Why Don’t We See Miracles As They Did in Jesus’ Time?
Today, I want to explore why miracles no longer occur as they did with Jesus and his disciples. It’s a great question and another topic I’ve never heard preached on, so thanks James for the suggestion.
I want you to start by sharing a parable that takes place in 2021.
Rev. Tafel at Church of the Holy City in Washington during a zoom call at the beginning of Lent is asked by a member during prayer for her cousin who has cancer. As a surprise to everyone, Rev. Tafel announces not only will I pray for it, with God’s help I’m going to perform a miracle to remove her cancer completely. The group of 12 on the call smile and think to themselves, “Well that’s pretty bold.”
A week later the church member reports that her cousin is completely healed, and the doctors declare it is a miracle as there is no scientific explanation. Over the next weeks, more prayers and more miracles happen at the Church of the Holy City—the blind see, the lame walk, and people declared dead come back to life.
The weekly zoom call now maximizes out at 400 people and when Rev. Tafel tries to get into the church there’s a mob of people blocking the door asking for miracles. The more that ask, the more he performs miracles. The name of the minister, the church, and the denomination is now the talk of national news. Thousands of nonbelievers convert to Christianity based on what has happened.
A reporter asks one convert why they became a Christian and they explain, “Seeing is believing and we’ve all seen this with our own eyes. There’s no denying it. I also have more miracles I’d like to see happen in my own life.”
Rev. Tafel signs an eight-figure deal to have his own TV show where guests come on to have miracles performed live. He’s famous, the church is packed and the downward trend in people going to church reverses itself.
What’s wrong with this story?
What could be bad about that? I particularly like the salary, but so much good came from these miracles done the way Jesus and the disciples did it. Why doesn’t that happen anymore?
Well, as we dig deeper into the story we must ask one question. Why do people in that story believe in God? The answer is because they have seen. Believing because we have seen beyond a shadow of a doubt is not faith. Miracles such as this story remove a key spiritual law of the universe—freedom. It would be impossible not to believe if you could experience changes in the physical world this way. True faith comes from the freedom to say, “no.” Doubt plays a critical part in faith. Without doubt, there is no faith. These miracles, that transcend the laws of the universe, remove it.
Faith involves doubt and mystery and believing what cannot be proven. Miracles like the ones in the story remove all doubt and, therefore, remove all faith.
Jesus in the gospel teaches the disciples that time is coming when people will believe who didn’t see. He’s talking about us. In John 4:48, Jesus is frustrated with the fallen world he’s confronting saying, “unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” In Mark 8, “The the Pharisees and Sadducees came and tested Jesus by asking Him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, ”’a wicked and adulterous generation demands a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. Then He left them and went away.’” Even in the times of miracles Jesus understood the challenge in performing them.
There’s a famous scene in the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, where King Herod commands that Jesus, “walk across my swimming pool.” If you don’t know what Jesus Christ Superstar is, I’ll include a link in the written sermon.
Okay, then if that’s true why did Jesus and the disciples do miracles?
That’s a complicated question, but let me try to give a simple, but clear answer. I believe he did miracles for a few reasons.
One he had compassion for what he experienced. We also know that this was a unique time of incredible evil in the world. He needed to breakthrough.
I believe he was literally shifting the spiritual trajectory of humanity by coming into the world, gaining attention, and sharing the good news about being in a loving relationship with God. I believe those miracles gave him the platform to share a message that changed the history of the world. His motivation for doing them and those coming to him were pure.
I also, believe Jesus is that each type of miracle represented a corresponding evil in the world that Christ was trying to teach us about. The correspondence between what happens on earth and heaven is a big theme of our theology. We see the Bible written a literal level and a deeper spiritual level.
What were the big changes that Jesus was addressing symbolically in each miracle?
A few examples: when he heals the lame, he’s addressing the problem of thinking about doing good and not do it. When he heals the deaf, he’s addressing the problem of people who cannot hear good things anymore. When he heals the blind, he’s addressing the problem of our inability to see the truth. In other words, the healings symbolize the larger healing of the world that took place in the unique time of Jesus and his followers to shift humanity in the right direction.
If these types of miracles continued we’d be back to a situation described in the little parable I shared at the beginning. People would believe because they had no choice not to. That’s not faith.
Okay, so if miracles like the ones in the gospel aren’t happening anymore, does that mean we live in a world without miracles.? The answer is no.
You’ll see in Swedenborg’s insight reading he describes modern miracles as hidden. If you are looking through the eyes of faith you can see that was a miracle. If you are looking through the eyes of materialism those are all coincides that religious people string together in a narrative, but there’s nothing more than what we can see.
If you’ve heard me preach, you’ve likely heard many dramatic stories of divine intervention or miracles when doors were opened or doors were closed. These are modern miracles, and you have them in your life too. Look at your life and reflect on the situations where the right person appeared at the right time. Or situations where voices guided you toward good when you were headed the other direction. As you grow wiser spiritually you become more aware of them to the point that you see them everywhere. Eventually, you trust when you are not sure why something is happening that some good will occur. You are looking for a miracle.
Maybe one of the most dramatic stories miracle stories for me is that I was scheduled to be on Bill Maher’s old program Politically Incorrect in Los Angeles. After reserving my ticket, we got the word that they had chosen a well-known political Fox News host instead of me, and my trip was canceled. The flight that I was canceled from was the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 911. I remember looking at the sticky note with the flight number was stuck on our office computer screen as a reminder as I watched the news of the crash. Maher left an empty seat on the set to commemorate the women who had died.
For me, that was a miracle, not that I lived because I don’t fear death and it is a wonderful transition. It just meant that I’ve got more to do here, and I’d better get to it. I’ve had literally hundreds of stories like and I bet you do too, and I feel are dramatic miracles in my life.
Now here’s the interesting thing. I spend the bulk of my time in the business or political world which is highly secular and transactional. They are too smart to believe in mythologies like faith.
When I tell a person without faith these stories they never say, “Wow, that makes me want to believe.” Instead, they say, wow what coincidence for you and the women who took your seat that day. The most secular friends say when they hear, what I believe to radically clear miracles, is “spooky.” The events allow for multiple interpretations. The miracles remain hidden. Their free will is protected.
The more we engage in the mystic pathway the more we see that everything is a miracle. God has set up a world of order and within the order, we are given new ideas, pathways, insights, people who love us and we love. We are aware of the nudges that angels give us. As I get older it becomes clearer to me now how little I can take credit for. My breath, the air, my home the food, love, and my daily bread are all miracles.
How about you? Have you experienced miracles? Have you ever tried to explain it to someone who rolls their eyes or politely smiles?
Our freedom to turn toward God or away from God is the most powerful spiritual law in the universe. Dozens of times each day we turn toward or away. God loves us so much that we are nudged and even tricked into doing good and following our right path if that’s what we ask for. This is the miracle of our lives.
Were you just asked to reach out to someone in need, go do it. Did someone just reach out to you? Thank them and God. Life itself is a miracle.
Don’t miss the hidden miracles that your life this week.