The Signs And Wonders?
by Matthew Cramer
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”
— Jn 10:10NIV
Any discussion of Christian healing and its ministry must begin with the issue of Signs and Wonders, and their part in the Kerygma that evangelizes people into Christianity and a relationship with God.
If you think about it, there are only two issues in life most important — way beyond all the others. Most obvious, is the fact that you exist. God activates your existence at the point of your conception. If you didn’t exist, all issues about you would be moot.
This may seem laughably simplistic but, after examination, interesting questions emerge. Okay, so I exist. But, why do I exist? Who or what caused my existence? Is there a purpose to my existence? (These questions are addressed in A God Who Loves Us and The Train Wreck Of Humanity.) The bottom line: God creates us out of love so we can share His life in eternity. Our created destiny is to live with an infinitely loving, all powerful, all knowing God, in the midst of His wonder, splendor and glory — for Eternity. It doesn’t get any better than that. But, contrary to God’s plan, we inherit a damaged existence, unable to attain life with Him because our first parents sinned badly.
The first issue propagates the second: Since we’re unable to achieve our intended destiny, what’s to become of us? What happens to my existence when I die? Does my soul or person wander aimlessly as a spirit in the void of space? Do I disappear as though I never existed? Will I ever be reunited with my body? These questions do not evoke happy thoughts.
The second issue is addressed in What Jesus Did. The bottom line is Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, took up the full nature of mankind, and sacrificed Himself as God and Man — thus paying the full price to: (1) redeem us from our sin and sins; (2) defeat the forces of evil; (3) restore our relationship with God; (4) put us back on the path that leads to our created destiny.
These two truths — that mankind exists and is redeemed — dwarf all other issues we encounter in life, large and small. The cosmic scope and the drama of it all, can take your breath away. If you didn’t exist, there would be no you to get concerned. If you exist but aren’t redeemed, you’re in very deep doo-doo.
“if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1Co 15:14,17 RSV)
Signs And Wonders Are Necessary
This next scripture has the high drama of a Cecil B. DeMille epic. A drum-roll and some bass rumble, please!
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:16-21 RSV, emphasis added)
Since the days of Moses, the Israelites had longed for The Messiah, The Promised One, The Deliverer, The Anointed One, who would establish the Kingdom of God on Earth, and free them from slavery, both spiritual and physical. Then, more than 1500 years after Moses, in the midst of oppression by yet another conqueror, Jesus enters a synagogue at the beginning of His ministry, selects one of the prophetic scriptures about Himself and says in effect, “I am the One who is foretold here”. That’s drama of the highest order.
So, if mankind’s destiny (to be reunited with a resurrected body and live with God in Heaven) has been restored — and we‘ve been given a new life to live now in a grace-filled relationship with God — surely someone ought to tell us about this cosmic event, so we can lay claim to its blessing! Ya think?
In Jesus’ day (as now) there were many religions and myths in the world. Stories of gods and goddesses promising special powers and other blessings abounded. Were someone to just stand up, claim we’ve been redeemed from our sins, and restored to our destiny by the sacrifice of God’s Son, his presentation might not be impressive enough to hold center stage in the midst of that cacophony of beliefs, ideas, and superstitions.
From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus announced the Kingdom of God had arrived! But He did much, much more than talk! He vivified His ministry by working miraculous signs and wonders. He healed the sick, cured the afflicted, raised the dead, and drove out demons.
“…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Jn 1:14,15 RSV)
“And he … withdrew apart to a city called Beth-saida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him; and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and cured those who had need of healing.” (Lk 9:10,11 RSV)
“As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother… And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.” (Lk 7:12,14,15 RSV)
“So they took away the stone. …And Jesus …cried with a loud voice, “Laz’arus, come out.” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (Jn 11:41,43,44 RSV)
“And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters.” (Mt 8:31,32 RSV)
“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Lk 11:20 RSV)
“So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; …If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (Jn 10:24,25,37,38 RSV)
As Jesus delegates His authority, He articulates this important strategy: First to the twelve, next to the seventy, and finally, to all the disciples (those who come to believe).
“And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Lk 9:1,2 RSV)
“After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. …Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Lk 10:1,8,9 RSV)
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20 RSV)
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mk 16:17,18 RSV)
The miracles and cures documented in the New Testament and Church writings, elicit at least two points:
Jesus intended the signs and wonders to demonstrate who He was, and that divine power founded His ministry;
Jesus sought healing — in both its broadest interpretation and individual specificity — for those afflicted because of a genuine, personal, loving concern for each of them.
Thus, powerful demonstrations of signs and wonders are intended to validate the Gospel as it is preached; and to authenticate and support the New Life we receive at Baptism as we live it day-to-day. To label these truths as “Good News” seems the understatement of all time.
Where Are They Now?
Years ago, Ruth Ann and I served on the committee hosting a national Evangelization conference; and were asked to prepare the Program handout for the four-day session. The attendees were representatives from diocesan Offices of Evangelization across the United States. Active in Catholic Charismatic Renewal for many years, we eagerly accepted the assignment so we might learn the latest thinking/teaching about evangelization through the many workshops, presentations to the entire body and their follow-up discussions.
The conference featured speaker after speaker highlighting programs for youth and adult education, teaching and preaching aids, music, and some new books. The information seemed helpful and many programmatic ideas were exchanged. Late in the second day, a nun in charge of a prestigious organization came to the podium. Reading several scriptures cited above, she made the point about their original connection with evangelization.
Then she stunned the audience with this question:
“Where are all the signs and wonders today?”
With that, she sat down.
I say, “stunned”, because the room was silent for what seemed a full minute. This was a rare occasion in which I’ve witnessed the Holy Spirit convict a large group of serious and faithful Christians. The room exploded with comments, ideas and opinions. But never was her question answered, nor even discussed. It seemed as if the attendees didn’t perceive any connection between signs and wonders and modern evangelization today.
Where are all the signs and wonders, indeed!
While they’re real for a few, it’s fair to say signs and wonders are not a regular staple, or a common experience in Christian life today. Many claim the prolific outpouring of signs and wonders recorded in the early Church, were intended only for the Patristic period when the Apostles and early Fathers were still alive. Once the Church was established — so the concept goes — signs and wonders were no longer necessary for evangelism.
There is no scriptural basis for this notion. The scriptures cited above suggest Jesus, the Source of signs and wonders, intended they continue until He returns.
Others claim that God’s active involvement in our day-to-day lives is not necessary, since the miracles now evident in medical and other sciences are the modern equivalent of the signs and wonders Jesus once worked. Therefore, the miracles and cures of Jesus’ day, once attributed to the power of God, can now be credited to the prowess of mankind.
It’s true the existence of the Church for two thousand years is itself a miracle. So, too, are the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist in which we, again and again, receive Jesus — His body and blood, soul and divinity. And, there is little doubt that medical science is an expression of God’s blessing on humanity through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice.
In varying degrees throughout the years, signs and wonders have continued in Christianity such as the miracles at Lourdes, and other legitimate apparitions of Mary. Saints are not canonized in the Catholic Church unless at least one miracle through their intercession can be proven. Signs and wonders have also accompanied outpourings of the Holy Spirit in times of renewal down through the centuries.
The latest of these outpourings in the Catholic Church, is the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which began in February 1967 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and continues today all over the world. The primary thrusts of the Renewal are to “evangelize” nominal Christians into a deeper, personal relationship with Jesus so that He becomes and remains the Lord of their lives; and to lead believers to release the gifts of the Holy Spirit within, as at Pentecost.
Many didn’t know an ongoing, personal relationship with Jesus was even possible — let alone, easily established. Still, after asking Jesus to be the Lord of their lives, ordinary, “common folk” Christians minister healing, counsel with discernment and wisdom, prophesy, praise God, sing and speak in “tongues”, and use Scripture for inspiration, instruction and edification. Prayers for one another happen at the drop of a hat. Significant emotional healings, physical healings, and freedom gained from evil entanglement, were, and still are, common, ordinary, day-to-day occurrences.
In 1970, Ruth Ann and I became involved in Charismatic Renewal in Sacramento, California. After inviting Jesus Christ to be the Lord of our lives, we asked to be prayed over for an additional release of the Holy Spirit (called Baptism in the Spirit), and we, too, encountered a personal epiphany, a metanoia (as Saint Ignatius calls it) or “born-again” experience. Along with hundreds of thousands of others, our newfound experience of a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, His Father and The Holy Spirit, was quickly followed by signs and wonders just as Jesus predicted in Mk 16 (cited above), and recorded in the early Church (e.g. 1Co 12:1-14).
We were euphoric over such an outpouring of God’s grace, blessings and power in our lives. It seemed as though someone had switched on the lights and banished the fog! Everything — especially the Scriptures, Church doctrine and teachings — were easier to understand; responsibilities were easier to accomplish.
The outpouring of spiritual gifts, healings, miracles and the exercise of authority over evil left us breathless, almost giddy with joy. And the peace! Ah . . . the peace — that enables one to face life standing up; to sense and know God’s love; to recognize that your Lord, Savior and Brother is walking with you, and that God’s Holy Spirit guides you always.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? (Ro 8:31 NIV)
Some are called to local, national, even international level ministries to preach, teach, and minister healing and deliverance. They write books, preach at conferences, and conduct healing sessions at large gatherings. But, the overwhelming number of signs and wonders occur at the hands of local folk in everyday situations. Exhaustive proofs and documentations aren’t needed. God is praised for His blessings; folks keep on with their lives “in The Lord”, because signs and wonders are a normal part of Christian life.
Ruth Ann and I are from the “ordinary, common folk” crowd. Filled with the power of God’s love for us, we dedicated our lives in service to our loving Lord. In 1973, we bought a very large home we named Christo Rey, so that those who needed extensive healing could live with us while they recovered. As The Holy Spirit taught and led us, we witnessed many healings — spiritual, physical, mental and emotional, and freedom from evil bondages. (See stories in The Sandbox)
This “life in the Spirit” is not a Pollyannaish life. It’s not all peaches and cream. Difficulties must be met and overcome, lessons learned, battles fought, and obstacles surmounted. But the contrast between ordinary life in Christianity and “life in The Spirit” is significant, due largely to the signs and wonders that continually validate our efforts to serve God.
In the forty-plus years since our “Baptism in the Spirit”, we’ve taught courses, seminars and workshops; and ministered to many across the USA and in Europe. To Our Lord’s enduring praise, we’ve witnessed thousands of mental, emotional and spiritual healings. We’ve seen legs grow, hip sockets repaired and replaced, diabetic feet healed, eyesight and hearing restored, terminal illnesses and fatal diseases cured. We’ve witnessed those afflicted with, and oppressed by, fear, anger, lust, addictions, bondage to the occult, and many other manifestations of evil, take authority over and discard the particular evil spirits and achieve victory. (See Discarding Evil Spirits.)
Many signs and wonders happened instantly; some took place over time. But all were powered by The God Who Sent Jesus: “…to preach good news to the poor, …to proclaim release to the captives, …recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…”
I cite this bit of our history, not to call special attention to ourselves, but rather, to make known the adventure that we, and millions of others, experience.
For the broader population, there still remains the question: Where are the signs and wonders now?
I’m convinced the great advances in science and technology have dimmed our expectant faith by ascribing those advances solely to the prowess and creativity of mankind. This clever ruse by Evil has led us into a godless trap where we do not expect Our Lord to be involved with His people on a day-to-day basis, much less to act through signs and wonders.
The Holy Spirit’s outpouring of signs and wonders through the Charismatic Renewal demonstrates that Christian life should be far more alive, meaningful and powerful than many of us believe. Once an individual comes to an ongoing relationship with Our Lord, and experiences the signs and wonders promised by Him, expectant faith grows and more wonders follow.
Science and technology are very impressive, and, properly used, a blessing to us all. But, they can never be a substitute for signs and wonders. In psychiatry and psychology, for example, science has moved away from Freud and on to better concepts. Psychiatry is rich in helpful diagnosis, and various therapies that help a patient cope. Nevertheless, it is still short in outright healing.
With the exception of Exorcism, neither science nor the Church has much to offer in waging spiritual warfare against evil spirits and providing deliverance (See Discarding Evil Spirits).
“In the Catholic Church this field had lain fallow for quite a while and our own pastoral practice gave us few guidelines adapted to our time. We have to admit that on our side there was little guidance in this sphere…” (Suenens, Cardinal Léon-Joseph. Renewal and the Powers of Darkness. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1983; § 39)
Some books and pamphlets, a few by priests, address this area, but very little is widely examined or promoted by the Church, much less medical science.
I have the greatest respect and gratitude for the Church and medical professions. Nevertheless, there remains significant opportunity for signs and wonders to demonstrate the efficacy and power of Christianity through healing and other day-to-day involvement in our lives.
Signs and wonders don’t happen every time they are sought; Our Lord remains in charge. He always answers our prayers, and brings good from evil; but not necessarily in the timing and ways we seek. Still, we must always approach real needs with expectant faith — seek healing and what seems necessary for our welfare and for others — while we remain in thankful submission to what He provides.
Our journey with The Lord has made clear to us:
Signs and wonders are not interesting trivia from the past, nor demonstrations offered to amaze an audience. They are not subject to the whim of the believer through manipulation, formulas and incantations.
Signs and wonders are meant to be a normal part of Christian life. Fundamental, consequential, and ongoing, they proclaim The Kingdom of God is at hand! Christianity is alive, powerful, authoritative, and from God; filled with adventure, beauty, love and peace!
The most powerful witness to the efficacy of signs and wonders is that ordinary people minister them — ordinary Christians, not specially gifted or trained individuals.
Healing, a significant expression of signs and wonders, was a powerful part of Our Lord’s ministry, and is just as necessary today, as then.
Healing is only a part of the signs and wonders panoply; it does not circumscribe them. Signs and wonders, to name a few, include the existence of the Church and the Magisterium; the Sacraments; prophecy, discernment, and other gifts of the Spirit; and the use of Jesus’ authority in day to day affairs.
Progress in medicine and other sciences is a blessing from Almighty God. Science is not in competition with, or a replacement for, signs and wonders. The two areas are meant to synergistically complement and support one another, not compete as in a zero sum game.
Much as a loving father will surprise his children with gifts for no reason other than love, Our Lord will sovereignly intervene with an outpouring of signs and wonders in some instances. Yet, the proclamation of Christianity through signs and wonders seems to depend greatly on the depth of our relationship with, and commitment to, the Lord.
Four steps we can take to release the fullness of Christianity into our lives are:
Be reconciled with Our Lord, and invite Him to become the Lord of our lives. Ask Him to release into our lives the fullness of the Holy Spirit we received at Baptism.
Establish and grow a personal relationship with Jesus through regular praise, listening, petition, scripture reading, the Sacraments, and life giving fellowship.
With expectant faith, vigorously and unwaveringly pursue signs and wonders from Our Lord for our legitimate needs, and for others’.
Nurture expectant faith and thankfulness by cataloging the signs and wonders through which we are, and already have been, blessed by The Lord.
Christianity is much more than religious ideology and rote practices. Christianity offers a New Life to lead, won for us by the life and death of the Son of God. The Church, Sacraments and The Magisterium are vital and effective supports for our New Life.
We are called to lives that project the transforming power and blessings that can only come from the Son of God. We do this only through faithful cooperation with the Holy Spirit, not by our own devices. Our New Life is ordained to be fully integrated with the sacred and secular aspects of our lives, without distinction. We are to be salt, leaven and light that attracts others to the Son of God. How can this proclamation of Good News be effective without signs and wonders?
Christianity is The Real Deal! Think about it! In submission to His Lordship, we have to discipline our emotions, appetites, desires and ego (see Embracing Conflict With Hope). But the more we do so, the more New Life is released as we walk, shoulder to shoulder, with the Son of God. All His love, authority, power, graces, signs and wonders are at hand to support us. It doesn’t get any better in this life.
There is no substitute for life with Jesus Christ, His Father and the Holy Spirit. You may be sure, as you aggressively pursue these relationships and the fullness of Christian life, that:
Signs And Wonders will Follow!
Look for them. Tell others about them.