“When this became known all over Joppa many put their trust in the Master. Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner.” Acts 9:42-43 (The Message).
What was it that caused the message of Jesus to touch people’s lives in wave upon wave every time a miracle happened? Was it the miracles that attracted them or was it the proof that Jesus was alive that convinced them?
Miracles do not produce or sustain faith. We only have to read the story of God’s people in their deliverance from Egypt and their sojourn in the wilderness to recognise this. At no other time in their history did the Israelites experience more or greater miracles than when God rescued them from Pharaoh “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” and cared for them for forty years in the desert.
Plagues that destroyed a nation and its economy and finally wiped out its military might; natural phenomena like a wind so powerful that it cut a path through the sea; manna that appeared every six days out of seven; a flock of birds so vast that it covered their camp; water that flowed out of a rock enough to satisfy the needs of more than two million people; a pillar of cloud that gave the people shade from the desert sun by day and fire that warmed them at night — these and much more, were the order of the day. Could God have done any more for them than He did?
Yet they grumbled, rebelled, disobeyed and even set up a forbidden image in spite of all the miracles that attested to God’s invisible presence with them and power among them. A deeper investigation into the Old Testament actually reveals that the greatest miracles happened during the times of Israel’s greatest unbelief e.g., during the times of Elijah and Elisha.
No, miracles do not produce saving faith. What was it that convinced people everywhere that what the disciples were proclaiming was the truth? There were no billboards inviting people to “come and get your miracle” as we so often see today. Their message was simple. “Jesus is alive and He is Lord.”
It was the resurrection of Jesus that powered their faith. Miracles were the evidence of the presence of God’s kingdom on earth. People put their faith in the risen Jesus, not to get their miracle but because He is alive and He is who He said He is. They did not come to Him to get their needs met or to have a comfortable life or even a free ticket to heaven. They entrusted their lives to Him because He is Lord.
Not even the threat of persecution could stop the phenomenal growth of the church. Persecution weeded out the passengers and strengthened the faith and character of those who truly followed Jesus. And God continued to verify the truth of His Son’s resurrection by confirming His word with signs following.
Peter remained in Joppa. A new branch of the church was growing there. As a guest of Simon the Tanner, he stayed on to preach and teach about Jesus so that the faith of these new believers would be anchored in the truth of who Jesus is.
What if Jesus did nothing for us? He owes us nothing and is under no obligation to do anything for us. Would we still follow Him and put our trust in Him, or is our faith so mercenary that we only believe in Him for what we can get out of it? What He does for us flows from His infinite generosity and we are beneficiaries of pure grace.
It is His passion to put His glory on display that prompts His goodness to us. Let us never slip into the false notion that there is anything in us or anything we can do for Him that merits His favour.