Modern Miracles? Do miracles still happen?

Modern miracles are certainly claimed by various ones. Often they will attempt to find support for their assertions in the Word of God, saying we should expect the supernatural as a daily occurrence because that was the experience of those who lived back then. But, contrary to popular belief, a careful study of the Scriptures shows miracles were not sprinkled evenly throughout the Bible times. Instead, there are three periods of concentrated miracles. These are: during the time of Moses and Joshua; during the time of Elijah and Elisha; during the time of Jesus and the Apostles

Each of these periods lasted for approximately 70 years. Through many centuries between each, miracles tended to be only very occasional events. (It is interesting that a representative from each of these three periods met on the Mount of Transfiguration, Matt. 17:1-3.)

So, what about today? Some suggest we should be seeing the same thing that was experienced in Jesus' day because He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). And yes, He is the same. The same Person, still and always Israel's promised Messiah (which is the point in Hebrews). Kenneth Wuest translates the statement, "Jesus is Messiah, yesterday and today the same, and forever." He is the only Messiah Israel will ever have. But that does not mean He always works in the same way.

The Bible gives us no reason to think that today we should be seeing a great concentration of miracles. The three periods when there was a major breakthrough of the supernatural are definite and well-defined. Each cluster of miracles does not start until after the key person is on the scene. After Moses comes along, the miracles begin, and after Elijah's ministry begins. It is the same with Jesus. Great as he was, John the Baptist did not perform one single miracle (Jn. 10:41). Nor did Jesus until His three years of ministry had begun (Jn. 2:11).

In keeping with the pattern, the next explosion of miracles won't begin until after Christ returns (cf. Isa. 35). Based on that, what we can expect today is an occasional breakthrough of the supernatural, here and there. And that is pretty much what we do see. Individuals or groups that emphasize the miraculous, claiming things are just the same as they were in Bible times, have great trouble matching the facts with what they say should be happening.

Sadly, that sometimes results in gross exaggeration or even fraud. A few years ago a famous faith healer claimed he went into a hospital in Ontario and healed everyone--that he emptied the hospital! But when someone checked with the hospital they said they never heard of him, and nothing like that ever happened. More recently, a fellow on television told about some amazing miracles happening in the north among the Inuit. But missionaries who were there say the report was not at all accurate.

We certainly can have confidence in God's power to do great things beyond the natural and the normal. We serve a powerful God. But we also need a healthy bit of skepticism so we do not simply believe everything we hear or read (cf. Jn. 7:24; I Thess. 5:21). Not even when the name of Christ is invoked. Jesus warns, "Many will say to Me in that day [the day of His return to reign], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not...done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Matt. 7:21-23).

Concerning modern miracles, when someone claims a miracle has happened--let us say a miracle of healing--there are always five or six possibilities to be considered.

1) It could be true. God can do miraculous things. Elijah's God still lives today. It would be unwise to put God in a box and say a miracle is impossible.

2) The event could be explainable by natural means. The human body has an amazing ability to heal itself. Recovery can sometimes happen quickly, and unexpectedly. When it does, we thank the Lord. He did it, by designing the body's wonderful powers to recuperate (or by gifting medical people to provide the right treatment). But that is not a miracle in the sense that God had to overrule some basic law of nature to accomplish it.

3) Other times it may be a case of mind over matter. Doctors have known for some time that if a person thinks he will get better, he sometimes will. In the days of the old west, quacks used to go around selling "cure-alls." Often there was not much in them but water, a bit of flavouring, and some alcohol. Yet sometimes, when people took the concoction believing it would help them, it did. Again, not a "miracle."

4) The person could simply be mistaken. He could think he has been healed when he has not. A faith healer tells him, "You're healed! Throw away your medicine. And don't go to a doctor--that would show a lack of faith." And maybe he seems better for a short time. But when the symptoms get worse, he feels guilty for his lack of faith. We have all heard of sad cases where such people, who could have been helped by proper treatment, have died instead.

5) There can be outright fraud, healings that are faked to deceive the gullible and naive (and to take their money!). This happens all too frequently. One famous healer claimed a miraculous "gift of knowledge" about the illnesses of people in the audiences before him. But he was being fed information by his wife through a hidden earphone--information gathered earlier in interviews! Such con games simply bring unnecessary ridicule to the Christian message and to legitimate servants of God.

6) There are other supernatural powers at work in the world as well as God's. The book of Job shows us the devil can cause disease (Job 2:7). It would not be surprising if he also could take sickness away, in some circumstances. Many false religions and cults assert they experience miracles. Maybe some are real miracles, but the source of the supernatural power is not God (cf. II Thess. 2:9).

When the miraculous is claimed, it could be one or another of these is the true explanation. We do not really need to prove which it is. If it is any of the first three, we can simply praise the Lord for the person's recovery, without arguing over how God did it. If an individual claims to have experienced a miracle, that is largely a subjective assessment, and it is difficult to argue against it. It did not happen to us. We can simply thank the Lord that something good occured.

If it is any of the latter three, we need to be concerned for the welfare of the person. He could be dangerously misled and in error. Is he, for example, saying, "This happened to me, and therefore it should happen to you"? That is not biblical. In the case of bodily healing, we know that God, for His own wise purposes, does not always grant healing (cf. II Cor. 12:7-10; II Tim. 4:20).

Or is the person saying, "This happened to me and therefore my views must be correct--or what I am doing must be good and pleasing to God"? That is not right either. In Numbers 20 we read of a great miracle--water provided from a rock to quench the thirst of a nation. But God gave it in grace, even though Moses had a bad attitude and sinned in performing the miracle (Num. 20:1-13).

There is a school of thought (called "power evangelism") that says miracles are needed today, in order to convince people to turn to Christ. But that is not so. The miracles of Bible times were given by God for the purpose of accrediting His messengers and their message (Acts 2:22; II Cor. 12:11-12; Heb. 2:3-4). Now that the message has been confirmed in this way, and written down in God's Word, it no longer needs special accreditation.

The Holy Spirit speaks through the inspired Word of God. It is the Spirit's sword (Eph. 6:17), "living and powerful...piercing even to the division of soul and spirit" (Heb. 4:12). That is the method God uses to change lives. There is nothing more powerful. In fact, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, [God's Word confirmed and written down] neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" (Lk. 16:31). We do not need to pray for more miracles. We simply need to declare the Word of the living God, in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. A life transformed by the gospel becomes its own living confirmation of the gospel.

There is no reason to expect that today we will see a concentration of miracles rivaling the three specific periods described in the Scriptures. Miracles are no longer needed to confirm God's message. If God sovereignly grants a miracle now, it is an individual act of mercy, sometimes given in answer to prayer (I Jn. 5:14). When God works in an amazing and unusual way, we can praise Him, but we must understand that it is not His common way of working. Further, we should be careful not to draw conclusions from the event that are not accurate or biblical.