Sunday, February 10, 2019

Does God Still Do Miracles?

Today, we will look at another topic that some find to be challenging. I’m going to ask and answer this question: Does God still do miracles? As most of you know, there can be quite a division of opinion on this question. There are those who say that nothing has changed since the first century when Jesus and others performed many miracles. So, of course, God still does miracles. Then, there are those who say that there actually are some things that have changed since the first century, changes that have resulted in the age of miracles being ended. So, no, God doesn’t still do miracles.

Now, I need to be up front with you. My main goal for this sermon is not to answer that question. Instead, I will answer that question so that I can deal with a certain implication to the answer I will give. So, the real point that I want to make will be in the second part of the sermon.

Now, as in so many other situations, so much goes wrong because there isn’t the clarity and precision that is necessary. Or to say that differently, we need to start with a definition. So, what’s a miracle?

You could say that a miracle is an expression of God’s power. And that, of course, is true. But it isn’t very helpful. The sun rising each morning is an expression of God’s power, but I don’t think that we want to call it a miracle. The Bible doesn’t call it a miracle. We need something more precise.

There is no word in Hebrew or Greek that can be translated literally as our word ‘miracle’. Instead, the Bible uses two words to convey the idea of our word, ‘miracle’. The words are translated as ‘sign’ and ‘wonder’. These words, which are often found together, will help us to understand the Bible’s idea of what we label as a miracle.

Here’s an example.

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. Acts 5.12

The word translated ‘wonder’ is defined as ‘something that astounds’. And that’s one reason why God acted through prophets and apostles in the way that He did. He wanted the people who were watching to be astounded by what they had witnessed. So, miracles are intended to attract attention by astounding the people who see them.

Now, why was that God’s intention? This is where that other word comes in: ‘sign’. What’s a sign? It’s something that points away from itself and to something else. What comes to mind as you drive down the road and see a large curved black arrow on a yellow background? It’s a sign. And it’s letting you know something about the road ahead. The yellow sign isn’t about itself. It’s there to point to something else, the curve ahead. The same is true when we talk about signs in the Bible.

And so, we read this.

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. John 2.11

Jesus did something astounding. He changed water into wine. Why? Was His goal to provide for a party? No. His goal was to point to something. The miracle, the sign, pointed to His glory. And the intended result was achieved. His disciples believed in Him.

So, a miracle is a wonder and a sign. It is something astounding that points to something else.

Now, there are many different kinds of miracles in the Bible. They go from things like feeding a large bunch of people from somebody’s lunch to making dead people breathe again. There is lots of variety here. But there is one thing that they all have in common. They point to the man who did the miracle. They say something important about him. Miracles are evidence that the person who performed that miracle is someone sent from God. He is sent from God with a message. So, the reason for a miracle is for people to be astounded and therefore believe the message God is sending through that man.

Listen to what happened at the burning bush as God prepares Moses to go to Egypt to be His spokesman.

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. Exodus 4.1-8

Miracles - signs and wonders - are intended as proof that the person who performed that sign and wonder is sent from God with a message, a message that people need to heed.

This becomes quite clear in what the widow of Zarephath said to Elijah after he raised her son to life again.

Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth. 1 Kings 17.24

Now, in light of all of that, we’re ready for a definition. A miracle, which the Bible calls a sign and wonder, is some astounding act of God designed to get people’s attention. The intended effect of a miracle is for those who see it to accept the teaching of the person who did that miracle, to accept it as a message from God Himself, a revelation of God’s truth.

Now, with that understanding of miracles we are able to answer our question, does God still do miracles? Well, are there still messengers and messages from God? Is He still revealing more of His truth? Is there still new revelation? If you answer that with a yes, then you can say that God still does miracles. But here’s something else that you’ll need to do. You’ll need to be sure that you have lots of blank pages in the back of your Bible. I say that because if there is more revelation from God, revelation through men and validated by miracles, then you’ll want to include it in your Bible. You’ll need to write down what those men are teaching and believe it like you believe John 3.16.

However, if you are ready to say that the Bible is complete, that God has no more to reveal about the Gospel, then you’ll need to also say that miracles are no more, that there are no more signs and wonders to validate a messenger sent from God.

The teaching of the Church for quite a few centuries is that the Bible is finished, complete. There are no new revelations of truth from God. Based on that we can say that there are no miracles, no new signs and wonders.

Now, that was the first part of this sermon, the part that sets up the second part. This is where we get to what I really want to press home.

There are those who conclude, and properly so, that God no longer sends men with new revelation, and so there are no longer any signs and wonders. However, some of those who come to this conclusion draw an implication from that which is not proper. They say that since God doesn’t do miracles anymore, He really doesn’t do much of anything anymore, at least nothing very extraordinary. They would say that we should not expect Him to do anything astounding. Now, it needs to be said that most of these folk don’t actually say that out loud. But it is how they live. God doesn’t really astound anymore.

Let me express that kind of thinking using different words. There is no supernatural layer to reality, to everyday reality. Saying that God doesn’t astound is saying that life boils down to what you can see, hear, touch and the like. And that is all. This is a profoundly wrong idea. It is deadly to faithful Christian living.

Once again, I turn to the older covenant for helpful teaching on this subject. Listen to what happened with Elisha and his servant when they were confronted by an army sent to capture them.

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6.15-17

Now, please note that God did not send all those angels and their fiery chariots in response to Elisha’s prayer. The angels were already there. And Elisha knew that they were there. It’s just that his servant could not see this supernatural layer to reality. He could not see the astounding thing that God had done by those angels. So, left only with what he could see, hear, touch and the like, he thought that he and Elisha were on their own. And that looked fatal. But they weren’t on their own. God was very much involved in their lives, here through the ministry of those angels. And as a result, He did something astounding.

There is a supernatural layer to reality that you need to recognize. God still acts, and He acts in ways that make a very large difference. He still does astounding things.

We’re in the midst of the beatitudes for our Reading of the Law of God. Each beatitude begins, ‘Blessed are…’ Does that mean anything? Does the promise that Jesus is making here, the promise of blessing, make any real difference in daily life? Does God still astound by blessing people?

Then, there is, of course, the other side of the coin. God also does astounding things by cursing people. Paul warns about this when he writes about the Lord’s Supper.

For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 1 Corinthians 11.29-30

Peter was the means that God used to bless many by his miracles. But he was also the means God used to curse.

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. Acts 5.3-5

Does God still curse people with problems, with sickness or even with death? Does God still astound?

What I’m talking about is simply something that you’ve all heard about before. I’m talking about Immanuel, God with us. That is a name applied to Jesus. It captures an important aspect of the Gospel. God is with us, and He is with us in order to act. He is with us to do amazing things. He is with us to astound.

Here is one perspective on this that is quite helpful. It has to do with expectations. What do you expect of God? Do you expect to be astounded by Him? The answer to that question depends on how you live out another question. What do you expect of yourselves?

I think that it’s fair to say that we expect too much from ourselves. Our opinion of our abilities is quite high. And because of that, we think that we are able to handle things that we really can’t. And that’s when life gets stressful.

We all are tempted to give in to stress. It’s part of modern American life. And it’s easy to fall into that sin. Yes, getting stressed out is sin. It isn’t commonly seen as such because we use the word ‘stressed’ instead of words like fearful, worried, doubting. But that’s really what stressed out is about. We are afraid of what is going to happen if we fail whatever it is that is before us to do.

It’s easy to fall into that sin. We tell ourselves that there are things that we just have to do. They must get done. And if we’re falling behind in getting those things done the stress level goes up. And why? Because we counting on ourselves. We have to get it all done. After all, who else is going to do it? The source of our stress has to do with our expectations of ourselves.

But we are expecting too much of ourselves because we expect too little of God. To be sure, we profess our belief in the Immanuel principle. We believe that God is with us. But with us to do what? Could He actually do something about an overfull to-do list that just got worse?

Listen to some very helpful words.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalms 23.4

God is with us as we journey through this life. And He has a rod and a staff. With the one He beats off our enemies. And with the other He guides us safely along the path. There is comfort here. what is there to fear? What is there to get stressed out about? But there is comfort for us only if we act on our belief that God is with us. There is comfort for us only if our expectations of God go up and our expectations of ourselves go down.

Life is changed dramatically when our expectations of God and ourselves are adjusted, when they more rooted in reality. That’s when you are able to say, ‘Father, You will have to deal with this situation because it is clear that I cannot.’ That’s when you will see Him do astounding things.

So, once again to our question. Does God still do miracles?

If by that you mean does God still do signs and wonders so that new revelation through His messengers can be validated, then the answer is no.

But if by that you mean does God still do astounding things in the lives of His saints, then the answer has to be a resounding yes.

Last thought. What are you to do with all of this? And you know what I’m going to say. Repent and believe the Gospel. But let me be specific. Here’s the part of the Gospel that I want you to believe: Immanuel. I want you to believe that God is with you in every situation you face, big, little and in between. He is with you to do astounding things. And seeing Him do those astounding things will change you. For one thing, you will be able to respond to the stresses of modern American life with the peace that the Spirit gives. And He will give that to you because you are expecting your God to do some astounding thing that will take care of whatever it is that is stressing you. That is the part of the Gospel that I’m calling you to believe.

And that explains something specific that you need to repent of. You need to repent of being stressed out. You need to repent of being fearful, worried, doubting. They are expressions of unbelief. You’re not believing that your God can act to fix the situation. You’re not believing that He can do something astounding to deal with the situation. You need to repent of that.

This means that you also need to repent of the attitude that says that you are able to handle most of life. That’s a lie you were taught when they told you that you could deal with whatever if you put your mind to it. No. You need to repent of such things so that you can believe the Gospel of Immanuel. And as you learn to believe this part of the Gospel you will find your God doing astounding things.