“There is no provision in the law that miracles will create faith. Signs follow, they do not precede.” – Elder Bruce R. McConkie
Exodus 6-12 contains a series of signs and wonders that the Lord uses to encourage Pharoah to let the Israelites leave their bondage in Egypt and go to worship Him in the wilderness. The first sign Moses shows Pharoah is in Exodus 7:10 when Aaron “cast down his rod before Pharoah, and before his servants, and it became a serpent.”
Pharoah’s magicians, Jannes and Jambres, imitate the sign, turning their rods into serpents. We later read that “Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.” (Exodus 7:12)
Students wonder about this. How is it possible for an enemy of Christ to perform miracles? Can the adversary really do this?
Robert J. Matthews wrote a short paper on miracles that answers many of the questions that the youth brought up in my classes as we covered Exodus 6-12.
Our God and all other exalted celestial beings live in an environment that functions in the framework of celestial law, differing greatly from the law that governs our earth at this time. What celestial beings do is completely natural to their environment but not natural to our mortal environment. Thus the Lord, speaking to mankind through the prophet Isaiah said:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
This contrast of conditions is also referred to in Doctrine and Covenants 29:34-35, in which the terms “spiritual” and “temporal” are used to designate the Lord’s situation as compared to moral man’s situation. The Lord says, “All things unto me are spiritual” (v.34), meaning that he is a celestial being and lives in a celestial environment, and he works by celestial law.
Because of the Fall of Adam, we mortals have moved away from the presence of God and into a sphere where mortal laws reign: a place where death, sin, and temporal laws govern our existence while we are shut out from the presence of God.
The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to raise and rescue man from his fallen state and change him into a state of redemption. Fallen man cannot redeem himself because his abilities are limited to the mortal sphere in which he lives, and salvation is not a condition natural to mortal law. Only a God- one not limited by or subject to mortal law- could lift man to a higher level and thus to a better life.
When this is understood, it follows that unless a mortal human is influenced or delivered by a power that emanates from outside the mortal condition, he will remain without salvation. Everything about the gospel of Jesus Christ originated from a source beyond the bounds and conditions of mortality. Characteristics of the gospel are such things as divine priesthood authority, remission of sins, joy, revelation, spirit-born testimony, sanctification by the Holy Ghost, healings, callings, and resurrection of the dead- all of which originated in another world. Whenever any gospel power touches a human life, the process is a miracle because none of the gospel accoutrements or traits are natural to the mortal condition.
Since the devil lives in a nonmortal exisitence, he is able to perform signs and miracles. However, being limited to his own sphere and being unsaved himself, he has power to deceive but not to save or redeem. Thus the Lord warned us, “He that seeketh signs shall see signs, but not unto salvation” (D&C 63:7).
Is it not abundantly evident that without gospel miracles there can be no salvation? If remission of sins are necessary, it requires a miracle. If a testimony of Jesus through the Holy Ghost is necessary, it requires a miracle… Thus the prophet Mormon exclaimed that gospel miracles are necessary “as long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved” (Moroni 7:35-38).
The greatest and the ultimate miracle is the permanent victory over death, the resurrection of the dead body. Death reigns in mortality, indeed “mortal” means being subject to death. But God is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32), for all live unto him. Man cannot resurrect himself, but God, who has power over death, will bring all men and all forms of animals, fish, and fowl to everlasting life (see D&C 29:24-25).
It is not necessary that every man calm a storm or walk on water or turn water into wine. But those miraculous things that cleanse a soul, give testimony of Christ, administer divine authority, call people to serve, give revelation, and resurrect a dead body from the grave are indispensable to man’s individual salvation. (Robert J. Matthews, Selected Writings of Robert J. Matthews, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999], p. 525-527.)