When Thérèse was bitten by a snake, she quickly stopped breathing. Normally, after six minutes with no oxygen, irreparable brain damage begins. After this, it usually becomes impossible to revive a person by any medical means. Yet three hours later a family friend prayed over her still form and she began breathing again. The next day she was fine. Today she has a master’s degree from a seminary and no brain damage.
God’s natural laws are so good that it takes a very good reason for him to suspend them.
God is always involved in the world around us, but what we call miracles usually differ from his ordinary way of working. Miracles get our attention in a special way. God pronounced all that he had made, including the laws of nature, to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). In fact, God’s natural laws are so good that it takes a very good reason for God to suspend them and perform a miracle.
Why Did God Perform Miracles?
Jesus demonstrated God’s rule over nature by instantly healing sickness and delivering people from demons. As Jesus said, since he was casting out demons by God’s power, God’s Kingdom had come upon people (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20). Many of Jesus’ followers in the Bible also did miracles. These pointed to the Good News they preached, not to themselves (Acts 6:8; 8:6; 14:3). Such miracles also reveal God’s heart toward us, showing that he cares about people’s needs.
God normally does miracles as signs, especially to secure the attention of people.
God normally does miracles as signs, especially to secure the attention of people so that they will listen to the messages of his messengers (Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2:3-4). However, getting people’s attention does not fully explain the nature of miracles. Jesus performed some miracles in secret, with instructions to tell no one about them (Mark 7:33-36). These miracles seem to flow out of his great heart of compassion. Jesus also heals in answer to prayer (James 5:14) and performs miracles as gifts for Christ’s body.
Do They Still Happen?
But miracle-working differs from gifts such as teaching. Paul says that not everyone has the same gifts (1 Corinthians 12:29-30). However, any follower of Jesus can pray, and God will sometimes answer dramatically.
Further, we know that miracles do not always happen when we ask (Galatians 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:20). Miracles are a foretaste of the coming kingdom, not the completion of that kingdom. In this age, we still work for our daily bread. We still provide for those in need (Ephesians 4:28). We often use sound medical knowledge. Yet a miracle for any of us is a gift to all of us, because it is a reminder of God’s promise that a day is coming when, at Christ’s return, he will miraculously resurrect our bodies and share with us his perfect Kingdom.
We know that miracles do not always happen when we ask.
Some academicians and scientists doubt miracles because they assume an 18th century Western argument. They say there are no credible eyewitnesses for miracles. Even some theologians reject miracles, arguing that it was only the apostles who had supernatural ability. Yet today there are literally millions of credible witnesses for miracles in Africa and around the world. Most scholars from Africa, Asia, and Latin America readily and rightly dismiss this scepticism.
Should We Distinguish between Miracles and Magic?
In Africa, however, we often face a different question. Although some languages distinguish between “magic” and “miracles,” many African languages do not. God is not the only worker of superhuman wonders. There are also spirits created by God who are in rebellion against him. Pharaoh’s magicians imitated some divine signs (Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7). Others also did (Acts 8:9-11; 13:8; 19:13-14). We can expect many false signs in the world (Mark 13:22; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13). So, how do we distinguish genuine divine miracles from fake or demonic miracles? When God confronts such counterfeits, his works are clearly greater and can expose the imposter (Exodus 7:12; 8:18-19; Acts 8:9-13; 13:9-11).
Neither Jesus nor his agents even charged money for their services.
Remember that Jesus’s miracles were benevolent. All of the miracles Jesus did helped people. Although false prophets may sometimes appear to help people (Acts 19:13), their “goodness” is a cover up for the evil they ultimately do in leading people away from the truth. Unlike other ancient exorcists, Jesus did not need magical formulas or special rituals to heal or drive out demons (Matthew 8:16; Mark 1:27). Although God can work through objects when he chooses (Exodus 4:17; John 9:6; Acts 5:15; 19:12), he usually did not do so. Thus, while we should not rule out that God sometimes works through objects, we should not depend on these or create formulas using objects. Further, neither Jesus nor his agents even charged money for their services.
What is the Purpose of Miracles?
More importantly, miracles are meant to glorify the Lord alone. Jesus honoured the Father through his miracles, and his true followers credited his name for performing miracles (Acts 3:12; 9:34; 14:15). Someone who uses miracles to honour themselves rather than Christ is a false prophet (Acts 8:9-10) or, at best, a very immature Christian.
However, in the same way of thinking, as long as the miracles glorify God, we must be careful not to condemn them just because God does them through someone not from our group or denomination. Jesus reproved his disciple John for condemning a miracle-worker that did not belong to their group (Mark 9:38-42). Miracles do not prove the genuineness of one group’s or leader’s doctrine; genuine miracles are simply evidence of God’s work and should always generate praise and thanksgiving to Christ.
Genuine miracles should always generate praise and thanksgiving to Christ.
Jesus warns in Matthew 7:21-23 that sometimes God may choose to perform miracles through a person who does not follow God. Jesus said we detect true prophets from false ones not by their gifts but by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-16, 20). Further, even when God empowers someone for a task, the power may be for the task rather than a permanent empowerment for the person. In the Old Testament, the Spirit sometimes came on people for given tasks. Even after he began committing sexual sin, Samson retained God’s anointing before losing it through continued disobedience (Judges 16:1-3, 20).
How Can I Recognise False Miracle Workers and Prophets?
- If their signs lead us away from the only true God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
- If they practice or promote immoral behaviour (Jeremiah 23:14; 2 Peter 2:1-2; Revelation 2:14, 20)
- If they claim that Jesus is cursed (1 Corinthians 12:3)
- If they exploit God’s people for money (2 Peter 2:3)
- If they deny that Jesus is Messiah or that he came in the flesh (1 John 2:22; 4:2-3).
Nevertheless, judging is not an excuse to condemn genuine Christians with whom we disagree. Slander is a dangerous sin (Romans 1:30). God’s servants are sometimes slandered (Romans 3:8; 2 Corinthians 6:8). Even faithful Christians are not perfect (1 Corinthians 13:9; Galatians 2:11). Understand that even the prophecies of true Christian prophets need to be evaluated (1 Corinthians 14:29).
Miracles are not a good reason to trust someone’s teaching.
God does not just show himself in “miracles.” Miracles are what theologians call “special divine action.” God has revealed his power in the intricacy of our cells, in giving humans amazing skill to find cures to sicknesses, and in our day-to-day circumstances. In fact, one of the chief ways God shows himself is in how we treat one another. Everyone will know we are Jesus’s disciples by how we love each other (John 13:35).
Points to Remember
- God loves his children and one of the ways he shows this is by helping us with miracles. God often gives miracles at special times of need and crises.
- We cannot force God to do a miracle by our words, how much time we pray, or by some kind of great faith. We pray in faith and God acts according to his perfect will.
- God often gives miracles to encourage the proclamation of the gospel, especially in a place or nation that does not know about Jesus.
- When God does not answer our prayer for a miracle, it is not necessarily due to a lack of faith. We should not feel guilty or doubt God but continue in obedience and trust.
- Miracles are not a good reason to trust someone’s teaching. All teaching must be tested by the truth of God’s Word. The Bible has given us ways to discern if a miracle is from God or not.
Contact Oasis Regional Directors to order your Africa Study Bible:
- Regional Director East Africa: WhatsApp: +27 79 572 4877
- Regional Director West Africa: WhatsApp +234 809 111 1184
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