“‘But Peter said, `I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!’ And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. And with a leap, he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” (Acts 3:6–8, NASB)
Notice that the man was lame from birth. Not only had he never walked, but when he was healed, he apparently didn’t even have to learn to walk!
Today we’re talking about miracles. Miracles cause people problems. When it comes to miracles, some people want to explain them away and other people want to know, “Where can I get me one of those?” Miracles. Years ago, on a summer morning, a 12-car train carrying the classes of a Sunday school from eastern Missouri was headed toward a picnic about 50 miles away. The train hadn’t covered more than 25 miles, half the distance to its destination, when a thunderstorm exploded.
When the train swung around a curve and began to approach a small station where it had no scheduled stop, the engineer strained to see through the rain. He didn’t like what he saw. The switch ahead of them was open. That open switch, this close, meant disaster was unavoidable. Faster than it takes to say, he closed the throttle and threw on the brakes. In the cars, passengers, adults, children, and all their picnic paraphernalia went flying. The fireman shouted, “Better stick to it, hundreds of children are on board.” The engineer called back, “I mean to. God help us all.” The engineer’s last words, the part about “God help us all” were masked by a terrible explosion of thunder. The thunder was married to a flash of lightning which seemed to strike the ground just ahead of the engine. The engineer and fireman braced themselves for the crash. It was a crash which never came. They sailed past the point of disaster and found they were still safely on the main-line rails. When the train finally stopped, the engineer and conductor hurried back along the track to see what had happened and how they had avoided catastrophe. What they found was this: in the second it took for the engineer to call on the Lord, a bolt of lightning had struck between the switch and the rail and had closed it. The engineer said, “It was an act of God.” When the Sunday school teachers heard of how they had been delivered, the first and most common comment was: “It’s a miracle.”
Was it? Was it a miracle? Some people hearing that story will say, “The fact that a bolt of lightning hit at that particular time, at that particular spot, with that particular result, after the engineer’s particular and personal prayer for deliverance, is highly coincidental, almost astronomically coincidental; but it is a coincidence nevertheless. This event can be explained in ways completely natural without calling for the necessity of Divine intervention or the suspension of any natural laws.” People who think this way have a tough time with miracles.
Other folks, usually Christian, faith-filled people, will respond to these mental gymnastics with fierce condemnation, “Are you nuts? The odds on this happening are far too great to be a matter of coincidence. You could run a million trains over a million miles of track and do it for a million years and such a thing would never happen again.” To which the doubters would say, “Yes, but it did happen, and nobody saw God throw that thunderbolt. It happened and no miracle was needed.” In frustration, the believers would say, “What would it take for you to believe in miracles – how about if you saw someone walk on water?”
You see what I mean? Miracles cause people problems. Some people believe them and other people don’t. That is even the case when it comes to walking on water. I know because Scripture speaks of people walking on water. Actually the Bible tells of one person – Jesus – who walked on water, and another – the disciple Peter – who sort of walked on water. It is a story which has been believed; it is a story which has been rationalized and explained away. For those of you who have never heard the story, let me give you a short synopsis of what Scripture says.
The story begins with Jesus just having been told John – one of the few people in the world who understood Jesus had come to be our Savior – had just been murdered. The news had come during a time of immense popularity for Jesus. Great crowds were following Him and everybody was asking Him to help with this, or heal that, or answer some theological question. The demands upon Him were tremendous. When Jesus had tried to get away from the crowd, the throng followed Him. Jesus’ proposed day of relaxation was set aside as He spent long hours helping and teaching and feeding the gathered thousands.
That last part – the part about feeding the multitudes – Scripture says was accomplished when Jesus miraculously multiplied a few loaves and fish that had been supplied by a young boy. It was a great miracle and impressed the people who were there. But miracles cause problems. Many learned men and women in the last century or so have worked very hard at trying to explain away how Jesus managed to feed the multitude with a lad’s light lunch. They have tried to minimize Jesus’ miracle by theorizing: “Almost everybody in the crowd had brought food, but they didn’t feel comfortable eating in front of others. Since they didn’t have enough to go around, everybody kept their food hidden. When the boy gave up his dinner, the crowd felt ashamed. That’s why, when the disciples started to distribute the boy’s meager meal, these folks added what they had brought and everyone had a giant buffet.” That’s what some say. Miracles cause people problems.
At any rate, after the long day, Jesus still needed some private prayer time, so He dismissed the crowd and put His disciples into a boat, instructing them to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. As the disciples made their way, a storm arose; it whipped up the waves and impeded their progress. The disciples, many of whom were experienced sailors, spent much of the night fighting that storm. Still, the hours before dawn found Jesus’ friends still in their vessel, still far out at sea.
It was then – before daybreak – that Scripture says a miracle happened. Now, if you thought that lightning bolt throwing a switch and saving a train full of Sunday school children was a miracle, “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.” I’m confident in saying, “If you had been in the ship with the disciples, you wouldn’t have believed your eyes.” I say this because the disciples didn’t believe their eyes. What they saw was this: in the distance a shadowy figure was walking toward them on the water. Although most sailors are superstitious by nature: the disciples, looking at that person, can be excused for thinking they were seeing some supernatural spirit. A modern individual might think he was seeing a mirage, or an optical illusion, or having some kind of hallucination. No matter in what age you might happen to live, this is certain; you wouldn’t have thought or said, “Jesus is coming and He is walking on the water.”
In truth, it was easier for the disciples to believe they were seeing a spirit than it was to think Jesus had the ability to override the rules of creation. That’s why Jesus, knowing their fear, called out, “Take heart; it’s Me. Don’t be scared.” Peter, a man who was subject to high-highs and low-lows, shouted back, “Lord if it really is You, how about I come to You on the water? Please, invite me to come to You on the water.” And Jesus invited him. “Come,” the Savior said, and Peter did. The Gospel writer Matthew, recording that event, said, “So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.” Matthew doesn’t say how far Peter walked on the water; he only says Peter walked on the water to Jesus.
It was a pretty impressive miracle. It would have remained an impressive miracle if Peter hadn’t turned his eyes from Jesus and taken a good gander at the waves. When Peter did that, things quickly went wrong and he began to sink. Scripture doesn’t say what went on in Peter’s mind; it doesn’t tell us if Peter started thinking of home; or if his entire life flashed before his eyes; or if he saw himself at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. We just know Peter began to sink and he couldn’t do anything about it. In desperation he called out, “Lord, save me,” and Jesus did. Jesus reached out. He took the fisherman’s hand and said, “Peter, you were doing so good, what happened to your faith? Why did you doubt?” Having said that, Jesus brought Peter into the boat and the storm stopped.
So that’s the miracle – that’s the way it was recorded. What do you think? Me, I think miracles cause some people problems. Although there are millions of people who, like me, believe this story just as Scripture tells it; there are a great many who don’t. Those who believe, say this story shows we can do all things, even walking on water, if we have enough faith. Skeptics say, “Then why don’t we see more of you Christians walking on the world’s lakes, streams, and seas?” Believers say the story tells us Jesus will always rescue His people when they call on Him, and cynics reply, “Then why weren’t the people of the Titanic saved? Why do we see the news filled with all kinds of tragedies and disasters where Christians aren’t rescued? For every story you tell us about lightning bolts saving a train of Sunday school children, we can show you ten where there the end result was tragedy and disaster.” “Maybe,” shoots back the Christian, “but how do you explain this walking-on-water story from the Bible?” To which the unbeliever can only say, “I don’t know. Maybe the disciples made the story up to make Jesus seem like the Son of God. Maybe Jesus found an old piece of wood and rowed Himself out to the disciples. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t believe that Jesus walked on water, and I don’t think Peter walked on water either.”
Miracles cause some people problems, seemingly insurmountable and divisive problems. Believers vs. doubters. That’s the way the world is; and quite frankly, that is the way it will remain until the day Jesus returns on Judgment Day. Believers and doubters. That’s why people don’t like to talk about religion. We always seem to end up at the same spot where we began. The believers keep believing, only now they’re angry and frustrated because they couldn’t help someone see the gracious Savior who is so real to them. The doubters keep doubting, only now they feel they’ve been beaten with the club of someone else’s religion. Believers and doubters. Miracles cause problems. Walking on water miracles cause problems; feeding thousands with some loaves of bread and a few fish cause problems. Most of all, someone rising from the dead causes problems.
Now that’s not an original thought with me. Jesus said it in one of His parables. He talked of a man in hell who wanted to warn his brothers to repent and believe. That man was told, “If they (your brothers) do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). And so it has been.
So, is there nothing which can break this deadlock; nothing which can cause doubters to do a U-turn? Certainly there is nothing I can do. I can’t convert a cynic and turn him into a Christian. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit alone, is the one who calls people to faith in Jesus. He is the one who lays their doubts to rest and gives them trust in Holy Scripture and leads them to rely upon the substitution and sacrifice of the Savior. If an individual is saved, it is only because the power of God has worked in His heart and he has been brought to see Jesus Christ as His heaven-sent rescuer.
Bringing people to see Jesus as their Savior – that is what His miracles were designed to do. No person can look at the seemingly unbelievable things which Jesus did and remain unmoved or undecided; Jesus’ miracles allow for no middle ground. Jesus’ miracles are unique, so special no preacher who claims he is a “miracle worker” would risk duplicating them. Jesus’ miracles are so powerful; they cannot be dismissed with the wave of a hand or a bit of mental gymnastics. Jesus’ miracles are the Spirit’s tool which lead us to that point in time where we confess Him to be the sinless Son of God and the only one who can save us; or they are a spiritual stumbling block which causes us to consider Him nothing more than a charlatan, a clown, a conman, and cheat. Jesus’ miracles say He is the world’s only Savior – or He is this earth’s greatest fake and fraud.
Nowhere is that division more apparent than at Calvary’s cross and before Jesus’ empty tomb. Indeed, Jesus’ miraculous resurrection from the dead is so crucial, so central to all that Christians believe, St. Paul freely admits: “If Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins” (Romans 15:17). With those words, the Holy Spirit wants the world to know everything Christians believe – every hope they hold – rises and falls on the miracle of resurrection Sunday. Jesus’ feeding of thousands, His walking on water, His healings, His teachings, all crumble if He has not risen. But if He has – and indeed He has risen – everything Jesus taught, every promise He made, is clothed in Divine truth and holy grace.
Which takes us back to the beginning. Believers believe and doubters don’t. So, is there nothing more to be said? Is there nothing which the Lord might use to tip the balance to you who question? My friends, there is. No, don’t write off what I’m going to say next because you think I’m a blinded, prejudiced, Christian. Listen, because I’m going to give you information from people who weren’t Christian, information from people you normally don’t get to hear. And what is this information? It is this: do you know that almost every ancient Jewish and pagan source agreed that Jesus did some extraordinary things – things which couldn’t be easily explained away or be done by human will alone? Yes, Christian sources say He did His miracles by the power of God and the others say He did miraculous things because He was empowered by the devil. Read through the ancient writers and the vast majority of the unbelievers never thought the miraculous workings of Jesus were a hoax or imaginary. Did you get that? Jesus’ opponents, His enemies, say He did things which were very, very unique.
Do you need a concrete example of such an opinion? Fine, I thought you would. Here is a translation of an ancient document. How ancient? Most scholars say it was written within 20 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Its authenticity has not been seriously questioned. Excerpted it reads:
“EDICT OF CAESAR: It is my decision [concerning] graves and tombs… that these remain undisturbed forever. But if anyone legally charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has moved sepulcher-sealing stones: against such a person I order that a judicial tribunal be created… You are absolutely not to allow anyone to move [those who have been entombed]. But if [someone does], I wish that [violator] to suffer capital punishment under the title of tomb-breaker.”
An edict from Caesar – made shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection. An edict which makes it a capital offense to roll a stone away from in front of a sealed grave; an edict which makes it a capital offense to steal a body or move it from its spot of burial. Do I need to remind you how the Gospels tell of an angel who rolled a stone away from the entrance of Jesus’ tomb so the world might see He had risen? Do I need to remind you the religious rulers tried to perpetuate the lie which said Jesus’ body had been stolen? Do I need to relate how, before she saw the living Lord, Mary Magdalene thought a gardener had moved His body to a different location?
Although Jesus is not specifically mentioned, everything in Caesar’s edict would seem to apply to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Coincidence? Possibly. But what if I were to tell you that while there were other Roman laws which made it a crime to steal or move a body, only this edict made such an action a capital offense. Why? While other Roman laws speak of stealing body and ashes, which was the normal way to dispose of the dead, this edict only speaks about stealing bodies. And this edict from Caesar has turned up in only one place: the Galilean town of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. We can only surmise that within a few years of Jesus’ resurrection the news had reached Rome. Indeed that news was so powerful even the emperor of Rome tried to put a lid on it. He tried and he failed, even as Satan still tries to make people question the resurrection. It is my prayer that he will fail with you.
Christ living within you; that is the miraculous truth which the Holy Spirit holds out to all – including those of you who were, up until this minute, doubters and deniers.
Invite Christ into Your Heart Right Now.
His Miracle Power Is Only A Prayer Away.