Does God Still Do Miracles?

Topical Scripture: Acts 9:36–43

You’ve made it to Spring. Not officially, of course—the first day of spring is March 20, which is when the sun crosses our equator (the Vernal Equinox) and the day contains twelve hours of sunlight and twelve hours of darkness.

But most of us think of March as the first month of Spring. You may not know that all is not goodness and light with this month. It is named for Mars, the Roman god of war. Wars in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen all started in March.

Not all March military events are planned. On March 1, 2007, a detachment of Swiss infantrymen got lost on a training mission and accidentally invaded neighboring Liechtenstein, a country approximately the size of McKinney, Texas. Its 37,000 residents were not aware that they had been invaded. Since they have no army, they chose not to retaliate.

Wars are just one symptom of our fallen planet. A zookeeper in Florida was training a rhinoceros named Archie when it struck her with its horn, sending her to the hospital. In worse news, a woman in South Carolina was wrestling with her dogs in her front yard when they attacked and killed her.

The world reminds us every day that we live in a fallen world. Where do you need God to intervene in your life? What miracle do you need from him? It could be physical, financial, emotional, or relational.

Does he still do miracles? If so, how do we pray for them? What should we do when he doesn’t do what we want him to do?

These are pressing, practical questions we’ll ask Peter this week.

A miraculous story

Our story begins in Joppa, which has been called the oldest seaport in the world. A suburb of Tel Aviv today, it is still a popular tourist attraction. Jonah sailed from here to Tarshish to avoid God’s call to Nineveh (Jonah 1:3). Logs for building the temple were sailed to this port before being transported to Solomon in Jerusalem.

A disciple named Tabitha lived there. Her name is Aramaic and means “gazelle”; Luke translates her name into the Greek Dorcas, a hint that his reader(s) did not understand Aramaic and thus may have been Gentiles and/or Romans (cf. the dedication to “Theophilus,” perhaps a Roman official, Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1).

Her mercy ministry was widely known and received, so that her untimely death was mourned by all. The disciples heard that Peter was nearby in Lydda and summoned him to come urgently (Jewish custom gave those living outside Jerusalem only three days to bury the corpse).

Peter found the deceased girl and her mourners “upstairs” (v. 39), the typical “upper room” used by families as a kind of den. The apostle had been present each time Jesus raised the dead (Matthew 9:25, Luke 7:11–17, John 11:1–44), so he knew that his Lord possessed such power. Unlike Jesus, he knelt and prayed, making clear the fact that this miracle would come from God or it would not come at all. “Prayed” translates the Greek aorist tense, indicating a one-time action.

He then called the girl by name, an indication that he believed God intended to raise her. And he did.

The result of this physical miracle was an even more important spiritual miracle: “many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42). As in Lydda earlier (v. 35), this is always God’s ultimate purpose in healing our bodies. They will die again, but souls which turn to him in response to such grace will live forever in his paradise.

If Jesus can raise the dead, what can’t he do? Think back to all the ways the Lord has revealed his powerful grace to you. He gave you physical life, then spiritual salvation. He has given you health, the freedoms we enjoy, and a wonderful church family. When we remember all he has done, we will more readily trust him for all he will do. When we see his power, we can trust his providence.

Are miracles plausible today?

As C. S. Lewis observed, the man who denies the sunrise does not harm the sun—he only proves himself foolish. What can we learn about our culture from its views of the miraculous? And about ourselves?

Mad at miracles

Most dictionaries consider a “miracle” to be an event or action which apparently contradicts scientific laws as we understand them. Sometimes we experience a miracle of coincidence, where highly improbable but not impossible events occur (a friend calls you unexpectedly, just when you most needed to hear from her). Other miracles are actual violation of physical laws (a friend calls you on a telephone which is disconnected).

Both kinds occurred often in the biblical record. Moses, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul all experienced and initiated them. And Jesus’ miracles were crucial to his ministry. They validated his Messiahship (Matthew 11:4–5), showed that he was from God (John 5:36; 14:11), and were intended to lead to saving faith (John 20:30–31).

Yet miracles themselves may not convince those who witness them (cf. John 15:24; Luke 16:31). At issue is our worldview. As J. S. Mill said in 1843, “If we do not already believe in supernatural agencies, no miracle can prove to us their existence.” Either we didn’t see what we thought we saw, or there’s another explanation than the miraculous. Many have taken such skeptical positions.

Benedict Spinoza (died 1677) argued that it is impossible for natural laws to be changed. If an event appears to be a miracle, this is only because we have not yet found the natural explanation. Isaac Newton agreed that time and space have an absolute fixed character, so that miracles by definition are impossible.

David Hume added that we cannot prove any cause and effect, much less the cause of so-called miracles. He believed that we should test all reported events in the light of our personal experience. If you have not experienced the miraculous, you cannot trust the testimony of another to its veracity.

Ernst Troelsch, the famous historian, took Hume’s position a step further: no writer of history should include a reported experience which does not occur today. If people no longer walk on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus didn’t, either. Karl Marx added the conviction that miracles are supernaturalistic wishes, nothing more.

You may be surprised to find that some Christians are likewise skeptical of the miraculous, though for different reasons. Some believe that miracles ended with the early church. Others maintain that miracles no longer occur, as the need for them in establishing revelation is now past.

The logic of the miraculous

Are there answers to the above skeptics? Absolutely. Most critics decide that the miraculous is by definition impossible, though they have no empirical or rational reasons to do so. Many point to their own lack of experience with miracles as reason to debunk the category itself. But could a man living in a warm climate believe in ice? Should we trust the experience of a person who denies that such experience is possible?

Science works with probability, not absolute logical proof. Those who seek incontrovertible evidence for the miraculous demand a standard they could not fulfill with their own truth claims. For instance, when experimenters measure light in one way, they determine that it travels as waves; measured in other ways, it appears to travel as particles. Both cannot be true, but neither can be disproved or proved. Niels Bohr called this phenomenon the “principle of complementarity.” Aristotle would call it a contradiction.

Newton saw the universe as a machine incapable of behavior outside the parameters of natural laws. After Einstein, this analytical era in science has come to an end. We now know that to observe or measure something is to alter it. Predictability is less possible, and antisupernaturalistic presuppositions are less defensible. Even Einstein stated, “I think of the comprehensibility of the world as a miracle.”

It all comes to worldview. If God created and designed the universe, he possesses the freedom to alter it as he wishes. He may act according to “laws” we discern within its operations, or he may not. What is a miracle to us is not to him. The laptop on which I am writing these words obeys none of the laws within which my father’s manual typewriter operated. But its “miraculous” abilities are nonetheless obvious.


When you need a miracle, what should you do?

One: Ask God.

In this case, Peter “knelt down and prayed” (v. 40). He did not assume that God could not or would not answer his prayer. He knelt, showing that the answer would come not from him, but from God.

Two: Expect God to answer your prayer.

Peter turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, arise.” He believed that God had heard him and would do what he asked God to do. In this case, the Lord did.

Three: Trust him to do what is best.

Here, it was best for him to raise Dorcas back to life, since “it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (v. 42). Since Joppa was such a significant seaport, this story could quickly travel all over the world.

However, this was not best for Dorcas. She had to come from heaven back to earth, from God’s perfect paradise to our fallen planet. Then she had to do her dying all over again. She was a missionary by the call and purpose of God.

At other times, God does not heal as we ask. When Paul pled three times with God to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” the Lord responded: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). Paul learned: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (v. 9b). His ability to live with his “thorn” was a greater miracle than if God had removed it.

A dear friend of mine in Midland was dying from breast cancer. Our entire congregation prayed fervently for God to heal her. I have witnessed other such miracles—people healed of cancer, heart disease, and other terminal illnesses. But God did not heal my friend physically.

Instead, he gave her the grace to withstand her suffering with such grace and joy that she marked every person who knew her. She glorified God far more by her faith than she would have by her healing. And then the Lord healed her eternally when he took her to paradise.

Pray for a miracle and trust your Father for what is best. This is the invitation of God.

How to Move the World

Topical Scripture: Acts 12:1–5

Archimedes, who died in 212 BC, was the first scientist to recognize the power of the lever. He once famously said, “Give me a place to stand and rest my lever, and I can move the Earth.” We will learn today how to use that lever.

Oswald Chambers noted: “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.

Billy Graham added: “In the morning, prayer is the key that opens to us the treasures of God’s mercies and blessings; in the evening, it is the key that shuts us up under His protection and safeguard.”

Prayer is the lever which can move the world. Here’s how the lever works.

Hold a prayer meeting (vv. 1–4)

As Acts 12 opens, it is the early part of AD 44 and we find the infant Christian church in yet another crisis. King Herod, grandson of the Herod of Jesus’ birth, is ruler of the Jews. And he wants to placate and please them. Thus, he beheads James, one of their leaders. Then he arrests Peter, the chief of the apostles, intending to kill him as soon as the Feast of Unleavened Bread passes. Jews by the tens of thousands will be in Jerusalem. Herod won’t miss this chance to impress his subjects.

So, he seizes Peter and turns him over to four squads of four guards each (v. 4). He’s probably heard of Peter’s earlier escape at the hands of the angel (Acts 5:18–21) and wants to avoid a repeat fiasco. The apostle was likely imprisoned in the fortress Antonia, northwest of the temple area, where Paul would later be confined as well (Acts 21:31–23:32).

Four soldiers are with him at all times—two chained to his body, and two to guard the door. Not to mention the soldiers stationed at the main door to the fortress or others patrolling the area. This is the highest security Rome can muster.

What does the church do? Organize a mob and storm the prison? Circulate a petition to get the names of leading Christians in Jerusalem to request Peter’s release? Take a collection to bribe Herod for his freedom?

They hold a prayer meeting.

Could anything be more ridiculous and fruitless? Imagine praying for a man so securely incarcerated, so near execution. Suppose a family and friends kept vigil outside Huntsville, while their loved one was being readied for execution, praying for him to escape. How would we view their prayers?

Here’s a better question: how would God?

Where are you in jail this week? Where is someone you love? Have you prayed yet? Have you asked others to join you? Have you held a prayer meeting? Will you?

Pray as they prayed (v. 5)

Suppose you call fellow believers to join you in intercession. What now? Let’s make the example of our text the model we follow: “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (v. 5). R. A. Torrey’s classic The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power contains an investigation of this verse which we will follow in our study.

Pray together

Luke notes that “the church” was earnestly praying for Peter. By now the followers of Jesus number more than five thousand men, not counting women and children (Acts 4:4). They were scattered across the larger area (Acts 8:1), but news of Peter’s impending execution would travel quickly across the region. Luke is careful to note that the house to which Peter would go following his release was “where many people had gathered and were praying” (v. 12). But this was not “the church” in total. All who knew Jesus were calling on him, together.

Imagine having five thousand families praying for you. Jesus promised great power in response to such unity: “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19–20).

Two horses working alone can do the work of two. But two horses pulling together can do the work of forty working alone. There is more power in praying together than the world knows. With this lever we can indeed move the earth.

With whom will you pray this week?

Pray with intensity

They were “earnestly praying” for Peter, as should we. The Greek is in the continuous tense; they were still praying in the morning when Peter escaped and came to them. Thus, they prayed all night. “Earnestly” pictures a runner straining for the finish line. There is work in intercessory prayer, hard labor.

Paul informed the Colossians of one who was engaged in such work on their behalf: “Epaphras . . . is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you” (Colossians 4:12–13). Jesus himself furnishes our best example: “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

For whom will you pray with intensity this week?

Pray to God

It seems redundant that Luke would write, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (emphasis mine). To whom else would they be praying? Actually, the options are several.

We can pray to impress each other with our eloquent words or pious faith. When you lead in public prayer, isn’t it hard not to pray to the people instead of to God?

We can pray to ourselves in a kind of meditation or contemplation. We can allow our minds to wander and daydream so that we are not praying at all. Shakespeare makes one of his characters lament, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below; words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

Or we can pray “to God.” We can enter the presence of the Lord Almighty. We can find ourselves kneeling before the throne of the God of the universe, the Creator of all that exists. We know when we are praying to God and when we are praying about him; when we are connected with him, our spirit is one with his spirit. Here is true power—not in our prayer, but in the One to whom we pray.

Will you connect with God this week?

Pray specifically

Again, it seems redundant for Luke to write, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (emphasis mine). For what other purpose would they be together? Again, the options are several.

We can meet to be seen meeting. We can meet to “get something out of the service.” We can meet to pray generically (“Lord, heal all the hurting and save all the lost, and forgive all our sins”). Or we can pray specifically.

We ask God to “be with us” when he already promised he would be (Matthew 28:20). We ask him to “bless us” when we wouldn’t know what that meant if he did. If we would pray specifically, telling God our actual need and asking him for particular answers, he would know how to answer us. And we would know when he did.

This is how God wants us to pray: together, with intensity, to our Father, specifically. This lever will move the world.

Expect God to answer (vv. 6–19)

The night before Peter was to be executed, he was asleep between two soldiers (v. 6), an indication of the peace of his soul. Then suddenly God’s angel came, and everything changed. He woke Peter up, removed his shackles, led him out of prison past two sets of guards, and set him free.

Then Peter knew that God had indeed spared his life. He went immediately to the prayer meeting at the home of John Mark’s mother. Because the early church was so large, they had to meet in many homes. This was apparently the house church with whom Peter worshipped. He knew they had been praying for him, so he went to show them the answer to their intercession.

And then, in one of the humorous ironies of God’s word, they couldn’t believe it was really him. The servant girl was so excited at hearing his voice that she left him exposed on the street while she told the rest of the crowd. Imagine you’re standing by the locked door, with Roman guards probably by now scouring the streets in pursuit. Your faith is still being tested, this time by your friends.

Meanwhile, the church couldn’t believe the girl’s testimony (v. 15). Here is proof that fallen people can still pray in power. Their faith was less than it should have been, as ours usually is. Is your typical response to a miraculous answered prayer one of calm expectation or shocked surprise? Finally, they came to the door, let Peter inside, and praised God together.

When you pray as these people prayed, expect God to move as God moved. This lever opens prison bars, sets prisoners free, and moves the world.


Christians hold in our hearts the lever which can move the world. Will you use it this week?

I am convinced that every believer needs a personal prayer ministry and notebook. Develop a list of lost and unchurched people and pray for them by name. Make a list of other people for whom you will pray daily. List other less urgent needs for each day of the week. Write down your requests, and document God’s answers. When I began keeping such a notebook, my prayer life was revolutionized.

Pray personally, and collectively. When coals stay together, they stay lit. When they are separated, they grow cold. We need each other.

A few years ago, a group of missionaries were camping at night on a hillside. Bands of robbers were common in the area. The missionaries were carrying money, and feared attack. After praying, they finally went to sleep.

Months later, the leader of one of the robber bands was brought to the mission hospital for treatment. While there, he asked the missionaries if they still had the soldiers who guarded them that night. “We intended to rob you,” he admitted, “but were afraid of the twenty-seven soldiers.” When the story got back to the church supporting these missionaries, someone remembered, “We had a prayer meeting that night, and there were twenty-seven of us present.”

How many are here today?

Why Was Jesus Born?

Topical Scripture: Hebrews 4:14–16

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I’m not sure that’s always true. Here are some examples:

  • “You know you’re old when you go to bed at the time you used to go out.”
  • “If by ‘crunches’ you mean the sound potato chips make when you chew them, then yes, I do crunches.”
  • This image comes close, however: “Apparently there’s a third option between burial and cremation.”

We’re now in the Easter season, and the images are clear and powerful. Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Our Lord driving the moneychangers from the temple, debating the authorities, eating the Last Supper, praying while he sweated drops of blood in Gethsemane, hanging from a cross, rising from the grave.

These images changed our world.

We know the what and the who of Easter. But we don’t always know the why. Why did Jesus have to be born to die? Why couldn’t he simply have appeared as a thirty-three-year-old man to die for us? Why did he have to die? Why on a cross? Why did he have to rise from the dead?

These questions require words. Their answers, as we will see during this Easter season, are life-transforming.

We begin at the beginning: Why was Jesus born? We’re going to discover that the answer offers us hope and help we can find nowhere else on earth.

Why was Jesus born?

Let’s begin by exploring the question. If I ask you why Jesus came to earth, you’d probably answer, “To die for our sins.” And you’d be right.

But the God who created the universe and could enter it as a man could have come in any way he wanted. He could have come as a child, an adult, or an elderly man. He could have come as a woman. He could have come as a Jew or a Gentile, a Roman or an Asian. He could have come in any way at all. If his only purpose in coming to earth was to die, why did he come as he did?

The facts of his incarnation are clear. The only baby who chose his parents chose a teenage girl from a town so small it’s not mentioned even once in the entire Old Testament. Her fiancée was a carpenter so poor he could not provide more than the most basic sacrifice when Jesus was born.

When time came for him to be born, his mother brought him to Bethlehem, where they arrived so late there was room only in a stable. And so, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, was born in a stable and laid in a feed trough. The cave where it happened was and is dark, dingy, anything but attractive.

He then grew up in obscurity in Nazareth before beginning his movement in Galilee, far from the temple, the rabbis, the Sanhedrin, the power structures of the day. His disciples, while successful businessmen, were not recognized as scholars or religious authorities.

He spent time with tax collectors, lepers, demoniacs, exiles and outcasts. Then he came to the one city where he knew he would be arrested, illegally tried, and executed.

Why did he do all of this?

The Incarnation fulfills prophecy

One answer is that Jesus’ incarnation fulfills prophecy. Micah predicted seven centuries before Christmas: “You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

Scripture also predicted that he would be born of a virgin: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

Jesus fulfilled many more prophecies with his death and resurrection, as we will see in coming weeks. So, we know that Jesus had to be born to fulfill God’s word.

But why did God make these predictions? Why did the Spirit inspire these prophecies?

The Incarnation shows Jesus’ solidarity with us

If Jesus had simply come to earth to die for us, what would we miss?

  • We would miss his healing ministry, as he touched leprous bodies, opened blind eyes, and raised dead bodies.
  • We would miss his feeding ministry, as he nourished thousands of hungry people.
  • We would miss his teaching ministry. The four gospels are filled with wisdom we would not have apart from his incarnational ministry.
  • We would not have the apostles and the movement they led. Who would know that Jesus died for us? Who would tell the story?

Jesus’ earthly life shows his solidarity with us. He was hungry in the wilderness, tired at the Samaritan well, and thirsty on the cross. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He felt everything we feel.

Jesus was also tempted in every way we are: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He was tempted by possessions in the wilderness as Satan tried to entice him to turn stones into bread. He was tempted by popularity at the pinnacle of the temple as Satan tried to entice him to jump off and impress the crowds. He was tempted by power when Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his worship.

In short, he was tempted in every way we are, but without sin.

Jesus is now praying for us: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

We might think that Jesus’ incarnational life enables him to do this more powerfully. Those who have been through what you have been through can pray for you as others cannot.

However, Jesus was and is omniscient, as is his Father. If he had to come to earth to understand us so he could pray for us, what of those who lived before Christmas? Does this mean the Father cannot understand us?

Here’s the point: Jesus did not come to earth to learn something he didn’t know, but to teach us something we didn’t know. Namely, that all he did, he can still do. What he was, he still is.

Max Lucado: “Why did God leave us one tale after another of wounded lives being restored? It isn’t to tell us what Jesus did. It’s to tell us what Jesus does. Paul says in Romans 15:4: ‘Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. The Scripture gives us patience and encouragement so that we can have hope.'”

Scripture is clear: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). All he has ever done, he can still do. Now he wants to do it for you.

What does the Incarnation mean for us?

After testifying to Jesus’ defeat of all temptation, the author of Hebrews invites us: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

The Incarnation proves that Jesus understands us. We now have proof that he knows what it is to grieve, to hunger, to thirst, to grow weary. We have proof that he knows what it is to be tempted and tested.

As a result, when we are grieving, hungry, thirsty, or tired; when we are tempted and tested; we know where to turn. We know who to trust. We can “draw near to the throne of grace” and know that “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”


Perhaps you know the story of Joseph Damien. A Belgian priest, he was sent in 1873 to minister to lepers in Hawaii. As soon as he arrived on Molokai, he began trying to build friendships with the residents of the leper colony there, but they rejected him. He built a small chapel and held regular services. But hardly anyone came.

After twelve long years, Father Damien gave up. While standing on the pier about to board the ship that would take him home to Belgium, he looked down at his hands. The white spots he saw there could mean only one thing: he had contracted leprosy. So instead of going home, he returned to his work in the leper colony.

News of the missionary’s disease spread through the community within hours, and soon hundreds of lepers had rushed outside his hut. They understood his pain and despair. The following Sunday, when Father Damien arrived at the chapel, the building was filled to overflowing. Thus began a long and fruitful ministry.

What made the difference? Now the lepers knew that the minister knew their condition. They knew that he cared about them, that he could identify with them, that he was one of them.

His love for them had not changed. But their belief in his love had.

This is the story of the Incarnation. It is the story of Jesus’ love for you, right now.

Why do you need his grace today?