Why aren't God's ministers performing spectacular public miracles today? Is it because of a lack of faith? Is the whole Church just too weak, spiritually speaking? It's time we understand the principles set forth in this article.
DOES it trouble you that ministers of God's Church are not performing the same kind of miracles today that were done during the time of Christ and the apostles? Tens of thousands are members in the same Church of God today. Yet we do not see the blind receive their sight, nor the dumb voice their first words in the same way that sometimes occurred in the earliest New Testament Church. This, of course, is not to say that many are not being healed privately, sometimes gradually, all the time. For they are!
Jesus Christ promised His true ministers power to perform the miracle of Mark 16:18: "They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." This kind of miracle has been and is being repeated thousands of times, for the benefit of thousands of people around the world! Today's miracles of healing are being performed not by dramatic decree of a healing "prophet" — but according to the command of James 5:14-15. "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick." These healings are God's response to our request and our faith (Matt. 9:22, 29). But how many of the hundreds of healing miracles which God is performing daily among our members, Co-workers and others do we ever hear about? We hear mainly about those in our local church areas whom we know. Mark 16:17-18 enumerates some other miracles that Christ promised would accompany the preaching of the gospel. Notice, however, that not every sign mentioned has been prominent in every church age. Nor were these words given as commands; not the imperative voice, but the simple future indicative is used. (If one whom Christ has sent accidentally takes up a poisonous snake, as in Acts 28:3-5, or accidentally drinks something poisonous, it need not harm him. But those who deliberately handle snakes or drink poison are tempting God and have no promise of protection! — see Luke 4:12.) In accordance with Mark 16:17, demons are being cast out today. And many other miraculous occurrences transpire in the daily lives and experiences of God's ministers, and in opening doors for the furtherance of the Work! But they are not the spectacular type of miracle that the world must take note of. God's miracles today are the kind which go unnoticed by the general public. Why? We will shortly see an important reason. Regardless of all the miraculous healings taking place in the Church, many of our deaf, blind, lame and otherwise handicapped people have not been completely made well. A look back in history will help us to understand why.
Moses Worked Great Miracles
Moses performed tremendous miracles by the power of God. When Moses requested a miracle, he expected and got an immediate answer. He relied on God to open up the Red Sea in the face of the pursuing Egyptian army. Moses never forgot that his staff became a serpent, that his hand became leprous and was healed again at will. Nor had he forgotten the plagues of frogs, flies, locusts and lice in Egypt. He remembered the river of blood and the dreadful destruction of all the firstborn Egyptians on the first Passover night — all public miracles of the first magnitude! As a result, Moses had great faith. But was Moses able to produce immediate spectacular displays of miraculous power — at any time? Did you know that even Moses did not always receive instant answers to his prayers? Sometimes his requests were not granted. As recounted in Numbers 12, God struck Miriam with leprosy because she publicly campaigned against Moses' authority. Moses immediately pleaded with God to heal his sister then and there. And why not? Read in verses 6 through 8, how dose Moses was to God. Moses had often asked for and received immediate action. But not this time! Even though she had begun to repent, Miriam had to live with her leprosy for seven days — to teach her a lesson.
The Miracle Work of Elijah
Look at the example of Elijah. Elijah challenged the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal before all Israel to prove the Eternal was the true God. Those false prophets danced, cried and mutilated themselves in vain attempts to make their god answer their request. Then as sunset drew on, Elijah confidently constructed a stone altar for a sacrifice to his God. To add insult to their injury, he not only soaked the flesh of his sacrifice with gallons of water, but also flooded the area around the altar until it was practically swimming. Then in sight of the whole multitude he calmly stood before his altar and in less than a half-minute prayer asked God to show Israel who is God. Immediately a brilliant bolt of fire hissed down out of the sky and consumed his sacrifice in a flash of steam and smoke! It devoured the rock altar and licked up every drop of water. That indeed was a spectacular miracle! But look at what happened as a result. When King Ahab told his wife Jezebel how Elijah had slain all the prophets of Baal, she was livid with anger. She swore to kill Elijah by the following day (I Kings 19:1-4). Then, in stark terror, Elijah fled all the way to Mount Sinai, God performing additional miracles to help him get there. But why didn't Elijah simply rely upon God to protect him where he was? Why did he flee for his life? Simply because he saw no need for such miracles for the furtherance of the Work of God.
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to divine intervention. His prayers were answered many times as he carried out God's Work. But Paul was aboard a sailing ship in a terrifying tempest, mercilessly tossed, buffeted and pounded by foaming waves for a full fourteen days and nights without respite (Acts 27). If ever Paul should have stood up and stilled the waves, this was the time. No doubt he wished he could. Perhaps he tried his best to do so. But he and his companions simply had to " tough it out" till thankfully the ship ran aground. There was no obvious miracle in the whole drama. Paul's faith did heal a serpent's bite (Acts 28:3-6), but we are told in II Corinthians 12:7-10 that God never healed Paul's "thorn in the flesh," a physical infirmity which he besought God three times to remove. Paul had to leave an assistant named Trophimus behind, sick and unhealed, at Miletum (II Tim. 4:20). Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach's sake and his frequent infirmities (I Tim. 5:23). Epaphroditus nearly died of an ailment at Rome (Phil. 2:25-27). Why weren't they all instantly healed? Why weren't dramatic miracles performed? Was it because of a lack of faith? We are told that Timothy was one of the few men who was truly faithful (Phil. 2:20) — yet he apparently was not healed of his infirmities! The writings of Old Testament prophets record almost no miracles. In Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea and Joel the total number of miracles reported is exactly nil. So far as we know, only Isaiah and Daniel ever performed a miracle. Christ said no one was greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11), yet "John did no miracle" (John 10:41). Not one! Could anyone say John the Baptist lacked faith? He preached the commandments of God faithfully, and fearlessly rebuked the religious leaders of his day. At the risk of his life he proclaimed God's law before King Herod until his faithful preaching ultimately resulted in his own martyrdom.
When Is a Public Miracle Performed?
We have seen examples where miracles were performed and examples where none were performed. How do we understand the fact that men of faith worked miracles at one time and place and not at another? The logical answer is this: they could only perform great miracles when God required them for a specific purpose in His Work! Remember I John 5:14: "... If we ask anything according to HIS WILL, he hears us." Carrying our thinking down to our time, then, the obvious reason we see no great public miracles today is because God's Work has not yet required them! Is this a lame excuse? Not at all. We will see many awe-inspiring miracles in the future! But let us realize what results they will bring.
Great Miracles Bring Persecution
The apostles worked great wonders. Peter and John, for example, healed a cripple. The incident greatly publicized the gospel (Acts 3:10-16). It made thousands pay attention to what they had to say. But it also brought persecution from the established religious leaders (Acts 5:17; 4:2). Stephen, a deacon, was given power to work great miracles (Acts 6:8). But he died an early death as a martyr (Acts 7:54-60). The mere passing of Peter's shadow healed the sick who were laid in beds and couches in the streets (Acts 5:15-16). Peter even raised a dead woman back to life (Acts 9:36-42), as great miracle working by the Church continued. But soon Peter and James were imprisoned. James was martyred; Peter was saved only as the result of another miracle — being led forth from prison by an angel (Acts 12:1-10). Paul healed a cripple who had never walked in his life. The people who saw this amazing healing wanted to worship Paul as a god. But the same people, only a few days later, were incited to stone him — and left him for dead (Acts 14:8-20). These were the results of miracles known and seen by all. Through the early period of the Church, physical signs and wonders were very closely allied with imprisonment, physical violence and beatings because the established religions of the day took great offense at the threat which they imagined the performers of the miracles posed to their positions.
What the Future Holds for Us
History says persecution and miracles walked side by side in the early Church. Question: Would you like a tremendous miracle or miracles to occur that would cause the Church today to be persecuted to such a degree that God's Work would be hindered before God's time to suspend it? Or would you rather the Church continue to do its job unhindered for a few more years without a great display of miracles? Jesus Christ knows which He prefers. The time will come when great miracles will again be performed by God's Church. Joel prophesied that great miracles will take place once again in the end time (Joel 2:28-31). But prophecy also shows God's Church will be persecuted in the future, some even being martyred (Luke 21:8-17). Revelation 11 describes two men who will work awesome miracles that will attract worldwide attention. But they will also be persecuted and finally be killed! Great miracles cause great problems. The miracles Christ performed out of compassion caused such widespread excitement that large crowds continually surrounded Him. He had to get away from them to complete His job. Some times they even tried to kill him. What would happen today if God's Church began to perform great public miracles? The same things that happened at the time of Christ and the apostles! This is one reason why God is now- withholding this type of miracle from the Church. There are also other reasons — all for our own good.
Miracles Given to Convince the Unconverted
In the Old Testament God gave miracles by the hand of Moses to convince the people of Israel that the Almighty God was the One backing him up (Ex. 4:28-31). As for Pharaoh, he had seen great miracles done by his own sorcerers and magicians. He needed to see the greater authority of God Almighty! God caused the miraculous healing of the cripple by Peter and John to convince the religious leaders of that day where He had put His authority. He wanted the world to know that authority was now with the apostles. Whenever God decides it is time to convince this world where His Church is today, the power to do it will be there! So, like tongues (foreign languages), great miracles "are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to [profit J them that believe not" (I Cor. 14:22). Brethren, do we have to have miracles to convince us where God's Spirit and His Church are? Of course not. God has given us through His Holy Spirit the absolute knowledge that His law — all of it — is the way to eternal life and that this is His Church. That in itself is a MIRACLE! The world can't believe it. We do.
Why We Must Be Tested
What we need today is more of the love of God, compassion, patience and all the other fruits of the Spirit which express the very character of God Almighty. Would you rather have miracles performed to relieve you of all severe afflictions or tests, rather than develop the CHARACTER you need for eternal life? No, when you really think about it you wouldn't. As James wrote, "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of }our faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" Games 1:2-4, RSV). We need to experience and sometimes suffer tests, trials and afflictions, because we need to develop character! We need to develop endurance, steadfastness and patience under great stress. In the future, this Church is going to face times which will try our faith severely. Without the preparation now, we could fail! "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom. 5:3-5, RSV). Abraham is called the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11). He believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. But the confirmation of God's promise that he should have a son was withheld for many, many years — until he was past the age when it was humanly possible to have a son. Why? Because early fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham would never have produced the great character and patience that stamped him as a faithful man. Christ also learned lessons of obedience through what He suffered (Heb. 5:8). He learned what it meant to be obedient under severe trials and afflictions. So must we.
How Will the Church Know When It Is Time to Perform Great Miracles?
Peter was merely going up to the Temple, when a longtime cripple — a man of forty — asked for alms (Acts 3:1-11). Peter looked at him and commanded him to rise. Just like that! How did Peter know God would back him up then and there, and heal this man who had never walked in his life) Would Peter ever have felt and looked foolish if the man had just continued to sit there with useless legs and a puzzled frown on his face! Once again Moses' example gives us the answer. How did Moses know God would open up the Red Sea? It's simple. God had just told him He would do it! (Ex. 14:15-16.) Actually, God always told Moses when He was going to perform a miracle. Reread the first few chapters of Exodus. God actually dealt with Moses "man to man" and told him verbally what to do in such cases. But how would God tell a person today, whom He was about to use to perform a miracle? How could He do it? God can inspire anyone with His Spirit at any time to suit His purpose and reveal, His will. He filled Saul, before he became king of Israel, with the power of His Holy Spirit and caused him to prophesy (I Sam. 10:9-10). It was not a matter of whether or not Saul was close to God — he was not a converted man. If you have any doubts about God inspiring whomever He wishes, you should read Numbers 22:21-31. God actually caused a dumb donkey to hold a short conversation with a man! And then a short time later He caused Balaam, in blessing Israel, to say just the opposite of what Balaam wanted to say (Num. 24, 25). That should pretty well dispel any doubts anyone may have about God's power to inspire anyone, at any time, to say anything He requires. (You might also compare the example of God inspiring the Jewish High Priest in A.D. 31 to say that Christ should die for the nation — John 11:49-52.) Did you ever notice the words with which many Bible prophecies begin? Let us look at some examples. Ezekiel 11:5: "The Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and said unto me, Speak; thus says the Lord...." And Jeremiah 2:1-2: "Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord...." As Peter wrote, "... Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:21). Of course, this is not to say that a man of God does not have any control over what he is doing with the power God is granting in performing a miracle or series of miracles through him. God does not work through zombielike automatons who perform His will like a pre-programmed computer. The principle in I Corinthians 14:32 shows that men of God do exercise control over the operation of the Spirit of God within them — for "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." And so it is certainly feasible that God could reveal to a man that He has given him power to perform a miracle, or several miracles, and then continue to have the knowledge and the power or authority over a period of time and use it more or less at will. A good example of this is the two witnesses of Revelation 11 who "have power" to perform great miracles on the earth "as often as they will"! (Verse 6.) And notice, incidentally, that when it is God's time for their work to be finished, their ability to perform miracles and the supernatural protection afforded them will be taken away, and they will then be allowed to be KILLED! (Verse 7.)
God Has the Power Today
We need not wonder how God will inform whomever He chooses to use as an instrument in performing a great special miracle or series of miracles. God somehow let Peter know and provided the power to heal the cripple on the spot. He spoke to Moses and opened the Red Sea at Moses' command. Elijah called down fire from heaven by God's special inspiration. And God will take care of the miracles in the future, Brethren, God is going to keep every promise He has ever made to us if we will believe. We are finally going to look back on the troubles and afflictions of today with great rejoicing because of what they are producing in us. So let's build the character now which will enable us to continue overcoming spiritually while enduring the results of great miracles when they come!