Chambers encyclopedia defines a miracle as, "A striking interposition of divine power by which the operations of the ordinary course of nature are overruled." Miracles in the Bible refer to many such interventions in nature and history by the living God. These are acts performed by God that are:
Distinctive and wonderful
Mighty and powerful
Meaningful and significant.
Over the thousands of years that humans have lived on this earth, God has intervened in what we see as the "normal" functioning of our world. In most cases these mighty acts occur in clusters, eg. The Exodus 1500 BC, and the lifetime of Elijah and Elisha 850 BC. The most tremendous grouping of miracles occurred in the life of Jesus.
Jesus was certainly a great miracle worker. In his lifetime he gained this reputation, even though he did his best to keep his miracles hidden. Thirty-one percent of Mark's gospel is taken up with miracle stories and even then he tells us he has only recorded a small number of the miracles that Jesus actually performed. Never before in recorded history has God acted in such a wondrous way.
It is these wondrous acts that leave many asking the question, "how can miracles be true?" To properly answer this question we need to study the nature of miracles in the Bible.
The purpose of miracles
Many see them as a means of authenticating God to humanity, ie. Jesus used them to prove who he was. In the healing ministry today they are used to authenticate the gospel. Yet this is not their purpose.
First and foremost they are signs. They are revelations from God to mankind. Their purpose is to nourish faith in the saving intervention of God towards those who believe. They are dramatic ways for God to speak to those who have ears to hear.
Jesus used them like "billboards". They displayed truth. When he raised Lazarus to life he was proclaiming the truth, "I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies."
1. Healing Miracles
Most of Jesus' miracles were of this type. His compassion for people caught in a world of chaos probably explains the frequency of this type of miracle.
It is possible to see some of these cures as psychosomatic, but the Bible describes many as complete physical cures, eg. "At once the leprosy left the man and he was clean."
2. Nature Miracles
Dramatic interventions into the natural order. Large numbers are recorded in the Old Testament.
It is possible to supply natural explanations for many of the recorded events. In which case the miracle centres on the time factor, The walls of Jericho fell down at the right time, even though it may have been an earthquake that brought them down.
Not all nature miracles can be supplied with a natural explanation, eg. Jesus feeding the 5,000.
Characteristics of Biblical miracles
1. Usually beyond explanation. This does not mean that if an explanation is found it becomes any less a miracle, The time Jesus and his disciples were out sailing and were hit by a severe storm is a good example. Obviously the wind stopped blowing and thus the sea calmed down, but the point is the wind stopped blowing at the moment Jesus commanded it to. This is more than just a coincidence. The feeding of the 5,000 is quite beyond explanation. Jesus, confronted with a vast crowd miles from civilization, takes 5 loaves of bread and 2 pieces of pickled fish and then gives every person present a good feed.
2. Instant. The miracle is immediate. Bartimaeus a blind beggar, on hearing Jesus pass by, cries out for him. Jesus asks, "What do you want me to do for you?" Bartimaeus answers, "I want to see again." "Go" Jesus tells him, "Your faith has made you well." At once he was able to see.
3. Complete. They are not partially effective. With the paralyzed man who is carried to Jesus for healing, there is a complete cure. Jesus tells him, "Get up, pick up your mat, and go home." While all the people watched, the man got up, picked up his mat and hurried away.
4. Unlimited. Jesus is not limited by difficulty, space or time. Nature obeys him, the dead are brought back to life. A Roman officer came to Jesus to have him cure his servant. Jesus said, "I will go and make him well." "Oh no," said the officer, "just give the order and my servant will get well." Jesus, marvelling at his faith said, "Go home, and what you believe will be done for you." And the officer's servant was healed that very hour.
Some facts about miracles
It is possible to define a miracle in purely physical terms as a breach or suspension of natural law, or in religious terms, as an unusual and striking event which evokes and mediates a vivid awareness of God. In the Bible miracles are usually described as the latter, and sometimes as both.
2. The natural order
God is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow. He changes not. He is a God of order. Therefore it is only to be expected that his creation is an ordered system. This should fill us with awe and wonder. Our Lord has created and maintains this system through his Word. He is bringing all things to their appointed end. Even the rebellion of mankind and the chaos that this has caused, in no way affects the outcome. God works through the natural order of events to achieve his will.
3. The relation of miracles to the natural order
The Bible does not view nature as a closed system: a watch wound up by God and now slowly running down. The Bible sees God ever at work, maintaining, ordering, altering, and restoring. Rom.1:20, Col.1:16-17. Therefore there is no great division between the natural and the unnatural. God makes the sun shine, and if he wills, he can make it stand still.
4. Divine intervention
If God were an impersonal object then intervention would be uncharacteristic. But God is a person dealing with personal beings created in his image, therefore it is to be expected that God may interrupt the natural sequence of events to reveal himself or to achieve his purposes through us.
Most of the interventions we experience today can be put down to coincidence. It is only through the eyes of faith that we see that God has acted in a dramatic way, even if scientifically it is within the realm of natural occurrences. Similarly most of the miracles in the Bible can be explained away along natural lines. God doesn't force himself on us by use of the spectacular. Jesus refused to do miracles when asked to put on a demo. God reveals himself in a way that ensures the true seeker finds him and comes to know him.
5. Miracles today
It is generally true to say that the character of miracles today is different to Biblical miracles. The Biblical miracles are bunched around key moments of revelation eg. The Exodus, Prophets and Jesus. They form an integral part of that revelation, and display God in a very dramatic way to mankind. For us that revelation is recorded in the Bible. God still acts, but for us it is mainly through natural process. We must live by faith, not by sight.
6. God's irregular intervention
It is disturbing to think that God sometimes intervenes on our behalf and at other times doesn't. Some Christians put this down to a lack of faith, incorrect method of prayer, incorrect motives or sin.
We must remember that God is sovereign and if we are faithful he will use us to his glory in every circumstance. That has nothing to do with things going well for us or going wrong for us. We follow in Jesus footsteps - humility, suffering. How can God use us if we bounce through life protected from disease, calamity etc. We share the pains of the human race so that we might show the way to life.
The reality is that we are all carried through life by the flow of nature - action and reaction. Just rarely we see the hand behind the shadows that is guiding all things to their appointed end. The will of mankind or the force of nature, does not dictate that end. The circumstance may illustrate it, but irrespective of the circumstance, everything works toward the appointed end. That's the real miracle.
7. Faith and miracles
Mark 6:5 seems to imply that faith is an essential condition for miracles. Jesus could do no mighty work in Nazareth because of the people's unbelief. Yet Mark records that he did heal some. God is not limited by unbelief.
When people reject God's revelation then they receive no further word from the Lord. The people failed to respond to the gospel proclaimed by Jesus so he began speaking in parables (riddles). They rejected his miracles, called them satanic, so no more miracles, no more revelation.
Some questions often asked
i] Do you really believe in miracles?
Of course, you don't have to throw your brains out the window to believe in miracles. If there's a God it's certainly not unreasonable for him to perform mighty acts.
ii] Why does God perform miracles?
To show himself to us. At great moments in history he's displayed himself in really vivid ways, eg. In Jesus' life.
iii] Well .... why doesn't he do it today?
He's done it all. It's all recorded in the Bible. He doesn't want to shove himself down our throats. He's given us enough info. We either want to know him or we don't. He's there if you're looking for him.
iv] So God doesn't do miracles today?
I've seen some amazing things, amazing "coincidences". God just works away in this messed up old world bringing all things to their appointed end, and he does that without having to manipulate the circumstances of life. That's probably the greater miracle. God turning disaster to good, eg. Jesus' death. He's there and he's working, all you have to do is open your eyes.
Index of studies. Resource file.
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons