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What Luther Says

Luther: 'Miracles Are To Corroborate The Word'; 'Miracles Do Not Convert Anyone'; 'The Greatest Miracle'

In light of our recent entry on Ebola and how it got me thinking about the Lutheran view of miracles (specifically, "divine/miraculous healing" and how it is apparently so prevalent around the world today), here are a few more excellent thoughts from Martin Luther on this very important subject.

We need to prayerfully consider these truths since there are far too many false teachers out there who are using "false signs and wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9) to their advantage to deceive millions of the elect (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22).

In fact, this sad reality seared my eyeballs the other day when I saw a friend's Facebook status that was all about how he was invited to "preach a sermon" and to then pray over many people with emotional and physical health issues after the sermon. Others in attendance "witnessed the miraculous healing" on display and had no doubts whatsoever since they "knew God would show up!" because He always does whenever this person is around...or so they say. Ugh.

In another attempt to speak "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), I think it's quite fair for us to ask why all the Christians (clergy and laity alike) who constantly make claims about "divine/miraculous healing" week-after-week aren't hopping on a plane to Africa right now to cure the sick, raise the dead, and rid the world of Ebola.

Some won't like me pointing this out I'm sure, but let's be honest. Wouldn't that be the most "loving" thing you could do for your neighbor, especially if you truly believe you have the power (a.k.a. the "spiritual gift") to legitimately heal people?

For that matter, why don't we see the self-proclaimed "Apostle"/"Faith Healer"/"Miracle Worker" serving in hospitals around the world today on a regular basis?

God's Word provides us with the answers to those questions (Matthew 24:24; Matthew 7:21-23). It's the Word of God that should be most prominent -- not the miracle itself even if it is real.

AS TO SUPERHUMAN performances in the physical world, Luther says in a sermon of March 1525, he text of which contains 1 Timothy 1:20, that they have no saving power. 
I would not want the grace to perform miracles; for those who pay no attention to the Word, against which the whole world has no reason to grumble, will not be moved by signs.

THEREFORE Luther says that God is not ostensibly lavish with His miracles. So he tells the councilmen of Germany in 1524. 
God will perform no miracles so long as problems can be solved by means of other gifts He has bestowed on us.

IN HIS EXPOSITION of John 14:11 (1537) Luther dwells at greater length on this relation between miracles and the Word. It was a subject of peculiar importance in those days. 
One must not believe every sort of miracle and wonder. For Moses predicted, (Deuteronomy 13:1-2) that false prophets would also perform signs and wonders; and St. Paul clearly prophesied of the reign of the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:9) that it would come with all manner of signs and wonders through the working of the devil. For this reason we must judge and compare all miracles and wonders according to God's Word, in order to see whether they accord and agree with it. For if people direct you to something else for help than to the teaching and work of the Lord Christ, you may boldly conclude that it is the devil's work and false, lying signs, by which he deceives and misleads you, as he has hitherto done under the name of Mary and the saints, while Christ was never properly recognized and taught. Moreover, God allows such things to happen in order to try the false Christians, so that they will (as St. Paul says) believe a lie because they did not want to believe the truth. For this reason we should be wise enough to test and judge such signs, seeing that God has warned us that they will happen. And when we see that they are done apart from and without Christ, nay, against His Word and faith, we should be convinced that they are surely nothing but false signs of the devil.

CHRIST HIMSELF says that there may be those ho boast of having performed miracles and yet are utterly disowned by Him. Luther unfolds the implications of this statement of our Lord in his exposition of Matthew 7:22-23 (1532). 
Then we will not let ourselves be diverted by their claims of the signs and wonders that Mary and other saints have done, nor by the skillful way they throw dust into our eyes to lead us away from the Word. Since we hear this warning that these false signs have to happen, we shall be smart enough not to believe in any mere sign. When He discussed these miracles in Matthew 24, He warned them faithfully and seriously (Matthew 24:25): "Lo, I have told you beforehand"; as if He wanted to say: Beware and cling to My warning, for otherwise you will certainly be seduced. You have My Word, so that you know what the will of My Father is. Contrast these two. Here you have My teaching, which tells you how to live and act. There you see the signs that contradict this teaching. He wants you to draw this conclusion: Since I see such wonderful signs over there, while over here I have the teaching as well as the warning, I shall first examine the implication of the signs. I shall test them where they ought to be tested, as to whether they serve to strengthen my faith in the Word: that Christ died for me; that through Him I may obtain piety and salvation in the sight of God; and that I should carry out my station and pay faithful attention to it. I may discover the contrary, that by this they want to strengthen and confirm their own stuff and teach me to run to this or that saint who does so many signs and miracles every day, or to crawl into a hood because this is such a holy order. This would mean being led away from Christ, from my church, pulpit, Baptism, and the Sacrament, and from my station and the works demanded of me -- all things with which I should remain. Therefore I refuse to listen or to know any of this though an angel were to come from heaven (Galatians 1:8) and raise the dead before my very eyes. Christ has taught and warned me: Hold on to My Word, pulpit, and Sacrament. Where these are, there you will find Me. Stay there, for you do not need to go running or looking any farther. I will never come any nearer to you than where My Gospel, Baptism, and ministry are; through them I come into your heart and talk to you.

IN A SERMON on John 4:47-54 Luther points out that this was indeed the language of Christ's miracles. 
Christ says in effect that faith should not rest on signs and wonders alone but on the Word. For signs and wonders may actually be false and untrue; but he who builds on the Word cannot be deceived, because God's promise is certain and cannot lie. Although the Lord performed signs and wonders in order to let Himself be seen and move people to faith, He nonetheless wanted people to look more at the Word than at the signs, which were intended to serve as a testimony to the Word. For it was not His main purpose to give this or that sick person bodily aid; it was His most important office to direct people to the Word and to impress it on their hearts, so that they should be saved thereby.

BUT THE POWERS of darkness may mimic miracles and thus direct men to ruinous lies. In a sermon of 1537 on Matthew 24:15-28 Luther notes that Christ expressly warns against this strategy of the father of lies and his followers. 
We should learn to believe no miracle after the revelation of Christ, even though a person who had been dead for ten days were called back to life. If I now should see a priest or a monk raise a dead person in the name of St. Ann, I would say that it was the work of the devil.

IN HIS EXPOSITION of Matthew 7:22-23 (1532) the Reformer, therefore, draws the following summary conclusion. 
In other words, the rule is this: Regardless of their size and number, no wonders or signs are to be accepted contrary to established teaching. We have God's commandment; He has commanded from heaven (Matthew 17:5): Listen to Him; Christ is the only one to whom you should listen. In addition, we have this warning, that false prophets will come and do great signs, but that they are all on the wrong track, away from Christ and toward something different. The only preventive is to have a good grasp of the doctrine and to keep it before your eyes continually. 
TO LUTHER the greatest of all miracles was, of course, Christ with His work of redemption. So he says in his exposition of Micah 1:15. 
What can be said that is more marvelous than this, that the Son of God assumes the flesh of man and is born of a virgin? What is more astounding than this, that the Son of God, battling with death and the devil, allows Himself to be overcome, offers His life to His enemies, and overcomes while being overcome? And the miracle supreme is this, that the man Christ, who died on the cross, rises from death and from the sealed grave on the third day, ascends to heaven and sits at the right hand of God with His flesh. What can possibly be said, nay, even conceived, that is equal to these miracles?

Now, if you're like me, then there's probably a part of you that still wonders why we don't still see genuine miracles today even after reading all of that. I mean, does everything we just read mean that miracles can never happen in this day and age?

Here's Pastor Karl Weber's response to that common question.

Why don’t we see miracles today like we see Jesus performing and those that flowed from the apostles’ hands (Acts 5:12)? Jesus answers this question a little later on in the fourth chapter of Luke after He healed Peter’s mother-in-law. By then people were flocking towards our Lord imploring Him to have mercy like they had just perhaps seen and certainly heard about. And when it was day, He departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:42-43). Jesus was sent to preach the good news. And the good news He preached reaches its culmination when our Lord was glorified. And Jesus was glorified when He was lifted up from the earth (John 13:31-32) to draw all people to Himself (John 12:31). It is through our Lord’s innocent bitter suffering and death that Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil. As our substitute Jesus suffered our punishment for all the sins we have, are, or ever will commit in this life. Jesus did so for as our substitute, He loves sinners and does not want any to perish. Through Jesus’ work on your behalf death no longer can hold you down; sin has lost its power to create guilt; and the devil is now toothless having no teeth to sink into you; no force of creation is able to keep you in the grave. Jesus needed to preach the good news that through his suffering on the cross we have the full, complete healing of mind, limb, and spirit. And so Jesus performed miracles, yes, because He is merciful. But also to build—for lack of a better word—His resumé. “Resumé building!” you say. “For what purpose?” you ask. To build His resumé of authenticity—that He truly is God in the flesh and that we may believe His words that our souls live and receive complete healing from His greatest act of mercy; Jesus’ death on the tree in our place for the forgiveness of our sins. This resumé building is proclaimed by St. Peter in his Pentecost sermon. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know …" (Acts 2:22). This was the same reason why the apostles performed their miracles. Yes it was because of mercy. But these acts of mercy pointed to the greatest act of mercy: preaching on Christ. It was to build their resumé so people would listen to apostles as they spoke by the Holy Spirit the words that Jesus gave them to speak (John 14:23).

Ewald M. Plass adds that "Luther grants that miracles are possible even today, though they are unlikely since we now have the written and preached Word to satisfy our every need. The miracles of Christianity are like bells which announce that the preaching service is about to begin. But when it has begun, they cease to ring, having served their purpose. So the miracles of the New Testament era called attention to the fact that the completed redemption was about to be proclaimed."

In a Lutheran layman's terms, it's always about Jesus and preaching Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind, always about His Word and Sacraments, and never about us let alone "Jesus working through me!" when it comes to so-called "miracles" today.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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