Biblical Miracles

 

In 1690, the King of Siam was hosted by the Dutch ambassador.  The ambassador entertained him with many stories.  “The king was fascinated by the tales the ambassador was telling about his far-off country.  And then the ambassador told him that sometimes in his country, in cold weather, water could become so hard that people, even an elephant, could walk on it.  To this story the king replied, ‘Hitherto I have believed the strange things you have told me because I look upon you a sober fair man; but now I am sure that you lie’” (Brown).  Why did the king respond in this way?  There are several reasons: 1) he had never seen ice in his life; 2) he had never lived outside a warm tropical climate; 3) there were no
refrigerators in the 17th century; 4) he believed in sticking to what knew based on his own experiences.  We might smile and think based on our experiences, “How na´ve of the king!”  The king was using his limited experience to establish what [he thought] was impossible.  Would he believe the ambassador's word or what his experience had taught him?  We can act like that as well.  If anything new comes our way, we can “shut our minds to anything that conflicts with our preconceived ideas, and resolutely endeavor to explain everything in terms of our limited vision” (Brown).  Now please consider a similarity.  A previous lesson gave a dozen proofs of God's existence, and then another lesson explained the concepts of inspiration and revelation.  Here is a God who has not kept silent, but has spoken to man through the Bible.  Yet when we read the Bible, we read of many fantastic events—the first man and woman are not born into the world, the world is destroyed by a universal flood, the parting of the Red Sea saves the Israelites, the sun is described as standing still for a day, a prophet of God is swallowed and regurgitated by a great fish, a virgin is impregnated by the Holy Spirit, a blind man receives his sight after washing mud off his eyes, over 5000 people are fed after 5 loaves and 2 fishes are multiplied, two people are instantly killed at the words of an apostle.  Also in all the gospels, there is the story of a Man from Galilee who rose from dead after being three days in a tomb!  Many modern people today think, “No, how can anyone believe in such an event?  After all, the resurrection of no man or woman has even been a part of our experiences?”  Like the King of Siam, might we be skeptical of biblical miracles?  So let's examine this topic more closely this morning.  We will do this under four headings: some characteristics of biblical miracles, some objections to biblical miracles, some truths about biblical miracles, and some purposes for biblical miracles.       

 

What are some characteristics of biblical miracles?  A miracle is an extraordinary event, inexplicable in terms of ordinary natural forces, which causes the observers to postulate a super-human cause, which constitutes evidence of implications much wider than the event itself, and which sometimes points to a heavenly order which differs from that on the earth (modified Buswell in Dickson).  Now that's a mouthful, so let's break that down some.  A first characteristic of a biblical miracle is that it is an extraordinary event, inexplicable in terms of ordinary natural forces.  This part of the definition emphasizes that a miracle is an unusual event which is not caused by natural forces.  One Greek word for miracles in the New Testament is translated “wonder” because this is the reaction that was provoked in those who saw the miracle.  For example, we read in Mark 7:37: “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, 'He has done all things well.  Jesus makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.'”  It is interesting that miracles in the Bible often caused wonder in those who saw them, but this creation of amazement was not really their ultimate goal.  They were usually not performed just to create a sensation.  The second characteristic of a biblical miracle is that it causes observers to postulate a super-human cause.  When Elijah prayed that fire would consume a sacrifice (and fire fell from heaven) and when Jesus called for his dead friend Lazarus to come out of the tomb (and he did so), the people who saw these miracles immediately recognized that something super-human was happening, for God was the cause of both of these events.  Another Greek word for miracles is often translated “sign” because, just like a street sign, a miracle points to something beyond its outward significance.  John 2:11 states after a miracle, “This is the beginning of signs Jesus did in Canaan of Galilee, and manifested His glory.”  When a blind man was healed by Jesus in John 9, the man reasoned correctly to the super-human in this way to the Pharisees who were questioning him: “The man answered and said to them, 'Why this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes!  Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.  Since the world began, it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind.  If this man were not from God, He could do nothing'” (30-33).  The third characteristic of biblical miracles is that they constituted evidence of implications much wider than themselves. Another Greek word for miracles is translated “powers”.  Acts 2:22 states: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles (literally “powers”), wonders, and signs (there's our previous terms) which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know ...”  The term “powers” stresses both the divine power manifested in the miracle that was done as well as the divine nature in the person who performed it.  When God parted the Red Sea, it showed the Israelites that they would forever be separated from their slavery in the past, and it revealed God's great power over all of Egypt's gods!  When Jesus gave sight to the blind man in John 9, it was the concrete evidence of Jesus ' affirmation in John 8:12 that He was indeed the light of the world!  The fourth characteristic of biblical miracles is that they sometimes point to a heavenly order which differs from that on the earth. Another Greek word for miracle is translated “works”.  Jesus said in John 5:36: “But I have a greater witness than John’s; the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness to Me, that the Father has sent Me.”  The apostle John uses this term much in his gospel, and he wants to show how Jesus' miracles were manifestations of the heavenly environment in which Jesus lived before His incarnation.  With this idea in mind, the feeding of over 5000 points to the fact Jesus can provide a heavenly banquet for all the saints and Jesus' resurrection, with a glorified body, “represents the breaking into our old order of the new order.  ... It was not simply a random event.  Nor was it a violation of the order of nature.  It was the firstfruits of [a totally] new order breaking into our world” (Brown).  An order for which we have no experience in this world, just like the concept that the Dutch ambassador introduced to the King of Siam which went against his experiences!  Now let's repeat the affirmation with which we began:  A miracle is an extraordinary event, inexplicable in terms of ordinary natural forces, which causes the observers to postulate a super-human cause, which constitutes evidence of implications much wider than the event itself, and which sometimes points to a heavenly order which differs from that on the earth (modified Buswell in Dickson).

 

Now let's examine some objections to biblical miracles.  “Each of the following objections tries to prove that miracles are impossible.  If miracles are impossible, then they are not actual, and if no miracles actually happened, then Christianity is false.  We realize that the fundamental claims and doctrines of Christianity are all miracles: God's incarnation, Jesus' resurrection, the Holy Spirit's inspiration, man's salvation would all be overthrown if miracles are impossible” (Kreeft and Tachelli).  This is why looking at biblical miracles is so important.  One of the first objections is that miracles violate the laws of nature, so they really could never have occurred.  “A miracle does not violate the laws of nature any more than a school principal violates the schedule of classes by canceling gym for a special assembly.  Violations occur when someone has to follow an established order but fails to do so. ... The principal has done nothing like that if he modifies the schedule within the limits of his authority” (Ibid.)  This outlook also discards God as the Ruler over nature.  In other words, if we have made up our minds that God does not exist, then we have stacked the deck against miracles for there would be no Being who could cause them.  But if God is the Creator of nature, as the Bible affirms, then He can use nature for His own purposes.  “If an author can create a play, he can also change its plot.  And if the play (or nature) is dependent upon God, its author, for its very existence, then it is also dependent on Him for whatever else He may want to do with it” (Ibid.).  A second objection is that miracles are contrary to the uniformity of nature.  The position of many scientists is that the universe has continued in an unbroken uniformity.  Miracles would be a contradiction to such uniformity, so they really have never occurred.  This objection has an unscientific assumption.  How can any scientist prove that nature has always been completely uniform over all the centuries?  He can only presume, based on present uniformity, that there has been a past uniformity and there will be future uniformity.  Here's another idea: When we flip on a light switch, we expect there to be light.  We have flipped so many light switches that have worked so often, we are conditioned to suspect that something is wrong if the light does not come on.  If the light does not come on, we think, “Better check the light bulb, the fuse box, or the wiring” (Brown).  But could the light also not come on because the electrical company has cut off the power in order to install new transformers in the area?  You see, could not God break into nature at any point in order to bring about a greater good?  A third objection to miracles is that they go against the ways that science operates.  Scientists try to determine laws in nature, and miracles “break” such laws, so they really are impossible.  Yes, it is true that scientists are constantly observing nature and trying to determine laws that describe its operation.  “They look for order in nature and build their work upon it.  Anything that deviates from that order is often rejected”(Dickson).  But scientists often fail to accept and to believe that behind nature's order is an Orderer, which the Bible calls the Creator.  The Orderer can sometimes use nature itself to perform a miracle, such as God's using the wind to divide the Red Sea, or the Creator can reorder nature's laws to suit His own purposes, such as the day that the sun stood still in order to bring victory to the Israelites.  Many people’s minds are so conditioned to believe in natural laws that they find it difficult to see any possibility for the miraculous.  Here's another idea: does a person have to experience something before he can believe it?  “Of course not!  One does not have to experience an earthquake or the power of an atomic bomb to believe that they really do exist” (Ibid).  The Bible may describe some fantastic events to our scientifically oriented minds, just like the Dutch ambassador did, but will we trust its word even when it may go against the grain of our scientific experiences?  Will we write off miracles in the same way that the King of Siam wrote off frozen water?  A fourth objection goes like this: “If God designed the system of nature, and then has to intervene into its regular workings, He must be an incompetent Architect.  This argument would be true ONLY if God designed a system in which He should never intervene.  If you acquired a newly built house and found that it had no bathrooms, that would indeed reflect badly on the architect for the house would lack something that it badly needed.  But if miracles do happen, then God did not design a system in which He should never intervene.  In fact, the intervention is part of the plan; He actually designed it that way” (Kreft and Tachelli).  As we mentioned a few minutes ago, some miracles in our earthly order may have been designed to reveal to mankind a greater heavenly order that exists.  The glorious resurrected body of Jesus gives us just a glimpse into another created dimension beyond that of our own experience!  If miracles are possible, as we have just tried to argue, then Christianity stands, and its miraculous affirmations are true!

 

Permit me to make one brief comment before we go on to look at some truths about miracles.  Many modern biblical scholars, like many scientists, have written off miracles for our age, even biblical miracles!  They see biblical miracles as myths or legends, and they even deny Jesus' incarnation and resurrection.  So please be very careful when you pick up a commentary.  Its author may have a degree in theology or religion, but he may not believe in biblical miracles.  He may be writing to undermine your faith rather than to strengthen it.  Be careful when you see terms like “myths, legends, and naturalistic causes”.

 

Now let's look at some truths about biblical miracles.  First of all, the Bible reveals that there is a God who acts in miraculous ways.  Psalms 62:11 affirms: “God has spoken once, Twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God.”  Since there is an all powerful God, miracles are not only possible, but they should be expected.  And biblical history does not disappoint us, for God intervenes on hundreds of occasions in biblical times.  Secondly, “the evidence for biblical miracles is as [substantial] historically as other historical events (like the conquests of Alexander the Great and the fall of Rome)” (McDowell and Stewart).  In fact, the manuscript evidence for the Gospels record about Jesus’ miracles is greater than that known for any other book in antiquity.  The Gospel's writers were not writing fiction.  “Just because miracles are outside our normal daily experiences does not mean that they have not occurred in the past” (Ibid.).  Thirdly, miracles reveal God’s, the prophets’, Jesus’, and the apostles’ power over nature (Matthew 14:22-23), disease (Mathew 8:5-13), demons and evil spirits (Mark 5:1-19), material substances (like multiplying bread and changing water to wine) (Matthew 14:13-21; John 2:1-11), and death (John 11:1-44) (Baxter)!  An all powerful God did not keep His power hidden from us.  “If people believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, then they must inevitably accept the factuality of the miracles described in Scriptures” (Ibid.).  Fourthly, miracles were performed before unbelievers too.  The apostle Paul once told a Roman official in Acts 26:26: “For the king, before whom I speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.”  The thirty plus miracles that Jesus performed and His resurrection were not done in some secluded area for just a few to see.  He had fed thousands, and He had cured hundreds all around Palestine!  In fact, Paul also affirms, with regards to Jesus’ resurrection, that there were over 500 people on one occasion who saw Jesus in His glorified body after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6)!  All those who worked miracles in the Bible did not do them simply for an in-house group!  Fifthly, there are no denials of miracles in the Gospels and in Acts.  On one occasion, Jesus asked those who were ready to stone Him, “Many good works [and that's our word for miracle] I have shown you from My Father.  For which of those works do you stone Me?”  Now listen to their answer: “For a good work, we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:32-33). You see, they admit that they could not deny that His miracles had been performed.  On another occasion, the same thing happened after the apostles had performed a miracle.  Here is what their persecutors had to admit in Acts 4:16: “What shall we do to these men?  For, indeed, a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.”  The easiest way to have silenced the preaching of the apostles about Jesus’ resurrection would have been for the Jewish leaders to have produced Jesus’ corpse.  But they could not do this, so they even bribed the Roman soldiers to spread the rumor that Jesus’ apostles came by night and stole away His body (Matthew 28:13).  “Such absence of denial leads us to believe in the authenticity of the miracles found in the Gospels and in Acts” (Dickson).  Sixthly, there were reliable witnesses of the miracles.  With regards to Jesus’ miracles and resurrection, “we have the testimony of [the apostles].  The apostles had everything in this world to lose because of their testimony that Jesus was the proven Christ.  Why would they give their lives for one who had deceived the world?  Could they have been deceived too?  Unlikely.  They had been with Him for three years.  Would they have gone to the lion’s den—being crucified, being beheaded, being stoned, being shot with arrows—for one whom they had known to have performed only tricks and not real miracles?” (Ibid.).  God acts in miraculous ways, the documentation is trustworthy, God reveals His awesome power, unbelievers saw these miracles, the Jewish opposition could not deny Jesus’ and the apostles’ miracles, and the witnesses to Jesus’ miracles were reliable—these are some truths about biblical miracles.  Like the King of Siam, are we willing to trust the Bible’s witnesses, even if it may seemingly not square with our modern experiences?

 

Now let’s look quickly at the purposes of miracles.  First of all, miracles were to show the stamp of God’s approval.  Moses had the witness of God with him when he told Pharaoh to grant the Israelites freedom; it took ten mighty plagues, but the king of Egypt finally saw that God meant business.  “Elisha, the successor of the prophet Elijah, was proven to be God’s new messenger by the miracles that he performed (2 Kings 2)” (Dickson).  The God, of Daniel’s three friends who survived the fiery furnace, was shown to be superior to Babylon’s king.  In all these examples, miracles displayed the stamp of God’s approval on His messengers.  Secondly, miracles proved Jesus’ divinity.  When Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was doubtful about Jesus’ ministry, Jesus told his disciples to tell him: “Go and tell John the things that you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Luke 7:22-23).  Jesus was appealing to His miracles as proof of His divinity.  After a miracle, the Jews even admitted that Jesus must be THE PROPHET whom Moses had said would come (John 6:14)!  The apostle John says this about his gospel in John 20:30-31: “And truly Jesus did many other signs [or miracles] in the presence of His disciples, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ [or Messiah, the long prophesied King to come], the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  The miracles of Jesus were an integral part of His ministry.  “Think for a minute.  If there was to be a person as a “Son of God,” is it not reasonable to believe that He should perform miracles?  Miracles as proof of authenticity would be necessary in order that gullible people would not follow after every so-called, self-made messiah that ventured on to the stage of history.  And truly, history has proven God right in making miracles the proof of His messengers (Ibid.).  Thirdly, miracles proved that the early Christians' Gospel was from God.  Mark 16:20 states: “And they [the apostles] went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.”  The miracles were used to confirm the truthfulness of what was being preached.  The book of Acts shows us that sometimes audiences reacted to miracles both negatively and positively.  In Acts 14:11 and 28:6, the miracles of the messengers caused the people to see them as pagan gods while in Acts 4:4 and 8:6-8, they caused these audiences to become Christians.  “The witness of miracles was necessary in the first century to authenticate the messengers and [the Gospel].  And that they thoroughly did” (Dickson).  So the purposes for miracles were to show God’s stamp of approval, to prove Jesus’ divinity, and to authenticate the truth of the Gospel.

 

When explorers first came to Australia in 1797, they discovered an unusual animal that was an egg laying mammal, was semi-aquatic with webbed feet, had a broad flat tail, and a snout resembling a duck’s beak.  Upon returning to England, they reported their finding, and everyone thought it was a hoax.  So they returned to Australia, obtained the hide of platypus, and offered it as proof.  Again the public doubted them and thought that Chinese taxidermists had sewn together various parts of other animals to make the hide!  When we are confronted with something we do not understand—something that we would have said was impossible—we have three courses of action: we can go on doubting saying it can’t happen; we can look for a natural explanation that sounds plausible; or we can question our assumptions and experiences and realize that maybe our world is too small and maybe we don’t know everything that there is to know (Brown).  “When all the evidence is taken into account, there are excellent reasons for believing not only the possibility of miracles but also their actuality” (McDowell and Stewart)!