“So why can’t we go to Bro Tim and say that his eyes should be opened so he can receive his sight? They certainly could have done that in Jesus’ day! Is there something wrong with our faith, that we are unable to heal people like the disciples did when Jesus was here?”
I sat and pondered the statements made by the young man across the table. He was sharing his heart. His questions are valid. These questions make their rounds in our circles, and they deserve an answer.
There are some facts we know of about miracles:
The miracles performed by Christ and the Apostles were startlingly real. People could hardly believe their eyes. Friends and family members that were terminally ill, or who even had already died, were restored to perfect health again.
We have terminally ill persons in our midst who spend much on physicians, and sometimes it seems they are only made worse, not better.
We are unable to perform miracles. We pray for the sick; we even have special anointing services where we ask God for special healing. Oft times the result is death in the end. There is no use pretending that what we see and experience in our day is the same as what Peter and John did for the lame man in Acts 3 – it simply is not.
If we cannot perform miracles because of a lack of faith, then how do any of us know we are saved? Our salvation is based on having sufficient faith. Miracles are supposedly the result of having sufficient faith. IF failing in miracles is failing in faith, then are any of us even saved?
From the out start of our meditations, we’d like to differentiate between command miracles and petition miracles. We see this difference illustrated in the Book of Acts. When Peter and John met the lame man, there was a command miracle. Notice what took place:
And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:4-8).
Peter and John had faith. They told the man to expect something to happen. Peter took him by his right hand, and the unbelievable happened. But Peter and John were not surprised. They had no doubt; they fully expected the lame man’s legs would be changed for the rest of his life.
Now let’s go a few chapters later to another account involving Peter. This is a petition miracle; the account of Peter’s deliverance from prison.
Peter, therefore, was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him... “And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door and saw him, they were astonished (Acts 12:5, 13-16).
Look what transpired and how different it was from the healing of the lame man. The disciples gathered to pray. We are not told what they prayed for. The apostle James had already been killed. Now it looked like the same thing was going to happen to Peter. The believers gathered together for an unceasing prayer event.
But when their prayer was answered, it was not what they expected. They not only didn’t expect or believe it was going to happen; they could hardly believe that it had happened! Not only could they hardly believe it had happened, but they also made false accusations against the one who believed it had happened.
So, who had the faith and made the miracle happen? Did Peter? If so, we are not informed of it. Did the other apostles? No. This was a miracle that God brought about because there was a petition that went up to His throne. This happened because He had a plan for Peter’s life that involved him being an old man (John 21:18).
Any student of the scripture will immediately recognize there are two distinctly different types of miracles throughout the Bible. Though they sometimes overlapped they are separate, different. They both involve the power of God beyond anything that man can do. But we have the right to ponder the distinct difference as we consider miracles.
Command miracles. For lack of better terminology, we’ll use this term to apply to miracles when one of God’s servants knew without any doubt the miracle was going to take place, he would announce it, and any spectators would see it happen before their eyes.
There were three separate eras of time when it was normal for people to witness command miracles. In each time period miracles served a common cause and, in each situation, they produced a common effect. Let’s examine these.
For the Children of Israel in the Wilderness under Moses.
For the Jews in the days of Elijah and Elisha.
For the Jews and Gentiles in the days of Jesus and the Apostles.
The first was in the days of Moses and the exodus from Egypt, and it lasted until Israel entered into Canaan. Plagues, parting of waters, pillars of fire and cloud, manna, water, clothing that didn’t wear out... and then specific miracles such as the earth opening up to receive those in the rebellion of Korah. Most of these miracles are group miracles that happened for the benefit of the entire body of the Children of Israel. Since they were so predictable, they became the norm.
The second was in the days of Elijah and Elisha. These miracles were mostly positive experiences. Some were rather simple miracles such as making an ax float, some were destructive as when she bears tare children, but at least one was the astounding miracle of a dead person being raised back to life.
The last occurrence of miracles by command, or by demand, was in the days of Jesus and the apostles. The miracles in this time period are too numerous and too varied to analyze fully, but we know they shaped the lives of the many witnesses. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen (Mark 16:17, 2).
All told, the total number of years in which command miracles happened is less than 150 years.
Petition miracles. Throughout history, there have been times when the divine hand of God’s power intervened on man’s behalf; either at man’s request or simply because God chose in this way to reveal His might. No doubt there were many times when God’s people asked for relief or specific answers that are not recorded in the Holy Text. A person might ask, when was the first time when a person asked God for a miracle or even a favor, and it was granted? This may well have occurred in the many instances when patriarchs built altars unto the Lord in special times of worship.
The New Testament era closes with the direction that this is to be the norm for Christians. James 5 gives us direction that we are to remain steadfast in our times of affliction and look for the end result of the blessing God provides when we endure. In the midst of that, when we are sick, we are to call for the elders to pray in faith and anoint with oil for the healing of the body.
A first reading of this passage may seem to imply God will always grant the request, “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise Him up...” A closer study of the Greek text and word meanings reveals the passages promise relief for the distressed emotions that accompany sickness, not always a physical restoration.
Indeed, there are many instances in the Bible when saints of God requested a special miracle for their distressing circumstances. In some cases, people who earlier had commanded miracles later found themselves in situations where they petitioned God for a change or a miracle on their behalf, and God said “NO.”
David never commanded miracles, but many times he witnessed God’s intervening hand in his experience. The time came when he requested that his son who was sick might receive healing. God denied David’s request (2 Samuel 12).
Jesus asked that God would make a different way other than that He would have to die on the cross. God’s answer was “No” (Luke 22:39-44). We know had Jesus commanded the angels deliver Him, that command would have been answered immediately (Matthew 26:53). But Jesus did not command it, He only petitioned a better way from His Father, and God heard the request and said no. Even though He heard Jesus request His answer was to give Jesus physical strength and life until He could die on the cross as an atoning sacrifice (Heb. 5:12).
Paul requested that he be delivered from the suffering that a “messenger of Satan” (demon) was inflicting upon him. God answered that His grace was sufficient for him. This implies the specific answer was a no, while the overall answer was a better solution than Paul even was asking for.
Conclusions. What shall we learn from this little study? Can we reach some conclusions?
In three different periods of time God gave His messengers the ability to speak the word and perform special miracles. Each of these times the miracles were given to confirm the authority of message bearers. Moses was giving the Law. Elijah and Elisha were introducing the era of God’s prophets bringing prophecies for Israel and the coming Messiah. Jesus and the Apostles were confirming the message of the Gospel.
Therefore, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Heb 2:1-4).
In two of these times, an accompanying side effect is specifically mentioned to be the hardening of hearts. Ponder these passages,
For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened (Mark 6:52).
Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: (Heb 3:8). While it is said, today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation (Heb 3:15).
Why would command miracles and hardness of hearts go together? It seems to be a strange phenomenon of the human heart that the more we are in charge of our lives the more we become hardened to God’s working in our hearts. In our age, it appears we see the same phenomena taking place because of answers from science and technology. The temptation is to think “We can solve our problems ourselves, do we need to humble our hearts before our Lord?”
We are in the dispensation of petition miracles. Let us come boldly to the throne of Grace and ask God for answers to our needs. But let us just as humbly, wait on Him and worship Him as He gives us the revelation of His will. If we ask, we know He will give us an answer. His answer may be yes, and His answer may be no, but either way, we know we have our answer.
We do not need to be intimidated by those who disobey Gospel requirements and yet claim great miracles. Jesus taught us Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt 7:22-23).
Let us be among those who in faith keep the commandments of Christ and His apostles. Let us also pray in faith to our Loving Heavenly Father for answers to our needs. But in the same faith, let us bow our hearts in submission when His answer is no believing His way is always best.