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Miracles Point To Something

Brain_Bible Blogpost

     Throughout our study over the book of Acts, we have addressed the topic of miracles on numerous occasions.  It's difficult not to, since the stories of the miraculous works that were being done during the infancy of the Church litter its pages.  I've already written on the purpose of miracles earlier in our study of Acts, so I don't want to repeat what has already been stated.  However, as with anything supernatural, discussion on the topic of miracles often creates more questions than it answers.  For that reason, it may be fruitful to revisit the topic in the hopes of adding even greater clarity.

     Cody has admitted throughout his teaching on Acts that he would describe himself as a naturally skeptical person.  This doesn't mean that he doesn't believe in miracles in general or that he believes miracles do not occur.  He would be quick to affirm that God's work in salvation is clearly miraculous in nature!  However, I believe he and I would agree in saying that miraculous sign gifts like we see in the scriptures do not appear to be the normative way in which God chooses to act in the world, both now and throughout history.  After all, even within scripture they only "commonly" occur during unique periods in redemptive history.  In other words, they have always served a special purpose in the outworking of God's plan of redemption and salvation.  Therefore, skepticism (or at minimum, proceeding cautiously) related to claims of miraculous signs and wonders is a reasonable, and even biblical response.  Allow me to explain why.

     In Exodus chapters 7 and 8, Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh on the authority of God to demand that the Jews be released from bondage in Egypt.  To authenticate their message, God grants them the ability to perform miraculous signs (remember, one of the main purposes of miracles is to confirm the divinely given authority of God's messengers).  On three different occasions, Pharaoh's "magicians" were able to replicate the miraculous signs that Moses and Aaron performed.

     Admittedly, this story in scripture has always left me confused.  Primarily, because these magicians, who were not men of God, nor speaking as his messengers, were able to perform these signs just like Moses and Aaron.  Scholars have often explained these events in one of two ways.  Either the magicians were performing "black magic" through demonic power, or they were ancient illusionists that were skilled in sleight of hand and simply performed magic tricks.  The second explanation, while less problematic for our understanding of miracles, doesn't seem to fit well with the narrative of the events as they are described in the Bible.  The first, though, creates a number of questions we must answer.

     First, if the magicians were, in fact, able to perform miracles through the power of Satan, then does that mean that we can't trust miracles exclusively as signs that point us to the work of God???  I don't believe that to be the case, and here is why.  One of the best sources for understanding the details of the relationship between God and Satan is found in the book of Job.  In the early chapters, we see Satan come to God and request his permission to inflict suffering upon Job.  This is important, because it clearly places even Satan under the authority of God.  Too often, we have a dualistic view of God and Satan as opposite sides of the same coin.  In the cosmic battle for the fate of the universe, Satan plays the role of Lex Luthor, trying to thwart Superman, as played by God.  However, scripture makes it clear that this is simply not the case.  God, as the only eternal, sovereign, and almighty Lord and Creator, is opposed by nothing.  He accomplishes all that he pleases...and all that he accomplishes is good and wise.

     In the story of Job, God has a plan and a purpose in allowing Satan to work against Job.  In the same way, if Pharaoh's magicians were performing signs through the power of Satan, it was only because God had ultimately allowed it.  Even Satan depends upon God for everything...his "life" and "power" not the least of these.  Of course, if this is true, then the question we all want answered is why.  Why does God allow and empower Satan to do anything?  People have been trying to answer that question definitively for thousands of years and are still no closer to being able to do so.  At the end of the day, the only adequate response we can make is one that is rooted in the truths of scripture...namely that God is good, wise, and trustworthy.  There is intention in all that he does and everything that happens serves to further his kingdom and herald his glory...EVERYTHING!  We see this in the story of the Egyptian magicians, because God ultimately freed his people from bondage and exacted his judgement upon Pharaoh, just like he said he would.

     So, what does this mean for us though in terms of how we should understand miracles?  I think it is an important example of why we shouldn't simply take all miraculous claims at face value and why there is wisdom in treading cautiously.  When we hear someone claim to be a worker of signs and wonders, we need to ultimately ask the question, "How does this point me to God and further his glory?"  If that answer isn't clear and concise, we should proceed cautiously.

     Experience has taught us that the fastest way to gather a following is to offer people something new and exciting.  This is simple psychology.  Advertisers and marketers have clearly learned this trick...just watch the television commercials that run during your favorite show or sporting event.  So, it stands to reason that a person who wants to draw people unto himself in the realm of faith and spirituality would use miracles to draw people in.  Jesus himself regularly rebuked the crowds that followed him concerning their motivation for gathering.  He rightly perceived that many of the people came simply to "see the show."

     Jesus performed miracles to validate his message, and people fake them for the very same reason.  As Cody referenced in his message, recently, a "pastor" in Africa performed a resurrection of a dead man.  Obviously, this drew quite a crowd and he was sure to have the whole thing filmed so he could share it with the world.  The video went viral and has been viewed by millions.  This otherwise unknown man from Africa has now made world news.  Yet, while his fame has grown, the fame and glory of God has diminished, because his "miracle" has been outed as an obvious hoax.

     Here's the bottom line, miracles point to something (that's why we often call them signs), but it requires a discerning mind to understand what.  In fact, it is most often when looking back upon the miracles in hindsight that one gains the best perspective.  This is often true of the miracles we see in scripture.  How often do we find ourselves guilty of scoffing at the people who rejected Jesus during his earthly ministry?  We think we would have seen and understood everything that was unfolding.  Unlike them, we wouldn't have been so foolish...we would have gotten it!  And yet, even those who were closest to him, his disciples, often struggled to understand.  I think this is part of how miracles work.  They are often veiled in mystery.  This is yet another reason why we need to handle them with such great care.

     When it comes to the topic of miracles, there is often no shortage of varying opinions.  When you take a position, regardless of what it is, you are sure to find yourself standing in opposition to someone.  For this reason, teaching on topics such as these is often neglected.  However, it is important that we have a healthy understanding of what is good and bad in the realm of Christianity...because there is plenty of both out there!  Because we preach grace, the natural conclusion that people come to is that to be a good Christian is to be inclusive and accepting.  However, this isn't what the Bible teaches.  Yes, we are called to share the Gospel indiscriminately with all, but that doesn't require us to accept everyone or everything that claims to be Christian as good and true.

     Being a good Christian means that we seek to know and understand truth.  When we encounter truth claims, we measure them against scripture.  We seek to be discerning and careful of what we accept, because we realize how great the stakes truly are for us and for others.  Ultimately, our goal is to equip people to walk confidently in the knowledge of truth, as men and women who are able to identify and reject false teaching and anything that seeks to harm them individually, and the body as a whole.

In Grace,
Chris Morris

If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.

Part 46 - Eutychus Raised From The Dead

Questions discussed in this sermon:
1.  Why do Christians gather on Sundays?
2.  Why take communion every week?
3.  What did the miracle of raising Eutychus from death prove?  

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