Miracles have been a subject of endless fascination and speculation. In this secular age they may not be as much so as in times gone by, but you still hear people talking about certain occurrences as being miracles. Anything that cannot be readily explained is, to some, a miracle – and even things that CAN be easily explained are still touted as a miracle.
Not everything that amazes us can be said to be a miracle. Childbirth is often referred to as a miracle. It may be an amazing, awe inspiring thing, but is is totally a natural process. The begetting, gestation and delivery of a baby follows the same laws of nature in bringing every human child into the world – with the exception of Adam and Eve who were created fully grown and Jesus who was miraculously conceived!
What do we mean when we speak of miracles? Properly speaking, a miracle is an occurrence that not only cannot be explained by the workings of natural law, but suspends and transcends natural law. It is an act that can only be attributed to the intervention of God into the working of the natural world.
Christians sometimes do not really grasp the significance of the miracles Jesus did while he was on earth. There is a level of understanding that is obvious for it is clearly stated. For instance, it is said – and properly so – that Jesus’ miracles were done to prove that he was who he said he was – the divine Son of God – so that people might believe in him. This is exactly what John says…
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:20-21).
Miracles served the purpose of confirming – making sure, guaranteeing – that the word preached was from God.
“…how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:4).
If a person who saw miracles being performed did not have an open mind and a willingness to be persuaded they would not believe. As amazing as some of Jesus’ miracles were, there were many who witnessed them who yet did not believe. It would seem that unless a person is willing to accept the evidence offered for his being and his identity, they will not believe – no matter how much evidence if presented to them.
Miracles alone were not a sure-fire way to bring people to faith. They were occurrences that pointed to a greater reality. Jesus’ miracles pointed to his identity as the Son of God. The apostle’s miracles confirmed the word they were preaching as being from God. The miracles were not the object of faith but some of the evidence supporting the greater truth. People could watch miracles being performed – even benefit from them – and turn right around and walk away from Jesus because his teaching was too hard. That is what happened after Jesus fed the 5,000 in John 6:66. When he tried to teach them… “…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” His teaching was “too hard” they said.
But there were other things about the miracles aside from the evidence they offered. Many of the occasions on which Jesus performed miracles serve as windows into his character. The miracles were expressions of his compassion and concern for people. He cared for their needs. He was concerned with their hunger and illnesses. He had compassion on them and provided for them what he had the ability to provide with the means he had available to him. The following incident occurred just after the beheading of John the Baptist.
“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:13-14).
At this same time he fed the 5,000 people who had followed him there. Matthew, in his account of this miracle tells us that it was for the same reason – his deep feeling for their needs.
Once after performing a number of notable miracles, as he was going through the towns and villages in the region of Galilee teaching and healing the sick he observed the spiritual poverty of the people who were without capable, faithful teachers – and had compassion on them because of their need for spiritual nourishment. Here he did not perform a miracle in answer to their need, but the very same thing that motivated him to heal the sick and feed the hungry is evident in his feeling for these people.
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-37).
Because of his compassion he even raised a dead man because of the sorrow of a grieving mother…
“As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’” (Luke 7:12-14).
Even his first miracle saved a party and saved the host from embarrassment! At the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, he turned water into wine when the original supply ran out. This miracle was specifically said to have been a “sign.” A sign points to something other than itself. Here the meaning is obvious – this was a miracle performed for the specific purpose of pointing to his identity as the Son of God. But look at how many people benefited from his having done this marvelous thing! That is one of the remarkable things about what Jesus did – people always benefited in practical ways from his miracles.
Contrary to the claims of some professed followers of Jesus today who claim the ability to perform miracles, no one really is able to do so. Their claims are just that – claims without any factual evidence. But there is something all Christians can do to follow Jesus example. We can have the same kind of attitude toward the less fortunate, needy, sick, sorrowing people of the world around us. Jesus is the prime example of the very thing Paul taught Christians to do in Romans 12:15…“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
We can even do what Paul also said in this same chapter…
“…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20).
Although not a miracle, it is something way out of the ordinary in human experience. It is not the “natural” thing to do when dealing with an enemy. The ordinary response to an enemy is to seek to obtain vengeance. It takes extra-ordinary means to do what is instructed here. You might even say that it takes supernatural power to do so!
Speaking of which, maybe this is a kind of miracle that we just do not recognize today! The transformation of sinful, “natural” people – people who had been self-centered rebels against God – and changing them into men and women who far exceed the ordinary, rising to heights of love, compassion and mercy that sets them apart from their fellow men of the world and identifies them with the divine is surely a work of God that transcends the ordinary course of things. After all it is those who have put themselves into the hands of the master potter who are being shaped and molded into the kind of people he alone knows we can be. Maybe that is the greatest miracle of all!