The Power of Signs and Wonders
by The Rev. David Freels
Sunday, March 13 – Psalms 118 v 145; Exod. 3:16–4:12; Rom. 12:1–21; John 8:46–59
(BCP Readings for today)
In Exodus 3:16-4:12, Moses is instructed as to how God is going free the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. He receives signs to perform that will demonstrate that the Lord’s power is at work in Moses and for the people. Moses is concerned that others will not believe even after God shows him the signs.
Even though he sees them himself, he is still hedging because the Israelites, let alone the Egyptians, might not respond. Will Moses obey, and glorify God, or will he play it safe and protect himself? Moses takes some convincing, as would anyone in his place. It is difficult to shed the identity that we have worn and grown comfortable in all of our lives to glorify something or someone other than ourselves.
What if we get left out on a limb? What if the cavalry doesn’t ride in at the last minute to save us? It is natural to want to hold back a little piece of our old selves as insurance, but that is rooted in fear due to trusting self over trusting God for our protection. Where would Moses go if he continued to refuse? Even if Moses was replaced entirely by Aaron, it would not solve his problem with God and others. I believe the signs were as much for Moses as for the Israelites and Egyptians.
In John 8:46-59, we see Jesus confronted by oppressors too. He stands and glorifies God the Father, and God glorifies the Son. They do not hear the words of God in him because they are “wise in their own eyes”. Jesus gives us a picture of who we truly are when we glorify God by not retreating to protect ourselves. In the verses preceding this exchange, Jesus explains that refusing to hear the word of God means remaining a slave to sin. He has given signs to birth faith in those who will listen and see. The audience in this passage trapped to their false identity that they would rather kill the messenger than believe. Their response reminds me of Egypt with Moses. Their response reminds me too much of myself as well.
In Romans 12:1-21, The Lord instructs His people, who are still in danger and under persecution. This time, the signs of His provision are not a staff that becomes a serpent, a hand that becomes leprous, or water turned to blood. The signs now are the offering to the Lord of themselves (v.1) with the faith they have, and the gifts and abilities they possess which are from the Lord. These signs accompany a renewal of the mind (v.2).
So how does that happen? How are our minds renewed and our lives transformed? How do we genuinely love those whom we fear will hurt us? How do I recognize where I am holding back a piece of “my way” that obstructs me from glorifying God by living into “His way”?
Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
In this season of self-examination, I start with a personal inventory of those people and situations that I feel have caused resentment to grow within me and the circumstances around it. Next I ask what part of my life and identity have been affected by that? Lastly, I ask what role I have played in the situation. It helps me peel off the layers of bitterness, hurt, and anger. I look at the places where I have seen myself as the victim and think I’ve been wronged. Perhaps I was wronged, but I have always played a part in it, by nursing it along to feel better about myself. I look for places where I have been “wise in my own sight”. That simple, but honest discipline of personal inventory reveals what I have held back from God. It opens the way to love genuinely, to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer”(v.12).
Now I can move forward rather than looking backward and staying mired down in pain and fear. Now I can move towards someone, or a situation, freely and with confidence because that confidence is in the goodness of God and not in my abilities. It is the way out of the wilderness where I am prone to using my own compass.
Honest self-examination reveals where we have quietly joined the crowd who demands a sign, probably without even realizing it, because we have ceased to participate with God in being the sign. It also produces the signs within me and the power to flesh them out towards others. It reminds me that this is not a program for feeling better, but is in fact the only way to live as a real person and an image bearer of God.
For me, this discipline leads to conviction and confession, which leads to transformation and the renewal of my mind. Now it is possible once again to bless when persecuted, show honor, live peaceably with others, and show hospitality. These are all signs that God is present and working in me. They encourage me to stay awake for what God is up to, and to desire more of this life and spirit changing work to take place.
The signs are for us. They change us when we have faith in the One, who gives them. They change us, and that is a wonder! They are not dependent on whether anyone else believes them or accepts them. They are not dependent on our challenging situations and relationships suddenly becoming better. The signs are for us. There may be times when my actions precipitate a change in someone else, but I want my motivation to come from the fact that I was loved first by God, and this is what living in right relationship with Him looks like. When I do that, it is indeed a wonder.