Some months ago I found myself doing a bit of research. You know what that means these days don’t you? Googling! I was googling my way around the internet seeing what I could turn up about miracles. I clicked on the “images” tab to see what might surface in response to my “miracles” query.
As I scrolled, one image jumped out at me. The photograph captured the scene of a late evening winter landscape in the center of which stood a scaffold-like structure, perhaps 15 feet high. Affixed to the scaffolding was a series of all caps letters forming words, each letter formed by a series of clear bright lightbulbs. These beacons of light shining in the darkness formed a sentence so stunning it took my breath away. The sign said:
THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES HERE.
The audacity and boldness of such a public proclamation scandalized me. It turns out the sign was one of six public announcements posted around the town of Stirling, Scotland, as part of an art project by Nathan Coley. The inscription, “THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES HERE,” was taken from a 17th century royal proclamation made in a French town believed to have been the site of frequent miracles.
I can’t get the sign out of my mind. It haunts me and yet in a good way. It has me wondering about things like — what if we had a similar sign on the front lawn of all of our churches that said …
THERE WILL BE MIRACLES HERE.
What if we had such a sign posted in the front yards of our homes?
Let that settle over you a bit. I mean, why wouldn’t we do such a bold and audacious thing?
Let’s ask ourselves the questions. One of these signs (albeit invisible) is posted in all of our churches and, yes, over all of our homes. Everything we do and say communicates one sign or the other. Which is it in your case?
We tend to think of miracles as rare, exceptional and extraordinary happenings that defy the natural laws and normal order of things. We approach miracles as though they were exceptions to the rule. But what if this kind of thinking is exactly backwards. What if miracles were the rule and the absence of miracles, the exception? I guess the bigger question is what is our theology of the miraculous? Whether we have thought it through or articulated it clearly, we all do have a theology of miracles. Whether visible or not, each one of us has one of the two signs posted over our lives. Which is it for you: THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES HERE or THERE WILL BE MIRACLES HERE?
It all depends on where your theology of miracles begins. Let’s agree that though we are prone to build our theology on our experience, we must begin with the Word of God. We cannot abide a theology of miracles built on our experience, no matter how full or how bereft our experience may be as it relates to the miraculous. Truth be told, many of us have an ambivalent theology when it comes to miracles. It’s more like, “There may be miracles, and there may not be.”
Let’s agree we will build our theology on the firm foundation of the Word of God. Here is where it will get interesting. For most of us, our biblical theology of miracles (and most everything else) begins with Genesis 3, the entry of sin into the world and the human community’s catastrophic fall from the state of grace. How might that change if we began instead with the beginning: Genesis 1.
I tend to be known as a master of the obvious insight. If our theology does not begin with what is properly, “the beginning,” it will never properly end with “the end.” If we begin with sin, we end with salvation. In this framework, eternal life begins with death and ends with heaven. While the plotline of the Bible is all about sin, salvation, death and eternal life, this plot is set within a larger story. On the big story, the Bible is unequivocally clear: the beginning is Creation and the end is New Creation.
Take a fresh look at Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 21 and 22. Consider how the framework of Creation to New Creation enlarges our vision for mission as it relates to salvation, holiness and, yes, miracles; not to mention our assignment and calling to steward the Creation itself (hat tip to Howard Snyder.)
What does all of this have to do with miracles? Only everything. Genesis 1 is nothing less than the grand exposition of the miraculous power of the Word of God. Into the dark, formless chaotic void, God speaks, “Let there be light,” and there was light. This creative wonder-working speech continued for six days, culminating with the miracle of all miracles, human beings handcrafted from the dust of the earth and the breath of the Divine in the image of God. This is the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, in all its miraculously glorious origins. Even more, the vision was for the whole creation to prosper and flourish, miraculously regenerating and reproducing itself eternally. This is the original vision and version of scriptural holiness spreading across the land; the earth “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
Suffice it to say, in the kingdom of God, miracles are not the exception. They are the rule. At the center of the Bible lives a collection of prayers, so many of which are direct responses to Genesis 1 and 2, meant to constantly re-source and strengthen our faith in the original, miraculous order of the kingdom of God. Consider Psalms 8, 19 and 24 for starters.
What do these three Psalms have in common? What do they teach us about the miraculous nature and capacities of the Creation (even beyond the Fall)?
Because sin is the great interrupter of the kingdom of God, we mistakenly understand miracles as exceptional interventions. Miracles are the rule. There is neither time nor space here to rehearse the miraculous unfolding of the story of God through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or the miraculous story of Moses, the Exodus, the Law, the fire by day, the cloud by night, the manna, the water from the rock, the 40 years of the miraculous tabernacling of the Spirit sustaining the Israelites in the wilderness, or the miraculous movement into and settlement of the promised land, and on and on we could go. Everywhere they went, the Genesis 3 world posted a sign that read:
THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES HERE.
Yet throughout the entire story, from generation to generation, everywhere thy went, they carried the sign of Genesis 1 and 2. It said:
THERE WILL BE MIRACLES HERE.
We must now get to the miracle of all miracles.
It is fascinating how the Fourth Gospel begins. Into the midst of the first century, a decidedly Genesis 3 epoch of world history, John calls us back to Genesis 1.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5).
And behold the miracle of all miracles:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Now, notice the first words of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel:
“The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).
What is the good news here? How about “the time has come” and “the kingdom of God has come near”? Might repentance hold a richer meaning than just “believe and behave”? Might it mean something more like “realign your entire life with this new and now in-breaking reality”?
Now, watch what happens. By a conservative estimate, before the first chapter is done, we witness upwards of at least a hundred miracles.
Miracles 1 and 2: Two sets of brothers suddenly leave their well-established vocation as fishermen at the invitation of Jesus to “fish for people” (Mark 1:16–20).
Miracle 3: He teaches people in a synagogue with an astonishing transcendent authority, which amazes the people (v.21–22, 27).
Miracle 4: He confronts and casts out an impure spirit from a man in the synagogue (v.23–26).
Miracle 5: He goes to Simon and Andrew’s home and heals Simon’s mother-in-law from a fever (v.29–31).
Miracles 6–101: The whole town gathered outside the home and Jesus healed many who were sick and delivered many who were demon-possessed; shutting the mouths of the demons (v.32–34).
Miracle 102: Jesus wakes early, goes to a solitary place and meets with His Father, the God of heaven and earth (v.35–37).
Miracle 103–142: “So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (v.39).
Miracle 143: Jesus touches and cleanses a leper by the power of His word (v.40–42).
Indeed, before the end of the first chapter of the shortest gospel, we have already witnessed more miracles than we can count. In the on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven kingdom of God, miracles are the rule — not the exception.
It is as though Jesus carries a sign everywhere He goes that reads:
THERE WILL BE MIRACLES HERE.
I used to believe Jesus performed miracles like some kind of fireworks show — in order to prove He was the Son of God. I know better now. There was a much deeper agenda afoot. Jesus is restoring lost Eden. He is bringing New Creation, and it looks neither like legalistic religious fidelity to the rules nor deliverance from the empire of Rome. It looks like the famed highway of scriptural holiness described in Isaiah 35:
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (v.5–6).
Remember how Jesus responded to John the Baptist’s message from a Judean jail cell as to whether He was the one or should another be expected? Not yes, not no, but …
“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” (Matthew 11:5).
He cited miracles; miracles as reversals of the curse of sin and death; miracles as expressions of the New Creation; miracles as demonstrations — not of compelling force but of compassionate love — demonstrations of the kingdom of God.
Miracles are not primarily designed to be proof for the existence of God. They are the practical signs of the in-breaking kingdom of heaven. Miracles advance the New Creation mission of Jesus Christ. In the greatest sense, miracles are gifted manifestations of the holy love of God for the sake of His holy creation.
There are three basic explanations as to why we don’t see more miracles than we do. 1. There is a deficiency in our biblical and theological understanding. 2. There is a deficiency in our discipleship and formation as relates to faith, hope and love. 3. The Calvinists and dispensationalists have it right and miracles (among other gifts of the Spirit) ceased with the end of the age of the apostles. Where do you land among these three alternatives? Is there a fourth or fifth?
Years ago when I lived in Wilmore, Kentucky, I saw an unlikely sign. It was the marquee on one of the local banks. Where it usually said something about their new interest rate on certificates of deposit or about getting an individual retirement account, this time the sign said something completely different. I will never forget the words:
WHERE THERE IS GREAT LOVE, MIRACLES ALWAYS HAPPEN.
The words hit me with the force of an ever-unfolding epiphany. I knew their truth to my depths. I had mistakenly thought of miracles in the category of power: a power I wanted to possess. Maybe the reason I had little to no experience with miracles was not because I lacked power (though I did) but because I lacked love. Instead of possessing miraculous power, what if I could be possessed by holy love?
The source of Jesus’ miraculous power was His powerful love. In fact, we might say His power was commensurate with His love. In Miracle 143 in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel — the cleansing of the leper — we get these words:
“Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed!’” (Mark 1:41 NLT).
The Greek term translated, “moved with compassion,” is transliterated as “splagchnizomai.” It means to be moved in your guts with the deep affection of love. I have come to believe we will do the works Jesus did and even greater works only as we are possessed by the greater love of Jesus in ever increasing measure. In fact, in the very next chapter, Jesus brings His entire message down to a single command to His disciples when He said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12–14). We will not do the greater things of God until we are possessed by the greater love of God. The sign proved prescient:
WHERE THERE IS GREAT LOVE, MIRACLES ALWAYS HAPPEN.
Might our ministry have fallen into a tired duty-bound ethic? Has “compassion fatigue” set in? Tired people tend to seek more energy or power rather than more love. What if our greatest need is a deeper, richer and more powerful doctrine of holy love (i.e. how high, wide, deep and long is the love of Christ)?
This is why banded discipleship and the second half of the gospel — sanctification by grace through faith — and being “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” matters so much. To become a church with miraculous capacities we must become persons of miraculous love, and there are no shortcuts to becoming this kind of person.
So where does this leave us and our churches with respect to miracles? The last time I checked, Jesus did not say, “I was” or “I will,” but, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 ESV). The Holy Spirit, the presence and power of God, indeed the flame of love, is now unleashed through our lives in the world. The time is still fulfilled. The kingdom of God is still at hand. The old order is passing away. The New Creation has dawned. The age of miracles is now.
What if we are at the end of a long period of history in which our part of the church has been asleep — not lazy or willfully unbelieving, but unaware and unattuned to the fullness of the possibilities of God for our lives and world? Wouldn’t we want to wake up?
THERE WILL BE MIRACLES HERE. It’s time to start working on our sign. I will be on the lookout, and I can’t wait to hear the stories.
Let us close this reflection with a prayer and a doxology from Ephesians 3. Here’s the prayer:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (v.16–19).
Now the doxology:
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (v.20–21).
J.D. Walt is the sower-in-chief for Seedbed. He is the author of numerous books (available on seedbed.com), including his long-awaited forthcoming title, “The Second Half of the Gospel: Growing Deeper in Faith and Wider in Love.” He writes daily for The Seedbed Daily Text.