Should we expect miracles today?
In the fourth century the great church leader, Augustine, disparaged the idea of God healing in his day. However, he came to change his mind, and he wrote, ‘it is only two years since we began keeping records here in Hippo and already, at the time of writing, we have seen over seventy attested miracles’ (in ‘The City of God’).
In the 1500s the greater reformer, Martin Luther, had not believed that miracles were for his day. Then his friend, Philip Melanchthon, became seriously ill. As Luther visited Melanchthon, he was prompted to write on his friend’s wall the words of Psalm 118:17: ‘I shall not die but shall live and tell the deeds of the Lord.’ Immediately Melanchthon began to show visible signs of recovery, and Luther believed this was a miracle.
In the book of Acts, we see miracles, but is our experience to be like that of Acts?
There is a sense in which the book of Acts is unique. We might read Acts and think that miracles always happen. But in Acts we are focused in on the ministry of the apostles, and in Acts we have events which took place over thirty years condensed down to twenty-eight chapters.
There was a special relationship between miracles and the apostles (Acts 2:43). Signs, wonders and miracles were among the marks of an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12). In Acts 9, the people of Joppa could not raise Tabitha from the dead, but they sent for the apostle Peter who was in nearby Lydda, who came and raised her (Acts 9:32-43). Acts is not necessarily describing the everyday experience of everyday Christians.
Even in New Testament times miracles did not always happen. It was an unhealed illness that led Paul to go to the uplands of Galatia (4:13). Paul tells Timothy to take some wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul leaves his companion Trophimus behind in Miletus because Trophimus was ill (2 Timothy 4:20).
However, writing to ordinary church members at Corinth, Paul talks of people being given the gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9) and of an ability to perform miraculous powers (1 Corinthians 12:10). James tells the church that if someone is sick, they should call the elders of the church to come and pray with them with the expectation that they will be healed (James 5:14). It is not only apostles that perform miracles. Indeed, Paul seems to see the miraculous as being a part of the church to the end of the age (1 Corinthians 13:10).
How often should we expect the miraculous to occur? Well, some of that will be related to our faith and expectation that God can and does do miracles today. However, if a miracle we are praying for does not happen, that does not necessarily imply that we lacked faith. In fact, miracles do not necessary mean that a person or church is spiritual. Don’t assume that a church or a person experiencing miracles is more spiritual than any other church or person. There will be those who say to Jesus, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name and in your name drive out demons, and in your name preform many miracles?’ Yet Jesus will say, ‘I never knew you’ (Matthew 7:22-23). We should give God the freedom to acts as he chooses. We should delight in his ordinary and his spectacular blessings. We should be open to miracles, but not demand them (Matthew 16:4).
It is worth noting that when the church is moving into a new area, miracles seem to occur with greater frequency. John Stott wrote, ‘especially on the frontier of missions when a power encounter may need to be necessary to demonstrate the lordship of Christ miracles have been and are been reported.’ Could it be that as the church in the west continues to be surrounded by a hostile secularism that God will seek to halt this rot by demonstrating his miraculous power?