Are Miracles, Signs, And Wonders Needed To Convert Unbelievers?
There is a popular notion that miracles, signs, and wonders are needed today to "catch" the attention of unbelievers. Does the Bible speak on people seeking signs? If so, what was the response of Jesus to this mindset? Is the Holy Spirit working through the Scriptures sufficient to convert a sinner that is separated from God? Are the Scriptures insufficient for the Holy Spirit to use to convert a sinner thereby necessitating the need for miracles?
The ten miraculous plagues of Egypt that were sent by the One True God Jehovah were judgment against the Egyptian god's to show their impotence (Exodus 12:12, 15:11, 18:10-11). Some may argue that other than the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, this show of divine power may be the greatest such case in the history of mankind.
Did these miracles make believers out of the pagans? Was a simple show of divine power all that was needed to convert the unbelieving? Here is what the Bible says about the people that had seen these plagues and left Egypt with the children of Israel:
"And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle,"
This "mixed multitude" was a constant source of problems to the children of Israel (See Numbers 11:4-6, Nehemiah 13:3). One well known commentator compares the "mixed multitude" to the unsaved in the church today. You see, a show of miracles was not enough to save these folk. In fact, these people that followed because of the miraculous were a stumbling block to the true believers.
In the book of John this very issue is dealt with in the ministry of Jesus:
"While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them. But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them,"
Jesus did many miracles yet they refused to believe in Him and God hardened their hearts in judgement. Remember, the same sun that melts wax hardens clay. God simply brought out what was inside these people in judgement.
In the book of Luke Jesus is telling the story of the Rich man and Lazarus. After the rich man died he asked Father Abraham if he could send Lazarus back to witness to his five brothers. But Abraham said that Moses and the prophets are enough to believe. If they don't believe Moses and the prophets it wouldn't matter if a man was miraculously raised from the dead, they still would not believe this sign and wonder.
"Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead,"
In John chapter two people "believed" in Jesus because of the miracles that they had seen. These people were moved by signs and wonders and professed a belief in Jesus. Did they truly believe? No! They were not true believers, they were merely moved by emotion and did not truly repent of their sins and believe in Jesus as their Lord and savior. Jesus refused to commit himself to them for this very reason:
"Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man,"
In Luke chapter 11 Jesus says that the people which seek a sign are evil. Jesus teaches that the only sign that will be given to them is his own resurrection:
"But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it. And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here," Luke 11:28-31.
In Mark chapter 8 the Pharisees tempted Jesus by asking for a sign. Jesus responded to this by a sigh and questioned why they constantly seek after signs:
"And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? Verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation,"
In the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) what is the main focus? The main focus is the sufficiency of Scripture, church order, correct doctrine, and warning against false teachers. Do they mention a show of miracles needed to get people right with God? No, they teach us that Scripture is all that we need:
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,"
2 Timothy 3:16-17.
Let's go to Acts chapter 8:26-40. This is right before Saul's conversion in Acts chapter 9. There is an Ethiopian eunuch reading from the book of Isaiah chapter 53. This eunuch did not understand what he was reading, so what did God do? Did he put him on the ground? No, God sent Peter to explain what the passage meant, he expounded on the Bible. He preached the word:
"Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?"
What did Jesus say about people that sought after a sign? Should seeing the miraculous be our focus? If miracles were common wouldn't that lessen their effect on us? To satisfy this hunger would we start seeking more and more until that was our focus rather than our lovely Savior?
Don't we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)? To the contrary of popular belief wanting a constant show of miracles is walking by sight and not by faith! See what Jesus said about people that seek after signs:
"And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet,"
What did Jesus do on the road to Emmaus with the two disciples? Did He do miracles and signs to convince them? What did He do? He preached the Word! Not a show of signs and wonders. Should not we follow the Lead of Jesus and preach the Word? See for yourself what Jesus did:
"Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself,"
What did the apostle Paul [Formerly Saul] have to say about this since he was the one "put down" by the power of God? What was the focus of his ministry? Signs and wonders? Or the preaching of the cross? See for yourself:
"For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God,"
1 Corinthians 1:21-24.
I believe that miracles still happen today. I also believe that everytime a sinner is converted it is a miracle. Let us focus on those types of miracles and fulfill the Great Commission. God can do whatever He wants whenever He wants to, but to focus on signs and wonders when we have a complete revelation from Him is wrongheaded.
George Whitefield has this to say about seeking signs and experiences:
"I think it is tempting God to require such signs...I think it will encourage the French Prophets, take people from the written word, and make them depend on visions, convulsions, etc., more than the promises and precepts of the gospel,"
PFO Quarterly Journal, July-September 2002, page 1.
What was the purpose then of the sign gifts?
"We must remember that at that time there was no written New Testament. The church is built on Jesus Christ—He is the Cornerstone—and the apostles were witnesses to Christ. The sign gifts were given to them to demonstrate the fact that they spoke with God’s authority. Today we have a written New Testament as our authority," Dr. J Vernon McGee, Commentary on Acts 5:15-16.
We can learn from the children of Israel regarding this issue because they were witness to some of the greatest signs and wonders in the history of humanity. What was the result of them seeing all of these miracles? Can we learn anything from there experience? Should our focus be on signs and wonders or Christ and Him crucified? Let's see what is recorded in sacred Scripture:
"And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God. The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law; And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them. Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap. In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire. He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers. And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness. And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? Can he provide flesh for his people? Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation: Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven. Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full. He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind. He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea: And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations. So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire; They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths, The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel. For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works. Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant,"