Stephen’s sermon continues in today’s lectionary. However, it will conclude tomorrow: I thought that I would have to comment more on that today. But instead we can look at another part of the lectionary, and consider signs and wonders.
This may explain in part Jesus reluctance to do public miracles for so long. He wanted to teach and heal. His job was to proclaim salvation. But his people wanted signs. The prophets had done signs, they wanted the same.
43When the two days were over, he went from that place to Galilee 44(for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country). 45When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.
46Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. 47When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” 50Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. 51As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. 52So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” 53The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. 54Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee
Now, Jesus performed many wonderful and miraculous things. The gospels are thus a challenge to modernists, because their model of the world excludes the supernatural. The miracles become a stumbling block that must be brushed aside.
As we move into a post-modern period, this controversy has ended. The popular culture has become supersitious and credulous. There are “documentaries” on angelogy and demonology and Mayan Prophecy. In this environment, people look for the miraculous, for the spectacular.
And in those times, this incident is a correction. There was no specatular visit. The rock was not split to preserve the child, as it was for Samson. InsteadJesus said the child will live, and the ruler just left. The child was healed.
We need to be suspicious of those who proclaim signs and miracles. The priest of Baal did that. We need to look beyond the good deads, or people being nice, to the content of teaching, to an orthodoxy of faith.
And we need to be particularly careful around those who appear to be nice, to be perfect. The Apostles were not perfect — in fact Peter said to jesus that he should find someone else, because he was a sinner. But Christ came for sinners. The gospel is not for the nice, but for the penitent.
This particularly applies to the Pentecostal and free church movement. They have left the credal or confessional foundations of theology alone. The congregations frequently are sole, with no affilation, supervision or consistory. These groups aer susceptable to falling into error while following a pastor who proclaims prosperity, signs, wonders and his own perfection, encouraging the congregation to imitate him not Christ.
Reformed practice, by way of contrast, is generally unspectacular, quiet, and unexciting. It speaks more to the mind than the heart. The error for Prebyterians like myself is that we will lose our passion. But we may hold the faith. And that is our duty.