The story of Paul and Eutychus is much loved by preachers. It is a timely warning to every member of any congregation who runs the risk of dozing off during the sermon!
Acts 20:9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third storey and was picked up dead.
Of course the story is really about the grace of God! 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!”
Here we see the mercy and the power of Almighty God, who can indeed even bring the dead back to life again. Praise God for such miracles!
11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Such a wonderful inspiring story. But it leaves us with an awkward question. WHY DON’T WE HEAR ABOUT CHRISTIANS RISING FROM THE DEAD SO MUCH ANY MORE?
As it happens the following true story arrived in the monthly email from Open Doors this week.
“It seemed as though all hope was lost. Tilak, a church leader from rural India, was dead. Some of his Hindu neighbours had complained to a local group of violent extremists that Tilak was brainwashing the villagers and polluting their minds with the Christian faith – he had led 40 families to Jesus. The extremist group kidnapped Tilak, and when he refused to deny his faith in Christ, they beat him and tortured him. Finally, he collapsed. He had no pulse. Tilak was gone. Or so it seemed.The Christian families from Tilak’s village found his body and brought it home. They laid him out in a hut, and people gathered to pay their last respects. Then suddenly – he started to move. His eyes opened. Tilak was alive!
No one could believe it. Some of the militants who had attacked Tilak were present when he came back to life – they must have been the most shocked of all. They knew what they had done to Tilak. They had tied him up and beaten him with sticks until he had bloody wounds all over his body. Then they made him crawl up a mountain, still beating him with their sticks to force him forwards. When Tilak had taken his last breath, they sent for the village doctor to confirm that he was dead. Finally, they threw his body in a ditch. There was no way he could have survived. And yet, here he was – alive! As Tilak woke up, he could hear people saying, “It was because he believed in Jesus.”
This story of Tilak is one of a few trustworthy accounts of dead people brought back to life again from churches in Africa or India or China. But why is that we don’t we have any medically verified accounts of Christians in Britain who were dead coming back to life after hours like Eutychus did, or even after days, like when Jesus brought Lazarus back to life.
Preaching through the Book of Acts we have seen a number of accounts of signs and wonders. And I have said time and again that we should expect to see similar miracles of healing and deliverance in the church today! Events where the only explanation can be, “God did that.” And indeed we do see such events today. I have experienced miraculous healing myself and prayed for people who God has healed. I have ministered deliverance and cast out demons. So why don’t we hear about Christians rising from the dead so much? The related question has the same answers. Why do we see relatively FEW miracles of healing and deliverance in churches in Britain today?
This morning let me give you 2 wrong answers – and 2 right answers to these question.
Wrong answer 1 – Miracles were only for the early church, to prove the apostles’ message was true
Signs and wonders accompanied the preaching of the gospel in the Early Church
Mark 16:15 (Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation…. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Throughout the book of Acts we read that the signs accompanying the preaching of the gospel confirmed the truth of the disciple’s message. But there is a theological understanding called “cessationism” which believes that signs and wonders and other spiritual gifts as well were only for the early church. The idea is that signs and wonders were “foundational”. Their function was to help lay the foundations of the early church as part of the ministry of the apostles. But then when the foundations were laid, and especially when the New Testament books had been written and were widely available, “cessationism” says that signs and wonders and spiritual gifts ceased because they were no longer needed in the life of the established church.
It is historically true that signs and wonders of healing and deliverance did serve to authenticate the apostles and the message they preached. And that is true today wherever God works in power through his church preaching the gospel. It is entirely mistaken to conclude that the primary purpose of the miracles was to prove that the gospel message was true. The essence of signs and wonders is that they are expressions of the love of God and the power of God. Miracles and healings and acts of deliverance are the gospel in action! The idea of cessationism is completely wrong – we SHOULD expect to see signs and wonders in the church today!
Luke 9 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. … 6 So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
When Jesus sent out the 12 apostles it was to proclaiming the Kingdom of God in words, and demonstrating the love and power of God in actions. The miracles were not to prove anything to anyone. They were the kingly rule of God bringing freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, releasing the oppressed, comfort for those who mourn. And on into the Early Church, signs and wonders were not linked with the apostles alone – but with the early church everywhere they preached the gospel. Nobody would have expected signs and wonders to die out, and as a matter of historical record they did not stop when that generation of apostles died. Miracles of healing and deliverance and spiritual gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues continued until at least the third century. And there have been credible reports of similar signs and wonders throughout the centuries and especially in Pentecostal and charismatic churches throughout the 20th century and still today. The idea called cessationism is mistaken. We SHOULD expect miracles in the church today.
Wrong answer 2 – We just don’t have enough faith
Here is another mistake. We find in the gospels that when people were healed it is often recorded that they had faith. Jesus said to Bartimaeus who could now see, “Your faith has made you well.” We read that Jesus could do no miracles in Nazareth, because of their lack of faith. But it is wrong to conclude that there is a direct relationship between miracles and faith. It is wrong to conclude that the reason that any time somebody is not healed, it is because they or those who are praying for them do not have enough faith.
Our faith does not contribute in any way, in the slightest, to any miracle. Our faith is not necessary for a miracle to happen. Miracles of healing and deliverance are acts of God’s grace, not earned or deserved. There are different good Biblical reasons why we do not see healing so much in the church today. Lack of faith is not the reason!
So what are the good reasons? Why do we not see people rising from the dead so much? Why do we not see as many miracles as many of us would expect and hope for and pray for?
Right answer 1- God doesn’t work miracles as “proof” for anybody of anything
Matthew 12 38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”
39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Throughout his ministry Jesus refused to work miracles to prove who he was. Not for the Pharisees or for the crowds Not even for King Herod when he demanded to see a miracle. Jesus refused to work miracles to prove that his message was true. Jesus said that the only sign that God would give to anybody, the only proof anybody would ever get, would be “the sign of Jonah”, his own resurrection from the dead.
Miracles, like Eutychus being brought back to life again, did play their part in the growth of the early church. But they were examples of God’s love and power in action. Miracles were never given to prove anything to anyone.
The reality is that if there were lots of miracles and healings in the church, and especially if lots of people did rise from the dead, then crowds would come flocking to God for all the wrong reasons. In His perfect wisdom, God has decided that people who come to know Him do so through faith. If every Christian who ever died came back to life again, nobody would need much faith to believe in God. If every Christian who became sick, or had an accident, was always healed, then nobody would need much faith to believe in God. Especially in today’s world of television and internet, even a few medically verified instances of the dead coming back to life would make it almost impossible for anybody NOT to believe in God. So God chooses not to give that kind of proof of his existence to the world. The only sign God gives is the Sign of Jonah, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Right answer 2 – Physical death isn’t such a big thing any more
I say this with sensitivity because we all have loved ones who/ have died. Death is the last enemy. Death is always tragic. But Christ has defeated death. Death has lost its sting for us. For Christians physical death is not an end but a glorious new beginning. I will be saying these things again at Mike’s funeral on Wednesday. For Christians, the death of our bodies is not a hopeless end but an endless hope.
1 Peter 1:3 ¶ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade- kept in heaven for you,
Only Christians inherit when WE die. Death is simply the doorway through which we must pass to enter into the immediate presence of the Lord we love and Who loves us, and calls us to our eternal home. “Death is a door to more, not less, a plus not a minus, an increase not a decrease, a filling not an emptying.” Death is not an end but a beginning, not an exit but an entrance. Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
Death is not a journeying into an unknown land; it is a voyage home. We are going not to a strange country, but to our Father’s house, and to our forever family. Death is being called home! Since Jesus Christ rose from the dead, physical death is not such a big thing any more.
None of us has been to heaven, we don’t exactly know what heaven is like. But we do know that heaven is a continuation of the wonderful eternal life which is God’s free gift to all believers. And eternal life is simply our relationship with God. Jesus came and died on the cross and rose from the dead so that we could experience the same kind of intimate relationship with God the Father as He Himself enjoys. All the wonderful blessings of salvation are incidental to the true blessing which is the blessing of knowing God. Eternal life IS that relationship with God! And that relationship is so strong that physical death cannot stop it. Quite the reverse!
1:Corinthians 13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 John 3:2 We are children of God now, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
John 14:2-3 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
So when a Christian dies, they are actually more alive than they have ever been. Because they are with the Lord, face to face. And the relationship they enjoyed with God in this life is now richer and fuller and more fulfilled and more complete than ever! So death is not such a big thing any more. That is why the apostle Paul wrote this.
Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. … 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body
Our real life is hid with Christ in God. When we die we go to be with Christ, which is indeed better by far. That is our Christian hope. To live is Christ, to die is gain. That is why we don’t see dead Christians coming back to life again. Why would we want to? Why would we want to come back to this life from the next? Why would we want to leave the presence of God to come back to this vale of tears?
So why don’t we see miracles like Eutychus brought back to life so much today? The first good reason is because such miracles would be undeniable proof of God’s existence and of his love and power – but apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God chooses not to give humanity that kind of proof. He demands that we have faith. And the second reason is that for Christians physical death is not the end but a glorious new beginning. Who would want God to send us back here, when being with Christ is a far better thing?
But don’t get me wrong. God still has the power to heal the sick and even to bring the dead back to life, if He should choose to do so. In Scripture and through history we read of such miracles. God brought Eutychus back to life. Praise God, he brought that church leader Tilak in India back to life even in 2018! We should still pray for miracles. And we should be ready for God to surprise us!
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)