Last week we looked at John 14:12-14 in which Yeshua promises His listeners that they would have the power to work miracles as He did and even greater. And Yeshua also promised to answer their prayers, whatever they asked for in Yeshua's name, He would do. These verses can be troubling if you don't understand them. If you read these as a promise to you, you can begin to doubt your salvation, or the trustworthiness of the Bible. Last week I told you that my position on these verses is that they are not for us. Yeshua is not talking to us in these verses. These specific promises were only for the first century saints that Yeshua was talking to.
I want to show you how the Lord fulfilled these promises that He made to these disciples in the upper room. But before I do that, let's talk a little about hermeneutics. In the Q &A session after the message last week David Caraway said it isn't always easy to determine what is for us and what is not. And he is absolutely right, so how do we know? How do we tell what Scripture is for us and what is not?
Shea Michael Houdmann, who is the Founder, President, and CEO of Got Questions Ministries, writes, "Much misunderstanding about the Christian life occurs because we either assign commands and exhortations we should be following as 'era-specific' commands that only applied to the original audience, or we take commands and exhortations that are specific to a particular audience and make them timeless truths. How do we go about discerning the difference? The first thing to note is that the canon of Scripture was closed by the end of the 1st century A.D. This means that, while all of the Bible is truth we can apply to our lives, most, if not all, of the Bible was not originally written to us."
Let me just say here that NONE of the Bible was written to YOU! All of the New Testament was written before AD 70. So since all of the Bible was finished, being written two thousand years ago, how can any of it be written to you? It cannot!
Houdmann goes on, "The authors had in mind the hearers of that day. That should cause us to be very careful when interpreting the Bible for today's Christians. It seems that much of contemporary evangelical preaching is so concerned with the practical application of Scripture that we treat the Bible as a lake from which to fish application for today's Christians. All of this is done at the expense of proper exegesis and interpretation."
"The top three rules of hermeneutics are 1) context; 2) context; 3) context. Before we can tell 21st-century Christians how the Bible applies to them, we must first come to the best possible understanding of what the Bible meant to its original audience."
These top three rules may be an over simplification of hermeneutics. The purpose of hermeneutics is to establish guidelines and rules for interpreting the Bible. Any written document is subject to misinterpretation, and thus we have developed rules to safeguard us from such misunderstanding.
Yahweh has spoken, and what He has said is recorded in Scripture. The basic need of hermeneutics is to ascertain what Yahweh meant by what He said. Edward White said, "There is no folly, no God-dishonoring theology, no iniquity for which chapter and verse may not be cited by an enslaved intelligence." Shakespeare, in the Merchant of Venice Act 3 scene 2, said, "In religion, what error but some sober brow will bless it, and approve it with a text, hiding the grossness with a fair ornament."
Okay, so you get the point? We must use care when interpreting the Bible, we must follow the rule of Hermeneutics. The primary rule of Hermeneutics is called: "The Analogy of Faith"—this means that Scripture interprets Scripture. No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.
Another principle of hermeneutics is called the Grammatico—Historical Method. We must pay attention to the grammatical construction. Grammatical structure determines whether words are to be taken as questions, commands, or declarative. For example in Acts 1:8 it says, "You shall be my witnesses." Is that a future prediction or a command? In the English it's unclear, but it's clear in the Greek, it is a command.
"Historical analysis"—involves seeking a knowledge of the setting and situation in which the books of the Bible were written. This includes the date of the writing, the authorship, the destination. These are all important for a clear understanding of the text. Too often we come from the ego-centric perspective that assumes that whatever the Bible says, it says to us and our generation! Yet that hermeneutic ignores the historical context. When interpreting Scripture we must always be aware that every verse, every line, and every statement has just one interpretation, yet many applications.
Part of historical analysis is the principle of Original Relevance—what did the original readers understand the text to mean. The Bible was written to real people in real places facing real circumstances. Often you will hear a Christian say, "Do you know what this verse means to me?" My response is always, "Who cares what it means to you, what does it mean to the people to whom it was written?" Once you figure out the meaning, then you can apply it to yourself. Whenever we force the Bible to say something on specific items of our life, we are in danger of divination. The will of God is determined from the Bible only in terms of what it says in it's first grammatical sense, or what can be derived from it in terms of spiritual principles. God does not double-talk, when He speaks in Scripture. He does not have a historical, common sense meaning, plus some special message to us in a given situation.
If we come up with an application that would have been foreign to the original audience, there is a very strong possibility that we did not interpret the passage correctly. If you ignore audience relevance and view all Scripture as written to you, what do you do with these verses?
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 ESV
This has got to be the number one high school graduation verse. I can't tell you how many times I have heard this at graduations. This is a very comforting verse, don't you think? Maybe, if it was in a fortune cookie. But it's not! It is a verse in the book of Jeremiah that must be understood in its context. If you just read the previous verse you see the context and audience:
"For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. Jeremiah 29:10 ESV
This was written around the 6th century B.C. when Jerusalem was destroyed and the people taken captive in Babylon. Yahweh is assuring the exiles of Judah that His long-term plan is good, and that He has not abandoned them. Yahweh has plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you [the exiles of Judah] a future and a hope. These promises were to take place when the seventy years were complete. This verse is really easy to understand if you just keep it in context.
Here is another verse that is not so easy:
Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 1 Corinthians 11:14 ESV
Is it a disgrace for a Christian man to have long hair? It seems to say that doesn't it? What is there about nature that indicates that a man with long hair dishonors himself while a woman with long hair is honored? We now know that nature teaches no such thing. To understand this verse we need to have an understanding of Greek culture. We need to get into the minds of the first century Corinthians. Well this verse has to do with reproduction. They viewed the hair as a sexual organ that effected reproduction. For a man to have long hair was to not be able to reproduce, this was a disgrace. See message: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhuXrW0wcVs
Notice what Paul wrote to the Philippians:
I hope in the Lord Yeshua to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. Philippians 2:19 ESV
Paul says that he hopes to send Timothy "soon," This is the Greek word tacheos, which is an adverb that comes from tachos. How soon is "soon"? If you look at verse 23 he tells you:
I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, Philippians 2:23 ESV
I think that what Paul is saying here is, "As soon as I hear the outcome of my trial, I'm going to send him so you will know what is happening in my life." The Philippians were concerned about Paul, and he wanted to keep them informed. He was going to send Timothy to them just as soon as he knew the results of his trial.
The Bible says that Paul will send Timothy "soon." Are you excited about Timothy's soon arrival? Why not? I don't know of any Christians that are looking for Timothy to arrive soon. Christians understand that Paul was speaking to the Philippians in the first century when he said this. They don't understand the "soon" to be to them but to the Philippians of the first century. Why then, when it comes to the return of Christ, do they not take "soon" in its first century context?
The revelation of Yeshua the Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, Revelation 1:1 ESV
"Soon" here is tachos, same root at we saw in Philippians 2:19 with Timothy. This book is bracketed by this idea of soon:
And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place." Revelation 22:6 ESV
Christians expected Timothy to show up in Philippi in the first century, but they don't believe that Christ was to come in the first century. The same word "soon" is used for both and we assign one to the first century and the other still has not happened. How can "soon" be used for a couple of years in Philippians and for two thousand plus years in Revelation? We must work to be more consistent in our hermeneutics.
The verses we are looking at in John 14:13-14 aren't the only ones in Scripture that promise answered prayer. We also see this promise in:
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." Matthew 21:22 ESV
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24 ESV
These verses are spoken to the first century disciples just like the ones in John. They are not promising us that we can get whatever we ask for if we believe that we will receive it. The proponents of the health/wealth Gospel use these verses. Let's look at the immediate context in:
When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" And Yeshua answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." Matthew 21:20-22 ESV
It seems as if, in response to Peter's comment, Yeshua is giving a formula for moving mountains and cursing fig trees. Have any of you moved mountains lately?
Plass, in his classic "Sacred Diary," records his attempts at trying to make a paper clip move as a result of reading a book which spoke about: "...how Christians should be able to move mountains by faith, if they are really tuned into God. Very inspiring. Waited til there was no-one around, then practiced with a paper clip. Put it on my desk and stared at it, willing it to move. Nothing! Tried commanding it in a loud voice..." In paralleling Matthew 21:21 and 17:20, Plass comments, "If you only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain, what hope is there for me when I can't even get a paper clip to do what it's told!" The Bible says it, so he was trying to do it.
So what is Yeshua saying? If we have enough faith we can go into the earth moving business? What is the point of moving mountains? Please notice that Yeshua did not say, "Whoever says to 'A' mountain." He said "Whoever says to 'THIS' mountain."
It is my opinion that Yeshua was speaking specifically about the Temple Mount! I think He is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple—the Old Covenant system that was associated with a mountain. Being cast into the sea was a symbol of judgment (compare Exodus 15:4; Jonah 1:15; 2:3).
The Temple system with the Priests and Pharisees was a huge obstacle to faith in God. Yeshua was telling His disciples to trust God, and He will remove this mountain, corrupt Judaism, for them. Again this is specifically to the disciples who would be used to bring the church to maturity during the transition period.
How about this verse:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 ESV
This was spoken to the first century Phillipian believers. Does it apply to us? Yes, this is directed to the Church. There are no time indicators here, we are not to be anxious but rest in prayer.
I said last week that I could not find anyone to agree in print with my view of these verses, well that was last week. This past week I found three famous authors that agree with me. Alan Bondar, who pastors a church in Fort Myers FL. I sent Alan a text saying:
If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:14 ESV
"Hey brother, is this verse true in your life? It's certainly not true in mine." To which he responded, "Not mine either. Jesus was talking to His apostles in that context." I responded to him, You said in nine words what it took me an hour and a half to say.
Then last Thursday I heard from Dan Harden who wrote, "For what it's worth, I think your interpretation of John 14:11-14 was spot on. I think the only reasonable way to interpret that is support for the disciples with Him in the room that night."
I also found someone else who agrees with me, kind of. S. Michael Houdmann writes,
"Another common example of interpreting with disregard of the context is John 14:13-14. Reading this verse out of context would seem to indicate that if we ask God anything (unqualified), we will receive it as long as we use the formula 'in Jesus' name.' Applying the rules of proper hermeneutics to this passage, we see Jesus speaking to His disciples in the upper room on the night of His eventual betrayal. The immediate audience is the disciples. This is essentially a promise to His disciples that God will provide the necessary resources for them to complete their task. It is a passage of comfort because Jesus would soon be leaving them."
He goes on to say:
"Is there an application for 21st-century Christians? Of course! If we pray in Jesus' name, we pray according to God's will and God will give us what we need to accomplish His will in and through us. Furthermore, the response we get will always glorify God. Far from a 'carte blanche' way of getting what we want, this passage teaches us that we must always submit to God's will in prayer, and that God will always provide what we need to accomplish His will."
I disagree, there is no application to us in these promises. These promises were for Yeshua's disciples who were going to be used of God to establish and build His kingdom. Let's look at these promises again and then look at their first century fulfillment.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12 ESV
The word "works" used here and in verse 11 is the Greek word ergon, which is here used specifically of His miracles (cf. 5:36; 10:25, 37-38; 11:47; 12:37; 20:30-31). Yeshua's miracles were signs that signified His divine identity. And these same works will be used by God to mark out His apostles.
And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. Acts 2:43 ESV
This word "awe" is reserved for special times in Scripture. It's reserved for those times when people's minds are struck with an awe that is based on something divine that they can't explain. The apostles are doing the works that Yeshua did just as He promised them.
But Peter said, "I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Yeshua Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. Acts 3:6-8 ESV
Yeshua healed the lamb and now His apostles are healing the lame. This stuff is not happening today, these miracles were to confirm the truth of the New Covenant. So Peter heals a lame man and then he kills a liar:
When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. Acts 5:5 ESV
I said that Peter killed a liar, but Peter was probably more surprised than anyone when Ananias fell down dead! There is no evidence that Peter had any will of his own in this matter. How would you feel if you confronted someone about their sin, and they dropped dead? Half of the congregation is probably thinking: Wow, Peter, you killed the poor man.
Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. Acts 5:12 ESV
Just as the Lord promised in the upper room. They were doing greater works than Yeshua did. Watch this one:
so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. Acts 5:15-16 ESV
Doctor Luke reports that ALL were healed, and there were no failures. There were no excuses and blaming of others for lack of faith here. Here was clear evidence that the disciples were doing greater works than their Lord Yeshua just as He had promised them.
Are miracles the norm in Christianity? No, they are not. We find miracles grouped in three great periods of history. The periods of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Christ and the apostles. There are gaps of hundreds of years between these periods where we see no miracles.
The introduction of a new revelation brought the need of miracles to authenticate the message and the messengers. Miracles were God's testimony that those bringing in the new revelations were indeed His official representatives.
Moses introduced the Law to the newly formed nation of Israel. Miracles were given to introduce this era and to codify these new revelations to Israel. Elijah and Elisha were God's special prophets for a day of decadence in Israel's history. The worship of Baal had reached its peak. Elijah and Elisha stood for the revival of the prophetic era in an age of critical spiritual decline. Miracles such as Mt. Carmel were given by God to draw Israel back to the institution of prophecy. In Christ, God became man. Obviously proof was needed to substantiate that claim. The total New Testament hangs on Christ and the apostles. Thus, in the life of Christ and the apostles' miracles heralded the new revelation.
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Acts 6:7-8 ESV
Up to this point, the focus in the book of Acts has been upon the Twelve and specifically upon Peter and John. But now there is a change. Stephen now becomes the main subject for the remainder of the 6th Chapter and the entire 7th Chapter.
Stephen was the Church's first martyr. Before the death of Stephen, the opposition of the Jews had been limited to threats of imprisonment, verbal abuse, and finally to imprisonment and beating, but now it burst forth with a raging kind of madness that results in the execution of Stephen by stoning.
The mention of Stephen's ability to perform "signs and wonders" is very significant. It seems to imply that Stephen was, or at least functioned similarly to, an apostle. Up to this point, only the apostles were said to have worked signs and wonders.
The Biblical evidence is that the gift of performing miracles was limited to this transitional period for the purpose of confirming the testimony of the apostles (Heb. 2:3-4; 2 Cor. 12:12). They were for the purpose of confirming something being introduced for the first time. They did not continue in the Church, and they do not continue to this day.
Paul wasn't there when the Lord made this promise to His disciples, but his apostleship was also validated by miracles:
And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Acts 19:11-12 ESV
In the late 1970's, John Wimber and the Vineyard churches that he spawned began claiming that miracles should be the ordinary experience of the church. Jesus said that His followers would do greater works than He Himself did (John 14:12). Wimber asserted that the main reason that we do not see such works of power is our skeptical Western mind-set. If we are not doing miracles along with our preaching, we are not preaching the Gospel as we should, according to Wimber. But he was claiming someone else's promise.
And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. Acts 20:9 ESV
The following verses tell us that Paul raised this man from the dead. The miracles that our Lord did were carried on by His apostles. Once the church was mature the miracles stopped. The Old Covenant was terminated and the Lord returned for His bride.
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13-14 ESV
We saw earlier that Peter healed a lame man and because of the stir this caused among the people, the authorities:
So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Yeshua. Acts 4:18 ESV
Okay, so watch what happens next:
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. Acts 4:23 ESV
These threats, coming as they did from the highest civil authority, had the force of law. Obedience to Christ would from here on be costly, but Peter and John didn't return to their fellow Christians in a state of mental depression. They came back rejoicing! They had preached the resurrected Yeshua to the very Sanhedrin that had Him crucified.
And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, Acts 4:24 ESV
The first response of this group of believers was to turn to God in prayer. Is prayer your first response in difficult situations? Notice their prayer. They don't cry out, God help us, protect us from the Sanhedrin. They begin their prayer by affirming God as the sovereign Creator of all things. The Church found comfort in the fact that the God to whom they prayed was the Creator of heaven and earth, He was the Sovereign God, who was totally in control. They know that if God created everything in earth, sea, and heaven, then these elders and priests are His property, and He can do with them as He pleases.
who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, "'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed' Acts 4:25-26 ESV
The one leading in this prayer knew Psalm 2 well enough to quote verses 1 & 2 by memory. He affirms his belief that the Holy Spirit inspired David to write these words. Then he applies this Psalm to the current situation.
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Yeshua, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. Acts 4:27-28 ESV
When they heard Psalm 2, they said to themselves, "That's exactly what has happened. Herod and Pontius Pilate with the others, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, have set themselves against the Lord Yeshua. We saw it happen right in this very city. It's not surprising, not unexpected; it's exactly what God said would happen." They found great encouragement in the fact that this event was not beyond divine control; the opposition they were facing was anticipated, for no human event gets out of hand as far as God is concerned.
Notice verse 28; what does it teach us? There were no Arminians in the early Church? They all knew that God was sovereign over everything. Even the death of His Son. These evil men were only doing what God's hand and council had foreordained.
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Yeshua." Acts 4:29-30 ESV
"Grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness"—the Greek word for "boldness" here is parrhesia, which means: "free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance." They understood that persecution would naturally incline men to draw back, to soften up on the message which they preached. Thus, the prayer for boldness and confidence was an admission of the fallibility of Christians.
Remember these guys have a promise from Yeshua that He will answer their prayers. So what do they prayer for boldness! They did not ask to be delivered from persecution. They did not even ask that God judge or punish their opponents. They were more concerned about their mission than their comfort. They didn't pray, "God, make sure that nobody else threatens us; make sure that nobody persecutes us." They understood this was going to cost them. They just said, "God, give us the boldness to step it up and to accomplish the mission."
The whole purpose of their praying for healing, signs, and wonders was to arrest the attention of the masses with the power of God so that they might proclaim the Gospel with clarity. They had just come off this miracle, where, because of the miracle, they were given a platform to boldly proclaim the Gospel, and thousands of people came to faith. And that is what they were asking: "God, You continue to show Yourself. Give us a platform; give us the boldness to declare the message."
Their prayer was to be abundantly answered. From Acts 5:12-16 we learn of the amazing miracles that constantly occurred, reaching out far beyond Jerusalem, as those who were sick flocked to Jerusalem in order to find healing.
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:31 ESV
Their prayer was answered, they spoke the Word with boldness. The Lord had promised to answer their prayers, and He did. Their boldness was a gift from God received through prayer; it was not something that they tried to work up in themselves. They were dependant upon God to give them the power to do what He had commanded them to do.
We're out of time, but if you continue on in Acts you will see that their prayers were continually answered just as their Lord had promised. Yeshua promised and He fulfilled the promises to the ones He made them to. These promises are not for us. And understanding that will help you to not expect what isn't yours.