The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”
So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
– Exodus 7:8-13
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
– Matthew 16:1-4
These two scriptures offer vastly different conditions for a miracle, but when looking at the situation, we must consider the audience.
Aaron and Moses were in the court of Pharaoh, owner of the slaves known as the Israelites. Aaron and Moses were Israelites. Pharaoh considered himself god, so he had to be shown that the God of the Israelites was higher up the food chain than Pharaoh was.
In the scripture from Matthew, Jesus refuses to perform a ‘sign.’ The Pharisees and Sadducees, who were supposedly ‘believers’ in the God of the Israelites, had heard of the miracles that Jesus performed. Some of them may have been present at the time the miracle was performed, but in this instance, they are demanding to be entertained. They want to see parlor tricks. If this were in today’s time, they would be buying the front row seats for a magician’s act. They wouldn’t believe that the magic was real. They wanted the front row seats to catch the slight of hand. They wanted to find the card up the sleeve.
They may have taunted, “Jesus, if you will perform this miracle, we will believe.” Yet, would they surrender their soul to Jesus and follow Him? Of course not. If Jesus gave in to their demands, Jesus would simply be the performer who performed when called upon. It would be the Pharisees and Sadducees of the day who controlled Jesus. Jesus would not be King of kings and Lord of lords.
There are instances when Jesus did not perform many miracles. In Matthew 13:54, Jesus goes to his hometown. They knew him as the carpenter’s son and could not believe Jesus had miraculous power. In Matthew 13:58, it simply states that He did not perform many miracles there due to their lack of faith. In the Mark 6 version of this story, Mark points out that Jesus laid on hands to heal a few sick people.
Yet, even with the places where Jesus performed many miracles, people still did not believe.
Matthew 11:20-24 states:
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 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.”
While Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh to establish the God of the Israelites as the true God, Jesus performed miracles to establish Himself as the Son of God and to fulfill Old Testament prophesies. Earlier in Matthew 11, Jesus is telling the followers of John the Baptist, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4-6). John, having spent his life in the desert with God, would know the scriptures and know that this was a sure sign of Jesus as Messiah and Lord.
And yet today, in a time when we need to believe in miracles more than ever, we have pastors (at least a few) in the pulpit that claim that God cannot perform miracles today and didn’t in biblical times. Maybe I wrote that wrong. Maybe their god does not have a capital “G”.
I can be proud that my mother searched our ancestry and discovered that an ancestor was Thomas Jefferson’s first cousin, but it also shames me. I have been to Monticello and seen the Jefferson Bible where he carefully cut out all references to miracles.
I was once asked by a professor to join a scientific organization. They met in secret. Their goal was to use scientific knowledge to explain how God could have performed the miracles of the Old Testament. The group did publish eventually, but at the time, I was too busy between my college work, lay witness mission trips on weekends, and Army ROTC responsibilities. I look back thinking that I missed my chance there.
Are there miracles today? Of course. There are answers to prayer that cannot be explained by any other means. For example, you may have heard of a story like this. A sick person is in the hospital. A scan is done, and the result is cancer that has spread. It is inoperable. The patient has a brief time to live. That night, the family gathers with the pastor, they all pray and lay on hands in faith. The patient’s pain instantly goes away. The next day, the patient insists to run the scan again. The doctors find nothing wrong. The scan finds no cancer at all.
The unbeliever will say that the charts got switched or there was a glitch in the computer. But this is a familiar argument. John 9 is devoted to blindness in one way or another. Jesus heals a man born blind. The man is accosted by his friends, then the Pharisees. The chapter ends with Jesus talking of spiritual blindness. For our sick and then healed cancer patient, they have similar words to that of the former blind man (John 9:25). He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
We will return to miracles in a few weeks. I’m just finishing C. S. Lewis, Miracles, and the next inspirational book that I want to read is Eric Metaxas, Miracles. I pray that some inspiration will arise. Come, Holy Spirit, come.