Thinking About Unusual Miracles
Acts 19 describes the work of the Apostle Paul over two years in Ephesus. It was a remarkable season of ministry, described a few times in general:
All who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:10)
This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus, and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified (Acts 19:17)
So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed (Acts 19:20)
It was what we might call today a true season of revival, or spiritual awakening. In the midst of all this, Luke wrote something somewhat strange:
Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. (Acts 19:11-12)
It seems strange that God would use handkerchiefs or aprons from Paul as agents of healing or deliverance from demonic possession. Yet both scripturally and historically, there are times when God does unusual things – as described in Acts 19:11, unusual miracles.
It’s easy to get a little nervous reading passages like this, because they simply seem superstitious. Yet we can imagine this happening at first almost by accident – perhaps a person in need of healing took a handkerchief from Paul in a superstitious manner and was healed. It became a pattern that others imitated and at least for a time, God used such unusual means to bring healing and freedom from demonic possession.
These passages also make us nervous because most of us know of strange people who promote strange things and they use these passages to defend themselves. The evangelist who sells prayer cloths says, “Paul did it in Acts 19.” Well, Paul didn’t do it. Of course there isn’t even a hint that Paul sold these things that God used to heal people. As well, God told us that these were extraordinary events; they were unusual miracles.
Today there are claims to what we might call unusual miracles, and we wonder if they are legitimate. From time to time people speak of clouds of glory, gold dust in the air, heavenly visits, and so on. What are we to make of such things?
It’s difficult – often impossible – to judge another person’s experience. We wonder if the experience came from God, from the person, or perhaps even from Satanic powers. If the experience is condemned in the Bible, it’s easy to know that it isn’t from God. Yet many of these experiences are not spoken of in the Bible one way or another – so how do we know?
Some time ago I freed myself from the responsibility of trying to figure out every spiritual experience. Sometimes I just say, “That’s strange.” Yet what we can all do is see the effect that the experience has in the person’s life. It’s an old saying, but a good one: “It’s not how high you bounce, but how straight you walk when you come down.”
If someone claims great experiences I may not be able to judge the experience directly, but I can judge the fruit it produces – or doesn’t produce – in their life. That’s why a focus on such experiences can be such a distraction. We recognize that God can do unexpected, surprising things – but it isn’t our place to chase after those things. If unexpected things are not contrary to the Bible and produce good fruit, we can receive them as being from God. Yet we only pursue the things that the Bible tells us to pursue, and avoid the trap of distractions.