Did Jesus teach that miracles are useless for those who reject the word? Here’s the story he told:
From hades the rich man implored Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers not to come to that place of torment.
But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”
The rich man said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
Abraham disagreed: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)
God Must Open Eyes
Does this mean that miracles are useless among people who have biblical truth, but don’t believe it? Sounds like it: If the prophets haven’t converted them, a miracle won’t either.
But think of it this way. Thousands of people first learn what the Bible says and only later come to believe it. So for a season they “hear Moses and the Prophets” and don’t believe.
Then something happens. God touches the eyes of their hearts and they can see the truth and beauty of what they once rejected (2 Corinthians 4:6).
What agencies — what means — does God employ to do this? Peter says that one agency is always the word of God: “You have been born again through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).
But other agents can have their part to play. Jesus said that our good works may so shine that people “give glory to our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). He also said his miracles may have a role to play: “Believe on account of the works themselves.” (John 14:11).
So the point of Luke 16:31 (“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead”) is not that God never uses miracles to convert sinners.
The point is that the person who remains blind to the word will remain blind to the miracle. But the person who sees the true meaning of the miracle will also see the true meaning of the word.
Some are awakened by the word alone. Others are awakened by the word confirmed by a miracle (Hebrews 2:4; Acts 14:3).
The Same Change of Heart
The key in making sense of Luke 16:31 is that the same change of heart that opens a person to the true meaning of a miracle also opens him to the true meaning of the word. So it is totally true that a person who rejects the divine meaning of the word will reject the divine meaning of the miracle.
And the test of any person who claims to believe because of a miracle will be that their heart embraces the truth of the word of God. If they love miracles and don’t love the word, they are in love with the mere power, not the purpose, of the miracle. They are what Jesus calls adulterous sign seekers (Matthew 12:39; John 6:2; 26; 7:3-5).
Always by Word, Often by Wonder
Therefore, Jesus would not discourage us from praying the way the early church did concerning the divine words and divine works:
Lord, . . . 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 Jesus. (Acts 4:29–30)
God always quickens by his word (1 Peter 1:23), and often by the concomitant agency of works.