How would you define a miracle? In our culture almost any unusual positive occurrence is called a miracle. Tommy is sick and unexpectedly gets well – it’s a miracle! I almost had a wreck but “somehow” my car didn’t go into the ditch I was headed toward – it’s a miracle! My dog got loose and ran away, has been gone a month, and suddenly showed up on the back door – it’s a miracle! Examples can be numerous, and sometimes trivial. On the positive side it shows a desire to give God credit. On the negative side it may rob us of God’s design for true miracles. So, let’s look at biblical miracles and see what we can learn. First, let’s provide a definition: “A miracle is an event or happening that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is considered to be of divine origin.”
Obviously, God can perform miracles directly. He created the universe, the world we live in, including humans. But, on a daily basis, we cannot assume to know when God may work directly in the circumstances of humans. He certainly can enhance or work through natural and scientific processes to bless, or aid, the process. I would call this Providence. A person has cancer, the doctors work hard to address it, but can’t explain why it’s now gone. Or God helps things to fall into place so the job you didn’t expect to get comes about. Providence: God working within and supplementing the natural processes and circumstances. It’s what we usually call a miracle.
A typical Bible miracle is through a person. Someone is healed immediately and completely as God works through this person, such as Jesus healing a man blind from birth. We see only three periods in human history when this type of thing occurs. The time of Moses and Joshua with the Exodus; 2nd is the time of Elijah and Elisha; and the 3rd is the time of Jesus and his apostles. It’s been estimated that each of these periods lasted about 70 years, so only 210 years out of the total history of mankind! (Examples: Exodus 14:13-16; I Kings 17:22-23; Mark 4:38-41)
If such miracles are that rare, what is their purpose? Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “I wish I’d lived during the time of miracles, oh what faith I would have had!” The truth is, these times of miracles did not result in increased belief, not generally. God’s existence we are told should be evident to all through creation (Psalms 19:1, etc.). Few of those who saw the 10 plagues in Egypt and crossed the Red Sea miraculously got to enter the Promised Land, because they failed to trust God, despite miracles. The time of Elijah and Elisha was one of the worst times of Israel, few sought the Lord (God had to remind Elijah he had a “remnant” who still trusted him). And the Jewish leaders had Jesus arrested and crucified him, despite the miracles they had seen him perform.
Miracles primary purpose was to verify those who God performed the miracles through as spokesmen for God. Moses was confirmed as God’s spokesman with Pharaoh and the Israelites through miracles, and when he died God worked through Joshua as they entered the Promised Land. Elijah and Elisha started the period of prophets and were confirmed as God’s spokesmen through the miracles they performed. And finally, Jesus and his apostles were confirmed as God’s spokesmen through their miracles. Did it also show God’s compassion? Certainly, but we make a mistake if we make that the primary purpose. “Faith healing” leaves people perplexed when good people of faith aren’t healed. We are off track when we try to make miracles about that. The truth is, if we truly have faith in Jesus, full healing will eventually come, both physical and spiritual, but in eternity, not necessarily in this life.
Meanwhile, heed the message of the Bible’s spokesmen who point us to Jesus. Moses was a type of Christ, saving his people, leading them to the Promised Land. Elijah foreshadowed Christ, fighting the enemies of God, bringing the dead back to life. Isn’t it interesting that on the Mount of Transfiguration we find Moses, Elijah, and Jesus together, representing these three periods when God authorized special miraculous abilities to his spokesmen! In the end miracles aren’t to make this life easier, they are meant to point us to the one who provides our salvation!
Cross Point: “Then a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.’” (Luke 9:35)