What is a miracle?
Does God still perform miracles today?
What would be the value of performing miracles for the unbeliever or even the believer?
All of these questions center on something that people debate, believers and unbelievers: the existence of miracles in our modern world.
First of all, performing a miracle is a “sign” of the power of the Holy Spirit and Pastor Graham* calls the ability to perform miracles a “sign” gift of the Spirit. To explain simply, if one can do this, it is a sign of the manifestation of the power of God. “A miracle is an event beyond the power of any known physical law to produce; it is a spiritual occurrence produced by the power of God, a marvel, a wonder [Graham, 215].
Of course, examples of miracles abound in the Bible. One of the most well-known is the miracle of the animal sacrifice on Mount Carmel involving Elijah. This miracle was performed by God at the behest of the prophet Elijah. At the time of the miracle, the people of Israel were conflicted by their desire to either worship God or Baal. You may recall in this incident that Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to set up an alter on which they would place an animal sacrifice. Then Elijah told the people of Israel to watch for a confirming sign that God was the true God. Of course he knew that Baal was not the true god. What is so interesting about this sign miracle is that Elijah taunted the priests of Baal, saying that nothing would happen to the sacrifice if their god was asked to respond. The priests cried out to Baal for action, but nothing happened, a “sign” that Baal did not exist? Then Elijah poured barrels of water on the sacrifice and asked for a response from God [talk about confidence]. God sent fire that consumed the sacrifice in spite of the water, a sign that God was all-powerful: indeed, God exists.
New Testament miracles were common in the life of Jesus and in the life of his apostles. They healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, raised the dead and cast out demons. This was to “prove” they were connected to the true God. God was the source of their power. In that day, as today, the idea was if God could perform a miracle, then unbelievers would surely become believers.
However, let’s examine what really happened in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, God performed amazing and powerful miracles for the Israelites but did that cause them to obey Him? I am afraid not. After the miracles, these people disobeyed and rebelled against God. The parting of the Red Sea was not enough; conquering the inhabitants of the Promised Land was not enough. It is interesting but one of the best scriptures to explain this lack of response to miracles is found in the New Testament, in Luke 16: 31. To provide context, a man in hell asks Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham informed the man, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
The question about miracles today is this. Would there be value in the performing of miracles in today’s world? Maybe immediately, but as in the days of the Old Testament and the First Century world of the New Testament, for most people the effect would not be long-lasting. Many people of shallow faith would be amazed, but the moment would quickly pass from their consciousness. When the “next big thing” comes along, all attention would be turned toward that. Jesus knew a faith based on miracles is not a mature faith. Acts 2:22 declares “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know.” But all the miracles were not enough to win over the Jewish community. Jesus lost his life at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders and Roman oppressors of his time.
God may be performing miracles today but the result of those miracles would probably be like the past. Some may be impressed but many would not, quickly returning to their old ways.
Graham wonders if the spectacular miracles of the past are over. Maybe today our faith is just too small. Maybe those miracles of old were useful in the Old Testament to impress the Israelites [even for a short span]; maybe those miracles in the New Testament were useful to impress a first century audience, to help establish the Christian faith, but would they be useful today?
Graham wonders aloud about the end times. Maybe that is the time when “signs” will emerge that convince a skeptical world of the power of God. Maybe that is when we will see more miracles.
Maybe miracles are not necessary because we have the Scriptures, the cornerstone of our faith, the record of the greatest miracle [God coming to earth in the form of Jesus Christ].
Then there is the miracle of a transformed life. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we now have a Gospel that provides a pathway to forgiveness and a cleansed life. Maybe the true miracle is the transformed life of the new believer. Every time a sinner is “born again”, the miracle of regeneration begins.
Maybe that is the miracle that really counts…
The very significant miracle of personal resurrection…
*from his book The Holy Spirit…