Evangelism: In Defense of Miracles

Evangelism: In Defense of Miracles

I wrote previously about two translations of the word dynamin in the verse Acts 1:8. The word is most often—and very properly—translated as “power,” but it can also be translated, and has been translated in other passages, as “miraculous power” or “ability.” For many people, they read “explosive power” back into the text, which is, honestly, bad scholarship. I hope that I have not done further damage by contrasting the “explosive power” of miracles with the “empowered abilities” of the Spirit’s daily work in our lives.
Today, I would like to look at a different aspect of this discussion of miracles and defend them in the cause of evangelism.

Two Types of Miracles

There are two types of miracles: physical (i.e. tangible, visible) and spiritual (i.e. intangible, invisible). Because of the very nature of physical miracles these are the type most commonly associated with the term itself. When we hear the word “miracle,” we think of the lame walking, the deaf hearing, or the blind seeing. We think of the leper being healed with a loving touch or the raising of the dead with a bold command.
These are valid, glorious miracles, and we would be blessed to see, let alone, experience them. And yet, I’m going to argue that these are the lesser category of miracles. Before you get upset, let me explain. I’ll start with

When people think of the power of the Holy Spirit, visible, spectacular works usually come to mind. Most of the time, the kind of power we need in everyday life is neither spectacular nor sensational, but it is supernatural. Accomplishing God’s purposes in the world requires divine help beyond our natural abilities. Supernatural living is not always outwardly dramatic.

((Quote taken from The Local Church in Evangelism by Randy Hurst, 3rd Edition, p. 76))
I almost included this quote in my last post, but I think it nicely bridges the two. Explosive, spectacular miracles are incredible, but they aren’t as important to our daily life as some might think. Too often, the spectacular can become a mere spectacle, which distracts us from the greater miracles in the spiritual realm.
But perhaps you’re still not convinced of my prioritizing of miracles. Let’s look to the Luke 5 for some biblical support:

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
Luke 5:17-25

The power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick, and yet the first thing Jesus does when He encounters this obviously paralyzed man is to forgive the man’s sins. He skipped past the obvious need of his physical condition to the more important need of his spiritual condition. Then, only to prove that He had the power to do what was most important, Jesus healed the man’s body.
The people walked away that day saying, “We have seen remarkable things today,” and that’s the whole issue. We have a desire to see something. We want spectacle, and we will settle for the lesser miracles so long as we get our thrills. In reality, however, the intangible miracles are far more important. Healing of the spirit is an eternal miracle. The divinely healed body, even one raised from the dead such as Lazarus, will still die, still face decay. However, the spirit that has been cleansed of sin and made alive will live on after the body has died. Like so many issues in the Church, this is result of our materialism: we focus too much on the temporal and tangible than the eternal and intangible.
To our shame, we clamor for signs and wonders, as if these were the greatest gift that God could give us or the surest signs of His power and presence. However, Jesus Himself said that it would be an intangible, spiritual miracle that would mark us as His followers:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:34-35

The Church is to be marked by her love. Jesus commanded us to love others, and I don’t know of a single command that has been to us by God that we can accomplish by our own power. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit to empower us, to produce His fruit in us—love, joy, peace, patience, etc.—the character of Jesus. Again, my course book puts it like this:

When Jesus taught His disciples about the characteristics that would be convincing marks of His followers, He did not talk about signs and wonders, but about love.

((Hurst, 77))
We are to be marked by our godly character. Will there be signs and wonders performed by the church? Certainly! But are those to be our focus? No. Signs as wonders will cease in eternity. We won’t need divine healing and such after the resurrection has come, but we will be in the fullness of God’s presence because of the spiritual miracles performed upon our souls. Furthermore, our resurrection bodies will be provided to us on the basis of our souls having already been raised form the dead by the power of Christ having worked miraculously upon us. The intangible miracles are the greatest miracles for they meet our greatest need and will have eternal effect.
Now, regarding the performing of miracles by His followers, Jesus had this to say:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
John 14:12

For a second, let’s recount some of the types of physical miracles Jesus performed: exponential multiplication of food, walking upon water, calming storms, healing incurable neurological diseases (leprosy), healing the blind, lame, and mute. Time and again, these miracles were shocking to those around them and would be so to us today. Yet, Jesus said that we would do greater things than what He had done. But wait! Jesus even healed the dead, and He still promises that we would do greater things!
Greater things!
What’s greater than multiplying food? How about ending food shortages and making sure that no one in the world goes hungry?
What’s greater than walking upon water and calming storms? How about walking over to our neighbors’ houses and being a source of calm and peace in the storms of life?
What’s greater than divinely healing the sick? How about providing medical care in impoverished nations or following natural disasters?
What’s greater than raising the dead? How about bringing the gospel of life to a dead soul that it might be raised to eternal life?
As great as Christ is and as great as His miracles were, all those He blessed with tangible miracles experienced tangible needs again. Those He fed were surely hungry again. Those He healed would still eventually die, along with the three He raised from the dead. Tangible miracles are temporary.
What greater things could the Church accomplish if she set about the mission God had given her with renewed, spirit-fueled passion? Would it be amazing to see a person in a wheelchair dancing in celebration of their divine healing or to hear the exultant singing of a formerly mute person? Of course, but right now, I think this world is in need of greater things: the healing of hearts and communities divided by sin, hatred, and violence. In a time where hatred and discord are setting our cities on fire, we are in need of the greater things, of spiritual miracles that can release the spirit of the bitterness and anger that fuel the violence and sin which threaten our society.
Will we ever undo the effects of sin upon this world? No, but it is our mission to bring the redemptive message and power of Christ to all individuals, in hope of redeeming as much of this world as possible, until such time as our Lord returns to finish the task.
Miracles still happen, both spiritual and physical, but let’s keep our focus on the greater things: the eternal miracles God works within the hearts of humanity.
[If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read the final post in this series.]