Miracles - Their Nature and Role in the Work of God
Sunday, March 11, 2012 -
1) ORDINARY AND EXTRAORDINARY PROVIDENCE - The working of miracles follows from the Scriptural doctrines of creation and providence. God is involved in His creation in two distinct ways:
a) His ordinary "structural providence" - that is, by what we see as the ongoing laws and patterns of His creation - Colossians 1:17 - “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. This would include gravity, the repetition of seasons, fertility in soil, etc.). This is not to say that these actions of God are less supernatural. Rather, they are so frequent and consistent that they aren't wondered at as much anymore.
b) His unmediated providence - this can occur in two ways:
i) Directly, without the normal created means - as in the case of turning water into wine. Many people can make wine - but not instantly, without growing any grapes!
ii) Using normal means, but in a supernatural way - as in the case of parting the Red Sea. The Bible states that God caused a strong wind to blow on the waters. But the act is still recognised as a supernatural act. It is not the way the Red Sea normally acts.
2) MIRACLES AND THE NATURE OF GOD - Miracles are more than divine magic tricks. They flow out of Who God is. Miracles tell us something about:
a) The Sovereign FREEDOM of God - God is not confined to His creation (Pantheism). Nor is He removed from His creation (Deism). He is the Originator and Author of nature's laws and structures but is infinitely greater than any of them. He is not subject to them. They are subject to Him. Nature is not a closed system.
b) The LOVE of God - Miracles are not arbitrary acts of God. They are presented in Scripture as demonstrations of His love and grace - Deuteronomy 7:7-8 - “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” The stories of Daniel delivered from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:16-27) and his rescue from the lion's jaws (Daniel 6:16-24) both set the miraculous in the context of Divine Love.
The New Testament continues this emphasis on God's miracle working love by frequently repeating the single word "compassion" in the miracle accounts.
This is seen in Matthew 14:14, 15:32, 20:34 - “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick”....15:32....“Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way”.....20:34.... “And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.” (Mk 1:41-42, Lk 7:13-14)
c) The boundless POWER of God - Looking again at the deliverance from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses later said to God, "Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out by Your mighty power and by Your outstretched arm'"(Deut. 9:29).
Note the vivid terminology used by referring to God's "hand" or "outstretched arm". See also Exodus 15:6 - “Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.”
3) THE SCRIPTURAL TERMINOLOGY DESCRIBING MIRACLES - Three Scriptural terms:
"WONDERS" (Exodus 11:10, 15:11 - “Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land. ‘Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”).
"SIGNS" (John 2:11, Acts 15:12 - “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him”....Acts 15:12....”And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles”).
"WORKS" (Matthew 11:1-5, John 9:3-4 - “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.  Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples  and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them”....John 9:3-4....”Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work”). In our study we will concentrate on the term "signs":
a) John's Gospel calls Jesus' miracles "signs" - The first three writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke do not). John states that the miracles of Jesus pointed to Christ's divine nature and authority - John 2:23, 3:2, 6:14 - “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing”....3:2....”This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him”....6:14....”When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!"
This same point is made by Peter on the day of Pentecost - Acts 2:22 - “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—“
b) The early church prayed for the continuance of "signs and wonders" in their midst - Acts 4:30 - “....while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." This is an important text. These Christians felt that both the need and the provision were still in effect.
c) Signs alone are not self-authenticating - This is because God is not the only wonder worker. Jesus warned that discipleship wasn't to be attested by the miraculous Matthew 7:22-23 - “On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'  And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Pharaoh's magicians duplicated the wonders of Moses (Exodus 7:8-13). Paul warned that many Christians would be taken in by the wonders performed by antichrist in the last days - 2 Thessalonians 2:9 - “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders....”
Finally, all the uses of the term "sign" in the book of Revelation refer to lying and deceptive signs of the forces of Satan. Note also that Jesus condemned all miracle seeking for the sake of seeing miracles - Matthew 12:39 - “But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Signs may be useful in encouraging faith, but they do not compel faith. Most of the Jews still didn't believe - John 12:37 - “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him....”
4) MIRACLES ARE FOR TODAY - The early church prayed for them (Acts 4:30). Jesus promised them (John 14:12). The gifts of the Spirit include them - 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28 - “....to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues........ “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” Note also that miracles were not just for the Apostles. All Apostles could work miracles but Stephen and Philip both performed miracles and were not Apostles (see Acts 6:8, 8:6). And remember, historically miracles are essential to the Christian faith. Remove them and the Incarnation and the Resurrection disappear.