Judging MiraclesErwin W. Lutzer | February 10, 2002
Selected highlights from this sermon
Miracles and miracle workers are apparently everywhere. Jesus said that some miracle workers would call Him “Lord” and still not enter into heaven. Why? Because not every miracle is from God.
Throughout the Bible, the emphasis is always on the power of the Gospel, not the miracles. We shouldn’t expect miracles to happen, but we can always expect the Gospel to change lives.
I don’t think I have to tell you that our culture is awash with miracles. Millions of people are trying to plug into the metaphysical world to try to find a miracle that is just right for them.
I spent some time in the library looking at various books, all kinds of books on miracles, and records of miracles. A television program has been dedicated to miracles, miracle stories, one after another. Here is what I came across.
• One day a phantom dog appears out of nowhere to guide a family away from danger.
• A silent hitchhiker leads a doctor to a school bus crash.
• A guardian angel gets a sick child to the hospital.
And the list goes on and on.
I also checked out a book from the library entitled A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman. Now she wrote this book under the inspiration of some spirit, some revelation that came to her, and she took down the revelation almost as by dictation. If I may quote her words directly, “There was a rapid inner dictation,” she said. That’s known as automatic writing. It is always found in the occult. People are studying this book and they are experiencing their own miracles. I cannot even tell you about what I have read about what this book has done. People are finding jobs. Unexpectedly money is coming their way. Healings are taking place. Miracles certainly take place everywhere.
Well, I’m going to begin with a word of caution taken from the words of Jesus. If you have your Bibles, turn to Matthew, chapter 7, verses 21 and 22. Now this happens to be a series of messages on the topic of discernment. We’ve spoken about doctrinal discernment, discerning false prophets. Today it’s discernment regarding miracles.
Matthew 7:21-22: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many
miracles?’ And I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers.’” Wow!
Three quick observations! A miracle is not necessarily done by God just because it’s done by miracle workers who call Christ Lord. Certainly if there is wrong doctrine, as we shall see, then the miracle has to be discounted. But even with right doctrine by people who say, “Lord, Lord,” they are evil doers.
A miracle is not necessarily from God just because it helps people. “In Thy name we cast out demons. In Thy name we did many wonderful works that benefitted people.” “I never knew you. Depart from me, evil doers.”
The third observation is that just because the miracle worker fully expects to be in heaven does not mean that he is from God. You can imagine the shock on his face as the door to heaven closes, and he says, “Lord, look at what we did in Your name. Lord, look at what we did in Your name.” And He will say, “You are an evil doer. Depart from Me.”
Jesus warned in the 24th chapter of Matthew that at the end time miracles are going to be done, and He says, “These miracles are going to be done so well…” He says, “Great signs and great wonders that will deceive, if possible, even the elect.” Maybe they can’t ultimately deceive the elect at the final day, but I do believe there are many elect today that are being deceived. Don’t you understand the great need for discernment in this area where you have miracles all over the place?
Before I get into the principles that I’m going to share with you, may I say that in the history of the Christian church the miracles that Jesus did when He was here on earth have never ever, ever been done so far as we know. There is no record of them. There’s no record of anyone taking five loaves and two fish and feeding 5000 people. There’s no record of someone walking on the water. There’s no record of the dead actually being raised. Every instance where we’ve had people say, “Yes, the dead have been raised,” you are investigated, and you know that it really does… It’s like sand through your fingers. There’s no hard evidence.
The Apostles did many miracles, but after the time of the Apostles the miracles kind of died away. Now, they did come again in Rome when Christianity captured the Roman Empire.Rome was a polytheistic society, a very spiritually minded society, just like ours, and Rome was awash with miracles. And Christians fit into that, and I’m sorry to say they believed many superstitions. There were miracles that were done in the name of pagan gods, and these same miracles were attributed to the name of Jesus.
Why so many miracles on the pages of the New Testament? Well, they were given to authenticate the witness and the claims of Jesus to show that His words and His works matched. He was the bread of life. If He was the bread of life physically and could feed 5000 with a small boy’s lunch, He was also the bread of life that could feed our souls. That was the emphasis. That’s why John calls them signs.
And the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:12 that the signs of an apostle, he says, “were done by me.” Apostles also have the ability to do signs, not all the signs that Jesus did, but they did many miracles. And in Hebrews, chapter 2, we find the very same thing, that the miracles authenticated the witness of Christ. The author says that “the message was confirmed by those of us who heard them speak by signs and by wonders.” Oh, that is not to say that God doesn’t do miracles today. It is to say that we should be very skeptical, and we should not expect the same kinds of things that happened in the New Testament era. All that by way of introduction, and what I’d like to share with you are five principles that I hope will help us in discerning this whole business of miracles.
Now, I have to say that this is a topical message. It is not based on one passage of Scripture. It is based on a number, and sometimes I will simply quote a verse.Oftentimes I’ll give you the reference. In a few instances I will actually read it, because as I was going through this message this past week it dawned on me that every one of these principles could very easily be a separate message, so I’m only giving you the outline. Are you ready for the journey? Is everybody with me as we begin? Praise God! Praise God! I’ll go with you. You folks in the balcony, are you ready too, because we’re going to do some studying here and some thinking together?
Number one, the power of Christianity is not seen in physical miracles. That’s not its ultimate power, but rather in the Good News of the Gospel. That’s the power of Christianity. There are people who say, “Well, you know, we need signs and wonders. We need revelations. We need angels. We need visions. We need special incredible miracles, and then the world will believe.” But do you know something? Signs and wonders are not unique to Christianity.
Listen to what a missionary by the name of Alan Cole said, and he was speaking of the signs and wonders movement. He said, “None of these signs are new to me—healings, visions, tongues, exorcisms, but the trouble is that I have seen every one of them in non-Christian religions, and outwardly there was no difference in the signs except that one was done in the name of Jesus and the other was not. Of course, if the person was also responding to the Gospel, there was real and lasting change of life. That’s why I can’t get excited about healings in themselves, and why I can reverently understand how Jesus used them sparingly and retreated when the crowds became too great.”
I went to the library, as I mentioned to you, and I checked out some books on miracles. I discovered something very interesting. There are books on Hindu miracles. There are books on Buddhist miracles. If you’ve ever read The Christian Science Centennial, you will notice that there are all kinds of articles about miraculous healings, detailed articles, which supposedly are verified by physicians. And yet, when you begin to look more closely, and see the theology that is used here, it is much more akin to what a friend of mine calls the hyper-spirituality of pop culture. I read all kinds of things about what some of these healers say about how when you pray your hands change color. And there are those who say that they can smell God. There’s all kinds of foolishness that is really part of popular culture. All of that now comes under the banner of Christianity. Again, it’s not to say that God doesn’t do miracles. It’s to say that what passes for miracles oftentimes is really not a miracle based on God’s Word at all. It’s something else.
In a previous message I told you (but it fits here again) that the reformers, when they uncovered the Gospel, official Christendom said to them: “We have the truth because you don’t have the miracles. We do. We have statues that weep. We have relics that multiply themselves. We have all of these stories of miracles. We have the truth.” And the reformers said, “No, the Gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe.” And in 1 Corinthians, which is really the passage I wanted to give you here… First Corinthians 1:22 and 24! I shall not read it but you do that on your own. It says that the Jews want a sign, and the Greeks are seeking wisdom, but he says, “What we do is we preach the Gospel, the power of God.”
I’ll tell you, you can perform all kinds of healings and there are people who are not going to believe because of the healings. They’ll have alternate explanations. But when you have someone like a Charles Colson, and you see this transformation of life, or the change of a Craig Koslowski, sitting right over here, and the testimony that we heard last week, who can gainsay the transformation of the human heart? It is the Gospel that shows the power of God most clearly.
Principle number two! Biblical miracles are presented as redemptive acts of God. Redemptive acts of God! For example, it says in Psalm 135:9: “He sent his signs and wonders into your midst, oh Egypt.” He was talking about the signs and wonders during the days of Pharaoh. And in the book of Acts the signs and wonders are referred to as God’s gracious acts of intervention redemptively.
But here’s where it gets tricky. Sometimes signs and wonders are not of God at all. During the time of Moses, you find that Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh (I’m in the seventh chapter of Exodus) and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw down his staff in front of Pharaoh and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned the wise men and the sorcerers and the Egyptian magicians, and they did the same things by their secret arts. Now it does say that in this instance when the staffs were thrown down that one swallowed the other (Aaron’s did), but they did the same thing. Listen to this: “Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. Moses raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died. The river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt, but the Egyptian magicians did the same thing with their secret arts.” Wow!
Miracle for miracle! Moses does this. They do that. You say, “Well, from where are they getting their power?” Well, we would assume the devil, but we’re not specifically told. All that we know is that signs and wonders can occur also in a pagan culture.
You know, it’s interesting that the signs and wonders in themselves were not sufficient for people to believe, because the very next verse, if I read it, in the passage I was reading from Exodus said, “And Pharaoh hardened his heart because he was saying, ‘We can do what you can do.’”
You look at the ministry of Jesus. As His signs and wonders increased, hostility toward Him in the popular culture also increased. Now, signs and wonders are good and they authenticate a message for those who are willing to believe. But for those who are not willing to believe, no sign or wonder would every possibly convince them. In fact, Jesus ended by saying, you know, “A wicked and an adulterous generation is seeking after a sign.” All that you want from me is “Do another miracle, feed us once more, show us what you can do, walk across the water.” Jesus said, “No, I’m not going there. I’ve given you enough reason to believe, and more signs would not change your heart.”
So first of all, we notice that the power of God is best seen in the Gospel. Signs are a redemptive act of God. Thirdly, there is no promise that we can have a miracle, and here I’m thinking particularly of healing. There’s no promise that we can have a miracle such as healing whenever we want it if only we have the faith.
Why do I feel so strongly about these matters? It’s because I’ve seen it throughout the years. I’ve had people who are very close to me buy into this view that because Jesus conquered the devil and sickness is of the devil, you have a right to be healed from whatever it is that ails you at any time, in any way, if only you have the faith. And if you are not healed it is because you do not have the faith. In my own family (in the wider family) I’ve had people weep, saying, “God has rejected me because I claimed this healing and I’ve not received it.” No, you do not have a right to claim that healing.
You know, it’s interesting that faith healers themselves, some of them end up wearing glasses. They get arthritis. And do you know what happens in the end? They die. “Well, I thought that if Jesus Christ died that we’d always be healed.” Just keep getting your healing. We had some friends like that. They said, “We will never die because we are going to claim our healing moment by moment by moment
by moment. These are friends of ours. Well, guess what! They died!
I see so much hurt in this area. I see faith healers blaming people. “If you don’t have the faith, it’s your fault that you aren’t healed. If you are healed, look at my gift of healing.” I’ve seen that so often.
Now, let me be very candid. And here again, you know, this could be a whole separate message. That’s why I’m a little frustrated, but you are going to get the big picture, and that is that, of course, Jesus died for us body, soul and spirit. I don’t argue with those who say that there is healing in the atonement, that the redemption of the body was included in the death of Christ. But my dear friend, we do not enter into all those benefits and blessings in this life. “In this life,” says Paul, “we groan waiting for the redemption of the body.”
Some of you, bless you, I’m looking at you right now. You woke up this morning and you were groaning in pain, and you were thoroughly biblical. Those groans were biblical groans. Yes, of course, the day is coming when we’re going to have brand new bodies, when we’ll be no longer subject to illness and arthritis and car accidents and all of the other things. Of course, that day is coming, and that’s what Jesus purchased. But in this life we shall have tribulation. In this life we have sickness. In this life we die.
Number four, and now it really begins to get testy. Some people are going to say, “Well, you know, he went a little too far on point four.” Well, I’m going there. I’m flying out of town later this afternoon. (laughter)
This is going to sound… I don’t know how to make this sound really postmodern. (chuckles) Miracles are done for the benefit of God’s people, with God’s purpose. They’re not just done indiscriminately. It doesn’t matter what you believe. You get your miracle too! No! Here I do have to step on some toes. I’m thinking, for example, of the television program Touched by an Angel. Now, I have many Christian friends who watch it. They say, “Yeah, but it always ends up so nicely, and it’s the “feel good” television show. All right! Fine! The problem is it is loaded with theology and cultural stereotypes. For example, the whole idea that people are essentially good, that it doesn’t matter what you believe, and that there are angels out there willing to do anything for anybody, no matter what you believe, because that’s not the issue. It’s just that these angels are loving and they come along and they help anyone.
Let me say a couple of things, first of all, about evil angels. Evil angels can mouth very sound doctrine. In Mark, chapter 1, you’ll notice that an evil spirit said to Jesus, “We know who you are, the holy one of God.” Is there anyone who would disagree with a demon at that point? In fact, a little later on, again it was said that “You are the Son of God.” These are demonic spirits confessing good evangelical biblical theology.
We also know that evil angels, if possible, duplicate the miracles of Christ. That’s why it says in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 that the time is coming when anti-Christ is going to do signs and wonders and miracles. And all three of those words are used in the New Testament for what Jesus did, and he’s going to duplicate them. And today there are duplications of healings and visions and all kinds of things that are in line with evangelical theology even. But as we learned at the beginning of this message, people who even say, “Lord, Lord,” and that in itself is not proof that they have come from God.
What do good angels do? It says in Hebrews 1:14, “They are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation.” You say, “Well, do you believe in guardian angels?” Yes, I do. I think that, you know, Jesus said regarding the little ones, “Their angels behold the face of my father who is in heaven.” I think I am standing here because my guardian angel was taking care of me on some occasions.
Now, it is said, you know, that angels that guard you when you drive officially retire at 65 (laughter) so don’t be presumptuous. And some of these angel stories could be right. I mean, you know, a child falls into a swimming pool and miraculously is rescued, and who am I to say that this might not be a genuine God-sent angel to take care of a child, or to take care of his people? But I find in the book of Revelation that angels, when they (quote) minister to unbelievers, it is always in judgment. I wish I had time to read the passages. Time and time again it speaks about how God sent the angels even with a sickle to cut down people because the wrath of God has come. And that’s what the angels do. I see nothing in the Scripture to lead us to believe that angels are out there doing miracles for people no matter what you believe, no matter how you come to God. I just don’t see it in the Bible.
Swedenborg was one of the greatest spiritists. He was very well known, and he used to talk to spirits. Now some of us have talked to spirits, but we know that we’re talking to evil spirits. We’re talking about demons. He spoke to them and he thought that God gave him the ability to judge between the good ones and the bad ones. But he was deceived. I won’t take time to quote him but he does say something like this: “If you ever talk to spirits don’t ever believe a word they say.”
You know, almost always the only time you can believe the devil is when he tells you he’s lying, and Swedenborg says, “Concerning these spirits, it’s so difficult that no matter what they say you have to be suspect.” Well, indeed, you have to, and that’s why we should have nothing to do with the spirit world, because there are good angels and there are bad angels, and you and I, once we get involved in that metaphysical world, can’t tell the difference. And the Bible warns us about occultic metaphysical involvement with entities, which is what the New Age Movement calls spirits.
Since things are so quiet, I’m going to continue. What about healings at shrines such as Lourdes and other places? I am told that at Lourdes Mary stands with her arms outstretched welcoming everyone to come and to experience healing. You say, “Well, are people healed at those shrines?” I’m not qualified to say. And to the credit of the Catholic church they emphasize very strongly the fact that only very, very few instances that can be verified will they accept, so… But I’m not qualified to say. Maybe people are healed at Lourdes.
But my dear friend, how can people be invited to be healed, if healed by God, when it absolutely matters what you believe, what religion you are from, or whatever, that healing is available to everyone without any emphasis on the fact that God does a special work for His people who come to Him in His way through His Son.
Now, I am speaking today on what is called the offense of the cross, because what I am saying is not going to be well-received by some people. They are going to say, “You are arrogant.” No, I am not arrogant. I simply bow in the presence of Jesus and say, “Jesus, if You are Lord, and You are King, and if Your Word is right, I have to believe what is true, even if it contradicts popular culture.” (applause)
In the New Testament there’s a very interesting story. I just read it this morning in Acts 8 to refresh my memory of Simon, the sorcerer. The Bible says that Simon was able to do such great wonders that people held him in amazement that he was able to do it. And later on when he saw the gifts of the Holy Spirit he thought that he could purchase them for money, and thought that he could get in on this power too. “Peter and Paul, give me a course in miracles so that I can do what you can do.” And they basically said, “Be condemned with your money. Be condemned because your heart is not right with God. Don’t you ever think that miracles are something you can just learn to do because you figure out the technique.”
I think that Ignatius of Loyola was correct when a young man apparently said that he had the stigmata. Is that what you call it? The wounds of Jesus miraculously appeared on His hands, and apparently Ignatius Loyola said, “Those wounds could be just as much the work of the devil as the work of God.” We must be careful.
Number five, God does miracles in answer to prayer and in accordance with His will. You say, “Do you believe in miracles?” Yes, we believe in miracles. Before this service today, a half an hour before we gathered together to sing the opening hymn, some of us (some elders and my prayer partners) met and we anointed someone with oil. We do that here at The Moody Church. We pray for their healing physically, emotionally and in every way. And sometimes, as a result of those prayers, as God grants us that prayer of faith that James talks about, we do see great improvement. And we see miracles. Often we don’t see what we hoped we would see, but we believe in God’s intervention. And there are many miracles in my own life that God has performed that no one else would really be able to believe. Some skeptic would shoot them down, but I know in my heart that God has answered prayer. And so I come before God and I keep praying, and I keep seeking His will, and in my own heart and in my own ministry I see miracles after miracles. But they’re not necessarily the kind that you could put on a video camera.
Absolutely! We pray for healing. We seek God. We pray for this miracle and that miracle. We pray for a miracle with reference to the money that we need that I spoke about earlier. But at the end of the day we always end it with the words of Jesus in Gethsemane: “Father, if it be thy will let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” At the end of the day it’s up to God and we submit to His will.
A few bottom line issues! Number one, it’s very obvious that not everything that is miraculous is of God. Not everything that is miraculous is of God. Not everything that turned out good is of God. Not every healing that turned out wonderful is of God. They may be. They may not be because there are a lot of miracles out there. And so what we need to do is to have both faith in God and His promises, and a healthy skepticism with what we may see on television or what we may hear about. And there may be many instances (and this has happened in my life) where someone asks me a question about this miracle or that miracle, and I have to say in all honesty, “I just don’t know.” I don’t know its source and its origin. I don’t know enough about the situation. I don’t know enough about the person. Only God knows, but one thing is sure. I don’t want to bedragged into a situation where I’m chasing miracles because I think any miracle is God. No!
Number two, our spiritual life is always more important than the physical. We go back to the miracle that Jesus performed there on the shores of Galilee. Five-thousand people and he takes the bread and he breaks it and He gives it to the disciples, and they, of course, distribute it, and everyone eats and they pick up twelve baskets of crumbs that people left on the grass.
The very next day the people were back and saying, “Jesus, do this again because we are hungry again. You know, how long did that last? Well that was a good lunch.” But some of you have had lunch and you are hungry the next day. You can smile at that point if you want because that’s our experience. Right?
You know you can have water and you can say, “Well, Jesus performs this miracle and He gives water, but He said to the woman at the well that “whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water I give him shall be a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.” And that is permanent. It is an everlasting spring of water.
All of the people that Jesus healed on the pages of the New Testament ended up getting sick and dying, including our good friend, Lazarus, who probably wondered why he was brought back from a place of bliss saying, “All that for this.” But he had to get sick and die.
And you and I can have all the physical miracles that we want, but in the end we will get sick and we will die. But it is the power of Jesus to give us the resurrection life. “I am the resurrection. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” That’s the eternal life that Jesus gives. And it is to that life, and it is to that message that we as a church dedicate ourselves. It is for that message that we are willing to die, and it is to that message that I plead with you who have never come to know Christ as Savior to open your heart to Him (because your need is greater than you realize), and accept Him as your Savior, as your sin-bearer and as the One who can give you everlasting life. Water!
“I am the bread of life!” Notice this! Wow! What powerful words! “I am the bread of life. He that cometh to me shall never hunger. He that believeth on me shall never thirst.” That’s the great miracle that we are all invited to accept for our very own.
Our Father, we pray today grant us, oh God, discernment in an age when we so desperately need it. And we pray today, Father, that the wonderful miracle about which we spoke, the miracle of the new birth, do that, Father, in the hearts of those who listen, who have never trusted You as Savior. And help the rest of us to continue to believe and to trust for great things, yet to also know that those things must be tied to Your word and to Your promises. Grant that, oh God, we pray in this age, we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.