It seems we see signs, wonders, and miracles all over our Bibles. But for many of us, we see an absence of signs, wonders, and miracles in our lives and in the world around us. So where did the wonders go? It’s a question from a college student who writes in to us.
“Pastor John, thank you for the wonderful podcast. I listen regularly. I’m a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. My parents are missionaries in the Republic of Georgia. I have spent some time on the mission field with them as well. Living on a very secular campus is obviously a night and day difference from the mission field, especially as I talk to my classmates about faith, life, and Christianity in general. One question that my friends often ask me is this one: ‘Why doesn’t God work overt miracles today in twenty-first century America like he did in both the Old and New Testaments? Doesn’t it seem convenient that God only worked miracles in the Bible?’ How would you answer this objection to the faith?”
My answer to this is fairly simple. It’s this: there were fewer miracles in the Bible than you probably think, and there are more miracles today than you probably know, and there is a good biblical reason for why there would be a certain kind of prevalence of miracles in the Bible that is different from today.
Let me say a word about each of those three observations.
Think about the Old Testament. Here’s a typical statement: the psalmist says in Psalm 77:11, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” When you read the Old Testament, you realize most of the saints in most of those centuries would have talked like that: “The wonders of old. Oh, remember the wonders of old.”
“There were fewer miracles in the Bible than you probably think, and more miracles today than you probably know.”
They would have had the same question we do: “Why were there more miracles in the days of Elijah, or in the days of Moses, than there are today in the days of the prophets, or in the days of the kings?”
It’s simply a great mistake to think that there are miracles running all through the history of God’s people as the Bible records it. They were not running all through the history of God’s people. They sprung up around certain periods of time like the exodus and like the ministries of Elijah and Elisha.
Most of the time, the saints of the Old Testament were living by faith in the promises of God for the future, rooted in the past wonders of God that he had worked. This is the way we live our lives today — by faith in the promises of God, for a kingdom that’s yet to be consummated, by looking back to the decisive work of Jesus Christ in the Bible.
When it comes to the New Testament, it is gloriously true that Jesus did miracles perfectly and consistently, though even he raised only three people from the dead and didn’t heal people in many places where he traveled or where he didn’t travel.
The miracles of Jesus were clearly not to show that the kingdom had been consummated. They showed that the kingdom had broken into the world, pointing to a future day when everybody would be raised from the dead and those who believe in Christ will not be sick anymore, because that’s the way Jesus is, and he’s showing some of that now.
Not only that, but Jesus himself explains his own miracles as pointing to his divinity. In other words, something about these miracles attached to him and you wouldn’t expect them to attach to other people in the same way.
For example, he said in John 10:37, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.” In other words, “These works are good evidence that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me. I’m unique. I am the Son of God. This is true.”
Even though he gave his disciples authority to do miracles also, they knew that there was something utterly unique about this man and the way he did miracles. The authority and power uniquely resided in him as the very Son of God.
Few and Far Between
When you turn to the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, it’s obvious that the apostles did some astonishing miracles, but it’s also true that they suffered much and their colleagues got sick. Paul carried a doctor around with him. They got thrown into prison. They got killed.
“It’s simply a great mistake to think that there are miracles running all through the history of God’s people.”
Even though there were gifts of miracles and gifts of healing and gifts of exorcism that are spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12, it would be a huge stretch to think that the Christians with those gifts in the first century were performing miracles the way Jesus did. Already, in the first century, outside the life of Jesus, things had changed.
My first observation is that we shouldn’t think of the Bible times, either Old or New Testament, as times in which saints of God consistently did miracles. That would be a distortion of the biblical record. They were few and far between in the Old Testament. They were uniquely concentrated in Jesus and his apostles in a very special, Christ-exalting way. They are shared in part through spiritual gifts with all the saints.
The second observation I would make is that there are probably more miracles happening today than we realize.
If we could collect all the authentic stories all over the world — from all the missionaries and all the saints in the all the countries of the world, all the cultures of the world — if we could collect all the millions of encounters between Christians and demons and Christians and sickness and all the so-called coincidences of the world, we would be stunned. We would think we were living in a world of miracles, which we are.
Basis of Our Faith
The third observation I would make, and this is probably what I would say to the unbeliever who is challenging me, is that the heart of Christianity is not that the kingdom has fully come and all sin and evil is being overcome now in this age.
“We live today by faith in the promises of God by looking back to the decisive work of Jesus Christ.”
The heart of Christianity is that Christ Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world at a point in history in the past to reveal what God is like and to accomplish salvation for all who believe in him by dying and rising again. Miracles cluster around that appearance in history in Jesus and in the life of the apostles to vindicate his claim and their writings.
Christianity is basically a life lived by looking back with confidence in the work of Christ and looking forward in hope, because of that past, to a consummation that’s coming. It is to be willing to suffer and love people now and call them to that faith.
We live in a period of time precisely where suffering is normal. Nevertheless, God does now and then, and sometimes regularly in periods of revival, use his power to perform, according to his sovereign will, miracles for his people. Why he doesn’t do it more now than he does is partly (perhaps) owing to our lack of expectancy and faith, but is ultimately owing to his sovereign decree.
When we call people to repent and believe, we’re not calling them to do this on the basis of a miracle they saw yesterday, even if it happened. We are calling them on the basis of the glory of Jesus Christ revealed in his death and resurrection through Scripture. That’s the basis. Even if miracles were happening more today, that’s where the foundation of faith would need to lie.