To hear some people tell it, miracles are everywhere today. Any strange event, any unexpected healing and even an odd shaped cloud or spectacular sunset is called a miracle.
I beg to differ.
God works in our lives in amazing ways. But let us understand that any modern day miracle must be judged against the standard of the Bible. Does a supposed miracle today compare equally with a miracle in New Testament times? I doubt it. Let’s consider what the Bible reveals about miracles and then apply that knowledge to our present world.
True Miracles Require Pre-Miraculous Confirmation
Witnesses must confirm a need for a miracle. It seems obvious but often we simply accept the reality of some private miracle without question. Miracles are not secretive. They are obvious.
Jesus probably gives the best example of a pre-miracle confirmation when he travels to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. The report is in John 11:1-44. For our discussion, there are two important verses in the story.
So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (vs. 6)
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (vs. 39).
Jesus confirms the death of Lazarus by delaying his departure for Bethany. Martha further confirms the death of Lazarus by telling us that he had been dead four days and warning that the stench of decay would already have been present. Together, these two passages, plus the public nature of his death and burial (vs. 19), confirms that Lazarus was, in fact dead.
Luke gives another example in Acts 3:1-10
And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. (vs.2)
Here, Luke tells us two important facts about the man before Peter heals him. He has been lame since birth and he was seen at the gate of the Temple daily. There was no question that this man was lame and in need of a miracle.
Anyone who claims a miracle today must provide unquestioned proof a miracle is needed. Making such a claim after the fact and without confirmation is not acceptable.
True Miracles Require Post-Miracle Confirmation
Witnesses must confirm that an actual miracle has occurred. The two cases above confirm that an actual miracle occurred.
Jesus raised Lazarus in public and people present witnessed the resurrected Lazarus.
So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him” (John 11:41-45).
The claim is buttressed by the chief priests and Pharisees who said,
What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (vs. 47-48).
There was no question that Lazarus was raised from the dead.
Confirmation of Peter’s miracle is just as strong.
And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. (Acts 3:7-10)
Like Jesus before, the confirmation of the miracle is supported by the words of the Sanhedrin Council,
But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition (Acts 4:14),
What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. (vs. 16)
The great miracle of Jesus’ own resurrection is confirmed by Paul in a similar way in 1 Corinthians 15:
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
One who claims a miracle must be able to confirm that miracle.
True Miracles Cannot Be Explained
Many astonishing things happen in our world every day. Cherubic little babies are born hourly. Lofty clouds form themselves into clearly defined shapes. People walk away from horrid automobile crashes with barely a scratch. Terribly ill patients recover from frightful illnesses. All of these things happen constantly. I and most Christians see God in these things. But it is also true that the secular man, the skeptic, the atheist, sees science at work and quickly explains the events as the normal, predictable outcome of biology, meteorology, physics and medicine.
What sets the true, Biblical miracle apart from these daily happenings is its unexplainable nature.
In John 11:44 there was no reasonable explanation for Lazarus resurrection. It could not be explained (John 11:47-48). Skeptics today cannot assault the miracle. They are only left with futile attacks on the text itself.
In Acts 3:7, that miracle was also unexplainable (Acts 4:16). Today, some medical doctors specialize in helping people walk again. But no surgeon, no therapist, has ever been able to suddenly heal a lifelong disabled man by words only. No one can explain the miracle.
Like so many words, “miracle” is thrown around so easily. When we use the word, let us speak like the Bible. To do otherwise cheapens the true miracles of the Bible.
God works in our world today. He is alive and cares for his people. But there is no evidence that he sets aside his natural laws. Instead he works through them to bring good to those who love him.