How to look at Christian miracles

I know a lot of people who really get tripped up by miracles in the Bible. Even Christians aren’t always sure what to make of biblical stories of miraculous healing, other than saying that God is really really ridiculously powerful. But the first miracle that the church ever performed (in Acts 3) gives us some insight into how we should look at all Christian miracles. As Tim Keller says, the healing of the lame man in Acts 3 points in four directions:

First, this miracle points upward toward God’s authentication of Jesus. As Peter points out, “You killed the Author of life, but God raised him from the dead” (Acts 3:15). Miracles are God’s validation of authority—first in the prophets, then in the life of Jesus, and then again in the lives of the apostles. They were like a divine signature that could not be forged.

Second, this miracle points forward to the future restoration. Peter mentions that the healing of this one man’s legs is a foreshadowing of the coming restoration of all things that God had promised (Acts 3:20–21). Jesus’ miracles (and the apostles’) were not simply magic shows about how powerful he was. He didn’t lift heavy rocks, write his name in the sky, or levitate. Every miracle that Jesus and his apostles performed alleviated suffering and pointed forward to his saving purpose for all of creation.

Third, this miracle points inward to our soul’s need of salvation. This one man was born without the use of his legs. Others that Jesus healed were physically blind, or physically deaf, or physically paralyzed. But Scripture says that we are all spiritually blind, deaf, and paralyzed. As bad as suffering in this life is, there is something much worse—being crippled by our sin. And as great as physical healing is, there is something much greater—soul salvation.

Last of all—and possibly the most overlooked direction for many churches—this miracle points downward, in the direction we are supposed to go in our mission. What I find interesting about the miraculous power that the apostles have in Acts is that it always seems to get the miracle workers in trouble. That’s quite a bit different from other hero stories. In our modern stories about superheroes, for example, the super powers always make the hero invincible (or close to it). But when God gives a person power, it actually makes them more vulnerable. The more God’s power is on you, the more you begin to suffer.

This is the pattern all throughout Acts: to alleviate suffering, the apostles take on suffering themselves. It’s a pattern they picked up from Jesus himself, who poured out his life so that we could be saved.

And it’s a pattern that the Church today is called to follow: healing for the world will only come as life and power and money and opportunity go out from us. We need to pour out everything we have and everything we are as a genuine sacrifice. The healing of the world comes through the sacrificial death of the church.

I sometimes hear people talk about how when they gave to God, God blessed them, and I wonder if they’ve forgotten that God called us to the cross. Yes, obedience to God leads to blessing. But it’s an enormous misconception to assume that blessing will always come in the form of more riches and greater comforts. Sometimes our giving leads to deprivation, or trouble, or genuine sacrifice—and that should not surprise us.

God brings life to people around us the same way that he brought life to us—by a sacrifice of great cost. To give of our time and our money is costly. To forgive those who have hurt us is costly. But for God’s life to flow out from us, we must be willing to go downward, to join Jesus, who went to the ultimate depths for us.

Published September 19, 2016

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