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Sermon Illustrations on miracles

Background

The Limiting of God’s Work in the West

In comparison to other societies, Americans and other North Atlantic peoples are naturalistic. Non-Western peoples are frequently concerned about the activities of supernatural beings . . . The wide-ranging supernaturalism of most of the societies of the world is absent for most of our people . . .

Our focus is squarely on the natural world, with little or no attention paid to the supernatural world…In the present day, however, Evangelicals tend to believe that God has stopped talking and doing the incredible things we read about in Scripture.

Now we see God limiting himself to working through the Bible . . . plus an occasional contemporary “interference” in the natural course of events. What we usually call a miracle—the power God used to manifest in healing—has been largely replaced by secular medicine. The speaking he used to do now comes indirectly through rationalistic reasoning in books, lectures, and sermons—similar to the process used by the secular sciences.

Charles Kraft, Christianity with Power: Your Worldview and Your Experience of the Supernatural, Wipf & Stock Reprint Edition, 2005.

The Power of Miracles in the Early Church

One key difference between much of the early church vs. the church of today (at least in the West) was the belief in, and regular experience of, miracles. As Joel Green, the noted professor and writer on evangelism once said,

It was the Spirit who gave his followers remarkable spiritual gifts. Prophecy, tongues (and interpretation), healing and exorcism were the most prominent in apostolic and sub-apostolic days alike. People did not merely hear the gospel; they saw it in action, and were moved to respond. The Western church has grown too dependent on words, and not nearly dependent enough on the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Enlightenment induced much embarrassment about divine activity in today’s world, and this tendency has outlived the demise of the Enlightenment. Instead of being a community demonstrating the Lord’s power, we have become one which talks incessantly. We need to remember that the “kingdom of God is not talk, but power.”

Evangelism in the Early Church, rev. ed. (1970; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 26.

Stories

A Biblical Miracle

In the middle of nowhere, two Christians were driving in the mountains of Iran in a car that was full of Bibles. Without warning, the steering wheel jammed and they were forced to the side of the road. Suddenly an old man was knocking at the car’s window, asking them where the books were. Confused, they asked what books he was referring to, and he responded, “The books about Jesus.” Continuing, the old man said an angel had recently appeared to him in a vision and shared about Jesus, and the man later discovered that everyone in his village had just had the very same vision!

They had all believed in Jesus. Now the old man had a village full of infant Christians who had no idea what to do next. The old man shared that in another dream, Jesus told him to walk down the mountain and stand beside the road, and someone would bring him books about Jesus. He obeyed and selected the spot where he would stand, and just as expected, a supply of Bibles written in their language was provided for his village.

What do you make of this story? Is it a fabrication? The story is told in a book by Joel Rosenberg, a New York Times bestselling author, an expert on Middle East affairs, and a man who did extensive research, much of it while spending time in Muslim countries, about the rising numbers of people who have made decisions to follow Jesus in these places.

J. P. Moreland, A Simple Guide to Experience Miracles: Instruction and Inspiration for Living Supernaturally in Christ, Zondervan.

Making it Rain

In my book Red Moon Rising, I described a time on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza when an Anglican priest asked a bunch of young missionaries sent out by our organization to pray for rain because the locals were suffering from serious drought. No one could possibly have been more surprised than me when, minutes after we prayed, the heavens opened and unseasonal storms began lashing the island.

When we learned that it hadn’t rained so heavily on Ibiza in July since 1976, the timing of our prayer meeting seemed even more remarkable. Somehow, a British journalist caught wind of the story and phoned for an interview. “So you’re the bloke,” he sneered down the line, “who’s claiming you made it rain in Ibiza?” “No,” I replied cautiously. “It would be ridiculous to think that we could make it rain. Wouldn’t it?” “Well, yeah,” he had to concur. “Look, we’re just saying that we prayed for it to rain, and then it did.

It’s you making a connection.” “I did?” “Yes, and I can tell you’re pretty dubious about the whole idea.” “Erm, well, it’s not exactly normal to—” “Look, maybe you’re right,” I said. “If you want to believe that there’s absolutely no connection between the fact that we prayed and then it rained, well, I can totally understand that. If you reckon there’s no power in prayer and human beings are merely a bunch of highly evolved animals trapped in a meaningless universe without recourse to any higher power, I respect your opinion and—”

“Nah, don’t get me wrong, mate.” The voice on the line sounded flustered. “I mean, there’s gotta be more to life. My mum’s a Catholic.” He paused as if this last statement explained everything, which in a way it did. “Yeah, fair play. You’re probably right. There’s power in prayer so why not? To be absolutely honest with you, I do it myself.” A number of people commented that the subsequent press coverage light-heartedly titled “God Squad Claims First Miracle on Ibiza” was surprisingly uncynical.

Pete Greig, God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer, Zondervan, 2020.

Miracles in Mozambique 

During the 1960s the Lord raised up an indigenous leader in the church in Mozambique named Martinho Campos. The story of his ministry, Life Out of Death in Mozambique, is a remarkable testimony to God’s strange ways of missionary blessing. Martinho was leading a series of meetings in the administrative area of Gurue sixty miles from his own area of Nauela.

The police arrested him and put him in jail without a trial. The police chief, a European, assumed that the gatherings were related to the emerging guerrilla group Frelimo. But even when the Catholic priest told him that these men were just “a gathering of heretics,” he took no concern for justice, though he wondered why the common people brought so much food to the prisoner, as though he were someone important.

One night he was driving his truck with half a dozen prisoners in it and saw “what appeared to be a man in gleaming white, standing in the road, facing him.” He swerved so sharply that the truck rolled over and he was trapped underneath. The prisoners themselves lifted the truck so that the police chief could get out. After brief treatment in the hospital he returned to talk to Martinho because he knew there was some connection between this vision and the prisoner.

He entered Martinho’s cell and asked for forgiveness. Martinho told him about his need for God’s forgiveness and how to have it. The police chief said humbly, “Please pray for me.” Immediately the chief called for hot water so that the prisoner might wash, took him out of solitary confinement, and saw to it that a fair trial was held.

Martinho was released. But the most remarkable thing was what followed: “Not only did the chief of police make plain his respect for what Martinho stood for, but he also granted him official permission to travel throughout the whole area under his jurisdiction in order to preach and hold evangelical services.”  There would have been no way that such a permission would have been given through the ordinary channels. But God had a way through suffering. The imprisonment was for the advancement of the gospel.

Taken from Suffering & The Sovereignty of God by Dustin Shramek, edited by John Piper & Justin Taylor © 2006, p.104-105. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

Only The Symptoms Remain

At university, I knew a guy called Captain Scarlet (nicknamed after the lead puppet in a cult TV series to which he bore a striking resemblance). The Captain was the only nineteen-year-old I’ve ever known who viewed televangelists as aspirational role models. He was about as positive about positive thinking as it is possible to be.

One day, the Captain told me that he had been miraculously healed of a serious back complaint. I tried to give him a hug but he screamed. “I thought you’d been healed?” I said. “Oh I have,” he insisted, grinning furiously. “It’s only the symptoms that remain.”

Pete Greig, God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer, Zondervan, 2020.

You Prayers are Lame

“Hey, Craig, do you believe God still does miracles?” “Of course,” I said. “Good—because your prayers are so lame.” I tried to laugh with him, but my friend’s joke stung—mostly because he was right. We had just left a prayer service together, back when I started working in ministry. My buddy knew me well enough to tease me, but I suspect he was also making a point. Left speechless, I offered no defense as I processed the truth of his observation. I couldn’t deny that he voiced a secret I already knew but didn’t want to admit: my prayers were pathetic.

Craig Groeschel, Dangerous Prayers: Because Following Jesus Was Never Meant to Be Safe, Zondervan, 2020.

Analogies

Big-Godder or Little Godder?

Donald Grey Barnhouse, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, tells the story of his revered professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, Robert Dick Wilson, a renowned scholar of astounding linguistic ability. About twelve years after Barnhouse had graduated from the seminary, he was invited back to speak at the chapel. Professor Wilson was present for the service, and afterward he approached the speaker with these words: “if you come back again, I will not come hear you preach. I come only once. I am glad that you are a big-godder. When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.”

When Barnhouse asked for an explanation, Wilson replied, “Well, some men have a little god and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of his people. They have a little god and I call them little-godders. Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear Him. You have a great God, and He will bless your ministry!

C. Hassell Bullock, Psalms : Volume 2 (Teach the Text Commentary Series): Psalms 73-150, Baker Books, 2017.

Humor

Only The Symptoms Remain

At university, I knew a guy called Captain Scarlet (nicknamed after the lead puppet in a cult TV series to which he bore a striking resemblance). The Captain was the only nineteen-year-old I’ve ever known who viewed televangelists as aspirational role models. He was about as positive about positive thinking as it is possible to be.

One day, the Captain told me that he had been miraculously healed of a serious back complaint. I tried to give him a hug but he screamed. “I thought you’d been healed?” I said. “Oh I have,” he insisted, grinning furiously. “It’s only the symptoms that remain.”

Pete Greig, God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer, Zondervan, 2020.

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Related Themes

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Awe

Faith

Mystery

Signs

Wonder 

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