But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.”
—Matthew 9:34, NIV
One of the most deflating experiences you can have is to relate to someone how you came about your unshakable religious faith, only to have them come up with a logical explanation for what happened. “Oh yes,” they say, “after all that prayer I can see why you reacted the way you did, but spontaneous remissions happen all the time. I can see how it must have been uplifting.”
So you yearn for the apostolic age, when miracles were obvious and everything was crystal-clear. How lucky the apostles were to walk with Jesus and to know for certain what we can only trust Him for! Unfortunately it wasn’t so easy. According to today’s scripture, miracles weren’t any easier to believe in then than now. Every time there was a miracle, some wise guy would pop up and say, “Oh, I know how you did that! How clever!”
Don’t you think Jesus felt exasperated and deflated when the Pharisees tried to debunk Him? So you have some consolation when people treat you that way, because they treated your Master the same way.
In fact, we can see this throughout the Bible. When Moses worked his miracles before Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s advisers successfully debunked him by duplicating his feats. When Sarah was told she would give birth in her old age, she laughed. When Jeremiah prophesied the Word of the Lord, Zedekiah listened skeptically and told him he was full of beans. When Paul saw the light and began his career as a Christian preacher, many Christians didn’t believe his conversion story. When Jesus rose from the dead, even some disciples wouldn’t believe it without proof. The authorities had a ‘scientific explanation’ right at hand to explain it. Even the miraculous birth of the church at Pentecost was dismissed by the onlookers as a bunch of drunken men!
And as we read today, when Jesus cast out demons, the Pharisees had a ready explanation that wasn’t very flattering to Jesus.
So don’t envy the people who saw biblical miracles first hand. It wasn’t any easier for them to believe than it is for you. There is no such thing as a clincher for Christianity; an incontrovertible proof that once people see it, they are compelled to believe. If Moses couldn’t convince Pharaoh and Jesus couldn’t convince most of the Pharisees who witnessed His miracles first hand, I sincerely doubt that any of us will come up with something He didn’t think of.
Today we believe in a deity called ‘nature,’ and we think that if we can show that she did something, that we have proven that Jesus’ Father didn’t do it. We think that if we can come up with an explanation for a miracle, it isn’t a miracle anymore. But in reality, there is only one God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and nature is only an abstraction. All things we attribute to nature are really God’s. Therefore if someone figures out a ‘natural explanation’ for a miracle, they have only shown how clever they are that they were able to retrace God’s steps in creating the event. In fact, I think I would disbelieve a miracle for which there was no “natural explanation” or at least no reliable corroboration because that would tend to indicate that the event never occurred as described. However, even if you can figure out how an event occurred, you haven’t necessarily demonstrated who did it or why they did it, and it is in the Who and the Why that the miraculous is found.
Many years ago, I was unemployed for an extended period of time. I became desperate and hungry. I was finally reduced to pleading with God for a job because I was so sick of looking and not finding anything. Right at that very moment, the telephone rang. It was a job offer! I started work the next day!
Now I know how it happened. I have an idea how telephones work, and I know how the person who called got my number, and after I was hired I understood the business developments that led to the offer. But even though I knew a rational, logical, natural explanation of the event, I still regard it as God’s providence, because of my trust that God hears and listens to my prayers and because of the timing of the event. In other words, knowing how the event occurred didn’t explain why it happened at that precise moment or who caused it. If I have no faith in God’s providence, or if I am skeptical, I might call it a coincidence, and I freely admit that is a possibility. But my faith tells me that God would hear my prayer for my daily bread and would answer it. So whatever possibilities my rational mind might entertain, my faith affirms it as God’s providential intervention in my life.
It isn’t the How that makes it a miracle, it’s the Who and the Why behind the event. It’s the motivation behind the event that makes it providential, that makes it a miracle, and that is the part that cannot be proved and must be taken on faith.
Jesus berated the people who followed Him only to see the special effects. Steven Spielberg could probably create more impressive ones, but they would be empty. Spielberg’s miracles are illusions, not real events. Jesus wants us to believe His word and trust His authority, and to see the miracles only as corroboration and demonstration.
There is no proof, because if there were proof, there would be no need for trust. It is by trusting Jesus you are saved.