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A Case for Cessationism - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2014-08-10 AM
  • The Distinctives of Countryside Bible Church
  • Sermons


We're taking a break this summer from our study of the Book of Romans and looking at the five distinctives of our church, where our church stands, the leadership of our church stands on some of the key issues of our times. Let me just confess to you that I stand a little bit frustrated. I'm trying to do these, for the most part, in one message each, and that doesn't allow me to really develop it, and doesn't allow me to give a full nuance of even balance. I know sometimes, maybe, you've had questions that have arisen in light of some of the things that I've said or taught. I understand that and would love if you have specific questions to be able to address those with you. But understand, that what I'm trying to do is give us that sort of overview, and I hope you'll receive it in that light and the Lord will give you the wisdom to be a Berean and to search out the Scriptures for yourself as well. But know, that's my heart and the heart of the elders, and I hope you will take this series in that light.

Now, so far we have studied four of our church's distinctives: that is, where we stand on some of these core issues of the time. First of all, we discovered that God created all things in six literal days versus any form of macroevolution. Secondly, we discovered that genuine faith always produces a changed life versus the very popular ideas that we could call easy-believism, or what is sometimes called the no-Lordship position. Thirdly, we discovered that Scripture does not permit women to lead and teach men in the context of the Church as opposed to the very

common ideas today that are labeled egalitarianism. And, last week, we looked at the fact that Scripture alone provides sufficient insight and counsel to accomplish our sanctification, so that we don't need to include secular psychology or pop-Christian psychology to sort of equip and enable us to deal with spiritual issues in our lives.

Now today we come to the fifth and final of those distinctives. We want to consider what Scripture teaches about the miraculous spiritual gifts. Now, our church's distinctive specifically addresses the issue of the gift of tongues. Let me read to you our elder's distinctive on this issue:

We believe that the gift of tongues was the miraculous, God-given capacity to communicate the truth of God's Word in human languages that the speaker had never learned or studied. It was a manifestation of God's power and blessing to validate the gospel message the Apostles taught and to establish the early Church. We believe that ecstatic outbursts and private prayer languages share nothing in common with the New Testament gift of tongues, and that they are patently unbiblical.

Now, as you can see, the main issue addressed here has to do specifically with the gift of tongues. But the elder's concern in creating this distinctive was broader than that, broader than merely that one specific gift, and so I'm not going to address that specific gift. (That's a different message, probably a different series, for a different time.) Rather, what I want us to do is to step back and consider the gift of tongues in the context of all of the miraculous spiritual gifts that were present in the early Church. On this issue we bear the label cessationists. We are cessationists.

Now, I'm going to spend a couple of weeks on this distinctive, (this week, and then next Sunday is communion, I'll do a communion message, but then, the following week, we'll come back and finish this issue), and I'm going to take two weeks on it, because first of all: it's a large issue to cover just in the biblical sense, but also it is a huge issue in the Christian culture at large, and even here in our area. There is a very large charismatic church just a mile down the road. There is another Reformed Evangelical series of churches across the Metroplex, in which a man I would call a brother and respect in many ways has recently come out very clearly espousing the opposite of what our church holds to. And so, this is such a huge issue, I just want us to make sure we're equipped for it. So we're going to deal with the issue of cessationism.

Now, when I was preparing to speak on this very issue for the Strange Fire Conference last October, someone heard I was speaking on cessationism and she asked, "You mean from the Union?" Now, we do live in Texas, and we would all agree there's some pretty serious problems going on right now, but there has been no serious talk about that, yet. But this morning we're not going to deal with a political issue but a biblical one, the question of cessationism.

Now clearly, when you just consider the label itself, that label came from theologians and certainly not from those who were trying to present our position in the best light, because the label itself is inherently negative. As I've sometimes quipped, it's like starting a football team in the Philippines and calling it the "Manila Folders." You know, it just doesn't quite encourage you to cheer for that position. But the real problem with the label cessationism is not that it is negative, but that it can be, and frankly has been, easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased His work; nothing could be farther from the truth. We have been unfairly accused of putting the Spirit in a box, and as one writer put it, even of an "unbibilical, outdated, enlightenment world view." In other words, we're just modernists who don't accept the supernatural. But those are caricatures and distortions of what we believe. Listen, we believe the Holy Spirit has not only continued His work, but that He is displaying in us and through us the power of the resurrected Christ. Nothing, and this is what I believe with all of my heart; nothing eternal happens in any church or in the life of any Christian apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a total misrepresentation of what we believe to say that we believe, as one man has written, we believe "in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scripture," as though we had replaced the Holy Spirit in the Trinity with the Scripture. We are not, as another has said, "Bible deists."

So, what do cessationists believe the Spirit has ceased to do? We believe the Spirit no longer gives believers today the miraculous spiritual gifts, gifts like speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing. That's why we're called cessationists. Those gifts have ceased.

On the other side of the picture are the continuationists. They are those who believe that either the miraculous gifts have continued unabated since Pentecost, or, as more of them believe, that the miraculous gifts waned during most of the Church Age, but now have been restored. Now, when were they restored and how?

Well, let me give you a brief history of the modern Charismatic Movement. The modern Charismatic Movement began, and this would be in full agreement with the writings of Charismatic authors, on January 1, 1901, in Topeka, Kansas. Now, there's some debate about whether it was the night before, or whether it was January 1st in the wee hours of the morning, but regardless, January 1, 1901, in Topeka. It was there that a woman named Agnes Ozman asked a Methodist holiness minister by the name of Charles Fox Parham, (remember that name, he is the father of the modern Charismatic Movement,) to lay hands on her and pray that she would receive the Holy Spirit. Parham had been teaching on this in the days leading up to this event, and so she asked to receive this gift. Parham himself later described what happened next. Listen to his words:

"I laid my hands upon her and prayed. I had scarcely completed three dozen sentences when a glory fell upon her, a halo seemed to surround her head and face, and she began speaking the Chinese language and was unable to speak English for three days. When she tried to write in English to tell us of her experience, she wrote in Chinese.

This is how the movement began. There were others then who subsequent to Agnes Ozman began to claim that they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit and the ability to speak in tongues. And in their case, in the beginning of the movement, what that meant was to speak languages (as in Acts 2) that you had not studied. In Agnes' case, she claimed it was Chinese, but there were others who began to speak, claimed to speak, in other languages. But it turns out

that when those who claimed to be able to speak in these other languages began to travel to the countries where these languages were spoken in order to evangelize, they discovered that their hearers could not understand them, because they were not in fact the real thing. The movement began, almost as soon as it had started, to be discredited. In addition to that, over the next decade, from 1901 through the next decade, Charles Parham, the founder of the modern Charismatic Movement, was found to be completely lacking in integrity and was even arrested at a hotel in San Antonio on charges of sodomy.

Now, just when the fledgling movement had really begun to decline, it received a new lease on life from one of Parham's followers and disciples, a man named William Seymour. Seymour traveled from Topeka, Kansas, to Los Angeles. And there Seymour helped to initiate what has become known as the Azusa Street Revival. And it was from that event, (which, by the way, Parham himself heavily criticized, didn't believe was a genuine work), but it was from the Azusa Street Revival that charismatic theology began to spread around the world. So, from that small and questionable beginning, today, Charismatic authors claim that there are 500 million practicing Charismatics worldwide: about 80 million of those here in the U.S. and more than 400 million in developing countries around the world.

Now, many Charismatic authors argue that the problems in their movement are really not at the core, but rather come from just a few on the fringes of the Charismatic Movement. They say the vast majority of Charismatics are bible-believing, evangelical Christians, who really are very much the same as we are. However, the facts simply do not support that. Of the 500 million professing Charismatic believers around the world, 125 million are Roman Catholics, most of whom have embraced a false gospel; 25 million are Oneness Pentecostals who reject the Trinity, and are therefore completely outside of the Christian faith. In addition to that, John T. Allen, in his book, Future Church, writes this:

The Pew Forum, [there was a study done, and he writes of this], the Pew Forum data suggests that the Prosperity Gospel is actually a defining feature of all Pentecostalism. Majorities of Pentecostals, exceeding 90% in most countries, hold to these beliefs.

Over 90%, he writes, in most countries of Charismatics, hold to some form of the Prosperity Gospel, which is a false gospel. Even Charismatic writers who don't like that 90% figure agree that more than 40% of the people in the movement are involved in the Prosperity Gospel Movement. So put that together, and just with those few figures, you immediately understand that far more than 50%, and maybe as much as 90%, of a movement that claims to be a work of the Spirit is preaching a false gospel. Most of the rest completely disregard the Spirit's clear New Testament commands regarding the practice of those gifts. So understand this: this is far more than a few Charismatics behaving badly. Instead, it demonstrates that the movement as a whole can claim neither the Scripture nor the Spirit.

Now let me tell you there's a temptation for us, and that is to sort of evaluate the entire movement based on the one or two Charismatics we know. And we assume that that's a picture of reality. Let me urge you not to do that. I mean, that's like evaluating the topography of the planet based on your backyard. That's not enough of a sampling for you to get a grasp of it. Over 400 of the 500 million professing Charismatics are outside of the U.S, and clearly well over half are into a false gospel.

Now, there are differences between the three branches of the Charismatic Movement. There are these three branches: the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, and the Third Wave. And they sort of come in chronological order in the history of the last century. But, they are all continuationists and they often use the same arguments to defend their shared continuationism. Let me give you their chief arguments that they often present for continuationism.

Number one: they say, "Listen, the miraculous gifts still have to be here because the New Testament nowhere directly states that the miraculous gifts will cease in the Church Age." And that is true, but that argument cuts both ways, because the New Testament doesn't say that they will continue either. And, in fact as we'll see a little bit later, there is clear evidence that certain aspects of God's work in the early Church have ceased.

They come up with a second argument. They say, "Well, what about those couple of New Testament passages that imply that the miraculous gifts will continue until Christ returns?" Their favorite example is 1 Corinthians 13:10, which says, "When the perfect comes [that is their interpretation, the perfect state, the return of Christ and the perfection that's ushered in], the partial [that is, the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues] will be done away." They argue that means only when Christ returns will the partial, that is, the gifts of prophecy and tongues, cease. Now, this is a highly disputed passage. And frankly, it doesn't matter which side of the issue you're on, there are a lot of different interpretations of that passage. It is not an appropriate thing for them to build their theology and practice on such a controversial passage. In fact, for most of church history that very passage was used to argue for cessationism. And even a commentator who is sympathetic to the Charismatic cause, D.A. Carson, admits that 1 Corinthians 13:10 does not mean that a charismatic gift or gifts could not have been withdrawn earlier than the parousia, the return of Christ. In other words, he says it doesn't support what they want it to say.

Their third main argument for the continuation of the miraculous gifts is that the New Testament speaks only of the Church Age, and therefore the gifts that began in the Church Age must continue throughout it. They say that we as cessationists sort of artificially divide the Church Age into the time of the Apostles and the time after the Apostles. But, unless they believe that there are Apostles today at the same level as Peter and Paul, which they clearly do not, most of them don't, they also divide the Church Age, and they relegate at least apostleship solely to the Apostolic Era. They have become de facto cessationists, at least in part.

But by far the most common argument used by Charismatics to defend their position, and you hear this everywhere at a popular level, is, 500 million professing Christians who claim charismatic experiences can't all be wrong. Now, is that a valid argument? If you've studied logic, you know it's not. That's a basic, logical fallacy. In fact by using that argument, we should accept all the miracles of the Roman Catholic church as well. In fact, Roman Catholic miracles have far more advocates. There are a billion Roman Catholics and they have a greater history. The point is this: millions of professing Christians can be wrong; often have been wrong. Scripture must always trump experience.

Now, those are the best arguments for continuationism, and I've briefly responded to them. But I want to spend the bulk of our time considering the biblical case for cessationism. Now first of all, we need to define cessationism, because there's a lot of confusion here. Cessationism does not mean that God no longer does anything miraculous. You know, as a pastor, one of my greatest joys is to see God do the miraculous all the time. Frankly, there is nothing more miraculous than this: every time a spiritually dead sinner is brought to life by a sovereign act of a saving God, it is a miracle of grace. Every time somebody is healed solely in answer to the prayers of God's people, and in contradiction to the medical establishment and their diagnosis and prognosis, it is a miracle. So we don't for a moment believe that God is no longer doing miracles. That's not the issue.

Secondly, cessationism does not mean that the Spirit cannot give a miraculous ability to somebody today. Listen, He's God; He can do whatever He wants whenever He wants. So we're not saying what He can and can't do. If He were to choose to do so, He could allow someone to speak a language today that they had never studied. He could allow them to do that. It just wouldn't be the New Testament gift, because it wouldn't be prophecy. It wouldn't be direct revelation from God as it was in the New Testament Era, because the revelation is complete. So we don't mean those things.

What do we mean by cessationism? We mean that the Spirit no longer sovereignly gives individual believers the miraculous Spiritual gifts that are listed in Scripture and that were present in the first-century Church. That's what we mean. It is neither the Spirit's plan nor is it His normal pattern to distribute miraculous Spiritual gifts to Christians and churches today as He did in the time of the Apostles. Those gifts ceased, and here's a key word, as normative with the time of the Apostles.

But here's the crucial question. Why? Why do we believe that the miraculous gifts ceased when there are so many Christians who believe that they continue? Ask the average cessationist to defend his view, and he will turn to 1 Corinthians 13. But listen, cessationism doesn't rise or fall on that text. I believe a case for cessationism can be made from that text, but I'm not going to go there. In our time this morning, and two weeks from now, I want to lay out for you seven biblical arguments for cessationism. Now let me just warn you up front, in case you start getting nervous, we're only going to get to two of them this morning. We'll do five of them next week, but we're going to look at seven. We're going to look at seven biblical arguments for cessationism. Each of these deserves its own message, and in some cases they deserve their own series of messages. So my goal here isn't to fully develop these things or to answer all of the possible objections, but rather to give you a sort of 30,000 foot flyover, and hopefully to encourage your further study if either you or someone you love is affected by this movement. So let's look at the biblical arguments.

The first biblical argument for cessationism is the unique role of miracles. Many Evangelicals and most Charismatics think that miracles litter the pages of biblical history. In reality, there were only three primary periods in which God worked miracles through uniquely gifted men; men who were miracle workers. Now, God worked miracles directly throughout Old and New Testament history without the use of men. However, there were only three epics in redemptive history when God chose to give men the capacity to work miracles. You understand this. I mean, there's a key difference between God giving Moses the capacity to perform miracles, and God directly giving Samson superhuman strength. Samson never worked a miracle; he just used the strength God had supernaturally given him. Prophecy is a miraculous gift because God miraculously reveals His truth to men. This happens throughout the Scripture. But the prophet doesn't necessarily perform a miracle just by prophecy. Although God performed miracles directly during the ministries of Samuel and David and Isaiah and Daniel, there is no biblical evidence that they were given miracle-working powers in the way that Moses or Elijah was.

Now, when you examine the biblical record, it's clear that there were three main time periods when there were miracle-working men. The first was that of Moses and Joshua. That period lasted from the Exodus in about 1445 B.C. through the career of Joshua that ended in about 1380 B.C. That's a window of about 65 years. The second window when there were miracle-working men was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. Putting the biblical chronology together, that was a period from about 860 B.C. until about 795 B.C. Again, a period of about 65 years. The third time of miracle-working men was the time of Jesus and the Apostles. It began, obviously, with Jesus' ministry and its initiation, and it continued no longer than the last living Apostle, the Apostle John. It seems clear from the New Testament, (we'll talk more about this in a couple weeks), that miracles actually ended well before John's death. But let's, just for the sake of argument, extend it from the opening of Jesus' ministry through the life of John. That's a period of about 70 years as well, 65 to 70 years.

God occasionally intervenes directly with a miracle. But listen carefully: in thousands of years of human history, there were only about a combined 200 years in which God empowered men to work miracles, and even then miracles didn't happen every day. First of all, not everybody had the capacity, only a limited number of men, and even they didn't perform miracles daily. They were remarkable events. Now, why was that? Why are miracles or miracle-working men so infrequent? Listen carefully, I intend to prove this to you. But let me give it to you first, and then we'll prove it. The primary purpose of miracles has always been to confirm the credentials of a divinely appointed messenger, to establish the credibility of one who speaks for God. Not somebody like me, who teaches or explains the Scripture, but rather someone in whose mouth God put His very words.

This pattern began with the very first miracle worker, Moses. Turn back with me to Exodus 6. We're going to take a fast run through the Scripture. I want you to see this pattern throughout. Here's Moses, the first miracle worker, and in this passage he's recounting sort of what happened in his call and ministry. Exodus 6:28:

Now it came about on the day when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, that the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "I am…(Yahweh); speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I speak to you." …Moses said before the Lord, "Behold, I am unskilled in speech; how then will Pharaoh listen to me?"

Then the Lord said to Moses, "See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land."

Here God says, "Okay, you don't want to speak for Me? Then Aaron will speak for Me. But, really, he'll speak for you and it'll be like you're God to Aaron, and you put your words, which I'm giving you, into his mouth and he will speak on your behalf to Pharaoh." Now, that explains the original call.

Go back to the original call which was recorded in Exodus 4:15:

You are, [this is God to Moses], you are to speak to [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth…." [There, by the way, is a great definition of what it means to be a prophet.] "…and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him."

That's a perfect job description for the prophet: the prophet was nothing more than a mouth for God. God put His words in the mouth of the prophet and here He's likening Aaron to Moses' prophet. And notice, to be Moses' prophet, he couldn't speak for himself, he had to speak only the words of Moses, who was in the place of God to him. That's what it meant to be a prophet. That's why, when God commissioned Jeremiah to be His prophet in Jeremiah 1, He says, "I have put My words in your mouth." So, Moses is going to be a prophet.

But how were the people to know that he was a true prophet? How were the people to know if a man who claimed to be a prophet was in fact speaking God's own words? After all, anybody can stand up and say, "I'm a prophet." Moses, the very first prophet, faced this dilemma. Notice God's answer in chapter 4:1:

Then Moses said, "What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? [They don't believe.] For they may say, 'The Lord [hasn't] appeared to you.'" [What's the Lord's answer to that?] The Lord said to him,[here's the proof], "What is that in your hand?" …he said, "A staff." …He said, "Throw it on the ground." So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent and Moses fled from it. But the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail"—so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand…. [Now watch the reason God's going to enable Moses to perform this miracle, verse 5.] "…that they may believe that [Yahweh], the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you."

And in the ensuing verses, God gives Moses the capacity to work two other miracles as confirming signs that, in fact, he is the real deal; he's actually God's representative speaking the words of God. And so, understand then that God enabled Moses to perform miracles to validate Moses as God's prophet, and Moses' message as God's own words, and it worked. I mean, Moses, in his lifetime, was universally accepted as God's prophet and what he wrote was accepted as being, in fact, the literal words of God. Why? Because he had the power to work miracles, and that validated his claims to speak for God.

This continued, by the way, to be the purpose of miracles with the rest of the Old Testament prophets, not just Moses, but all of the Old Testament prophets. Moses wrote that God would continue to raise up men like himself to speak for God after Moses' death. Look at Deuteronomy 18:15: "The Lord your God…" [This is Moses speaking to the children of Israel on the plains of Moab, just before they're going into the promised land, after the 40 years of wilderness wanderings.] "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him." Now obviously, the ultimate fulfillment of this is the Messiah, but Moses is talking about the line of prophets that will come. And he says (verse 16) this is exactly according to what you asked God at Sinai. You remember? Initially, God spoke from Mount Sinai the Ten Commandments in His own voice and it terrified the people and they said, "No, no, Moses, you go and listen to God, and then you tell us." And God says, "I agree…" [verse 17] "…that was a good idea." And so the Lord said, [verse 18]:

"I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I [here it is again,] I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about… whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him."

Now obviously, the great prophet was ultimately the Messiah, but it is equally clear that Moses here is describing an institution of prophets and prophecy already active in his day (according to Numbers 11:29) that would continue throughout biblical history.

And in Deuteronomy, Moses lays down three criteria for determining whether that prophet, that man who says he's a prophet, is the real deal, whether he's truly speaking the words of God. Three criteria. Number one is right here in this text. Look at verses 21 and 22:

"'…How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?'"When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously…."

In other words, the true prophet's predictions always come true.

By the way, let me just stop and say here, this flies in the face of the modern charismatic idea propounded by Wayne Grudem that there are two levels of prophecy. One is the sort of inspired Scripture level, and then there's this second level where you can be wrong. In the Old Testament, you could only be a true prophet if you were right a hundred percent of the time.

There's a second criterion that Moses lays down concerning a true prophet: not only must his predictions always come true, but in Deuteronomy13:1-5, he says God may choose to validate that prophet, and if He does, He will validate him by allowing him to be a miracle worker.

The third criterion is also in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, and that is: the true prophet's message must always be in complete doctrinal agreement with previous revelation. Basically, in the first five verses of Deuteronomy 13, Moses says, "Here comes a prophet, he works miracles. Looks like it's the real deal, he's working miracles. Don't believe him if what he says is contrary to what God has already said. He's a false prophet." Those standards are still in place.

So in the Old Testament then, it was prophets, and only prophets, who spoke authoritatively and infallibly for God, who performed miracles. Why? Because miracles were the credentials of the prophets. From the very beginning that was true. It was true of the other prophets. In fact, what is the most famous miracle outside the Pentateuch? It's calling down fire on the altar on Mount Carmel. Listen to how Elijah describes that. This is 1 Kings 18:36: "…Elijah the prophet came near…. [There's the altar; it's been soaked with water. He's going to call for God to call down fire upon it, and he says this in his prayer:] '…O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word….'" Elijah says, "God, confirm that I'm truly Your prophet and that I speak Your words by causing this miracle to happen." And, of course, God responded. This is the pattern throughout the Old Testament.

When we come to the New Testament, we discover the very same pattern, even with our Lord. Our Lord was the ultimate fulfillment of the prophet that Moses had promised in Deuteronomy 18. He was the Great Prophet with the greatest message and with the greatest claims. And so it shouldn't surprise us that Jesus performed more miracles than anyone else in human history. And just as it was with Moses, and just as it was with the Old Testament prophets, the primary purpose of Jesus' miracles was to confirm His credentials as the final and the ultimate messenger who spoke infallibly God's own words.

John the Apostle makes this very clear in his gospel. Turn with me to John. Let me just give you a run through how this is such an emphasis in John's gospel. John 5:36: Jesus says, "But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do–, [notice this word], testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me." Jesus says, "God allowed Me to do miracles to prove that I am who I claim, and that what I speak is true." Go to John 6:14: "Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, 'This is truly the Prophet who [was] to come into the world.'" They got the connection in Deuteronomy. Here's God's prophet validated by miracles. Turn over to chapter 7:31: "But many of the crowd believed in Him; and they were saying, 'When the (Messiah) comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?'" They were saying His signs confirm His claims to be the Messiah. And by the way, while all of these people didn't ultimately, truly believe with saving faith, they got the connection. Chapter 10:24:

"The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If You are the [Messiah], tell us plainly.' Jesus answered them, 'I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these [here it is again] testify of Me.'"

Notice verse 37: "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." That's a claim to deity. They got it. The next verse, they decide to stone Him. Jesus says, "My miracles confirm who I really am: I am equal with God the Father." Turn to the end of the Gospel of John. This is the whole point of the gospel that John wrote, John 20:30: "Therefore many other signs…." Notice the marginal reference in the NAS: "…many other attesting miracles Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book." Jesus did a lot of other miracles that aren't written in the gospels. "But these have been written, [these miracles have been recorded], so that you may believe that Jesus is the [Messiah], the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

Listen, if you're here this morning and you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, let me urge you to do a little first-hand research. Read the Gospel of John, because what's been written here has been written to demonstrate, without a doubt for you, that Jesus is everything He claimed, and that He can do everything He said He could do. In fact, to dismiss His claims is to dismiss God Himself as having given inadequate testimony to His Son. It's the height of arrogance.

Do you understand Jesus' miracles were not primarily a tool for effective evangelism? In fact, what did He say about miracles and evangelism? He said, "If they won't hear Moses and the prophets, they will not believe though, [what?], one rose from the dead." His own resurrection is proof of that. Not everybody believed, even after His resurrection. Even those who knew about it, they made up a story to cover it. Jesus' miracles were not even primarily about alleviating human suffering, though, of course, they demonstrated His own heart and the heart of God. Listen carefully: the main reason the Spirit empowered Jesus to perform miracles was to confirm that He spoke the very words of God. On the Day of Pentecost, a day of miracles, Peter reiterated that that was in fact the purpose for Jesus' miracles. Look at Acts 2:22: "…Jesus the Nazarene, [was] a man attested to you by God… [How did God attest to Jesus?] …with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know…." Jesus was affirmed, His claims were affirmed, He was affirmed as a true spokesman of God based on His miracles.

But Jesus not only performed miracles Himself, He also gave the same power to the Apostles, and their miracles served exactly the same purpose. Look at Acts 14:3: "Therefore… [Paul and Barnabas] …spent a long time there… [in Iconium] …speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace,…[how was the Lord testifying to His Word?]… granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands." Turn to Hebrews 2:3. The writer of Hebrews says, "[The message of salvation] was confirmed to us by those who heard it, [that is, through the Apostles], God also testifying with them [that is, with the Apostles]." How did He testify? "…both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His… will." Do you understand the miraculous gifts that accompanied the Apostles were intended to confirm that they were God's genuine instruments of revelation, just as miracles had been done with Moses, with the Old Testament prophets, and with Jesus Himself?

Now, listen carefully: this is the pattern. Since this is the pattern consistent throughout Scripture, it is reasonable to expect that with the death of the Apostles and with the end of revelation (God's revelation through them), the human capacity to work miracles would end as well, just as it did after Moses and Joshua, and just as it did after the time of Elijah and Elisha. The difference in the case of Christ and the Apostles is, Hebrews says, Jesus was God's final word to us. B.B. Warfield, the great Princeton theologian, writes:

Miracles do not appear on the pages of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and everywhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring His gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course.

You see, Scripture leads us to expect the end of the miraculous gifts because of the unique role that miracles have always played from the very beginning.

Now, there's a second related argument that we'll cover just briefly, (it won't take much time to do this): the end of the gift of apostleship. In two places in the New Testament, Paul refers to the Apostles as one of the gifts Christ gave His church. 1 Corinthians 12:28, in the middle of talking about Spiritual gifts, says, "God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues." So although not all Spiritual gifts are offices in the church, all New Testament offices, including Apostles, are gifts. Turn to Ephesians 4:7: "…to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, 'When He ascended on high… [in His ascension He demonstrates His victory by giving]… gifts to men.'" What are those gifts? Verse 11: "…He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as [pastor-teachers]…." One of the gifts Christ gave His church was the Apostles. Listen carefully: they were a temporary gift.

Most Christians, most evangelical Charismatics agree that there are no more Apostles like the twelve or like Paul. Why? Well, because to be an Apostle you had to have three qualifications. You had to be a witness to the resurrected Christ. Acts 1:22, when they were talking about replacing Judas after his suicide, they said it must be someone who was "a witness with us of His resurrection." Secondly, they had to be personally appointed by Christ. Acts 1:2 refers to the Apostles as those "whom He had chosen." Again, in their prayer later in the book, Acts 1, they're praying about the replacement of Judas, and they say, "Show [us] which…. of these two You have chosen." So they had to be witnesses of the resurrection; they had to be personally chosen by Christ. Thirdly, they had to be able to work miracles. To be an Apostle you had to work miracles. Matthew 10:1-2: "Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now [these are] the twelve apostles." Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:12, speaks of miracles as one of the signs of an Apostle.

So, there's no one who meets those three qualifications today. That's why they're not Apostles. So at least one New Testament gift, the gift of apostleship, has ceased. What that means practically is there is significant difference in the work of the Spirit between the time of the Apostles and today, because one of the most miraculous displays of the Spirit, the gift of apostleship, disappeared with the passing of the Apostles. And it is significant, by the way, that it disappears without a clear New Testament statement that it will disappear. That means it is neither impossible nor even unlikely that other significant changes happen with the passing of the Apostles as well.

Now once you agree that there are no Apostles today at the same level with Peter and Paul, you have admitted that there was a major change in the gifting of the Spirit between the Apostolic Age and the post-Apostolic Age. In fact, the one New Testament gift most frequently associated with miracles, the gift of apostleship, ceased with the New Testament Age, the New Testament Era. Miracles, then, existed to confirm God's true prophets. They confirm the identity of God's messengers and the infallibility of their message.

Now what does that mean for us practically? Folks, let me just say to you, that means we can trust the Scripture. God has authenticated His messengers so that you can believe what they have recorded and written. Don't look for other revelation. Don't look for God to speak to you outside of the Book that He has authenticated. We have, as Peter refers to it, a more sure word of prophecy, "to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place." Don't be chasing some other word from God when He has given you His final, authenticated, more sure Word. We'll look at the other arguments next time. Let's pray together.

Our Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You that You have given us this sure Word, authenticated, because You authenticated its messengers by giving them the power to work miracles, confirming their word to us. Father, may we receive Your revelation and accept it and not be chasing after other things. Father, may we rest on this sure Word of Prophecy. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.

The Distinctives of Countryside Bible Church