The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity: Does God Still Work Miracles?

Readings: 1 Kings 17:17-24, Ephesians 3:13-21, Luke 7:11-17
Hymns: LSB 476, 758, 633, 544, 895

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

Today’s Old Testament lesson picks up where last week’s left off. In those days, there was a severe famine in the land—one that lasted for over 3 years. At first, God instructed Elijah to stay by a brook so he could drink the water from the brook. Elijah’s food was delivered by ravens sent by God. These ravens brought meat and bread to Elijah.

After the brook dried up, God sent Elijah to Zarephath where he met a widow who was gathering sticks. He asked her for some water. As she went to get the water, he asked her for a morsel of bread. She replied, saying, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” Elijah told her not to fear, to do as she said, but first make a little cake from the flour and bring it to him. He told her, “Thus says the LORD the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth’” (1 Kings 17:8-16).

Amazingly, she did as Elijah said. And, as God promised, the flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty. However, after some time, the son became ill and stopped breathing. He died and she became very upset. She recognized her own sin and unworthiness and assumed Elijah was sent to remind her of her sinfulness.

Ministers of the Word are sent by God not only to preach the Gospel which forgives, but also to preach the Law which ought to bring to our minds our many sins. But what God has absolved, He has forgiven and remembers no more. So, when God has forgiven us of our past sins, we should be confident that God will not hold them against us any longer. Unlike us sinners, God doesn’t go about digging up our past. However, for sins that have been retained—sins that had been left unforgiven due to impenitence or unbelief—those sins remain as long as that person does not repent. Perhaps the widow was harboring some sort of sin and now figures Elijah is sent by God to remind her of it. Most likely, though, this is not the case. For Elijah does not address her sinful past; instead, he proceeds to perform an amazing miracle—one that happens very infrequently in the Scriptures. By the working of God, Elijah raises the boy from the dead. This is an incredible miracle, just like the one Jesus performed in our Gospel.

Now, when we think about the Old Testament era, we may be tempted to have romantic views about how often God was performing miracles among God’s people. We think about Daniel and the lion’s den and Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego who survive the burning fiery furnace. We think about Jonah who was swallowed up by a giant fish and then spit up on dry ground. Or we think about Lot’s wife who was turned into a pillar of salt.

While there are many miracles recorded in the Old Testament, we must remember that these miracles occurred over the course of several thousand years, and not everyone witnessed or experienced them. Surely, however, more miracles occurred in those days than the Old Testament records.

Since God performed many miracles during the Old Testament era, and Jesus and His apostles performed many, what about today? Do they still happen?

Surely, people are praying for miracles. We are praying for an end to the pandemic. We are praying for an end to cancer. We are praying that strokes and heart disease would go away. And, hopefully, we are praying for the even greater miracle of God to continue to take place—that God would convert hearts of stone into hearts living and active—that we would remain Christians and that God would turn the hearts of many who hear the Word so they believe and are saved.

I have not met a single soul who has said they are happy living under these COVID-19 conditions. I have not heard anyone say they want to keep social distancing and masks forever. Instead, many are praying that it will all end.

So what is God doing about it? As a servant of Christ, I can only tell you what God reveals in Scripture, which is a lot. But I cannot tell you what God plans to do about this pandemic, what His plan and purpose is throughout this, how long it will last, or what methods God will choose to employ to end the pandemic.

Those questions God will reveal in due time. Today’s Scripture lessons reveal an important truth: God works through means and He works through His Word. Elijah prayed over the boy and stretched himself upon the child three times and the child was revived. Jesus spoke to the young man in the coffin, “I say to you, arise.” And he sat up and began to speak. Neither of these were done by Christians in the solitude of their home apart from the normal ways God operates. Both were done by men sent from God who spoke the Word of God.

If we desire to have the miracle known as faith, we cannot expect that it will germinate or grow when people do not use the means of Word and Sacrament as instituted by Christ. God continues to send men to serve as undershepherds of His flock. God uses these men to administer the sacraments and preach the Word of Christ.

But as much as we would like for pastors today to perform miracles like the ones in the days of Elijah, God has not promised to give them that ability.

However, God still works through means. That is, God is at work through the intellect and abilities of other people. He uses many hands and minds to accomplish some amazing things. Just look at this building. Fifty-five years ago, many people in this congregation and outside our congregation came together to design and build this house of God. Ever since, members have spent countless hours maintaining and improving this place. And the expertise of many outside our congregation has also been utilized. Through all of this, God’s will is done in that we have a place to meet Christ through His Word.

To illustrate, let’s consider polio and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1921, he contracted this virus, which led to him being paralyzed. While polio had been around since ancient times, major outbreaks were occurring in the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and America. This made polio the most worrying childhood disease at the time. In 1926, FDR was convinced that hydrotherapy helped those who were injured by the disease, so he formed a rehabilitation center in Warm Springs, GA. Even though he usually hid his wheelchair from the public, he was completely comfortable there, swimming among children, and having a good time. Roosevelt’s efforts to strengthen those who were weakened or paralyzed is one example of how God works—God works through individuals who help others.

Then, in the 1950s, the polio vaccine was developed and has been so successful that just 138 cases of polio were recorded in 2018. The last recorded case of polio in America was in the 1970s. What went from being a terrifying disease is almost gone. God worked through those who invented and administer the polio vaccine.

If you’ve read “On the Banks of Plum Creek” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you may recall the great grasshopper plague. The Rocky Mountain Locust devastated crops in the 1870s as huge swarms of grasshoppers devoured crops. It is estimated that in 1874, 12 trillion grasshoppers destroyed crops across the Great Plains. These plagues were horrible. And yet, the Rocky Mountain Locust is now extinct. How could a type of grasshopper that produced so much havoc through their huge numbers just disappear? Scientists have been unable to figure out how this happened. But I have an explanation. It was the hand of God. He chose to bring an end to it.

So what will God do for the coronavirus? Will He use the hands of man to reduce transmission of the disease? I would say yes, that is already happening. Will He use the hands of man to nearly eradicate it, like what happened with polio? That is a good possibility. Or will God simply choose to cause it to go away, like He did with the Rocky Mountain Locust—disappearing as quickly as it came? That, too, is a possibility; not outside of God’s realm.

In the meantime, we pray like Elijah did, we trust in God who saves like the widow at Zarephath did as she made bread for Elijah, we keep on hearing the Word as God’s people always have done, we glory in Christ as Paul did in our Epistle during a time in which he was likely imprisoned for faithfully preaching the Gospel, and we take comfort in the miracle of the Resurrection as the widow and the people of Nain did when Jesus raised the young man.

You see, no matter how difficult things get in this life, no matter how much we may suffer, or no matter how we may die, God is still present to bless His people. He grants us the gift of everlasting life and salvation through His Son who went to the cross to pay for the sins of the world and rose triumphantly from the grave.

God performed many miracles throughout Bible times. Jesus did many amazing things, like walking on water and calming the storms. And yet, He did even more as He raised the dead, and bore our sins in His Body, suffered Hell in our place, died and rose triumphantly from the grave. And He works the miracle of faith that we believe in Christ, take comfort in Him alone, and look forward to the Resurrection of all flesh. On that day, all hardship will be gone, and we will rejoice in dwelling with Him forever. Amen.            

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen