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21 May 2018

The Twelve and the miracles.

The hangups Christians have about how the apostles could somehow do miracles before Pentecost.

Mark 6.12-13 • Luke 9.6

Of Jesus’s students, he assigned 12 of them to be apostles, “one who’s been sent out,” and eventually he did send ’em out to preach the gospel, cure the sick, and exorcise unclean spirits.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Mark 6.12-13 KWL
12 Going out, the apostles preached that people should repent.
13 The apostles were throwing out many demons, anointing many sick people with olive oil—and they were curing them.
Luke 9.6 KWL
6 Coming out, the apostles passed through the villages,
evangelizing and curing the sick everywhere.

Yep, all of them. Even Judas Iscariot.

And here’s where we slam into a wall with a lot of Christians. Because they cannot fathom how these apostles went out and cured the sick and exorcised evil spirits.

They’ll grudgingly acknowledge that the apostles did it. The gospels totally say so, and who are they to doubt the gospels? But y’see, their hangups come from the fact they have a lot of theological baggage about how miracles work, how the Holy Spirit empowers people, when the Holy Spirit historically empowered people, and the fact miracles seem to have nothing to do with the apostles’ maturity level: Once they were done doing these mighty acts, they came back to follow Jesus, and seemed to be the same foolish kids they always were.

Oh, and we can’t leave out Judas Iscariot. Christians really don’t like the idea Judas was curing the sick and casting out devils. Since he was one of the Twelve, and since these verses imply he did as the others of the Twelve did, it means Judas did miracles. And this, many Christians cannot abide. I remember one movie in particular where Judas specifically did no miracles; he lacked faith, so Simon the Canaanite, whom Judas was paired up with, Mt 10.4 did ’em all. ’Cause later Judas turned traitor and appears to have gone apostate—so Christians don’t want him having power, and balk at the idea the Holy Spirit really entrusted him with any such thing. It violates their sense of karma.

First thing we gotta do is put down the baggage and accept the scriptures: Jesus sent out his apostles, young as they were, green as they were, to go do supernatural acts of power. Which they did. We can debate the how and the why, but none of this hashing out should violate the fact they did the stuff. If it does, we’re doing theology backwards, and wrong.

Power does not equal maturity.

Likely you’ve heard of Samson. Unfortunately all the stories you’ve heard of Samson were likely child-friendly stories, which edited a whole lot of Samson’s bad behavior out of them.

Years ago I was the substitute teacher for the 11-year-olds’ bible class. The teacher was having the kids go through probably the most adult book in the bible, Judges, and my first day happened to be in the middle of Samson’s story. I had the kids crack open the bible and start reading chapter 16 aloud:

Judges 16.1 NIV
One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her.

Utter chaos for the next five minutes, as the kids recoiled—depending on how devout they were, either in great amusement or great horror. One of the devout kids was stunned: “I had no idea a ‘man of God’ would ever do such a thing.” Yeah well, your parents did a pretty good job of sheltering you. Guess I ruined all that.

But here’s the whole of that story, my translation:

Judges 16.1-3 KWL
1 Samson went to Gaza. He saw a woman there, a whore, and came to have sex with her.
2 The Gazans said, “Samson’s here!” They went round and planned to ambush him.
All night, at the city gate, they were silent.
All night, they said, “Once it’s the morning light, we can kill him.”
3 Samson had sex till midnight. At midnight he got up.
He seized the doors of the city gate, with the two doorposts.
He pulled them out, with the bar, and put them on his shoulder.
He took them to the top of the hill facing Hebron.

So the very same night, right after Samson climbed off his whore, he ripped the Gaza city gate out of the wall, doorposts, bar, and all, and carried them uphill. That’s easily 300 pounds of wood and metal. The author says he only took ’em up a hill that faces Hebron, likely a nearby hill. Some interpreters imagine he took them all the way to Hebron, 60 kilometers away. Regardless, this was one of those feats of strength that everybody attributes to the Holy Spirit: Many people are just that strong, but the folks in Judges always treated Samson’s strength as if it were completely unreasonable. Contrary to the movies, Samson was likely just this skinny, hairy, horny guy… who could somehow shove over buildings.

The reason I bring up Samson is because he’s an obvious example of someone who was not devout. Not spiritually mature. Not a sterling example for Hebrews and Christians to follow. And yet the Holy Spirit made him crazy strong.

The popular assumption—properly, the popular myth—is that if you have the ability to do miracles, you must be a really holy person. Must have all kinds of faith; must have zero sins on your conscience. Must be so spiritually mature, your elders fall at your feet in awe of your wisdom. The reality? The Spirit empowers anybody he wants, including people we totally don’t approve of.

The reason Paul and Sosthenes had to write this—

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 KWL
1 When I speak in human and angelic tongues:
When I have no love, I’ve become the sound of a gong, a clanging symbol.
2 When I have a prophecy—“I knew the whole mystery! I know everything!”—
when I have all the faith necessary to move mountains:
When I have no love, I’m nobody.
3 Might I give away everything I possess?
Perhaps submit my body so I could be praised for my sacrifice?
When I have no love, I benefit nobody.

—is because the Corinthians were performing miracles without love, and in so doing, undermined what the Spirit was trying to teach through the miracles.

That’s right: Immature people do miracles. Happens all the time. I’ve seen it. Technically nobody’s worthy, so the Holy Spirit exclusively uses unworthy people to do miracles. But that includes plenty of people whom we would consider unworthy. That includes immature Christians who are just learning how this God-stuff works. That includes irreligious people who might’ve been fornicating just an hour ago. That includes future traitors and apostates. That includes anyone.

Including you. So if you’ve somehow got it into your head that you can’t do miracles because you’re for whatever reason not yet ready: Cut that out. You’re ready. Step up.

But at the same time, if you’re gonna do miracles, try not to remain a screwup, okay? We got plenty enough of those in Christendom.

“But they didn’t have the Holy Spirit yet.”

Another popular Christian myth is that the apostles didn’t have the Holy Spirit till the first Christian Pentecost. That nobody had the Spirit indwelling them till that time. So when Jesus turned ’em loose to do miracles, it was some sort of special dispensation where they were temporarily empowered at best.

As Gabriel made clear when he announced the birth of John the baptist, John was gonna be filled with the Spirit from before he was born. Because having the Spirit live within you is not an experience only Christians can have—and could only have after Jesus ascended to heaven. Back then, the Holy Spirit was known for indwelling prophets. If he took up permanent residence in your heart, it meant he was making a prophet out of you. The significance of Pentecost is that he’s made a prophet out of every Christian. It’s no longer a calling for a select few. It’s the birthright of every Christian.

And when Jesus designated the Twelve—heck, probably when he called ’em to follow him, and they responded—he put his Holy Spirit in them. Same as he does with us. Same as with every Christian. Every Christian can do miracles. You don’t have to be baptized in the Holy Spirit first, although that definitely helps: You just have to be Christian, sealed with the Spirit when you first believed, Ep 1.13-14 willing to follow him instead of just take him for granted. Willing to do supernatural things in his power.

So when the apostles obeyed Jesus, and did as he told ’em, the Spirit in them did his thing. People heard the gospel and believed. People were cured. People were rescued from evil spirits. They got a taste of God’s kingdom and its power. Power, I remind you, that’s available to everyone.

Ready to do that too?