The curious case of the missing miracles

by James Johnson

The stories of Sherlock Holmes brought fame and fortune to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The public couldn't get enough of his adventures. Eventually, though, Sir Arthur decided to kill him off with his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty. There was a public outcry, and so eight years later, he wrote the sequel. Holmes's supposed death was not the end of the story.

The popularity of Sherlock Holmes shows that we enjoy detective stories. We want to solve a mystery. In every good detective story, the clues are there for people searching for them. But the reader needs to avoid the deliberate 'red herrings' and 'blind alleys'. Detective stories should be 'watertight'. Another famous fictional detective is Philip Marlowe. 'The Big Sleep', written by Raymond Chandler in 1939, had a flaw. A critic contacted Chandler and asked him who murdered the family chauffeur. Chandler replied, "Damned if I know." And he was the creator of the story!!

There is another world best-seller which is seemingly full of puzzles. That book is God's Word. Using Holmes's detection methods let's see if we can solve some of them. But first, let's heed his warning, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Increasingly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." (A Scandal in Bohemia.)

Another Sherlock Holmes story has this dialogue between Holmes and a detective inspector, "Is there any point you want to draw my attention to?" "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." "But the dog did nothing in the night-time!" "That is the curious incident." (Silver Blaze 1893.)

Here are three Scriptures. Using Holmes's method what are the curious incidents? What is missing? Philippians 2:27-28: "For he is infirm, also, very nigh death, but God is merciful to him, yet not to him only, but to me also, lest I should be having sorrow on sorrow."

I Timothy 5:23: "No longer drink water only, but be using a sip of wine for your stomach and your frequent infirmities." This third Scripture may offer more clues: 2 Timothy 4:20: "yet Trophimus, being infirm, I left in Miletus." (A few verses earlier [11] Paul says "Luke only is with me." The 'beloved physician' was not able to help Trophimus.)

It is clear that what is missing is miraculous healing. Yet this is the same Paul who had healed and even raised the dead. This is the same Paul who wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:12 : "Indeed, the signs of an apostle are produced among you in all endurance, besides signs and miracles and powerful deeds."

Earlier, it was only necessary for the shadow of Peter to fall on a person and they were healed. It was only necessary for Paul to send a handkerchief to a distant ill person for them to be healed. (Peter - Acts 5:16; Paul - Acts 19:11-12).

Don't let's run away with the idea that only the apostles were able to heal. Mark 16:17 records Christ's words: "These signs shall fully follow those who believe… [that includes 'ordinary' believers]

1. In My name they shall be casting out demons;
2. They will be speaking with new languages;
3. They will be picking up serpents,
4. And if they should be drinking anything deadly, it should under no circumstances be harming;
5. They will be placing hands on those who are ailing, and ideally will they be made well.

There are many examples of these signs (except no. 4) appearing in later Scriptures.

About the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Autumn Harvest Festival of the Jews, the Lord appointed 72 others (Luke 10:11). The harvest was ripe and laden, and more workers than the Twelve were needed. Luke 10:17 tells us the result. "They returned with joy, saying 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Thy Name."

Hebrews 2:4 reinforces this: "God corroborating, both by signs and miracles, and by various powerful deeds, miracles, and partings of holy spirit, according to His will." Note the last four words – according to His will.

Perhaps the most famous quotation of Holmes is: "How often have I said to you when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" (The Sign of Four.)

So using Holmes' logic what is the impossible? It is impossible for God to lie; it is impossible for God to change His mind when He has promised something. He is faithful in all His works. So whatever remains, however improbable it may seem to human reasoning, must be the truth.

Healing is a subject which can be controversial. Another quote from Holmes: "The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning." So with an unemotional mind, what are the cold unbiased facts?

Let us begin at the beginning. Christ performed many miraculous healings. The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the maimed could walk. And the greatest healing of all – the dead brought back to life. There is no Scriptural account of miracles prior to His earthly ministry for the simple reason that the miracles were proof that He was the promised Messiah who was to come. They weren't used just to draw crowds, or to publicize His message to Israel.

Incredibly, He told His disciples that they would do even greater miracles than these. But surely Christ's miracles should be far greater than anyone else's miracles. No, Christ's miracles were a sign to prove He was doing exactly what the prophets had told God's people Israel for centuries. These were miracles the true Messiah would do. What Christ did was only what the Father had told Him to do; nothing more, nothing less.

The message that Christ sent to John the Baptist when he was in prison, is recorded in Matthew 11:4-5: "And answering, Jesus said to them, 'Go, report to John what you are hearing and observing: The blind are receiving sight, and the lame are walking; lepers are being cleansed, and the deaf are hearing, and the dead are being roused, and to the poor the evangel is being brought.'"

Even during Christ's ministry, though, He did not heal everyone who was sick or disabled. John 5: 2-9 records Christ going to the Pool of Bethesda, where there was a MULTITUDE of disabled people. The lame man was one of many. Christ approached this man, not vice versa. He didn't ask if he had faith. He just told him to stand, take up his bed and walk. Christ's miraculous works were varied. Sometimes He touched people, other times He just said the word, and they were healed. Sometimes it was instant, sometimes it took time. Sometimes, they had faith to be healed, sometimes faith was not needed. Sometimes, healings took place a long way away. The healings, though, were always within the sovereignty of the Father.

This explains Mark 9:38 where the disciples were upset because a "we perceived someone casting out demons in Thy name who is not one of us."

Another curious incident is recorded in Luke 9:37-42. The disciples came to Christ because they were unable to cast out a demon. It was curious because earlier in Luke 9:1, Christ had commissioned them to drive out ALL demons. He gave them the power and authority to do so. At that particular time, the power from on high was waning, and for a simple reason.

While the disciples argued amongst themselves about who was the greatest (Luke 9: 46), Christ was contemplating His soon coming death and degradation. He told them in verse 44: "The Son of Mankind is about to be given up into the hands of men." How did they react? Verse 45: "But they did not understand what this meant." This happened about the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, a full six months before His crucifixion. It was becoming clear to Him then that the nation of Israel as a whole would not repent.

However, miracles of healing continued after Christ's return to His Father. So again we ask the question, "Why did healing stop?" Something happened between the time Peter and Paul and others performed miracles and when these miracles ceased. The power was gone. Let's look at some clues. Here we do well to note Holmes's words, "I never guess. It is destructive to logical faculty." This time we look to the authority of the Scriptures for the detection method. 2 Timothy 2:15 gives us the clue we need: "Endeavour to present yourself to God qualified, an unashamed worker, correctly cutting the word of truth." We often sum this up as: "Rightly dividing the Word of Truth."

So long as the nation of Israel received the message, "Repent, for near is the kingdom of God," the miraculous signs continued. But when national repentance was not forthcoming the signs ceased. Paul makes this clear in Acts 28:28. God had now set aside Israel and was turning to the Gentiles. The world before and the world after Acts 28:28 are completely different. A new age had begun. The signs and miracles were no longer necessary to prove that Christ was Israel's Messiah. The only sign Christ gave was His resurrection. Nothing more was necessary.

Some may suppose that this information is only for professional theologians in their ivory towers, but it has practical implications in the real lives of sincere believers. The truth sets us free. Countless believers have been distressed because they assumed that they did not have enough faith to be healed. That their prayers for loved ones who are ill or dying have been unanswered despite the plain Scripture saying, "Ask anything in My Name and I will answer."

Let us for a moment, imagine that today a tribe has been discovered in 'darkest' Africa that no one knew existed. They speak an unknown language. No Christian missionary has ever reached their hidden world before. Would God need to have His ministers speak in 'tongues' to make the so called 'primitive' people able to understand that Christ died for them? God is able to do what He pleases, but based on what we know about the purpose of signs and wonders, He will not. God's prophets went to Israel to prepare His people for the coming of the Messiah explaining what blessings they would receive upon national repentance.

In one respect, the position of that hypothetical 'lost tribe' is no different to the position of the Body of Christ today. The big difference is we have "every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). These are spiritual blessings, not physical blessings. Nowhere are we promised perfect health, fame and fortune in this life. But we can be thankful that God's physical blessings towards Israel are in abeyance, because otherwise we Gentiles would not be able to enjoy this period of God's Grace otherwise. That is the great mystery which we have the privilege to communicate to this dying world.

Nevertheless, it is easy for all of us to be much more concerned about the things of this life. Of course we want to witness miracles and great signs and wonders.

I Corinthians 13:7-11 lists manifestations of the spirit, including faith, healing, powerful deeds, prophecy and other languages. Remember, though, that this letter was written before Acts 28:28 and these signs and wonders were still operative.

Paul tells the ekklesia at Corinth that these were for minors and all these will eventually be discarded. That even faith and 'hope' (better 'expectation') will no longer be necessary. Only love will remain. So pursue love.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hadn't planned to 'resurrect' Sherlock Holmes. Raymond Chandler hadn't planned his story thoroughly. But God, the Author and Creator of the entire universe including human beings, knew the end from the beginning. Christ's death and resurrection was planned before the recreation of the world. For those with eyes to see it is clear.

Holmes never did say this in any of his adventures, but in the Curious Case of the Missing Miracles, he would surely have said, "It's elementary, my dear Watson."!

The clues are in God's Word. IT IS NO MYSTERY!

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©James Johnson

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