Over the past couple months I’ve been very slowly working my way through the New Testament Gospel of Luke.
I’ve had a couple revelations going through Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry and one of them has been about how we, in our modern-day practice of faith, seem to have conveniently left some things out.
Big things… if you really read it.
I think there is one great big category of things we leave out today-in our Christian conversation and practice. And that’s:
Miracle work (healing… demon possession… basically God’s authority over all things).
I think we have high levels of discomfort around things like healing and Jesus setting people free from demons
So much so that today it seems we rather use the generalized term of “spiritual warfare.” But see even that seems a watered down disservice to the very explicit references in the Gospels…
Several times there’s a possessed person and Jesus commands the demon to come out.
Jesus doesn’t turn to Peter and say, “hey man how’s your heart?”
Peter to Jesus, “man this work is getting hard, I’m having a difficult time believing, and there’s just so much conflict with these fellow Jews… it’s really bumming me out”
To which Jesus responds, “man, well that just really sounds like spiritual warfare to me“
No, this was the reality:
33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34 “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. – Luke 4
Across the Gospels there are at least 25 references to this type of miracle work-battling demons.
Or consider the load of references to Jesus’ healing activity in the Gospels; some say there are 31 unique individual stories with a total of 727 verses that relate to Jesus’ miraculous work in this department!
The final broad category would be Jesus’ myriad examples of control over nature. From multiplying the fish and loaves to walking on water to calming the storm and so on and so forth, Jesus was consistently asserting his authority over the natural world.
So why does it appear in our modern conversations and practice that these topics have all but dried up?
Our first major hang up is that we dodge these topics because they’re hard to digest…
because we don’t see them anymore in our Western expression of faith and community, we easily dismiss them out of hand.
I think Christians are up against one great, big common mistake: we cherry pick scripture for the ones that are “easier to handle” more “feasible to grasp” or “in less dispute”…
The thing motivating that cherry picking is that, again, some things are easier to explain and fit within our modern conceptions of belief and practice.
In short, people-all people believing and unbelieving-have a hard time wrapping their heads around the supernatural… that’s kind of the whole fundamental premise of belief in the God of the Bible!
But let’s take that one step further, even as Christians; and consider this:
Why does it feel like a quantum leap for us to go from belief in a big, sovereign, creator God to belief in the tangible miraculous ministry of Jesus (and that of his disciples/apostles by the way!)?
In failure to take that leap, we will only scratch the surface of the power alluded to there…
My contention is that we can’t preach that way, we can’t live that way.
We either take the Gospel for the full force of what it was and is today or we scrap the whole thing.
We either take Jesus-the man and the ministry-as real and believable today as He was then or we don’t.
We can no longer say, ‘well yes of course we will take his wonderful sermons and confounding parables but the practice-not so much.’
We can’t pick and chose this deal; we must refuse the urge to cherry pick.
But the wrestling match between Christians of every stripe continues: do miracles continue on in our modern age?
That brings us to our second hang up: our perpetual failure to unite the “natural” and “supernatural” in our every day life and experience.
I’ll let Tim Stanford from a 2012 Christianity Today article speak for me:
Everything that happens in creation is pregnant with the power and the presence of God. Nowhere you can go escapes him. Nothing that happens, happens apart from his will. Everything is natural and supernatural at the same time.
I recommend that we go back to the wisdom of Augustine, who understood miracles not as violations of natural law (how and why would God violate his own work?) but as occasions when God walks on unusual paths. They are not more God-inspired than, say, the daily sunrise. They are just an unusual break from the way God ordinarily works, and thus a signal of something important.
Miracles are so unusual that we stop in wonder. By their rarity, their unusual character, they grab our attention. That is what signs do. They stand out from their environment so that we notice them. Otherwise, how could they point?
“Everything that happens in creation is pregnant with the power and the presence of God.” The sooner we take on that lens as a trademark of our worldview, the better it will be… for our personal faith, our community of believers and for those who are watching from outside.
One thought-provoking idea to end: as to the question, always, of how might this impact our leadership?
Just think how much better your odds are at influencing others who you think might never change, never grow into their potential or leading whole organizations no less that you hope might impact or influence the world… bold aspirational goals like these are so much better imagined when we maintain the faith in miracles… right?