Today’s reading: Luke 4-5.
“A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A miracle is when one plus one equals a thousand.” ― Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace
How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. Hebrews 2:3-4
What are miracles? Let’s start by describing what they aren’t. They aren’t naturally occurring events that happen only rarely. They aren’t events that happen by chance. They aren’t the result of human effort or skill. They aren’t magic or trickery.
But what are they, then? Some talk about a direct intervention of God in the world, but isn’t God continually intervening? Others talk about events unexplained by natural causes, but as Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology) says, this can leave God out of the miracle or falsely assume that he doesn’t work through natural laws. The Holman Bible Dictionary defines miracles as “events which unmistakably involve an immediate and powerful action of God designed to reveal His character or purposes.” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology says miracles are “wondrous events … not explainable solely by natural processes but which require the direct causal agency of a supernatural being, usually God.” Grudem defines a miracle as “a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” To put it a little differently, it’s God acting in a surprising way to make people take notice and give him honor and glory. This definition emphasizes the “sign” aspect of miracles. The miracle is a sign that God is at work. It’s a sign pointing to God. One of God’s purposes in doing miracles is to cause us to pay attention to him and praise him. Let’s look at some of Jesus’ miracles in light of these definitions.
Healing Simon’s mother from a fever. “Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him (Jesus) on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.” The immediate end of the fever and restoration of normal health in response to Jesus’ command caused his disciples to wonder at his power.
A great catch of fish. “He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.” The disciples, Peter in particular, were overwhelmed by the timing and the amount of the catch, causing them to magnify Jesus’ divinity and their own sinfulness. The miracle also gave authority to Jesus’ claim that he would make the disciples fishers of men.
Healing a leper. “While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him.” In reaction to this immediate healing crowds of people came to hear Jesus or find help for their own sickness.
Healing a paralyzed man. “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” The healing of the paralyzed man caused amazement and led the people to glorify God. It also confirmed Jesus’ authority to forgive sins.
Each of these miracles was (1) unexpected, (2) caused wonder and amazement, and (3) led to acknowledgment of Jesus’ or God’s glory. I can’t read these accounts without also considering how compassion played a part in Jesus’ actions. He was willing to heal the leper because of compassion. He fed the multitudes because of compassion for them. He raised Lazarus from the dead in part because of his compassion for the grieving family members.
Do miracles still happen today? Do surprising things that cause wonder and awe and lead you to glorify God still happen? With this new definition in mind, look for the miracles in your life. When there is a need for God to be recognized and glorified, expect miracles to happen.
Image by Nick Thompson on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0