There are many people who wonder why God doesn’t show up in the miraculous like he did in the early days of the church. Lame guys getting healed by Peter & John at the temple gate kinda stuff or dudes being brought back to life by Paul type events. The main reason I believe we don’t see that happening today is quite simply because we’re living in a time marked by few miracles. I said few, not none. I do in fact believe in miracles today.
I believe that God will do as he wants, when he wants in any manner he wants. God does still perform miracles – many of them simply go unnoticed or are denied. However, the facts are that we aren’t experiencing the rate or scope of miracles that happened during the earthly ministry of Jesus, or the early days of the church when the church was being birthed where it seemed that miracles were a common, everyday and expected occurrence. Isn’t the church supposed to look like that today?
Although miracles occur throughout the book of Acts, two facts become clear. First, the number and frequency of miracles don’t approach the level of miraculous activity during Jesus’ ministry. Second, as you read Acts and the New Testament letters, you will notice some hints that the intensity of miracles began to decline during the seventy years following Jesus’ resurrection.
In what is probably the earliest New Testament letter, James tells Christians who are sick to call the elders of the church for anointing and prayer instead of seeking out a ‘faith’ healer with the gift of healing.
Early in his ministry, Paul talks about his suffering from a physical illness: “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself” – Galatians 4:13-14.
Nobody knows what Paul’s illness was precisely, but the question I think that begs to be asked is, if Paul was sick, why wasn’t he miraculously healed if that is the expectation as many (most) faith healers and health & wealth proponents claim today – especially given it was Paul?
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks several times about gifts of healings and gifts of miracles that were operative in the church but then interestingly enough a few years later in 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he was suffering from “a thorn in [the] flesh.” Apparently, he had a physical affliction that God allowed to continue in his life to keep him from becoming conceited because of the wonderful revelations he had received. Paul even pleaded with the Lord to remove the thorn, but God gave him grace to endure the affliction rather than granting a miraculous cure.
In his letter to the Philippians, a book written near the end of the events recorded in Acts, Paul brags on his friend Epaphroditus, who became deathly sick in Rome. Even though Paul couldn’t heal him, God did ultimately bring Epaphroditus back to health, but not through a miraculous healing.
Paul’s final letter, written just before his death, we read these words, “Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus” – 2 Timothy 4:20 Why would Paul leave a fellow labourer sick if he could have healed him?
And then there is Timothy who seemed to suffer from “frequent illnesses,” including a troubling stomach disorder. Paul counsels him to use wine in moderation to calm his stomach. If miracle healings were the norm and to be expected then why didn’t Paul say, “I’ll heal you,” or “Find a healer”? Instead he tells him to take some medicine.
Here’s the point, we shouldn’t miss the contrast between the beginning of the book of Acts where we see multitudes being healed and the end of New Testament history. In fact, it’s important to note that the New Testament writers don’t even express any regret that the intensity of spectacular miracles had begun to decrease. Nor do the apostles write any chastisements to a single individual or a group of churches for their lack of faith. That’s because they simply recognize that the period of abundant miraculous works was ending.
But didn’t Jesus say that his followers would perform greater miracles than he did? I remember hearing a pastor address the issue of whether we should expect miracles today by appealing to Jesus’ words, “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 works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father”. – John 14:11-12
Based on this passage, that pastor contended that we Christians should not only expect to see the same outpouring of miracles that Jesus saw in his ministry, but even greater evidences of God’s power. But is that what Jesus meant? If it is what he meant, shouldn’t we see an increase in the number of miracles as we read through the book of Acts and on through the rest of the New Testament?
Why don’t we read of the apostles doing more miraculous works than Jesus did – or greater works – or at least the same number of works? What we do find, however, is a gradual decline in the frequency and number of miracles. The writers of the New Testament never seem surprised by that; they never admonish the church for its lack of miracles or for its lack of faith.
I believe that the apostles knew that the number of miracles would gradually decrease. As the New Testament writings became available and as the gospel became established in the known world, spectacular, public miracles occurred less and less. Even the historical writings of the early church fathers after the first hundred years of the church, record only a very few miracles. And none of the leadership past the apostolic age ever accused the church of failing to pursue the greater works that Jesus promised they would do. All this leads me to believe that Jesus had something different in mind when he said that the apostles and those who came later would do greater works than the ones Jesus himself did.
As wonderful and as powerful as Jesus’ miracles were, they met only a temporary need in people’s lives. The sick people Jesus healed and the disabled people Jesus made physically whole eventually died. Hungry people who were fed by the miraculous multiplication of a few fish and loaves of bread became hungry again. Lazarus, who was raised from the dead at the spoken word of Christ, died a second time. The Sea of Galilee that became calm at Jesus’ word has been rocked by many storms since then.
However, as the apostles went out to the nations with the message of the gospel, they saw eternal changes take place. People who were lost in sin found forgiveness and cleansing in Christ. Men and women who were far from God and who were excluded from the covenants and promises of God to Israel were drawn near to God by the blood of the cross.
Those who believed in Christ were made new creations; the old life passed away and the new life began. These were the “greater works” Jesus spoke of. The miracle of salvation met humanity’s deepest need and met that need permanently and eternally.
Since Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, many disciples of Jesus’ have led more people to saving faith than the Son of God did in his entire ministry. I am convinced that these “greater works” of reaching lost men and women with the gospel are God’s basic program for the church until Christ returns, because the gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” – Romans 1:16
In the end, here is why I believe that the question about what our expectations and understandings regarding miracles is of importance – maturity. Paul said, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” – Colossians 1:28-29.
We are to be maturing in the faith but when we look to miracles or miraculous signs and wonders to strengthen our Christian walk, or used as signatures and determining markers of our faith, we stunt our spiritual growth.
Think of it this way… Jesus performed countless miracles, and yet the vast majority of people didn’t believe in him. If God performed miracles today as he did in the past, the result would be the same. People would be amazed and would believe in God for a brief time, but the faith they embraced would be shallow and would disappear the moment something unexpected or frightening occurred.
A faith based on miracles is not a mature faith. God performed the greatest “God miracle” of all time in coming to earth as the God – Man Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we could be saved. As I said earlier, God does still perform miracles – many of them simply go unnoticed or are denied. However, we don’t need more miracles, nor do we need to seek out miracles. What we do need is to believe in the miracle of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and share that miracle to the world.