, supernatural testimony of the Holy Spirit. However, the outstanding example of the apostle Paul demonstrates that this is not correct. Intellectual learning, though useful on its own level, can never be a substitute for the supernatural power and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Paul was a man of high intellectual gifts and wide learning, both in the field of religion and philosophy. Yet, in his presentation of the gospel, he deliberately renounced the appeal to his own learning or the use of purely human forms of reason and argument.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Jesus and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
In presenting the gospel message, Paul deliberately renounced what he calls “excellence of speech or of wisdom,” and again, “persuasive words of human wisdom.”
He implies that, had he chosen to use such forms of appeal as these, it was in his power to do so. But he renounced them in favour of an altogether different type of proof of the truth of his message. This other proof Paul describes as “the demonstration of the Spirit [that is, the Holy Spirit] and of power.”
Notice that word demonstration. This implies something open, public and perceptible to the senses. The Holy Spirit did not work with the apostle Paul merely as an invisible, imperceptible influence. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit were openly demonstrated in his ministry.
Why did God appoint, and Paul approve, this supernatural form of testimony to the truth of the gospel message? Paul tells us the answer: “that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God”
(1 Cor. 2:5).
It is not God’s purpose that the faith of His people should be based upon argument and proof on the level of human understanding. The only satisfactory foundation for the faith of each believer is in a direct personal experience of the power of the Holy Spirit in his own heart and life.
For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Jesus has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient – in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God (Rom. 15:18-19).
Here Paul refuses to base the authority of the gospel message, committed to him by God, upon any personal qualities of his own – such as his own natural talents or learning. He states clearly that obedience to the gospel is not to be produced by any such qualities as these, but only by “mighty signs and wonders.” And these, he says, are the work of the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit.
Here, then, is one sovereign, unchanging office of the Holy Spirit: to bear testimony to the revealed truth of God by the open demonstration of supernatural power.
This supernatural testimony of the Holy Spirit commenced with Abel, the first believer and also the first martyr recorded in man’s history after the fall. Nor will the Holy Spirit ever withdraw His supernatural testimony so long as God has on earth a people who believe and obey the revealed truth of His Word.