Why are there fewer miracles today?

 
Tim Chester | July 24th 2020

In his book exploring the growth of evangelical Christianity, The Hallelujah Revolution, the journalist Ian Cotton describes how Lloyd Kuehl, an American Christian, travelled from the United States to join a group of British Christians praying for the healing of a man called John who was suffering from liver cancer. As it turned out, Lloyd arrived to find that John had already died. But Lloyd felt that God said to him, “I will raise him from the dead”. Fired by this conviction, the group continued to pray that John would be brought to life. Four days later they gave up and John was cremated.

No one has switched God off. Modern humanity has not closed the doors of the world, leaving God on the outside, unable to get in.

So can we expect miracles to happen in the way they did during the ministry of Jesus and the apostles?

Should our expectation of miracles be shaped by what we read in the Gospels and the book of Acts? 

Some people think so. We live in the age of the Spirit, they argue, and so we should expect the story of Acts to continue in our own lives with a miracle for every chapter of our lives.

Yet it’s hard to avoid a recognition that miracles don’t happen today in the way they did in the time of Jesus.

Do Miracles Happen Today?

Do Miracles Happen Today?

£3.99 £3.39

An engaging and accessible guide to the Bible's teaching on miracles and whether they happen today.

The Pattern of Miracles Today

The link between the role of miracles in the Bible and the role of the Bible today enables us to explain the pattern of miracles today.

1. On the Frontline of Mission

We often see more miracles on the front-line of mission and this should not surprise us. Even within the New Testament, we see this (John 4:29; Acts 5:12-16; 8:6-8; 9:35). Miracles abound when the gospel enters new territory. John Stott says, “Especially on the frontiers of mission, where a power-encounter may be needed to demonstrate the lordship of Christ, miracles have been and are being reported”.

There are a number of things that make people more inclined to pay attention to the Christian message: the lives of Christians (Titus 2:9-10); our response to persecution (1 Peter 2:11-12); the community life of the church (John 13:35; 1 Peter 3:8-15); the worship of the gathered congregation (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). But these things are largely absent where a church has not yet been formed. In such contexts, it may be that miracles are more common.

2. Where the Bible is Absent

Another key factor will be the absence of the Bible. As we have seen, we encounter the words and works of Jesus through the apostolic testimony in the New Testament. But on the frontline of mission there may be no copies of the New Testament, maybe even no translation of the Bible in the local language. In such contexts, it may be that miracles play a more significant role.

3. When the Occult is Strong

As we have seen, it seems that Satan’s primary approach in the west at the moment is to spread the lie of materialism, and, to this end, overt Satanic activity is uncommon. In this context, our spiritual warfare is to confront this lie by proclaiming the truth. But where people are involved in Satanic or occult activity, we can expect a different type of confrontation between the people of God and the agents of Satan—one that might involve some form of miraculous release from Satan’s grip.

There is one point in the story of Acts where Luke describes the miracles being performed as “extraordinary”. Even by the standards of the early apostolic period, these miracles were exceptional. Luke says, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched him were taken to those who were ill, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:11-12).

The striking thing is that these took place in Ephesus, a notorious centre for occult activity. Luke himself highlights this very point. He describes a group of seven itinerant Jewish exorcists trying to evoke the name of Jesus but being overpowered by the evil spirit (Acts 19:13-17). As a result, many people confessed their occult practices. Those who had practiced “sorcery” brought their books of spells and burnt them in a public bonfire—sending items valued at around 50,000 silver coins up in smoke (Acts 19:18-19).

Here was a culture deeply entwined with occult practices and this is the context in which Paul did extraordinary miracles. Yet still the focus is on the word of God, for Luke draws this confrontation to a close with the words, “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:20).

4. When Believers are Immature

John Frame (The Doctrine of God) also suggests that God often provides for young believers in more direct and miraculous ways. A parent closely watches a small child and often intervenes in a direct way to prevent them from coming to harm. The child strays near the road and the parent pulls them out of danger. The child feels hungry and the parent spoons food into their mouth. In a similar way, perhaps, God intervenes more directly in the lives of young believers. He keeps them from danger more times than perhaps they realise. But his intent is that they grow and mature. He wants them to learn to avoid temptation and trust him in adversity.

So God may directly intervene less as Christians mature. His interventions become geared towards shaping the Christian’s heart rather than changing their circumstances. Indeed, God may use suffering and unanswered prayer to refine our faith. Frame concludes:

When young Christians become more mature, they often wonder why such things happen to them less often or not at all. They worry that their faith has grown dim, because they don’t see as many supernatural events in their lives. That may be so, but it may also be the case that in their individual lives, as often in Scripture, the extraordinary has been a preparation for the ordinary.

Our compassionate God

On one occasion, Jesus spends an evening healing many people. The following morning the disciples come to find him because everyone is looking for him. People are queuing up, as it were, to see a miracle. But Jesus avoids the crowds. “Let us go somewhere else,” he says, “to the nearby villages—so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38). The next thing that happens is that Jesus meets a man with leprosy who says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40).

It’s an odd thing to say. If the man had met me, he might have said, “If you are able, you would make me clean”. He would doubt my ability. But there are no doubts about the ability of Jesus. What’s in doubt is his willingness because he has just avoided the miracle-seeking crowds so that he can devote himself to preaching. Preaching is his priority and miracles are a distraction. So what happens? “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean’” (Mark 1:41, ESV). Preaching is Jesus’ priority, but he still performs a miracle because he is filled with compassion.

The primary purpose for miracles is to reveal God’s glory and rescue his people.

The same is true today. The primary purpose for miracles is to reveal God’s glory and rescue his people. These purposes have come to a climax in the Lord Jesus Christ and the record of his work in the New Testament. God is still active in his world. He is still a God who is full of compassion. So he does intervene through miracles to provide for his people. But he does so less often now that the primary purpose of miracles has been fulfilled. We certainly don’t need to worry if we’re not seeing many miracles in our lives or our churches.

What matters is that we have faith in the resurrection of Jesus, which is the ultimate sign and the promise of eternal life.

This is an extract from Do Miracles Happen Today? The book is a part of the Questions Christians Ask series. This growing series is ideal for helping you get to grips with some of the biggest questions you may have found yourself asking. 

Throughout all of July we're offering a special discount. Get any 2 from the series for £5 when you use the code 'bigquestions' at the checkout. Shop the entire Questions Christians Ask series here

Tim Chester

Tim Chester is a pastor at Grace Church, Boroughbridge, UK; a faculty member of Crosslands Training; and is the author of over 30 books. He has a PhD in theology and was previously Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK. He has been an adjunct lecturer in missiology and reformed spirituality. Tim is married to Helen and has two daughters.

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