THE MIRACULOUS – TOPICAL STUDIES
© Rosemary Bardsley 2007
In this short study on ‘miracles’ we are not looking at those miracles which God does without using a human agent through whom to work the miracle. Nor are we looking at God’s miraculous responses to human prayer. We are looking solely at those miracles worked by God through and by means of human agents. For example, when James tells us to pray for the healing of the sick, and God intervenes in response to our prayers for the sick, that is indeed miraculous healing. It is not in the same category, however, as the miracle which God worked through Peter and John on the crippled man in Acts 3, or the miracle in which woman who was healed by touching Jesus’ clothes. It is miracles of this latter kind, in which God miraculously works through a human agent, which we are looking at here.
When we read through the New Testament it is quite evident that miracles were not commonplace, nor are they ever expected to be common place. In fact we find that the number of people through whom God is reported to have worked miracles is rather small – Jesus, the apostles and a very few associates of the apostles. We also find that their role and purpose in the New Testament is very limited, and very clearly defined.
In the Analytical Studies you will find significant references to the different words the New Testament uses to refer to miracles:
- Dunamis – translated ‘miracle’; literal meaning ‘power’.
- Semeion – translated ‘sign’ or, in the NIV, frequently ‘miraculous sign’. The word indicates that the miracle is a pointer to something beyond itself.
- Teras – translated ‘wonders’, which refers to something generating awe and wonder. With a few exceptions, this word is normally used in conjunction with ‘signs’.
- Ergon – work, a word preferred by Jesus in John’s Gospel, where he sees his own miracles as his normal divine ‘work’.
The miracles of Jesus Christ
The miracles Jesus did were: healing miracles [of both sickness and disability], nature miracles, raising the dead [3 times only], and casting out demons.
From the gospel records we learn a number of facts about Jesus’ attitude to his miracles, which put a boundary around our perceptions and expectations about miracles:
- He did not do miracles for personal or financial gain
- He did not do miracles to make others rich
- He did not do miracles to make a name for himself – rather he told people he healed not to tell anyone
- He did not use miracles to coerce faith
- He refused to use the spectacular to attract followers
- He rebuked miracle-seekers
- He was not on a miracle-working crusade
- He was not on a healing crusade
- He did not require faith as a precondition for healing
- He did not require repentance and/or confession of sin as a pre-condition for healing
- He rejected the so-called faith of those who followed him just for the miracles
- There were no failures or relapses when he did healing miracles
- There were no drawn out or unsuccessful attempts to cast out demons
- There were no extended conversations with demons in which he argued them into submission
[For confirmation of the above, please read the Analytical Studies of the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel.]
Jesus Christ saw his miracles as having one clear and definite role and purpose: they validated the claims he made about his identity, leaving people who rejected his claims with no excuse for their rejection of those claims.
There are some Christians today who are being taught that if we had the same faith that Jesus had we would perform the same miracles which he performed, because, it is claimed, Jesus’ ability to perform miracles is an expression of his perfect humanity. The scripture, however, does not present Jesus’ miracles that way. Rather than demonstrate an ability that every Christian ought to possess, they actually demonstrate that this particular human being, Jesus Christ, was, at the same time, God. He worked his miracles not as the perfect and ideal man, but as the incarnate God.
For your study : Read: Matthew 11:1-6; John 5:36 ; 7:31 ; 11:40 -43; 20:30 -31
The miracles of the apostles and their associates
Similarly, the miracles of the apostles and their associates had a well-defined and narrow purpose: the scripture clearly states that the purpose of the apostolic miracles was the confirmation of the apostles and of the apostolic message.
‘The things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance’ [2 Corinthians 12:12 ]
‘This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will’ [Hebrews 2:3b-4].
Like Jesus Christ, the apostles were not focused on working miracles; they were focused on proclaiming the message entrusted to them. Their miracles, and other miraculous events reported in Acts, served to validate both them and the radical and revolutionary message they proclaimed. Without this miraculous validation accompanying them and their message it is clear from the Acts record that the gospel would have quickly been discredited and lost, or, at best, confined to the Jews and those who would become Jews.
Even with this high and holy purpose of validation, and therefore preservation, of the message in its period of initial proclamation, there were actually very few people who are reported to have worked miracles in the early years of the church.
This is all we find in Acts:
- ‘the apostles’ worked miracles [actually only Peter, John and Paul are named as working miracles’]
- two deacons, [Philip and Stephen], on whom the apostles had laid hands, worked miracles
- Ananias and Barnabas are reported to have worked miracles. Both were close associates of the apostles.
In all honesty, this is a very small list. This ability to work miracles was obviously not part of the normal Christian life. Miracles were special works of God through this very few people, by which God testified to the validity of the message entrusted to them.
To suppose that a broad spectrum of Christians should have the ability to perform miracles is to seriously undermine this clear and stated purpose of the miracles which God worked through the apostles. There is no sense in stating that ‘signs, wonders and miracles’ are the marks of an apostle, or affirm the message of the apostles, then to also teach that the ability to perform miracles is given to all and sundry. The second renders the first ineffective and meaningless.
The miracles of false teachers
The occurrence of a miracle is not an automatic indication that God did it.
The New Testament makes it very clear that not every miracle has its source in God, and that not everyone who works miracles in the name of Jesus Christ, is actually a servant of Christ. Empowered and motivated by Satan there were those through whose miracles he sought to deceive the church and the world. This deceptive ruse of Satan affirms the limited and well-defined role of the apostolic miracles – Satan’s deceptive miracles can only deceive if only a limited number of genuine miracles are being done by a limited number of genuine apostles. If miracles were abundant Satan’s miracles would neither attract attention nor coerce belief. If, on the other hand, the miracles confirmed the apostles and their message, then anyone doing miracles had the potential to be considered an apostle. Hence, the deceptive impact of those miracles empowered by Satan.
Jesus himself gave strong warnings about miracles worked by Satan’s agents – both to these miracle workers and to those who stand in danger of being deceived by them.
For your study: Read: Matthew 7:21 -23; 24:24; Revelation 13:12-14.
The gift of miracles
This will be included in the study on ‘spiritual gifts’.