ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
- What is a miracle?
The word “miracle” is used with a variety of meanings. We speak of a “miracle drug” when all we mean is that it has amazing properties but all of these can be explained scientifically. Then after some bad car or train accident we might say, “It was a miracle that no one was killed,” but we are really commenting on the vagarities of chance, that sometimes everyone is “lucky”. However the sense in which this paper will use the word is where something happens which does not fit in with the laws of nature – or even of chance – and so some other explanation must be sought. For Christians, when the natural world cannot help we look with confidence to the supernatural, the world of God, who in His mercy has intervened in the affairs of this world in an unusual way, i.e. has performed a miracle.
A miracle occurs when God overrules the normal, natural laws for His good purposes.
- A typical miracle.
The Bible recounts many miracles but we turn to an account in Daniel 3. Three of Daniel’s colleagues, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had been appointed to high office but then refused to worship a great statue set up by the king, Nebuchadnezzar. Their punishment was to be thrown into a “blazing furnace” (v15). They were seen by the king to be walking unharmed in the furnace and when they were called out they were unmarked and did not even “smell of fire” (v27). No one could explain how this could happen and even Nebuchadnezzar attributed their protection to the true God. It could not be denied that the furnace was truly hot because the flames killed the unfortunate soldiers who were detailed to throw the prisoners into the furnace.
A miracle had occurred when the normal laws of nature were suspended by God for the sake of His three servants and as a witness to the king.
- Miracles and magic.
No doubt we have all been amazed by the skill of the magician on stage or on TV, who can seemingly make the impossible happen. We may cry, “how did he do that,” and, unless we are members of the Magic Circle, we may never find out. However we know that somehow the magician has fooled or deceived us. Maybe just by sleight of hand or maybe by the use of some elaborate apparatus prepared before the show, but this is no miracle, because the normal laws of nature still apply.
A miracle would never be used by God to deceive people – to amaze them, yes, but to deceive, no.
- Who can work a miracle?
As a miracle involves a suspension of the normal laws which govern this creation, it is logical that the only one who has the right to suspend them is the Creator Himself. Who has more authority to change the rules than the One who made them? This does not, of course, mean that the rules are bad ones. They work well or the world would develop into chaos, but just occasionally there is some situation in which a different pattern is desirable in the eyes of the Creator/Law Giver.
But the Creator does not keep this privilege to Himself. He is prepared to let some of His servants – like Moses (Exodus 17:6); Daniel (Daniel 6:22); Elijah (1 Kings 18:37,38); Elisha (2 Kings 6:17); Peter (Acts 3:6,7); Paul (Acts 14:9) etc. act on His behalf. Then, when, the Creator God became man in Jesus it is in no way surprising that many, many miracles occurred.
A miracle is the work of the Creator or of those to whom He gives the necessary power.
- The miracles of Jesus.
Jesus, God made man, performed many miracles. Most of these were miracles of healing, over twenty being described in the Gospels. However the manner of healing varied widely. Some were done at a distance when Jesus was out of sight of the one in desperate need of healing (Luke 7:1-10). Others involved Jesus touching the sick person, like Peter’s mother-in-law whose hand Jesus held (Mark 1:31). Sometimes the healing required action on the part of the disabled person, like the blind man whose eyes Jesus covered with mud and then sent him to wash in the Pool of Siloam (John 9:6,7),
On three occasions Jesus performed the ultimate miracle of healing, bringing the dead back to life. He resuscitated Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-43), the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-15) and finally, and most significantly (because it stirred up a lot of official opposition to His ministry), Lazarus (John 11:1-44). It is important to note that these were miracles of resuscitation and not resurrection. The three returned to life but died again in due time. Resurrection is a permanent change and, so far, only Jesus has experienced this, although it will happen in the future to all Christian folk.
It is interesting that there are more accounts of Jesus’ healing miracles in Luke’s Gospel then in any of the others. Remember that Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14) and therefore it is hardly surprising that he would take a great deal of interest in this aspect of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus also performed non-healing miracles when He showed His power over nature, the Creator over the creation. One of the most dramatic of these was when Jesus walked out on the water to join the disciples who were rowing across the lake. At first they were terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost, but then they realised Who it was and welcomed Him into the boat (John 6:16-21). Jesus also used miraculous means to feed a crowd of 5000 men, an event so outstanding that it is recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 and John 6).
A miracle was part of Jesus’ day-to-day ministry among the people.
- Why did Jesus perform all these miracles?
When Jesus had saved a bridegroom from great embarrassment by turning water into wine after the natural supplies had run out, John records that this was “The first of His miraculous signs” (John 2:1-11). In fact John always calls Jesus’ miracles “signs” for this is indeed what they were, signs drawing attention to the fact that God was at work in His Son, healing and helping His people.
No doubt the people found great enjoyment in just seeing a miracle, something different, something outside the range of their normal humdrum lives. Indeed when Pilate sent Jesus to Herod after Jesus’ arrest, Herod “hoped to see Him perform some miracle” (Luke 23:6-9). But Jesus was not there to make a show, indeed when faith was lacking – as it was in His home town where the people could not see beyond Jesus the Carpenter – He could not do any miracles except to heal a few sick folk (Mark 6:1-6a).
So the real reason for the miracles was to call forth faith, to underline who Jesus was, and to help people to put their trust in Him.
tab-count: 1;”> A miracle is a sign that God is present, at work in a special way in His world.
- Do miracles happen all the time?
While it would be wrong for us human beings to put any limits on the God who made us, it seems that His miracles seem to come at special times, in “bunches” as it were. We see a great deal of miraculous activity at the time when the Israelites left Egypt, for example in the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14). Then at the time of Elijah and Elisha another group of miracles are recorded, including the resuscitation of the son of a Shunammite woman who apparently died of sunstroke (2 Kings 4:8-37). We have already mentioned a miracle that occurred in the time of Daniel (see 2 above) and we have looked in some detail at the work of Jesus (see 5 above).
< /script> /span>Thus the Bible record shows that miracles occur only when the time is right in God’s eyes. So do miracles occur today? The advances in scientific medicine have obviously reduced the need for miracles of healing and yet there are cases where people have recovered and no scientific explanation can be given. We cannot limit God but nor can we expect “miracles on demand.” We have to leave this in the hand of the One who knows best.
A miracle occurs when God deems the need and the time to be right as seen by Him alone.
- Which is the greatest miracle ever?
The Bible records many miracles as we have seen but surely the greatest of these is the resurrection of Jesus. This was more than just another resuscitation, amazing though they are, because Jesus was not only restored to life but He was transformed so that His resurrection body had greater powers than any ordinary human body, for example He could pass through locked doors (John 20:19,26).
But it is the significance of this miracle which makes it the greatest. If it were not for the resurrection of Jesus there would be no Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:14). If Jesus had not triumphed over death then the devil would have won and we would have no salvation, no hope of being with God in His heaven.
But this greatest miracle did happen, many people witnessed the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) and we can know Him too in resurrection faith.
A miracle is at the very heart of our Christian faith.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.