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"Do Miraculous Signs Produce Faith?"

"Every Easter since that time, we have celebrated the Resurrection Seed with a special offering — giving our very best offering of the year, to honor God's sacrifice of His very best. And each year, God responds with an outpouring of miracles!"-Rod Parsley

The above quote raises an important question: Do miraculous signs produce faith? We certainly live in an age where miracles are almost insisted upon as being a part of experiencing the Christian life. For some, miracles such as speaking in tongues are the sign and seal of faith. For others, miracles mark the age as evidence to unbelievers and the start of revival. The Toronto Blessing of the early nineties was seen by many as proof-positive of the Holy Spirit's coming to reveal Himself through signs and wonders; a new age of revival would begin. Although it might be disputed as to whether or not barking and behaving like farm animals can be considered a blessing (Nebuchadnezzar might disagree), it does reveal a kind of desperation within the Christian community to see something out of the ordinary. They are looking for something to jolt their faith back into frenzy. Is this what miracles do? Is the presence of miracles a sign of blessing? Do miracles excite unbelievers into belief? For this, as with all things, we must look to the scriptures.

In the first case, we have Moses contending with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. There, we find ourselves in Exodus chapter seven where Aaron's staff turns into a snake. From this comes a classic case of one-upmanship as the magicians also throw their staffs down and produce the same miracle. The same parallel was true of the plague of frogs. Two things need to be gleaned from this: 1) the significance of that event. 2) That signs and wonders have little to do with the validity of their truth claims, for the wicked have their wonders too.

What made the miracles of Moses significant was not that they were done in the first place, but the kind of miracles that occurred and what it meant to be an Egyptian witnessing the miracle. The plague of frogs wasn't just a fanciful show of just how annoying Aaron and Moses could be if they stuck around. Rather, the Egyptians worshiped frogs and deity was ascribed to them because they were plentiful in the Nile. So when both Moses and the magicians produced frogs, the thing they worshiped now became an irritant. And even though both Moses and the magicians could call forth frogs, only Moses was able to turn them away. Now, their god was under the influence and servitude of Yahweh.

This battle of the supremacy of gods came to its most significant with the blotting out of the sun. Sun worship was the closest the Egyptians came to pure monotheism. King Akhenaten wrote the famous "Hymn to the Sun" where he wrote "Thou art the King of Gods, thou art the All-comprising,
From thee we come, in thee are deified." So when darkness fell across Egypt leaving only Israelite land with sunshine, the message could not be clearer: these people are loved by the true God. What made the miracle remarkable was less than that it happened, but what it meant that it happened. Their god was cut off from its people and hidden away like a trinket or a toy. The thing they believed would grant them deity left them blind and helpless and Ra could do absolutely nothing in the face of I AM.

Now, the magicians had their signs and wonders too. But the ability to perform miracles is neither a sign of authority, nor necessarily a blessing from God. Just as Calvin said, "We must remember that Satan has his miracles, too." The guard against these miracles is not better miracles (what happened with Moses and Pharaoh was not arbitrary, but a theological statement of the superiority of God over all creation), but an understanding of the commands of God and faith in His Word. Moses even warned his fellow Israelites about workers of iniquity who perform spectacular signs:

"If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him."

Whether the supposed miracles produced by false teachers are real or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is how much do we trust in the Lord as He has revealed Himself? For one who knows the scriptures, there should be no cause for confusion. For we know who is of God by the words they profess and the fruits they produce, not the wonders they perform.

We mentioned earlier about the theological significance of miracles. It is there that we turn to the New Testament and the miracles of Jesus. The miracles of Jesus were not performed haphazardly at the behest of any who wished to see them. Much of Jesus' ministry was spent avoiding performing miracles on demand.

The most significant aspect of the miracles Christ performed was that they were a fulfillment of the prophecies foretold by the prophets in the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah foretells the virgin birth and he tells us this sign is from the Lord. He also predicts miracles that the Messiah will perform such as the lame walking, the mute speaking, the blind seeing, and the deaf hearing (Ch. 35:5-6). So the miracles of Christ are not arbitrary, but done to show two things: That Christ is who He says He is, and that He possesses dominion over nature; i.e., He is Lord.

Yet despite these miraculous signs and wonders, they did not produce faith. If miracles are God's "calling card" then it is a call made only to show that people are not listening. The Israelites in the wilderness experienced miracles constantly only to grow tired of them. Even to the point of calling the manna God provided "worthless."

In Christ's time, the miracles that fulfilled the ancient prophecies only reached the shallow reaches of the Jews' hearts. John 2:23-25 states that the very people who believed in Him because of the miracles they saw, were not affirmed by Jesus because "He knew what was in man." It was not whom He was that they believed in, but what they wanted Him to be and do.

As for the Pharisees, they had followed Jesus' ministry and had seen many miracles. Yet, instead of believing, they blasphemed the Holy Spirit! And to the people, Jesus tells them something highly controversial that reveals one of the major roles in miracles:

"And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you."

Here we have, at its boldest, possibly the most prevalent theme concerning the miracles of scripture: condemnation. The people had witnessed all the miracles needed to show that He was the promised Messiah. Yet their hearts were so hardened that their condemnation was now worse than that of the most wicked city; a city personally destroyed by God. The Pharisees and the people's hearts were now no different than Pharaoh's heart.

So, do miracles produce faith? It appears not. For Simon Magus, when he witnessed the apostles performing miracles, he offered them money to buy their gifts for personal gain; this lead to his further condemnation. There is a stark contrast between the people who witnessed Him perform mighty deeds, and the apostles who followed after Him at His command.

It is a perilous thing when a generation seeks signs and wonders over the Word of God. It is a day and age that walks by sight instead of by faith; and that has always been detrimental to the church. Every religion has proclaimed their own set of miracles and has led many people to the grave by it. But scripture is clear about their reward:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'"

Those who are of God, obey God's commands. No matter what miracle is performed, no matter how spectacular it may be, whether it is real or trickery, it is the Word of God alone that we base our faith in. We do not walk by sight but on the Word of God through faith. The outward call of God is not a miraculous sign or wonder. No, the call comes after the miracle of a regenerated heart. No signs or wonders are necessary. In the words of Nancy Gibbs, "For the truly faithful, no miracle is necessary. For those who doubt, no miracle is sufficient."

"And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments." -Exodus 7:3-4

- Jason Bader