When Big Miracles Don't ConvinceBy Nathan Mates
When witnessing, there are times when you'd love for the clouds to part, and a message in mile-high letters be emblazoned across the sky saying "Convert Now, ___." (Fill in the blank with the person's name.) Or, a personal appearance by Jesus, knocking the subject off a donkey's back and blinding them. (Harder to do these days-- there's a few roadblocks between Jerusalem and Damascus, with lots of army troops, minefields, borders, and other problems.) If that's what it took to convert Paul, one of the leading opponents of Christianity, then whomever you're talking to rates at least a gentle whack to the head with God's clue-by-four to bring them to the realization of Jesus's resurrection, right?
Sorry, things don't always work that way. Jesus worked miracles for years, and yet the religious leaders of the day didn't acknowledge his miracles. Early in his ministry, Jesus reported his work as follows to John the Baptist's disciples: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." [Matthew 11:5] Impressive tally of miracles-- raising the dead [Matthew 9:18-26] was something only one other prophet had really done before: Elisha raising the Shunammite's son restored to life. [2 Kings 4:18-37]
And yet, the Israelites refused to acknowledge the amazing miracles that had happened in their midst and repent. As noted later on in that chapter: Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." [Matthew 11:20-24]
Being compared, unfavorably, to a city at ground zero of fire from heaven [Genesis 19], shows just how hard their hearts were to the Godly miracles taking place in their midst. Put simply, Jesus's miracles did not convince the populace. It's their loss, and not in Jesus's style to force them to bend the knee and acknowledge that he is Lord of all. [That's reserved for later-- Romans 14:12]
Throughout history, the Israelites had huge miracles take place that could only have happened by God's hand, and they still fell away. Just weeks after the Egyptian army proved they couldn't walk on the Red Sea, the once-jubilant victors were whining about food and water in the desert. [Exodus 16]
Just a bit later, God, the master of dramatic entrances (when he wants) showed up on Mount Sinai in a most blatant form: "On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him." [Exodus 19:16-19] So, while Moses was up taking directions from God, what'd the Israelites do? Ignore the very blatant power just displayed to them, and make a golden calf to worship. [Exodus 32] To put it bluntly, they had seen God's power, and they went their own way.
God's also shown off his power by pulling off the "impossible" so that it is plain to see that it wasn't human power at work, but God's hand. God once knocked down an Israelite army from 32,000 men to 300 to "properly" fight an army of 135,000. [Judges 7:1-7, 8:10] The odds were very much against the Israelites even with 32,000 men. However, 300 men defeating an army almost 500 times larger than them is definitely God's hand at work. Did the Israelites learn and stick with God after that? Nope. Did even the leader of the 300 see God's power and commit to him? Nope-- he made an idol which was worshiped. [Judges 8:27]
The book of Revelation basically promises that despite huge miracles taking place. Great signs are prophesied, most of the Earth is killed off, and yet people didn't repent. [Rev 16:9-11, among other places.]
Jesus, prophesying indirectly about his own death and resurrection, had this to say about the matter in Luke 16:31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" Multiple 'someones' did rise from the dead-- the ruler's daughter (Matthew 9:18-26), Lazarus (John 11:1-46), and Jesus-- and yet most were not convinced.
So, if the most blatant miracles don't work, what are we to do? John 6:44 quotes Jesus as saying "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." So, salvation is not a result of impressive miracles happening. Such things may certainly help draw some people to God, but they're not the be all and end all of conversion. In fact, we should be glad at this, because we don't "need" big miracles to convert some people-- a simple talk may be all that's needed. Big miracles are cool, and God is glorified through them, but they're not required for salvation.
In all things, God is in control of the entire situation, and works all things to glorify him. We should strive to emulate Jesus's example of being a good teacher, always ready to present the gospel, yet leaving the how and whens of conversions where they belong, in God's hands.