Overlooking the Miraculous

The Importance of Miracles

Sirens split the still winter air.  An innocent adventure on the ice-covered lake had gone terribly wrong for young John Smith.  By the time help arrived, he had been trapped under water for 15 minutes. Paramedics and doctors tried desperately to save him, but 45 minutes passed with no response. Hope faded. The boy had died.

Hospital staff led John’s mother into the trauma room and shared the solemn news.  Suddenly, she began to pray… loudly… fervently… pleading with the Lord for a miracle… asking God to breathe life into her son.  Moments later — a pulse.

“A bona fide miracle!” the doctor later told reporters.  Not only did the young teen survive his ordeal this past January, but he has no apparent brain damage, even though his heart had stopped for over 45 minutes!

The essence of this true story sounds like it could come straight from the New Testament, doesn’t it? Miracles that Jesus performed in the lives of Lazarus (John 11), Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5), and the son of the widow in Nain (Luke 7) come to mind, and this really is no different. Current-day medical practices clearly could not save this boy, but an extraordinary answer from a direct request to God brought him back to life.

It’s strange that stories like this don’t get more attention. Most people say they’d like to see tangible proof of God. Some even claim they might believe in God if they saw miracles like the ones in the Bible. But most of these same people will quickly rationalize news like John Smith’s medical miracle as just a feel-good story of the human spirit beating the odds. Others scoff at the notion that miracles in the Bible even happened in the first place. As a result, many people—including many Christians—are embarrassed or ashamed to admit they believe in miracles. They avoid or downplay the miraculous stories in the Bible, or attempt to explain them in a naturalistic way.

This viewpoint may seem relatively harmless or insignificant at first, but in reality it creates a glaring logical inconsistency for all believers. That is, if the miracles of the Bible are untrue in any way, then Christianity is in big trouble! If God is unable to do miracles, and the miracles of the Bible are only myths, then we’re left with a Bible that's unreliable -- a fictional work that’s filled with folklore, exaggerations and lies. Remember, the miracle of the resurrection of Christ is essential to the Christian faith! With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper on this important topic.

The Basics

The word “miracle” is often used flippantly in today’s society. The famous “Miracle on Ice” during the 1980 Olympics was not really a miracle. The birth of a child is sometimes mislabeled as “a miracle.” A true miracle is when God overrules His normal laws of nature to accomplish something that’s otherwise physically or scientifically impossible. For example: a metal axe head floating on water (2 Kings 6), a rock creating a flow of water (Numbers 20), or the sun standing still in the sky (Joshua 10).

God is certainly able to perform any miracle He wants, but that doesn’t mean we should expect to see miracles as a routine part of our Christian walk. Throughout Bible history, most people weren’t treated to a constant stream of miraculous activity to sustain their faith. Major miracles in the Bible such as the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14), the collapse of the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6), or the demise of 185,000 enemy troops during the night (Isaiah 37:36), didn’t take place on a regular basis. These big miracles seemed to occur in clusters. Creation week was a great cluster of major miracles, for example. There were also clusters at the time of the Exodus (Ex 3-20), and in the lives of Elijah, Elisha, Daniel… and, of course, later in the ministry of Jesus. Between clusters, however, long periods went by with only occasional miracles.

It’s also important to remember that many of the great people of faith in the Bible did not experience or perform miracles. For example, there is no record of John the Baptist performing a single miracle, but Jesus said about him: “I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John.” (Luke 7:28). And while some experienced miracles of healing or deliverance, many other believers glorified God through their martyrdom (Luke 4:25-27; Mark 6:17-29; 2 Timothy 4:20).

Why does the Bible include so many miracles?

In biblical times, the primary purpose for miracles was to confirm God’s Word as spoken by the people who did the miracles. In fact, the Bible often refers to miraculous occurrences as “signs” rather than “miracles.” The Word of the Lord to Pharaoh through Moses was confirmed by the miraculous plagues (Exodus 7-12). The fire from heaven confirmed the word of the Lord through Elijah (1 Kings 18).

Many miracles were associated with the message of Jesus. In Luke 7:16-22, Jesus confirmed to John the Baptist that He was the Messiah by describing His miracles. The apostle John tells us that he recorded many of the miracles of Jesus “so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” Hebrews 2:3-4 says that our salvation “was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself… and God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles ...”

If the primary purpose of miracles was to confirm the word of the Lord, shouldn’t we still expect them to happen today?

There were many unique miracles in the early days of Christianity. The shadow of Peter brought healing (Acts 5:15). Philip was physically transported by the Spirit to another location (Acts 8:39-40). Dorcas and Eutychus were raised from the dead (Acts 9:36-42; 20:7-12). But for the next 2000 years or so of church history, miracles like these seem to have occurred less frequently. Why? One big reason is that we now have the written Bible, so we don't need miracles to confirm the spoken word of God. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

Although we may not need miraculous confirmation, God is certainly still doing miracles today. Miracles of healing, protection and guidance occur every day through the power of God. In countries where the Bible is not as readily available, God may confirm the word of Christian missionaries in even more dramatic ways.

How does all this apply to us?

Most of us have experienced “miracle stories” in our own lives, the lives of friends and family, or through news reports like that of John Smith. It can be discouraging when others don’t believe these are signs from the Lord, or they label us “ignorant” or “gullible” because of our beliefs. But when those around us cannot see the signs that are obvious to us, we shouldn’t become anxious or angry. And it’s fundamental to our Christian apologetics that we don’t dismiss or downplay miracles. Instead, there are several positive things we can do:

  1. Pause to praise. We can mull over these evidences of God’s power, protection and love in our private time with Him. After describing weather phenomena like snow, downpours and whirlwinds, God told Job to “Stop and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:6-14). David meditated on the moon and the stars in Psalm 8, causing him to praise God’s regard for insignificant humans. The wonderful works of God can become the food and fuel of our meditation.
  1. Point. We can point others to the signs in a peaceable and non-dogmatic way — even when others are critical or questioning of the source of miraculous power. Like the blind man Jesus healed, we can say, “One thing I do know. I was blind and now I see” (John 9:25).
  1. Pray. We can pray that God will open the eyes of others (and our eyes) to more clearly see His miraculous presence. Remember that when Elisha’s servant feared the attacking enemy forces, Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes so that he could see a great invisible army of God that was protecting them (2 Kings 6:17).
  1. Patiently persevere. We can persevere in our everyday lives of faith, knowing that God will one day reveal Himself to all. We know that eventually every eye will see Him. When Habbakuk complained that his generation ignored God’s message, God replied, This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place… For as the waters fill the sea, the earth will be filled with an awareness of the glory of the Lord” (Habakkuk 2:3;14).
A day is coming when the signs will be made plain to those who have not believed. Better yet, the day is coming when we who do believe will see more clearly than we do now.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

- Ron Reid

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