In the Book of Acts, we are amazed by the miracles we see there: miraculous healings… resurrections from the dead… angelic deliverances from prisons… All these amazing things happened. But there is a danger for us in thinking that these are the only things that indicate the supernatural in the Bible. That these are the only evidences of the Holy Spirit at work in and through believers. That these kinds of miracles are the reason the early Church flourished and grew.
We tend to put signs and wonders like these up on a pedestal. We separate them out from all of the rest of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work among us. We elevate them to this ethereal, untouchable plain. And in so doing, we relegate all the rest of the Spirit’s supernatural work in us as being ordinary, unimportant, and unremarkable. This is mistake. This is a mistake I make when I read the Book of Acts, and when I look at my life and the world around me.
How many of these kinds of miracles are recorded in the Book of Acts? 10? 15? But Acts is filled with accounts of the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in and through the earliest Christians. Dozens & scores of stories of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work through His people. And yet, only 10-15 of those episodes involve this small category of miraculous signs and wonders.
Do you want to know why the Church grew so rapidly in its earliest years, besides signs and wonders? Many Roman historians, who lived during and shortly after the time of Acts, they wrote about this strange new sect emerging in the Roman population known as “Christians”. This is what they wrote:
- The Christians cared for the poor.
- They took responsibility for the elderly.
- The Roman Emperor Julian noted that “The Christians not only care for their own poor, but for ours as well.”
- Roman historian Tertullian wrote that while pagan temples spent their donation income on feasts and alcohol and paying the temple prostitutes to entertain the Roman worshippers, the Christians spent their donations to support the sick and dying, “to supply the needs of children destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined to their homes.”
- Roman philosopher Aristides observed this of the Christians: “If there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they themselves have no spare food, they will fast two or three days in order to supply the needy with food.”
That is supernatural! That is higher than natural – above and beyond what is natural. That is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in and through them!
The Christians lived by different moral standards than those around them.
- In the Letter to Diognetes, it is recorded that the Christians “marry, as do others, and they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring” like the pagans did.
- The Christians accepted the unwanted babies of their pagan neighbors, and raised them as their own.
- In this Roman letter, it was said that the Christians “have a common table, but not a common bed.”
- They did not fornicate, or have sex outside of marriage.
- They were monogamists in an age of polygamy.
The Christians throughout the Roman Empire were known for being people of integrity:
- They judged with fairness when there was a legal dispute.
- They would not give or receive bribes, even when they were falsely accused, and bribe could’ve gotten them free.
- Aristides wrote this of the Christians: “Their oppressors they comfort and make their friends; they do good to their enemies.”
The Christians treated all those marginalized by Roman culture and society as equals:
- They educated girls.
- They trained women to serve in positions of leadership.
- They welcomed foreigners into their homes who had no safe place to stay as they traveled, or as they fled from famine or war.
- They provided for prisoners (this is still a practice that is in effect in many developing countries today!).
Y’all! This is why the early Church grew! This was the supernatural outworking of the Holy Spirit among them! Were there signs and wonders – absolutely! But they were just one small category among ALL the Holy Spirit’s power that was so mightily at work in the Book of Acts and in the lives of the early Church!