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Miracles

22nd June 2008, mgh

 

1) Miracles in context

The record of miracles in the Bible is one of the main reasons why many people reject its authenticity. They claim that miracles are an impossibility and consequently reject the Bible as a whole.

If the age of science and industrialization such as exists today had instead been in the days of Israel's Kingdom in 1000 BC and the technology had subsequently been lost, what might the Bible have sounded like? Imagine what effect the following would have on those living in 1700AD.

King Solomon was king over all Israel. Ahishar was over the household; and Adoniram the son of Abda was over the men making towers for words to go through the heavens. Therefore Solomon in his palace could talk with his men in whatseover part of the land they sojourned, from Dan to Beersheba. He sends out his commandment. His word runs very swiftly. Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, who managed the large chariots which fly in the air, even beyond Egypt.
Judah and Israel were many as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, sending words to each other from tablets in their hand, eating and drinking and making merry.
Judah and Israel lived safely. Solomon had five thousand iron chariots that breathed fire. Iron also and oil of bitumen for swift chariots brought they to the place where the officers were, every man according to his charge. Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt.

In 1700 who would have believed this? They would think that it was impossible for such things as chariots to fly and words to go a long distance through the air. These would seem to be unbelievable miracles.

This present generation, familiar with electronic gadgetry, expects the inventors to produce new electronic and mechanical capabilities every year. If inventors produce never before seen effects, why should we doubt that miracles could occur? If the future contains things that would sound incredible to us, why is it unlikely that greater capability existed in the past?

2) The Beginning: Life as the first Miracle

Probably the first stumbling block for people is found in the first few chapters of the Bible in the book of Genesis. The arguments that have long raged over a miraculous six day creation are due to a multiplity of human theories, including Evolution. They can be resolved by examining the opening verses of Genesis 1.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)

This beginning is an unspecified beginning and the same expression “without form (to lie waste/desolate) and void (emptiness, in ruin)” as applied to the state of the earth at the time of creation, was also used by Jeremiah to describe the state that the land of Israel would become when the people were punished and scattered by God because of their faithlessness. Although their land was to become desolate, waste and wild, there was a promise that it would not be desolate forever, as there would not be “a full end”. Jeremiah chose the expression 'without form and void' that describes the earth that was in existence before the creation account begins. Jeremiah described the desolation to come on the land of Israel as follows.

For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light...
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I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. (Jeremiah 4:22-27)

Both Genesis and Jeremiah together shed light on the state and existence of the earth before the six days of creation began. The actual “beginning” of the earth is not specified. However it is clearly stated that there was darkness and the earth was without order and void of life.

The first incident, or miracle, that is then described is the movement of the spirit of God on the “face of the waters,” which covered the earth,

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:3-5)

This is clearly described as the work of the first day. It was the defining and dividing of night and day, as seen from on earth not the creation of the earth. For there to be light the sun already had to exist.

This is a strong indication that the waters existed before the reorganising work of creation began. How long the earth had existed in that state is not shown, but there is room for any length of time that the evidence of geology may claim. The earth had a history before the creation account as evident from the command addressed to Adam to “replenish” the earth, which is to repopulate the earth..

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. (Genesis 1:27-28)

This simple explanation of the creation of all life, explains the observed facts, that various lifeforms exist as male and female. This describes a miracle. By contrast other explanations of the origin of life sound convoluted and fail to explain the fact of the existence of males and females. They rely on the occurrence of life coming from nothing, which is scientifically impossible! It is easier to believe life began as a miracle, with the power for life coming from life, that is, God.

3) Out of the Ground

The description of the creation of the man Adam also appears as a miracle.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

The claim that God made man out of the dust of the ground appears amazing, but it is a well known fact that when people die they return to dust. If it is thought unbelievable that God made man of the dust of the ground, consider the following comparison, which today is accepted as a natural occurrence and is yet just as miraculous.

Recently a native tribe which has never had contact with other humans or modern civilization was discovered in the Amazon region of South America. If these people, seeing our twenty-first century cars, planes and trains, asked where these things came from, would they not be amazed and unbelieving if they were told that they were made from out of the ground? If we consider carefully almost all things come out of the ground: metals, gems, oil, gold, silver, and in fact everything that is made. The making of an aeroplane requires the extraction of the materials obtained from the earth and the building of the aeroplane is achieved through the skilful hands of men. To the native tribesmen it may appear as something amazing and miraculous, but to the people of the twenty-first century civilization it is a natural industrial process.

Today we turn on our computers and instantaneously can communicate with people around the world. Do we stop to consider and wonder how a tiny silicon chip from the ground is the means by which this can be achieved?

Who can explain what electricity is? Man has harnessed it and can describe how it works but not what it is. It is a power far beyond man's comprehension.

The conveying of images and sound by television and sound in telecommunication use natural processes but are beyond our true understanding. So why would it be extraordinary for a power beyond our understanding to convey sound or visions to an ancient world to manifest the existence of an all powerful creator? Surely all those daily conveniences that we take so much for granted are truly miraculous if we pause and consider. Our lives daily revolve around inexplicable miracles that come from the ground or are harnessed from the air waves.



Life is a miracle

If we observe the fish in rivers and the sea, and if they could think, they might affirm that they could live on land or that no other creatures existed on land. They would obviously be in error in both cases. It is fact however, that life exists almost everywhere in some form or other with the organs and capacities suited to its environment. In the air, the water, on the earth or in the earth, in sand and in mud at the bottom of a river, life of some sort is to be found.

There is life from the lowest form to the highest, that we are capable of understanding. But can we as humans have the audacity to imagine that we are the highest form of life? There is so much that we cannot explain in the natural world around us. We use the products of the earth to create extraordinary things and accept this without a thought. We accept the complexity of the world, which we take so much for granted. If we can see the levels of life reaching up to the human scale, is it so extraordinary that there is a power and force far beyond our level? Just as the fish have no knowledge beyond their environment, it must follow we have no understanding beyond ours.

The Bible informs us that there is a power far above our earthly experience. All the arguments of analogy and logic would suggest that the probability, on scientific grounds, is that there are beings of a higher order than ours, capable of living where we cannot and doing things that we regard as miraculous. In such a way this would account for any miracle that is recorded in the Bible.

Science now knows that it is impossible to have new life without life. A child lives because it grew in a living mother. Humans now know it is impossible to make life from the raw ingredients on the earth, without life. For example we can clone a sheep, but it must grow in the womb of a sheep. There is fundamentally something about life, for when a person is drowned they exist complete physically, but some bodies are revived and live again with resuscitation and others do not.



4) Miracle of Feeding the Thousands

Every day, world-wide, a miracle occurs with the baking of bread. From grains, which are ground, man for thousands of years has been able to produce bread, which process itself is inexplicable. People know how to bake bread but who can explain why it is produced? There are many chemical reactions which we accept without question, because they seem so natural.

In the Bible, the feeding of the four and five thousand with just a few loaves of bread is regarded as a miracle. The following account is given in the gospel of Luke.

And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But he said unto them, "Give ye them to eat." And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people. For they were about five thousand men.
And he said to his disciples, "Make them sit down by fifties in a company. " And they did so, and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets. (Luke 12: 12-17)

The original five loaves were ordinary bread, which had to have undergone the slow manufacturing process, which would not amaze us nor would we regard it as a miracle. In the bread that was produced in the process of feeding the multitude, the product was the same, but the process would have been fast and beyond the capabilities of man, which was a demonstration of God's power to the people of that age. The observant person would have recognised also that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, through whom God was working.

In relation to the bread in this miracle, the product that was produced was recognisable, and, in day to day life bread is accepted as natural and not considered a miracle. The difference is in the process by which it was made and this is what is beyond our comprehension and our limited powers.

This could be compared to food that is cooked over the coals, the conventional oven and the microwave oven. The outcome in each case is similar, but the time taken to achieve the end result is substantially different. This miracle of feeding the multitude with a few loaves of bread could be described as a higher form of the work we see performed every day in our natural world.

5) Miracles as Extension of what is Familiar

If we are prepared to accept that like the fish, which know nothing of the power of the higher creation on land, that we are ignorant of the powers that exist beyond our world, Biblical miracles can be seen as an extension of what is natural and familiar.

The plagues brought by God on Ancient Egypt are extensions of the natural world. Flies, lice, locusts, frogs, disease, darkness, wind and storm are all natural occurrences and often occur in plague proportions. The dividing of the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass over when pursued by the Egyptians can be explained by the superhuman power of God to control the tides and waters, which we earthly beings cannot control.

In the same way the fury of the storm on the Sea of Galilee could be arrested instantaneously. In the case of Jesus turning water into wine, without water grapes don't grow and so in the natural world water turns into grapes, which in turn become wine.

If the prophets were given visions and heard the voice of God, is it any more remarkable than the images and sounds we hear and see through the medium of television, telephone and radio? What is remarkable in this case is the message of the prophets that show us the future and God's promises to man, so that we don't live our life without hope.

When Jesus performed miracles of healing, he was displaying the great power of God and that he was the promised Messiah of Israel. If a doctor today can restore a person's sight it is not regarded as a miracle but as a result of man's use of natural resources and training in surgical skills aided by technology. How much more power would the creator of man have?

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD has made even both of them. (Proverbs 20:12)



Miracles to Build Faith

Humans need some tangible reason for trust and the building of faith. We need the visible to give us faith in the invisible. It is the visible things in the past that laid the foundation for faith in the invisible and the future. This lays the ground for a belief in God's continued operation in the affairs of men and nations. A well known case of a demonstration of God's power was the collapsing of the walls of Jericho, the account of which is found in Joshua 6.

And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shall you do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram' horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him...
So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city... And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.(Joshua 6: 3-5. 20,24)

The account explains that the walls fell down flat and the Israelites took the city. This was the demonstration of God's power to the people of Israel. It was visible evidence of an all powerful Mighty One. The people saw the miracle which was a manifestation of the invisible. Modern man might say that is all very well, but how do we know that this actually happened and was not just a myth? For the sceptics and doubters, archaeology has provided proof of the event, so that we too have visible evidence that the event did occur.

Jericho was of strategic importance at the entrance to Canaan from the east. The people of Israel had been promised the land of Canaan as their homeland, through the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The people of Canaan were idolaters and the nation of Israel were commanded to destroy and drive out the people from the land. Jericho was to be destroyed to facilitate their entry into the land of Canaan.

Excavation of the site of Jericho, the mound known as Kom el-Sultan, commenced in 1907-1909. The work of John Garstang 1930-1936 particularly gave evidence of the occupation of this ancient city. The city was founded about 4000BC and a series of successive cities had stood on that site.

It was estimated that the city taken by Joshua was constructed about 1500BC. A massive six-foot thick wall had been erected on the edge of the mound. An inner wall was separated from it by about twelve feet and was about twelve feet thick. The city was small and houses had been erected over the space between the inner and outer walls. It was found that Jericho's walls showed evidence of violent destruction. The outer wall had tumbled forward down the slope of the mound, and the inner wall with the houses erected on it, had fallen into the space between the walls. Reddened masses of stone and brick, together with ashes and tarred timber showed that fire had accompanied the fall of the city.

This identifies Joshua 6 with its destruction. After this destruction the city lay in ruins and was not rebuilt until the time of Ahab in approximately 850BC, when Hiel rebuilt the city.

And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him. In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun.(1Kings 16:33-34)

Garstang originally thought that he would be able to disprove the Bible record related to Joshua 6, but his excavation showed that the walls had fallen down as recorded by Joshua. Summing up the evidence he stated that, “One conclusion indeed seems certain: the power that could dislodge hundreds of tons of masonry must have been superhuman.” Some believe that God could have interposed at the right time with earthquake. The Psalmist writing of Israel's experiences expressed his belief in the mighty power of God to control the forces of nature.

These are the words of the covenant, which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb. And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and those great miracles: (Deuteronomy 29:1-3)

Moses reminded the Israelites of the “great miracles” that they had been shown. These were “signs” for the people to remember and to pass on to their children and future generations. They would lay the foundation upon which their faith in God could be built.

Jesus spoke to his disciples about the moral responsibilities of those who rejected him.

"If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. "(John 15:24)

Jesus had shown miraculous signs to his generation, just as there had been signs and miracles given to Moses' generation. What both Moses and Jesus said constitute what is the basis of faith, which is really confidence for a reason.

Many have repudiated miracles but Jesus clearly taught that they were a necessity. The miracles performed by Jesus were the sign and “witness” of his authority and Messiahship.

"But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. " (John 5:36)
"If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him. " (John 10: 37-38)

John the Baptist, who no doubt knew that his life would be cut short by Herod, sent two of his followers to seek out Jesus to witness the miracles that confirmed that Jesus was indeed the redeemer of Israel.

When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, "Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. (Luke 7:20-23)

6) Resurrection, the Greatest Miracle

The sentiment that miracles are impossible. or useless if possible, or open to doubt, is one of the greatest barriers to an understanding of the Bible and God's communication to man of his purpose with the earth and creation. God's purpose is founded on the miracle of Christ's resurrection, and on the anticipated miracle of the resurrection of the faithful believers. The New Testament writers speak of resurrection directly 40 times.

Historians accept that Jesus was a historical figure and that he was crucified and was buried in a sepulchre. There are so many fragments of early text, distributed so widely throughout the Roman Empire, that show the original documents must have been contemporary with events for which there were many witnesses. There was a rumour that the body was stolen, but the empty tomb had abundant historical evidence, supporting the resurrection.

God's promise to man in the Bible is life eternal through bodily resurrection. This is clearly the teaching of the Apostles. To Paul, the resurrection was his whole hope and desire.

If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep.
For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ's, at his coming. (1Corinthians 15-23)

In John's gospel Jesus' words related to resurrection are recorded.

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, "  And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5: 28-29)

The conversation between Martha and Jesus when Lazarus had died revolves around resurrection.

But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou will ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus said unto her, "Thy brother shall rise again. " Martha said unto him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day”. Jesus said unto her, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (John 11:22-25)

Peter speaking to the people on the Day of Pentecost reminded them of David's hope of resurrection.

Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; (Acts 2: 29-30)

The Apostles' message to the priests and Saducees about the resurrection was met with hostility, but they continued to preach the resurrection from the dead.

And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead... And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.(Acts 4:1-2, 33)

The Old Testament also states that there will be a resurrection of the faithful, “those written in the book.” and who “sleep in the dust of the earth”. Daniel states that this will occur in the last days when there will be a time of trouble unlike any that has been experienced by mankind.

And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:1-2)

Isaiah also wrote of a time of trouble when God will punish the iniquities of man and then the dead who will be raised will rejoice.

Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain. (Isaiah 26:19-21)

The resurrection of the dead is a constant theme in the Bible. In fact it is God's whole purpose to call out a people for his name and purpose in bringing peace to this earth. This is a miracle, but in today's world the possibility of the Creator doing this should become more feasible with the more we learn of the amazing identity of humans, their fingerprint of life and individuality, through such discoveries as DNA. As we know that we are all biologically different one from the other, it should not amaze us that if we accept that the Creator has power beyond our comprehension and made man, we will believe that he can resurrect people.

This greatest of all miracles is God's promise and gift to those who love his word and obey his commands.

7) The Characteristic of Miracles

It has been said that when the references to miracles are cut from the Bible, there is not much left. However, there are not many recorded, and they are specific in their nature, always having a clear purpose. For instance the most referred to miracles in the Bible relate to the Exodus from Egypt, which accomplished the birth of the nation of Israel.

The constant reminder to the Israelites of the Exodus miracles were used to emphasise to the people their special purpose, and the power of their God compared to the idols of the nations that surrounded them. These remarkable events which became history were evidence to all nations of the capability of the one true God. Actually, however, there were very few other remarkable demonstrations of God's power. On several occasions invading forces were subdued by miracles using natural elements, such as in the case of Jehoshaphat where the invading nations turned upon each other, in another case hailstones were used.

The miracles of the Bible have no element of conventional fantasy. People are not turned into strange animals, or things made to appear and disappear. At no time are the miracles gratuitous. They are never random They never involved spectacle for the sake of it. They were for specific purposes to confirm the existence of God and His power over nature. When individuals are the means of carrying out the miracle, they can never use the power they have for their own ends. Elijah, for example, only performed eight miracles. Even when Jesus was in danger he refused to use the power he had available to him, merely walking out of situations.

In the Bible there are not many cases of healing. An early example is during a plague, Moses was told to instruct the Israelites to look with faith to a brazen serpent on a pole for healing. Then there is no record of healing until Elijah and Elisha, who healed a very limited number of people and brought on occasion them back from the dead. Then again there is a gap until Jesus. Jesus' acts of healing were remarkable, such as restoring sight to people born blind. Though faith was involved, they could never be mistaken for mere faith healing. In one case he could heal despite the child and the father not having the required faith (Mark 9:22-29).

Jesus' miracles were to indicate his authority.

“Say you of him, 'Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?' If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though you believe not me, believe the works: that you may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him”. (John 10:36-38)

In Jesus' generation many believed him because of the miracles, but others, after seeing 4000 people fed from a few loaves and fish, asked for a 'sign', that is something which was a spectacle. Jesus' answer:

And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation”. (Mark 8:12)

The points is that the miracles were 'signs' and evidence of the power being of God. This evidence of the power is necessary for faith and it is put this way,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrew 11:1)

In other words, the evidence of miracle shows the existence of God who is not seen.

8) Faith

Miracles are not inconsistent with the order of nature as we know it. Scientific knowledge is ever expanding. With the knowledge of existing forces which we really know very little about, we can know that certain things are possible, but unless we possess infinite knowledge we cannot say anything is impossible. Therefore science cannot show that miracle is impossible.

How many things do we have faith in? Do we know that there are electrons in atoms? Is not this a faith? We have never ourselves seen even one electron. We have faith electrons exist as we believe the witness of scientists who say they have seen their trace. How do we know that the people convicted of crimes on the news really did them? Firstly we rely on the witness of the news which in turn relies on the witness of those who testify in court. We have faith that the witnesses are tested and the process is trustworthy.

There is every evidence to establish that in the past there have been miracles, for many reliable eyewitnesses have recorded what they have seen. In addition archaeology establishes the reliability of the accounts of events. Their testimony establishes that the God of the Bible is very powerful, and can control nature.

We may not have personally seen a miracle, but we cannot say that miracle is impossible. Faith is established by the demonstration of a divine power, which requires miracle. Miracles are not only possible but they are a necessary proof of God's existence.

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