Con-Artists And Alleged Miracles

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It is written:

Matthew 7:15-20-Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16  You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

The Bible teaches that Satan and his forces are very real, and are able to do some amazing (and frightening) things.

For example, consider the sorcerers of Pharaoh. As Moses performed miracles by the power of God, the sorcerers of Egypt were able to duplicate some of them.

Exodus 7:11-But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.

Exodus 7:22-Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

Exodus 8:7-And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs on the land of Egypt.

Nevertheless, God’s power was shown to be greater.

Exodus 8:18-19-Now the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not. So there were lice on man and beast. 19  Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.

Exodus 9:11-And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians and on all the Egyptians.

We are told in ancient Jewish history books that the sorcerers of Egypt were able to do these things by the power of fallen angels and demonic spirits.

Jubilees 48:9-12-9. And the prince of the Mastêmâ stood up against thee, and sought to cast thee into the hands of Pharaoh, and he helped the Egyptian sorcerers, and they stood up and wrought before thee. 10. The evils indeed we permitted them to work, but the remedies we did not allow to be wrought by their hands. 11. And the Lord smote them with malignant ulcers, and they were not able to stand for we destroyed them so that they could not perform a single sign. 12. And notwithstanding all (these) signs and wonders the prince of the Mastêmâ was not put to shame because he took courage and cried to the Egyptians to pursue after thee with all the powers of the Egyptians, with their chariots, and with their horses, and with all the hosts of the peoples of Egypt.

While Satan and his forces may work through many of these supernatural ways, they also work through conmen and con-artists. Norman Geisler documents some examples of this.

“Healers with Special “Revelations.” Several noted televangelists demonstrate seemingly extraordinary knowledge of those they heal, sometimes calling out the names, addresses, and particulars of the lives of those they heal. Three of these evangelists were researched by “Amazing Randi” and his team. They arrived early at the meetings and discovered that their wives and other “front men” were walking through the crowd and collecting information by informal conversations, which were relayed to the evangelist. They discovered that evangelist David Paul kept the information on small slips of paper in his Bible. On the paper was the name, disease, doctor, and sometimes an address. They reported that former employees of Paul said these slips were burned after the meeting. Peter Popoff made use of modern technology to perform his “miracles.” A small radio receiver was inserted in his left ear. His wife would transmit information to him from a concealed location. When asked by a Los Angeles television reporter why he employed this method, Popoff replied that he “was told to use this technique by the Holy Spirit” (Larue 1986, 46). Randi was able to record the radio transmission (which was later played on the “Tonight Show”). The recording revealed that every one of Popoff’s miraculous “revelations” was fed to him by his wife. Randi later quipped, “Now we know that God has a female voice and that it sounds very much like Popoff’s wife’s voice!” The case of evangelist W. V. Grant is equally illuminating. Randi and his associates observed many people with serious illnesses in wheelchairs in the auditorium. However, none of these ever got to Grant. Instead, Grant commanded several people to get up and walk from their wheelchairs. When Randi followed up on those who were “healed,” he discovered that some were total fabrications, others were never healed, and some were not crippled to begin with (Kole 1984, 167–168). Independent research revealed that Grant’s assistant would enlist some people who walked into the meetings to sit in a provided wheelchair until Grant asked them to stand. This kind of performance takes much less than supernatural power to accomplish its results.” (Norman L. Geisler, SIGNS AND WONDERS: HEALINGS, MIRACLES, AND UNUSUAL EVENTS, 63-65 (Kindle Edition): Matthews, NC: Bastion Books)

When we look at the miracles of the Savior (which have been documented in the New Testament, hostile Jewish testimony, and pagan historians), we see that they are free from the trickery so commonplace with fraud.

As Geisler points out:

“The brief look at some of the supernatural acts of God in the Scriptures provides us with some of the basic characteristics which will enable us to recognize God’s fingerprint. Let us now identify some of these characteristics more specifically. Miracles Are Always Successful. One of the most obvious characteristics of God’s supernatural acts is that they are always successful. When Jesus undertook the task of healing an individual, no illness was too severe, no sickness had done too much damage, no affliction had its grip on a victim too tightly. Jesus was always successful. Indeed, many hopeful victims cried to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Those who were afflicted with all kinds of diseases realized that Jesus was able to heal them if He wanted to. Never in His ministry did He ever fail to successfully heal anyone He tried to heal. Indeed, the Bible records that God is always successful in His efforts. Diseases always vanish at His command, demons always flee at His order, nature is always open to His intervention. The fact that God is always able to successfully accomplish His will is the foundation of our assurance. Even the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar finally realized this about the Most High: “No one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’” (Daniel 4: 35, NASB). This is an important characteristic of the fingerprint of God which bears repeating. The supernatural acts of God in the Bible were and are always successful. That is, God always accomplished what He intended to accomplish. If He desired to heal someone, they were completely healed. There are no exceptions (see Appendix 2). Jesus never failed. Miracles Are Immediate. Not only were God’s miraculous acts always successful, but, with specific regard to the healing ministry of Jesus, the results were always immediate. There were no instances of gradual improvement over a few days. Jesus commanded the invalid to “Arise, take up your pallet and walk,” and “immediately the man became well” (John 5: 8, NASB). When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8: 14–15, NASB), “she arose, and began to wait on Him.” A fever makes a person very weak, and even when the fever is gone, there is a length of time in which the patient gradually regains his strength. Not So, when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. One moment she was in bed, weak from a fever. The next moment she was completely recovered, So, that her strength had returned and she was able to serve Him. In Peter’s ministry in Acts 3 we see God healing a lame man instantly at Peter’s hand. “Peter said, ‘I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!’ And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were strengthened” (Acts 3: 6–7, NASB). There was no lapse of time over which the man gradually improved. The restoration of this man’s health was instantaneous and complete. Miracles Have No Relapses. One very notable and often overlooked characteristic of biblical accounts of healing is that there are no known relapses. In all of Jesus’ healings there is not a single account of a relapse. Of course, eventually they all died as do all other humans (Romans 5: 12). Only the final resurrection will “cure” this malady (John 5: 5). Significant in these healings is the absence of any accusations from Jesus’ enemies. The Pharisees frequently attempted to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. Had they known of the relapse of one of those whom Jesus had healed they most certainly would have exploited it to further their goal of destroying Him. In Luke 5: 17–32 Jesus made an explicit connection between His power to heal and His authority to forgive sins. Jesus said, “But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins …” at which time He turned to the paralyzed man and commanded, “I say to you, rise, and take up your stretcher and go home. And at once he rose up before them, and took up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God” (Luke 5: 25, NASB). This miracle was presented as an outward evidence for Jesus’ claim to have authority to forgive sins. Consequently, the relapse of anyone whom Jesus had healed would have been a devastating weapon in the hands of His enemies. Neither the Bible nor extrabiblical history record a relapse of anyone whom Jesus healed. This is yet another characteristic of the fingerprint of God. Not only were God’s biblical miracles always successful and immediate, but when God healed someone, it was permanent. Miracles Give Confirmation of God’s Messenger. God did not arbitrarily perform miracles. Rather, there was always a purpose for His supernatural acts. One of the most important purposes for the working of miracles was as a confirmation of some individual as a messenger of God. Thus, His sermon was confirmed by a sign; the message was attested by the miracle. The use of miracles to confirm God’s spokesmen is graphically portrayed in the calling of Moses in Exodus 3 and 4. In these chapters God speaks to Moses and commands him, “Come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, So, that you may bring my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3: 10, NASB). But Moses objected saying, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” God promised to be with Moses and told him to tell the elders of Israel, “The Lord, the God of your fathers … has appeared to me” (Exodus 3: 16, NASB). Moses objected again, saying, “What if they will not believe me, or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you’” (Exodus 4: 1, NASB). In response to Moses’ question, God instructed him to perform certain “signs” (Exodus 4: 17) in the presence of Israel “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers … has appeared to you” (Exodus 4: 5, NASB). Clearly, performing miraculous signs by Moses authenticated him as the one God had sent to deliver Israel from bondage. This was also true with reference to Jesus. When He was confronted by the questioning multitude He responded, “Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son?’ Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10: 36–38). Jesus pointed to His miracles as evidence that His claims were true. In Acts 2: 22 we find this same reasoning. Peter told the multitude that Jesus “was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” And one of the most succinct statements about miracles confirming Jesus’ claim to have been sent from God was made by Nicodemus in John. “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3: 2). Miraculous signs and wonders were performed by individuals in the Bible as a testimony and as evidence that they had been sent by God. The miraculous works confirmed the claims they each made to be messengers of God. Hebrews 2: 3–4 states unequivocally that “this salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Just as the old covenant was “binding” when confirmed by miracles through Moses, even So, the message of Christ and the apostles was officially confirmed through their miracles. God’s servants are confirmed by God’s signs. His messengers are confirmed by His miracles. The supernatural acts of God in human history have left His fingerprints. The biblical record has preserved this information, and from it we are able to identify those characteristics that will enable us to recognize God at work in a supernatural way in our world. Any alleged “supernatural” events that fall short of these distinguishing traits are not truly miraculous in the biblical sense, however much they may otherwise manifest God’s providential hand.”(Norman L. Geisler, SIGNS AND WONDERS: HEALINGS, MIRACLES, AND UNUSUAL EVENTS, 20-25 (Kindle Edition): Matthews, NC: Bastion Books)

MacArthur notes this also:

“When Jesus or His disciples healed someone, the sick were made well immediately. No recovery period was necessary—no physical therapy needed, no recuperation time required. Lepers were instantly cleansed (Mark 1: 42), blind men were immediately granted sight (Mark 10: 52), and people who had been paralyzed one moment could leap for joy the next (Acts 3: 8). Some might argue that delayed healings did occur in Mark 8: 22–26 (where a blind man was healed in two stages), Luke 17: 11–19 (where ten lepers were cleansed while on their way to see the priest), and John 9: 1–7 (where a blind man was healed after washing in the Pool of Siloam). But those incidents involved delays of only a few minutes, not weeks or days—and the delays were a purposeful part of the way in which Jesus intended to accomplish the healing miracle. They are, again, the exceptions that prove the rule: the miraculous healings recorded in the New Testament happened right away.” (John F. MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, 171-173 (Kindle Edition): Nashville, TN: Nelson Books)

Indeed, it is interesting that the earliest enemies of Christianity could not deny the miracles of Jesus. They acknowledges them, but simply tried (unsuccessfully) to explain them away!

“Among non-Christian sources, the rabbis22 and Celsus are clear that Jesus performed miracles, although both sources are hostile to these miracles. (Many of these later non-Christian sources attribute the miraculous works to sorcery, which probably constitutes the earliest anti-Christian explanation for Christian miracles. 23) This unanimity is striking given the conversely unanimous silence in Christian, Jewish, and even Mandean tradition concerning any miracles of respected prophetic figures like John the Baptist. 24 None of the ancient sources respond to claims of Jesus’s miracles by trying to deny them. More important, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus apparently claims that Jesus was a miracle worker. 25 Jewish historian Geza Vermes, a noted expert on Jesus’s era, has argued that this miracle claim in Josephus is authentic, based on Josephus’s style. 26 In this report Josephus calls Jesus a wise man who also “worked startling deeds,” 27 a designation that Josephus also applies to miracles associated with the prophet Elisha. 28”. (Craig S. Keener, Miracles : 2 Volumes: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 24-25 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic)

We must always beware of the work of Satan and his forces working in the world (through both seemingly miraculous fashion and con-artists who prey on the unprepared and uninformed).

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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