I was flying from Dakar, Senegal, West Africa to Paris. I left Dakar about 11:00 at night, and within minutes the ground below us grew very dark. We were flying over Mauritania, Western Sahara, and Morocco, where towns and villages are few and far between. And even where there were towns, there was not always electricity.
I must have been sitting by the window because I can remember looking down into the blackness for long periods of time. And then I would see a little spot of light – some village in the Sahara – and then back to blackness.
When we reached Spain, the light of towns and villages became much more conspicuous. And as we began our descent and drew near to Paris, the world below us was full of lights.
I see a parallel to that in spiritual realities. Sometimes people expect to see miracles all around them. They think that if the faith is true, they should see evidence for it everywhere – a thousand point of light in the form of remarkable healings and nature-defying answers to prayer. Certainly, such things happen, as Scripture strongly affirms. But those things usually happen in clusters around significant acts of God in history.
For example, after the Fall and the Flood there seem to be few miraculous suspensions of the laws of nature. There are some but they are few and far between, like the lights we saw from above Mauritania. But as we look over the spiritual landscape that Abraham occupied, we see more miraculous events, scattered around the patriarchs. Then when God acts in history to liberate Israel in the Exodus, we see many more. Miracles cluster around Moses, like moths around a flame.
During the years preceding the exile, it happened again: miraculous events clustered around the great prophets Elijah and Elisha. It was a time of spiritual battle. The prophets won the battles, but Israel lost the field and went into exile. Following the exile, miracles became few, and by the close of the Old Testament, some four hundred years before Christ, it seemed that God himself had gone into hiding.
It was not just miracles that were absent. Messages from the Lord had stopped coming. Heaven observed, you might say, radio silence. The prophet Amos had warned that it would happen: “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it’” (Amos 8:12).
Imagine that an alien race sent explorers to our solar system and among the data they wanted to record were electromagnetic wave transmissions. When they first arrived, in our year 1865, they found nothing within their parameters. But when they dispatched a second exploration team 150 earth years later, the air was full of voices. In the U. S. alone they found over three billion phone calls daily, not to mention radio and TV signals.
In terms of the biblical story, after the prophet, Malachi, there were no signals, no Voice in the air. There was silence. But coming to that period of history in which the Son of God was incarnated is like our aliens coming from the mid-19th century to the twenty-first, or like my flight over the desert to Paris. The Voice of heaven once again had much to say. With the coming of Jesus miracles begin happening again, and the word of the Lord was heard once more. All of history either leads to or flows from his appearance on earth. His life, death and resurrection form a great spiritual divide, the watershed of history, and the province of miracles.
It is also the time of the greatest spiritual opposition in history. The approach of the King drove spiritual tyrants to take up arms – hence the many accounts of demonized people in the gospels. We find good and miraculous things happening around the appearance of Christ, but we also find horrific things. The battle had been joined.