Are there miracles? Do they still happen?
I once visited a missionary to Native Americans on a northern Minnesota reservation. He described various encounters with supernatural forces among the people in the community. I squirmed a little as he described a house that was subject to paranormal activity, as well as exorcisms he performed. He could tell I was uncomfortable, so he reminded me that outside of Europe and America, much of the world believes in the spiritual and supernatural, the miraculous and mysterious.
Modern life is dominated by reason, data, and knowledge. Mankind is on a quest to tame the mystic and mysterious. Only that which is rational is believable. We only believe what we can prove. We attempt to explain the explainable.
In this context, is there any room for miracles? For the explainable?
First of all, what is a miracle? The New Testament uses several words to denote what we call “miracles”:
“Mighty Work” Something powerful done by God.
“Wonder” Something extraordinary and exceptional.
“Sign” The miracle is bigger than itself; it points to something greater.
If we synthesize these three words, we get a working definition of a miracle: An extraordinary work, done by God, for a divine purpose.
Here are some key biblical points to guide our thinking about the miraculous . I'm going to draw some observations from Jesus' first miracle in the gospel of John - changing water into wine.
You don’t call the shots.
Jesus was at a family wedding, and the wine ran out. This could be a huge embarrassment to the groom and the family. Jesus’ mother, Mary, hints to him that some help would be nice. Jesus responded, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:4).
When it comes to miracles, God determines the hour - the time, the place, the event. We don’t call the shots. Miracles are mighty works OF GOD. He initiates, decides, and determines. You can ask. After all, Jesus said, “Ask, seek, knock.” But you don’t dictate or manipulate.
Some strains of Christianity demand miracles as a sign of genuine faith. “If you believe enough, it will happen.” Then if you don’t believe enough, it won’t. This kind of thinking puts the power in human hands, when in fact it is God’s work.
Miracles occur amidst the ordinary.
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus was also invited to the wedding with his disciples” (Jn. 2:1,2).
From his birth to age 30, we know almost nothing about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. It was probably a very ordinary life. We have no record of his father Joseph after Jesus was 12, so it’s likely that after the death of his father, Jesus became the man of the house. He was a good son and provided for his mother and siblings. In many respects, this was ordinary.
The first miracle recorded in John happened at an ordinary event. A wedding. It wasn’t in the temple or the synagogue, but at a family gathering with eating and drinking. This miracle stands out as something extraordinary amidst the ordinary. Which is to say that God works miracles in ordinary times and places.
We get weary of the burden of life. There is the grind of the ordinary and every day. We get tired when things don’t seem to change. What if the ordinariness of life was exactly the place for God to do extraordinary things? What if we anticipated his work in the mundane moments of life?
Miracles are grounded in creation.
Jesus didn’t just snap his fingers and make wine. He took an existing element. “Fill the jars with water” (Jn. 2:7). He starts with water and turns it to wine. Or he starts with five loaves and two fish and multiplies them.
Miracles are not a magic trick with puffs of smoke and rabbits in a hat. Typically, God works in and through his created order. This is in line with his propensity for incarnation. To work in and through flesh and blood. To enter the creation itself. God works through created “stuff.”
Miracles often go unnoticed.
“When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (thought the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the groom” (Jn. 2:9).
The groom and the wedding coordinator did not know how it happened. The guests didn’t know how it happened. But the staff knew. And those closest to Jesus knew. But most had no idea a miracle had occurred. They only knew the wine got better.
Often, miracles go unnoticed. Or if they are noticed, they are unrecognized. Our modern instinct is to rationalize the mysterious. We explain away the mystical. “Well, they caught the cancer early.” Or, “I’m sure there’s a rational explanation.” Or, “Thankfully, I just had new brakes put on or it would have been fatal.” We chalk it up to luck or coincidence. We reason it away.
But what if God did it? What if we missed it? What if we were blind to a powerful work of God?
Miracles point to something bigger.
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (Jn. 2:11).
Throughout his gospel, John used the word “sign” strategically and purposefully. Signs are pointers to something greater. In turning water to wine, Jesus’ goal was NOT to keep the party going. No miracle happens for its own sake. It always has a purpose.
Here Jesus’ purpose is clear – to reveal himself. Like pulling back the curtain to see who he truly was. And then his disciples "believed in him," invested their lives with him. This gets to John’s whole purpose in writing his gospel (John 20:31).
In a miraculous sign, Jesus demands your attention. He is thrust before you and you have to come to terms with him. What are you going to do? How will you respond? With a sign, you can accept Him or reject him. What you cannot do is remain neutral. Every miracle points to something bigger. The question is, are you looking where it is pointing? This leads into the final point.
All Miracles End in the Miracle of Miracles
John’s goal in writing his gospel is to point you to the Miracle of miracles. Don’t get fixated on one sign. Look to what it points to. Martin Luther wrote:
“The miracle supreme is this, that the man Christ who died on the cross, rises from death and from the sealed grave on the third day and sits at the right hand of God. What can possibly be said that is equal to these miracles?”
God says, “Look to the miracle of miracles. Find me there.” He lifts up the cross.
NO ONE expected this to be a sign or a miracle!
This man was cursed and damned!
But in the darkest moments, God flexes his muscle. In the most hellish circumstance, God flips reality. When a miracle seems impossible, look to the least likely place for a miracle. The man on the cross. The Miracle of all miracles.
Do miracles still happen? Much of modern society says, “no.” I disagree. I could tell you stories of extraordinary works of God. But I’ll refrain because I don’t want to distract you from what they point to. The Source.
Look to Him.
Cling to Him.
Ask him to work in powerful and miraculous ways.
Wait on him.
Believe in Him, that you may have life in his name (John 20:31).