God is shown in the Bible to be a God of miracles. But miracles do not feature consistently throughout the biblical record. Rather they are grouped largely around three main periods. The first of these periods was the time of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt, which challenged God’s purposes to establish his people as an independent nation. By mighty acts God saved his people and brought them into the land he had promised them (Deut 4:34-35; Josh 4:23-24). The second period was that of Elijah and Elisha, when Israel’s religion was threatened with destruction. By some unusual miracles God preserved the minority who remained faithful to him, and acted in judgment against those who tried to wipe out the worship of Yahweh from Israel (1 Kings 19:15-18). The third period was that of the coming of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ and the establishment of his church through those to whom he had given his special power (Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 1 Cor 12:10,28-29; 2 Cor 12:12). Of all the miracles, the greatest are those that concern the birth and resurrection of Jesus. God’s act in becoming a human being is itself a miracle so great that it overshadows the means by which it happened, namely, the miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin (Matt 1:18-23; John 1:14; see VIRGIN). The resurrection is a miracle so basic to the Christian faith that without it there can be no Christian faith (1 Cor 15:12-14; see RESURRECTION).

Miracles and nature

If we believe in a personal God who created and controls the world (Gen 1:1; Col 1:16-17), we should have no trouble in believing the biblical record of the miracles he performed. The physical creation is not something self-sufficient or mechanical, as if it were like a huge clock that, once wound up, runs on automatically till finally God stops it. The God of creation is a living God who is active in his creation (John 5:17). God deals with people as responsible beings whom he has placed in a world where everything is in a state of constant change. Being sensitive to the needs of his creatures, he may work in his creation in an extraordinary, even miraculous, way for their benefit (Exod 17:6; Josh 10:11-14; 2 Kings 4:42-44; Mark 6:47-51). On the other hand, God does not work miracles every time someone wants him to. If he did there would be chaos. God’s control of the universe is designed to produce order (Job 38:4-41; 39:1-30; Ps 147:8-9,16-18; Matt 5:45). Since God is the controller of nature, he may have performed many of his miraculous works not by doing something ‘contrary to nature’, but by using the normal workings of nature in a special way.

The miracle was in the timing, extent or intensity of the event. Such divine activity may help to explain events such as the plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the crossing of the Jordan River, the collapse of Jericho’s walls and some of the healings performed by Jesus. But even if these can be explained as having natural causes, they were still miracles to those who saw them. They happened as predicted, even though the chances of their so happening appeared to be almost nil (Exod 7:17; 8:2; Josh 3:8-13). This still leaves unexplained the large number of miracles for which there seem to be no natural causes. Such supernatural interventions by God are not attacks on the so-called laws of nature. What we call the laws of nature are not forces that make things happen, but statements of what people have discovered concerning how nature works. It is God who makes things happens; the ‘laws of nature’ merely summarize the processes by which such things happen. When God acts supernaturally, his actions may be contrary to the way people has usually seen nature work, but his actions do not break any laws of nature. They merely provide new circumstances through which nature works. God is always the creator of life, the healer of diseases, the calmer of storms and the provider of food, whether he does so through the normal processes of nature or through some miraculous intervention. Through the ages God has sent the rain to water the grapes to produce the wine, but he may choose to hasten the process by turning water into wine immediately (John 2:1-11). God has also at times withheld the rain and so caused trees gradually to dry up, but again he may choose to intervene and hasten the process (Matt 21:18-19).

The purpose of miracles Miracles

were usually ‘signs’, that is, works of God that revealed his power and purposes (Exod 7:3; Deut 4:34; Isa 7:11; Matt 16:1; John 2:11; 6:14; 20:30; Acts 2:43; see SIGNS). However, messengers of God never used miracles just to impress people or to persuade people to believe them (Matt 12:38-39; Luke 23:8). It was the false prophet who used apparent miracles to gain a following (Deut 13:1-3; Matt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9-11; Rev 13:13-14). God’s miracles were usually linked with faith (2 Kings 3:1-7; Dan 3:16-18; 6:22; Heb 11:29-30). This was clearly seen in the miracles of Jesus Christ. Jesus used miracles not to try to force people to believe in him, but to help those who already believed. He performed miracles in response to faith, not to try to create faith (Matt 9:27-29; Mark 2:3-5; 5:34,36; 6:5-6). Frequently, Jesus told those whom he had healed not to spread the news of his miraculous work. He did not want to be bothered by people who wanted to see a wonder-worker but who felt no spiritual need themselves (Matt 9:30; Mark 5:43; 8:26). Nevertheless, it is clear that many of those who saw Jesus’ miracles were filled with awe and glorified God (Matt 9:8; Luke 5:26; 7:16; 9:43). To those who believed in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah, the miracles confirmed the truth of their beliefs and revealed to them something of God’s glory (John 2:11; 11:40; Acts 14:3; Heb 2:3-4; see MESSIAH).

There was a connection between the miracles of Jesus and the era of the Messiah. This may explain why miracles were common in the early church but almost died out once the original order of apostles died out (Matt 10:5-8; Luke 9:1; 10:9; Acts 4:16,29-30; 5:12; Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 12:9-10; 2 Cor 12:12). In the record of some of Jesus’ miracles, faith is not mentioned. On those occasions Jesus acted, it seems, purely out of compassion (Matt 8:14-15; 14:13-14; 15:32; Luke 4:40; 7:11-17; John 6:1-13); though, as always, he refused to satisfy people who wanted him to perform miracles for their own selfish purposes (John 6:14-15). Jesus’ miracles demonstrated clearly that he was the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:30-31), and that the power of the Spirit of God worked through him in a special way (Matt 12:28; Luke 4:18). Being both divine and human, he had on the one hand authority and power to work miracles, but on the other he always acted in dependence upon his Father (John 5:19; 14:10-11). His miracles were always in keeping with his mission as the Saviour of the world. They were never of the senseless or unbelievable kind such as we find in fairy stories. Jesus did not perform miracles as if they were acts of magic, and he never performed them for his own benefit (cf. Matt 4:2-10).

Jesus’ miracles and the kingdom of God

In Jesus the kingdom of God had come into the world. The rule of God was seen in the miracles by which Jesus the Messiah delivered from the power of Satan people who were diseased and oppressed by evil spirits (Matt 4:23-24; 11:2-6; 12:28; see KINGDOM OF GOD). This victory over Satan was a guarantee of the final conquest of Satan when the kingdom of God will reach its triumphant climax at the end of the world’s history (Rev 20:10). To Christians, Jesus’ miracles foreshadow the age to come. His raising of the dead prefigures the final conquest of death (Matt 11:5; John 11:24-27,44; 1 Cor 15:24-26; Rev 21:4). His healing miracles give hope for a day when there will be no more suffering (Matt 9:27-29; Mark 1:40-42; Rev 21:4). His calming of the storm foreshadows the final perfection of the natural creation (Matt 8:24-27; Rom 8:19- 21). His provisions of food and wine give a foretaste of the great banquet of God in the day of the kingdom’s triumph (John 2:1-11; Matt 14:15-21; 15:32-38; 26:29; Rev 19:9).

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