In his 1986 book, Power Evangelism, John Wimber suggested that when people see miracles, they are more inclined to believe in Jesus and embrace the gospel.
But is that true? Is that actually what we see in the Bible?
There are verses like John 2:11, where it says that Jesus’ disciples, having seen the first of his signs by which he manifested his glory, believed in him. Furthermore, at the end of the Gospel of John, John says that he has told us about these particular signs that Jesus performed, so that we may believe in him.
However, another common theme in the Gospel of John is that many people in Jesus’ time saw him perform miracles, and although they were fascinated with and captivated by seeing miracles, it did not translate into genuine faith and devotion to Jesus.
Regarding the disciples and the verse in John 2:11 that they believed in Him after they saw the sign he performed, it should be remembered that at this point they were already his disciples – which means they already believed in him. What this miracle did was cause them to believe in a deeper way. It solidified their belief, in other words.
Something that always strikes me, is the fact that Jesus fed over 5000 people (on two occasions!), thousands of others saw him perform miracles, yet on the Day of Pentecost, there were only 120 committed followers in the upper room.
The question that must be asked is: WHY did Jesus perform miracles? Was it an evangelistic strategy (as Wimber supposes), or was it because those miracles were signs, pointing to something beyond themselves (as John tells us in his gospel)?
It would seem that if miracles were Jesus’ evangelistic strategy, they weren’t very effective in producing lasting, genuine faith. A good example is found in John 4, where there is a contrast made between the Samaritans, who believed in Jesus because of his word (John 4:41) – even though they never saw a miracle, and the Galileans, whom Jesus chastised because they were only willing to believe if they saw signs and wonders (John 4:48).
The message is that faith, rather than coming from seeing miracles, comes from hearing the Word of God and believing. This same message is repeated at the end of John’s Gospel in John 20:29, where Jesus tells Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
In a recent Sermon Extra, Michael and I discussed signs and wonders, whether miracles produce genuine faith: