All About Miracles
Dr. Jim Denison
A friend recently sent me this story. An Amish boy and his mother were in a shopping mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and then slide back together again.
The boy asked, “What is it, mother?” The mother, having never witnessed an elevator, responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life. I don’t know what it is.”
While the boy and his mother watched with amazement, an overweight elderly man in a wheelchair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the man rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the man disappeared. The boy and his mother watched for a while, then the walls opened again, and out stepped a 24-year-old body builder. The mother said quietly to her son, “Go get your father.”
Amazing things happen with some regularity. But what about true miracles? That which C. S. Lewis defines as “an interference with Nature by a supernatural power”? Help from above, engagement of the divine with the human, strength and power beyond ourselves?
Where do you most need God’s help today? If you could experience one miracle this morning, what would you want it to be? How can you believe that it’s really possible for God to do that miracle in your life?
This week we come to my favorite story in Matthew’s gospel. Let’s join the disciples, and learn how to experience God’s miraculous power for ourselves.
Witnessing the miraculous
It is late at night, around 3:00 in the morning. We’re on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has sent us off in our boat while he climbs one of the nearby hills to pray. Suddenly a catastrophic storm attacks us. Matthew got it right: we are “buffeted” by the waves (v. 24), a Greek word which means to be “tortured.” And our boat is very small. Archaeologists recently discovered one like it, measuring 27 feet by 7 1/2 feet, with sides just over an inch thick. It’s no help in a storm. Water is stinging our faces and drenching our clothes. The wind is howling in our ears. We are fighting for our lives.
And Jesus sees our crisis. He walks on the water, three or four miles. It is a sailor’s superstition that just before we drown, we’ll see the ghosts of others who have died in our spot on the lake. So some of us think he’s a ghost, and we’re even more sure we’re doomed.
But then he cries out over the storm, “Take courage! It is I”–literally “I Am,” God’s own name for himself. “Don’t be afraid”–literally, “Stop being frightened.”
And Peter takes him at his word: “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water” (v. 28). Jesus calls, and to our astonishment, Peter goes. He’s actually walking on the waves, until he sees them. Then, taking his eyes from the Lord in fear, he begins to drown.
So he cries the shortest prayer in the Bible, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus does. And we all worship him: “Truly, you are the Son of God” (v. 33).
It’s an amazing story. But does it describe the way God works today? Do you believe that Jesus still walks on water? Are you willing to get out of your boat of security and safety, and trust his miraculous power with your life?
Many are not. I talked recently with a guest in our services who was honest enough to admit that he couldn’t reconcile his commitment to science with the miracles Christians claim. He was speaking for thousands of people who live all around us but didn’t join us for worship. To them, our belief in a miracle-working God is myth and superstition, a worldview they’ve outgrown and categorize with fairy tales and Greek mythology. What can we say to them?
And what about many of us who are here for worship?
You’d vote for miracles. You pray for miracles–for people to be healed and helped, souls to be saved and lives changed. But do you really believe that God intervenes in supernatural ways today? I remember praying for a woman in my first pastorate who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only months to live. She came back the next week to report that the cancer was gone. And I will confess that my first, instinctive reaction was: I’m so glad the doctors were wrong.
Isn’t there a shadow of doubt in your minds? I know a man whose heart stopped beating during an operation; then, after the doctors had given up, it started again and the man is now fine. But are we sure it was a miracle? A Romanian pastor I know tells of a girl who had been dead four days when she was raised to life in response to the church’s prayers. But do we really believe it’s true?
Subconsciously, do we really expect God to do miracles when we pray for them? Do you assume that God will grant you the miracle you need or something better? Or if something unexplainable does happen, are you shocked or at least surprised?
The Bible says that Jesus could not do many miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58). How can we be sure our faith isn’t limiting God’s power, that our anti-supernatural, materialistic culture isn’t affecting our souls?
Let’s spend a moment working on the intellectual issues before us. I’d like to offer you four reasons to believe in miracles, then show you how to put your faith into action today.
Arguing for the miraculous
Reason one: the contemporary, scientific bias against the supernatural: science and faith are separate methods of inquiry, neither of which is qualified to judge the other.
Our culture tells us that the scientific worldview makes miracles impossible. It’s either science or belief in the miraculous, either the natural or the supernatural. And we must choose. But that’s not so.