"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ?"
That quote comes from Charles Dickens' famous work, A Tale of Two Cities. But what most people don't know is that this is only part of the quote. The full quote is:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."
How true is that quote for the state of the American Church, as many Christian writers are now referring to it. I suppose, in the light of this, the question we need to ask is: Is the Church being influenced by the world, or, is the Church influencing the world? What kind of influence is the church having? By our speech, conduct, and general attitude toward life, we are to influence the world toward a belief in an Almighty God, faith in Jesus Christ, and a life of godliness. But are we doing that?
Skylar Spradlin, lead pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Weatherford, Oklahoma, stated recently, "I don't think the world is being called to a higher standard nor shown a better way by the current conduct of God's people. Though they may not think or realize it, the world takes license from the example of the church. If the beacon of light that's supposed to uphold a higher standard in this fallen world is acting just like the world, who is left to raise humanity to a higher place of morality, conduct, and civility? Who will hold out the beacon of the gospel?"
Today's verse comes out of a powerful story concerning the influence of the early church on its world, Jerusalem. The church had prayed for "signs and wonders" (Acts 4:29, 30). Considering the treatment the church had received (4:1, 13-22), I think they realized that this was the only way to get their world to take notice of them and to listen to their message of Christ.
And how did God answer this prayer for "signs and wonders"? With the stunning and shocking deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). That wasn't the answer the Jerusalem church expected, but it was what they prayed for. When Ananias and Sapphira's deaths occurred, it is said, "great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things." The "all who heard these things" were the unbelieving religious leaders and spectators in Jerusalem.
Verses 11-14 describe two results of this demonstration of signs and wonders - the deaths of two of the members of the church. First, FEAR (verse 11) and then RESPECT from the people of Jerusalem - the outsiders who stood in awe of the apostles and the church.
Verse 13 states the result of their FEAR: "None of the rest dared join them." Citizens of Jerusalem didn't want to go to thatchurch. Verse 13 also states the result of their RESPECT: "the people esteemed them highly [held them in high honor]." (Maybe the reason the Church reaches so few, today, is that when they see the Church, they don't see anything in it to FEAR, so therefore they have no RESPECT for it. Just a thought.)
In the midst of all this fear and amazement and wonder, many were coming to faith in Jesus. Verse 14: "And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women."
My deduction from this story is that "signs and wonders" helped bring people to the Lord. They helped bring people to saving faith. "Signs and wonders" that display the mighty power and authority of God "shatters the shell of disinterest among unbelievers; shatters the shell of cynicism; and shatters the shell of false religion." Seeing the mighty power of God can help the unsaved to fix their gaze on the power of the Gospel of Christ.
This is what the people of any community need to see when they look at the Church: the mighty power of an Almighty God. The "signs and wonders" that would keep someone from attending our church - "none of the rest dared join them" - is the same "signs and wonders" that would bring them to accept Christ - "and believers were increasingly added to the Lord." They won't be won by worldly methods, but by the amazing power of God seen working in the church.
From Revival, pp. 121-122, comes these eye-opening statements: "Lloyd-Jones believed in the steady-state, regular, ordinary ministry of the church. It has been a blessing and its glory from the Lord. But I think he became increasingly disillusioned with business as usual toward the end of his 30 years of steady-state ministry at Westminster Chapel in London in 1965.
"[We] can produce a number of converts, thank God for that, and that goes on regularly in evangelical churches every Sunday. But the need today is much too great for that. The need today is for an authentication of God, of the supernatural, of the spiritual, of the eternal, and this can only be answered by God graciously hearing our cry and shedding forth again his Spirit upon us and filling us as He kept filling the early church."
Too many churches fall into the trap of "offering society what it wants" in order to attract people to the church, when "What is needed is some mighty demonstration of the power of God, some enactment of the Almighty, that will compel people to pay attention, and to look, and to listen . . . That is why I am urging you to pray for this. When God acts, he can do more in a minute than man with his organizing can do in fifty years." (Again, Revival, pp. 121-122)
Perhaps, instead of looking for more ways to entice and attract people to come to church, instead of using psychology to figure out how to reach them, instead of devising ways to please them . . . we pray, instead, like the Jerusalem church, and ask God to reveal Himself through "signs and wonders."
What would that look like today? Deaths like Ananias and Sapphira? I don't know. We are not seeing an answer to that prayer because we are not praying that prayer. How many of you would begin praying that God would reveal Himself in "signs and wonders?" -Bro. Jerry