A miracle is an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses human and natural powers and can only be reasonably understood as a supernatural act. The word supernatural, simply means beyond the natural. The Bible is full of miraculous, supernatural events. They are seen throughout the Old Testament, in the life and ministry of Jesus, in the ministry of the apostles, in the ministry of the early church, and are spoken of prophetically as something God intends to be an ongoing part of the church’s ministry (John 14:11-12). As common as miracles are in the scriptures, they are still rather controversial. Throughout history people have debated both the validity and necessity of miracles as a part of God’s plan and work on the earth. Some people take a theological stance against miracles, teaching that God no longer enables believers to operate in the supernatural. Others take more of an apathetic view, they believe miracles are possible but are not very concerned about whether they actually happen or not. Still others believe miracles to be a vital part of God’s plan, and that without them the church will struggle greatly to fulfill its mission of proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God and the gospel of Christ. There are those in the latter group who are deeply concerned at the scarcity of miracles in the American church and are committed to seeking God for answers and calling on Him for this to change.
One of the best ways to understand the important role of miracles is to observe in the Bible how they accompany and support the message of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God can best be understood as God ruling. If you break down the word king-dom, you get this — a king’s domain, or where a king has dominion. Jesus is the king ruling over God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God is wherever Jesus’ authority is welcomed and obeyed. Living in the kingdom of God carries the responsibility of living under Jesus’ authority but also the benefit of living under his loving care.
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Luke 16:16 NAS)
The kingdom of God was the new message that Jesus came to proclaim. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus, acting as a bridge between the Old and New Covenants and introducing the gospel of the kingdom of God.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matt 4:17 ESV)
Jesus began his ministry preaching the kingdom of God and it continued to be the primary message he proclaimed.
He said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose. (Luke 4:43 ESV)
After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3 NIV)
At the very end of his earthly ministry , during the forty days after his resurrection, Jesus continued to focus his message on the kingdom of God.
Miracles Demonstrate the Kingdom of God
Miracles work hand in hand with the message of the kingdom of God. The message proclaims that God’s authority is at hand. Miracles then back up the message by demonstrating the power and authority of God. The miracles are evidence that the message is true.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matt 4:23 NIV)
First, Jesus proclaimed the authority of God, then he demonstrated the authority of God.
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1-2 NIV)
Jesus sent the twelve apostles to do what he had been doing; proclaim the authority of God, then demonstrate the authority of God.
Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you. (Luke 10:9 ESV)
Jesus also sent the seventy to do what he and the apostles had been doing; proclaim the authority of God, then demonstrate the authority of God. There is a definite pattern here; first Jesus, then the twelve, then the seventy. This pattern clearly shows that working miracles was not limited to just Jesus and the apostles, and it strongly suggests this method of spreading the message of the kingdom is intended to be an expanding, ongoing thing. The kingdom of God clearly continues on after Jesus ascended back to heaven and Jesus expects his disciples to continue to demonstrate the rule of God through the working of miracles.
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:11-12 NIV)
Jesus challenged people to believe what he was saying and if that wasn’t enough, to believe based on what he was doing. Then he made one of the most profound statements in the Bible, saying that anyone who has faith in him will do what he had been doing. By stating “anyone”, he makes it clear that miracles are not limited to a select group or a specific time. This statement by Jesus overrules the idea that God ever intended to limit miracles in any way.
Nothing, including miracles, can guarantee that people will respond in faith to the message of the kingdom. But Jesus recognized that miracles go beyond mere philosophical debate, taking the message to a higher level. Jesus held people to a higher level of accountability who had heard the message of the kingdom as well as seen miraculous demonstrations.
“Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (Matt 11:21 NIV)
Miracles Are Evidence of Who Jesus Really Is
Scripture refers to Jesus as “the Word” (John 1:1, 14) because he is the most prefect and complete communication of who God is. Both his life and his teaching are “the exact representation of [God’s] being” (Heb1:3). Jesus said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Yet Jesus still acknowledged the value of miracles in helping people to believe.
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. (John 14:11 NIV)
When John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod his faith seemed to waver as to whether Jesus was the promised Christ.
When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'” At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Luke 7:20-22 NIV)
It’s hard to imagine John the Baptist’s faith in Jesus being shaken, but it was, and he sent people to ask Jesus if he was “the one”. Jesus responded by telling them to report to John what they had “seen and heard”. He said that the good news is preached, but also that many miracles were being done. Again, we see the dual witness of what is being said and also what is being done.
The question John asked is still the most important question of all time. Is Jesus the one? If John the Baptist needed the supernatural witness of miracles in order to believe, why would we expect the average person of our time to not need the same witness? Jesus had no problem using the testimony of miracles to encourage John to believe that he truly was the Messiah, the savior of the world. Much of the church in America today seems totally content to try to fulfill its mission to reach people with the gospel of Christ without a supporting supernatural witness. Based on the emphasis that the Bible places on miracles supporting the message of the gospel, I believe the church will have very limited success until it gets truly desperate to see the power of God displayed as seen throughout the scriptures.
Jesus Passes the Baton to the Church
The following passage from Acts gives the account of the first miracle performed by believers after Jesus’ ascension. The Bible gives a lot of attention to this healing and the events that followed. It seems to be declaring that Jesus, the head, has now passed the baton to the church, his body.
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer–at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. (Acts 3:1-11 NIV)
In the healing of the crippled man we see Peter operating in the same manner that Jesus consistently operated. Peter didn’t pray for the man to be healed, he imparted healing to him, saying “what I have I give you”. Peter was operating in the gift of healing, one of the spiritual gifts given to the body of Christ as listed in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. The gift of miracles is also part of that list.
As wonderful as it is for a forty year old man, crippled from birth, to be completely healed, the value of this miracle goes far beyond meeting one man’s need. When all the people saw the beggar walking and jumping, and praising God, they were astonished and came running to Peter and John. Probably the biggest hurdle that we face in sharing the gospel is simply getting people’s attention and having them be willing to actually listen. Miracles accomplish this in a way that far surpasses anything we could ever produce on our own. Also, notice the state of mind these people are in; they are “filled with wonder and amazement”, they are “astonished”. This is an excellent window of opportunity. A supernatural demonstration challenges people’s traditional way of thinking and reasoning, it confronts their natural way of seeing things and opens them up to spiritual truths.
This passage focuses on Peter and John, and the opportunity they had to share the message of Jesus. But imagine how this event was talked about around the entire city and the numerous opportunities that other believers had to explain that the beggar was healed through faith in the name of Jesus. Rather than struggling to find some way to get people to listen, miracles generate conversations that believers can step right into, sharing the gospel with people that are already stirred and actually looking for answers.
Sharing the Gospel With Crazy Results
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city. (Acts 8:4-8 NKJV)
What an astounding passage of scripture. One man, single-handedly turned a city to Christ, and miracles were the key. Because of the miracles they saw, the multitude heeded the things spoken by Philip when he preached Christ to them. Again, we see the effectiveness of the dual witness of hearing and seeing. This resulted in an entire city coming to Christ.
As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:32-35 NIV)
This is another example of one man turning an entire city to Christ. I find it hard to comprehend that these scriptures don’t command more attention in the church and stir believers to passionately seek God for an outpouring of the miraculous (Act 4:30-31).
In the Bible, miracles did not always result in the conversion of an entire city. But throughout the book of Acts miracles consistently accompany the preaching of the gospel. The apostle Paul was more successful in spreading the gospel to the world of his time than any man who ever lived. He was thoroughly grounded in the scriptures, had “surpassingly great revelations” (2 Cor 12:7), and a grace to powerfully teach and preach the truths of God. Yet miracles were regularly a part of his ministry and contributed greatly to his success. If you track Paul’s missionary journeys through the book of Acts, you will see that he consistently performed miracles, especially when he began to minister in a new area.
So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. (Acts 14:3 NIV)
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19:8-12 NIV)
These passages show the balance in Paul’s ministry; he was incredibly committed to teaching the word of God but was also enabled to work extraordinary miracles. Paul’s ministry was extremely effective because of the dual witness of speaking and doing.
So What’s the Problem?
Over the years I’ve engaged in many conversations trying to show people, from the scriptures, that miracles are an integral part of God’s plan and essential for the church to fulfill its mission. Often these conversations end with people telling me “Well, that’s all grand and glorious but we can’t make it happen”. While there’s a degree of truth in this statement, it also conveys a general lack of concern. Instead of offering something from the scriptures to refute my line of reasoning, they just take an apathetic stance on the issue. And that really is the greater concern, not just that miracles are scarce but that few believers seem to care about this.
The Bible is full of miraculous demonstrations that produce amazing results in spreading the gospel, yet most believers seem completely content to operate without them. Why is this? I believe one of the main reasons is our sense of self-sufficiency. In China, believers experience the miraculous on a regular basis. The book, The Heavenly Man, relates this about the house church movement in China: “Meanwhile the churches continued to grow. Great miracles and signs and wonders took place regularly, causing thousands to be added to the body of Christ”. They believe miracles are a normal part of the Christian life. I think this is the result of how they view themselves as much as it is how they view God. They live under an oppressive government. Many of them live in poverty, struggling to have even the basics of adequate food and clothing. They live in the harsh reality that they are not in control. I believe this makes it much easier for them to truly depend on God. The average American lives with an abundance that the average Chinese would never dream of. Because of what we have accomplished and accumulated we tend to have a confidence that if we come up with a good plan, roll up our sleeves and go to work, then we can accomplish whatever we put our minds to. I think our problem is not so much that we don’t have faith but that we don’t feel compelled to use our faith, because we are overly confident in our own abilities.
We read earlier how Jesus sent out the seventy with instructions to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. When they returned from their mission and reported the miraculous things that had happened, Jesus praised God because they saw these things. He also said that God had “hidden these things from the wise” (Luke 10:21). Isaiah 5:21 tells us “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight”. Those that are wise in their own eyes have a lot of confidence in their own ability; what they can accomplish through their planning, strategies, and organized efforts. In contrast, the disciples’ confidence was based on the words of Jesus; they were confident that what he said was true. But Jesus said that this truth about authority and power is hidden from those who are self-reliant and self-sufficient. The problem is not that “the wise” have chosen an alternate method, the problem is that the very idea of operating in the supernatural to accomplish God’s purposes, is actually hidden from them.
What Do We Do?
When advocating the importance of miracles, I have sometimes been asked rather belligerently, “So what do you propose that we do?” These people want to know if I have specific steps to follow that ensure miracles will start happening. This attitude reflects the manner that they are used to operating in; if they have a clear cut plan, they can make things happen. The main reason most leaders resist the idea that miracles should be a normal part of the church’s ministry, is because they can’t control the outcome; how it happens, when it happens, or if it will happen at all. It makes them very nervous to not be in control and that can result in some strong resistance.
While I agree that we cannot just make miracles start happening, that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. Change starts first with a clear conviction that things need to change. This may seem simplistic but it really is the first step. Rather than just believing that miracles are a possibility, we need a Biblical conviction that miracles are intended to be one of the greatest tools the church has to effectively spread the message of Christ. From this place of conviction we need to humbly and passionately call on God. Seeking God flows from a hungry heart, not a good plan. Seeking God is fostered out of passion and desperation. While I have quite a few ideas about why miracles don’t happen regularly in the church, I also know there is no formula to follow. We need to sincerely call on God and let him give us answers, direction, and even correction as it is needed.
I mentioned earlier how Jesus said the ability to operate in the supernatural was hidden from the wise. He went on to say that the Father was pleased to “reveal” these things “to little children”. Like little children, we need to take what the Bible says at face value. In humility we need to repent of unbelieving hearts that doubt God’s word, that doubt if His power can really work in our world today. Like little children, we need to trust God’s plan and depend on him instead of ourselves. The most effective way to change is to earnestly call on God to take us where he wants us to be; then obediently follow his leading.
Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:30-31 NIV)
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