Note: Today’s Letter reminds us that God works within a framework written by Him. Alf Cengia’s column “A Clueless Middle East Peace Process” proves this is true even in today’s events.
The Bible is filled with stories of miraculous events, from the story of creation itself to Moses parting the Red Sea to Elijah calling down fire from heaven to the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.
All four Gospel accounts attest to the miracles performed by Jesus Christ. Jesus multiplied a few fish and biscuits into a feast for five thousand that resulted in more leftovers than He started with.
He changed water into wine. He raised the dead, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and sound to the deaf, walked on water and was Resurrected after being publicly executed.
Even sources like the Talmud and some Islamic writings make allusions to Jesus as a miracle worker. Jesus was even acknowledged to have worked miracles by the first century Jewish authorities.
Nicodemus, John tells us, was a Pharisee.
“The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:2)
Finally, the earliest editions of the Book of Mark were circulating about Jerusalem by about AD 45. Jerusalem was the seat of Judaism, populated largely by inter-connected Jewish families, many of whom who could trace their genealogy all the way back to Adam.
Everybody in Jerusalem in the first half of the 1st century knew everybody else. And since they were all bound by the same religion and worshipped at the same Temple, any event of a religious nature, either pro or con, became the buzz of the town.
It is safe to say that, by AD 45, twelve years after His crucifixion and Resurrection, there was nobody in Jerusalem who hadn’t heard of the controversial Carpenter from Nazareth. Then, as now, people either loved Jesus or hated Him, but nobody was ambivalent in their feelings about Him.
Considering Jerusalem in AD 45, with a probable population of about forty thousand, there would still be many living witnesses to the events of twelve years before. Jesus once had the roof ripped open at a synagogue to have a paralytic lowered into the crowded room.
Everybody in that room knew the paralytic, and everybody in that room saw him arise, take up his bed, and walk out. So, when Mark’s account was published in Jerusalem a dozen years later, if there were no truth to it, it wouldn’t have been accepted as fact.
But indeed, it was, since there are no contradictory treatises from living Jews of the time that deny those events took place, at least, none that were deemed credible by those who were there.
Look at it this way. If somebody wrote a book in 1975 that denied the existence, life and manner of death of John F Kennedy, nobody would have bought it, even if the writer could find a publisher. It would have no historical credibility because most of the population who witnessed the Kennedy assassination in 1963 were still alive in 1975.
There is every historical indication that the Gospel of Mark was accepted as a factual record of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. Including the miracles.
There have been many attempts by the generations to follow to present the case that the miracles ascribed to Jesus were not miracles, but simply part of the ignorance of the times. In other words, Jesus tricked the eyewitnesses who didn’t know any better.
The laws of nature were well understood by the Jews of the 1st century. They knew that a man couldn’t walk on water. So when Jesus did, they knew it was outside the natural order, ie., a miracle. They weren’t ignorant of such things.
“When the disciples saw Christ walking on the water, they were frightened: they would not have been frightened unless they had known the laws of nature, and known that this was an exception,” noted C.S Lewis.
Others argue that miracles are illogical so therefore only illogical people can believe in them. Logic is a word that defines the basic parameters and patterns of human thinking. But miracles don’t defy logic, they defy the basic laws of nature. God can suspend the laws of nature, but if He suspend the laws of logic, then nobody would be able to discern a miracle from the ordinary.
If a dead man buried three days in the tomb can revive and walk out on his own power, as did Lazarus, the eyewitnesses would logically conclude that the law governing death had been suspended.
It is entirely logical to believe that the eyewitnesses to the event believed it was miraculous. And if they believed it, it is equally logical to accept the fact they believed it because it happened.
Modern science denies the existence of miracles because they cannot be reproduced in laboratory. (With the exception of the theory of evolution.) But since miracles are, by definition, unrepeatable, miracles have more scientific support than does evolution.
There are eyewitness accounts of miracles, whereas nobody has ever seen a creature evolve into another creature.
The miracles of God are always given to a specific purpose. The clearest statement on the purpose of miracles is given in Hebrews 2:1-4.
Speaking of the revealing of His word “spoken through the Lord,” this word 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.”
The pattern was that God revealed His word, then testified to the truth of it by Divine miracles, signs and wonders.
In other words, miracles confirmed that the word spoken by God’s prophets or apostles was of Divine origin. This is why Paul could speak of the “signs of a true apostle” in order to distinguish himself from those who made false claims (2 Corinthians 12:12).
Once the purpose of miracles in confirming the Word was completed, that purpose was no longer necessary. The Scripture says of itself that it is the complete revelation of God, perfect and inerrant, concluding with the promise that,
“. . . If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18)
In addressing miracles, signs and wonders, such as speaking in tongues, prophesying, and receiving a ‘direct Word from the Lord’ the Apostle Paul wrote,
“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. ” (1st Corinthians 13:8-10)
When the Apostles claimed to be under the inspiration of God when the preached and taught, they had plenty of competition. Lots and lots of people of that day made similar claims. What gave the Apostles credibility over the competition was their ability to perform the miraculous.
The power to perform miracles was their ‘badge of office’ so to speak. Miracles were to authenticate both the Message and the messengers in the minds of men.
When the essential purpose for which the Biblical miracles were performed (faith-building) were no longer required, miracles like healing the sick, raising the dead, speaking in tongues and Divine inspiration was done away with, as Paul said they would be.
Scripture says that, once that which is perfect (the Bible) was come, that which is in part (miracles, signs and wonders) would cease. Scripture says that to subsequent generations of believes, faith would come by hearing and studying God’s Word.
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
That is not to say that God does not interact with people in a personal way, right up to this day. God does give us direction through His Word, and chastises us when we stray from it. He does, after a fashion, still give us a direct ‘word of knowledge’ but not in the way that some modern Christians understand it.
When I am studying, I occasionally get a flash of insight from the Lord about His Word, but He doesn’t give me unknown knowledge not contained in Scripture.
The Scriptures contain prophecy, and so therefore, I can deduce certain things about the future, but only as they pertain to revealed prophecy.
The test of a Divinely-inspired prophecy, however, is 100% accuracy, 100% of the time. I cannot claim to come close to meeting that test.
Neither can the TV preachers who ‘prophesy’ in the Name of the Lord.
The purpose for speaking in tongues is given in Acts 2:6-11 when the Apostles were first indwelt by the Holy Spirit and preached for the first time following Pentecost.
“And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”
The result of this miraculous gift of tongues, according to Acts 2:41 was that,
“the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
Babbling some unintelligible gibberish does little to convince an unbeliever, since he has no idea what he is hearing.
Miracles, then, are signs and wonders given by God to authenticate that those who performed them were speaking His Word and could therefore be trusted to teach true doctrine, since there was not yet an established, written doctrine of Christianity against which false teachers could be measured.
Now that we have the Bible, there IS an existing standard against which to measure false doctrine, and so miracles, signs and wonders are no longer necessary.
The guys who claim a special word of knowledge from God that amounts to Divine prophecy are writing checks with their mouths that their souls can’t cash. Merely making that claim of Divine inspiration violates the established doctrine of Scripture.
The guys who claim that they speak in unknown tongues cannot point to a logical purpose for such a manifestation that lines up with Scripture. In Scripture, the Apostles spoke in tongues unknown to them, but they were known languages, not some intelligible language of angels.
The guys who claim to be able to work miracles, signs and wonders denigrate the greatest miracle and the most wonderful sign of God already given us.
That which is the Perfect Word of God contained in the Holy Scriptures.
Those TV preachers who claim to keep the Holy Spirit in a box that they can open at will and heal the sick, make Divine prophecy or perform on-stage miracles on demand violate the doctrines of Scripture that constitute the Law of Miracles.
That law states that miracles are the ‘sign of a true Apostle’ — and the standard for claiming the title of ‘Apostle’ was that they were individually and personally taught by Jesus Christ Himself. The last person who qualified for that title was the Apostle John, who died well into his eighties at the end of the first century.
Arguably, the greatest miracle of God IS the Bible. It has withstood the test of time and a hundred generations of criticism and attacks, and to this day, not one single word of Scripture has ever been conclusively disproved by anyone.
However, the seeking of miracles, signs and wonders in this generation is a multi-billion dollar per year industry.
“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from Thee. But He answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)
When a guy claims that he raised the dead, or that he can perform miracles on demand, or that God tells him stuff that contradicts Scripture, mark him well. He is, himself, evidence of what is truly miraculous by himself fulfilling a two thousand year-old prophecy of God.
“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you.” (2nd Peter 2:1-3)
Don’t be concerned with the idea that you need miracles, signs and wonders to confirm the fact you are saved.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
It isn’t a trick, and it doesn’t impart the ability to do tricks.
And it isn’t for sale at any price.