Miracles

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Preliminary:

Invite: John 3
Thank: testifiers, singers
We are looking at John 3 beginning at verse 1
Read: John 3:1-2 “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 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.”

Introduction:

I remember fondly hearing the soft gentle tones of the tremendous Southern Gospel pianist of yesteryear, Eddie Crook waft through my childhood home on many occasions. His clear, crisp, gentle touch with a flair of country style gave rise to aspirations of playing like him someday. One familiar tune on the hymns album my dad played many times was a little chorus titled, “Only Believe.” The lyrics, simple and easy to remember often float through my mind yet today:
Only Believe, only believe;
All things are possible, only believe.
Only believe, only believe;
All things are possible, only believe.”
The melody and lyrics produced a comforting and calming effect to my mind and heart. As I have aged the once comfort and calm have been replaced with disturbing and even skeptical questions. Are all things possible just by believing? It sounds like a fairy tale and legend wrapped in Disneyland philosophy and theology. This type of question can only lead to the bigger and far more encompassing question, are miracles real?
The idea of the reality and veracity of miracles has long been a study of mankind and its myriad of philosophies and religions.
Miracles: What Are They and Are they Real?
This morning I want to address the question of the reality and veracity of miracles as understood from a Biblical and Christian worldview.
The room was electrified and tense as the National Day of Prayer speaker shared how they were failing chemistry in high school. “…You can’t be a pre-med and fail in chemistry,” the speaker said.
He was scheduled to take the semester final and was nearly sick with worry and anxiety. His dreams, hopes, and aspirations depended on passing this exam.
The night before the exam he prayed, “Lord, medicine is the only thing I ever wanted to do…Would you please tell me what is it you really want me to do?”
His plan was to study all night, but exhaustion soon overcame the young man, and his research was soon replaced by sleep. As he was sleeping, he had a dream that he was alone in an auditorium and some “nebulous figure” scrawled complicated chemistry problems along with their solutions on a blackboard.
He awoke the next morning and headed off to school to take the exam. “When I went to take the test…” he told the audience, “It was like ‘The Twilight Zone,’ I opened the book and I recognized the first problem as one of the ones I dreamed about. And the next, and the next, and the next, and I aced the exam and got a good mark in chemistry…and I promised the Lord He would never have to do that for me again.”
Dr. Benjamin Carson, yes, the famous Neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate experienced what some would call a miracle. (Strobel, 2018, pp. 16-17).
Do miracles such as the incident with Dr. Benjamin Carson really happen and if so, how does that fit with the laws of physics, nature, and reality?
I think we need to ask before we go any further. “what is a miracle”?
Miracles according to C.S. Lewis are, “in fact a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see” (Lewis C., 2014, p. 13).
One scholar, Henry Wace, limits the word “miracle” to only those “wonderful phenomena which accompanied the Jewish and Christian revelation…and which are alleged to have been continued…in the history of the Christian church” (Wace, 1915, p. 2062). While I find Wace’s definition to be reductionistic in nature, I am attempting to view miracles from a Biblical and Christian worldview.
Merriam-Webster defines a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs” (Merriam-Webster, 2003).
Augustine summed it up well and poetically when he wrote, “But I call that a miracle, whatever appears that is difficult or unusual above the hope or power of them who wonder” (Augustine, 1887, p. 364).
Richard L. Purtill, professor emeritus of philosophy at Western Washington University: aptly describes a miracle with four descriptions as follows; “A miracle is an event (1) brought about by the power of God that is (2) a temporary (3) exception (4) to the ordinary course of nature (5) for the purpose of showing that God has acted in history.”
The Bible only clears up the matter a little for us, in that it only gives us data primarily in narratives, not instructions or details as to how they happen.
We are told, of course, it is by the power of God which is a very important detail. As to what that all entails, we are not privy to.
Jesus in his dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3 tells us that the Spirit of God is like the wind. You see the effects of it, but you cannot see the Spirit Himself. That seems to be the best answer we are given as to the how question.
The narratives provide us with some tremendous data to work with.
In the Old Testament, for example, miracles were typically only directly from God.
We do see a few here and there, mostly from Elijah and Elisha, but prior to that it was the handiwork of God intervening on behalf of people.
The New Testament is a little more helpful in that we are given three different words that refer to miracles in numerous cases.
The first word to refer to miracles in the New Testament is power.
Power is from the Greek word, δύναμις and is sometimes translated as “miracle” and “mighty deed.”
Power has the idea of controlling and manifesting influence over reality. This is often understood to be in a supernatural manner.
A prime example of this can be found in the story of the woman with an issue of blood. We are told that she was able to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe and was immediately healed. Jesus turns and asks “who touched my clothes,” because the scriptures say he immediately knew “virtue” or “power” “δύναμις” had gone out of him (Mark 5:30). It was an influence that controlled the situation in a supernatural manner.
A second word the New Testament uses to refer to miracles is sign.
The term sign can often refer to miracles of symbolism or are figurative representations of something such as the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
One of the greatest of these signs or representations can be found in the retelling of Jesus’ first miracle. They were at a wedding and the host ran out of wine. Jesus is approached and commands the water pots be filled with water. By some miraculous intervention, the water is turned into what is termed “the best” wine. The result of this sign or miracle is that it “manifested forth his [Jesus’] glory, and the disciples believed on Him” (John 2:11). This miracle wasn’t so much to save the host and his guests from embarrassment as it seems to have been a sign to the disciples.
The third word the New Testament give us in referring to miracles is wonder (τέρας, teras).
Wonder as a miracle is referring to an event that deviates in a phenomenal way from what is known as the regular course of nature.
The word is used in this sense 16 times in the New Testament.
One important instance of “wonder” is found in Peter’s Pentecost Preaching. He proclaimed to all of those who were listening, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:”(Acts 2:22).
One can quickly see the vast range and scope of ideas of the concept of miracles.
Moving forward when I reference miracles I will be speaking of events and situations where God intervenes or acts in a way that is an exception to the normal course of nature in an effort to show himself capable or powerful.
This summary shows itself in the panoply of the miracles, signs, and wonders of Jesus in the New Testament.
Allen Meyers notes there were three types of miracles found in Christ’s ministry and that of his disciples of healings, exorcisms, and “nature miracles” such as walking on water, multiplying the food, and finding taxes in the fish’s mouth. Jesus was the only one to perform the natural miracles. (Myers, 1987, pp. 722-723)
As the words of the chorus from my childhood echo in their comforting tones in my mind, I am reminded of the question, do miracles happen today? Can the miraculous happen today or are miracles just an expression of what once was? I would submit to you two main arguments for why miracles are still possible today.
The first reason I believe miracles are still possible today is that God is the same.
The scriptures tell us that the same God who created everything in Genesis is the same God who touched the blinded eyes of the blind and made them see.
The same God in the Old Testament who dried up the Red Sea so Moses could cross on dry ground, is the same God who said, “Lazarus come forth!” All the forces of nature, death and hell couldn’t keep Lazarus in that grave. He came hopping out still wrapped in the bandages and grave clothes.
The same God who is the same in the Old Testament and the New Testament is the same God that all those in Christ have a relationship with today.
When I talk about the sameness of God, I not only talk about His existence, but his omnipotence.
By sameness of omnipotence, I am referring to the logical conclusion that if God is the same as He always has been, then His power is the same today as it was back then.
He may manifest His presence and power differently at different times, but the ability and power is the same.
Our chorus admonishing us to “only believe” is reminding us of the fact that God must be our object of faith – not attempting to believe hard enough to see the miracle.
A second reason I believe that miracles are possible today, is that we have recorded and documented proof of miracles.
I will be the first to admit skepticism to those who go around bragging to be healers for enough money or if you have enough faith. It seems the only types of healings and miracles they can perform often lack the documented and realistic proof of which I have been talking about.
At the same time, I also understand that some issues have not had the opportunity to be properly documented, and that does not take away its miraculous status or nature.
We often think of the miraculous as suspending or breaking the laws of physics and nature. In reality we forget that God created all things, which would include the laws of physics and nature.
He has the ability to intervene in those laws and work in ways that are not normative.
One example that has been offered to illustrate this is the hypothetical situation of dropping an ink pen from waist height. You have dropped the pen and the laws of gravity and physics have taken over. It is descending at a rapid pace and will strike the floor in a manner of seconds. You are able to, if your reflexes are quick enough to intervene and grab the pen mid fall. You didn’t break the laws of gravity or nature, you just intervened with a higher and greater law. This is how I perceive miracles to work the majority of the time. It isn’t that God breaks the laws he has created, but rather enacts a greater and higher law to intervene in man’s situation.
Some interesting statistics about miracles
Lee Strobel, a former atheist turned Christian apologist and investigative journalist, author of several award-winning and best-selling books claims that “two out of three Americans” believe that miracles are possible. This was in answer to a survey that Strobel commissioned.
The survey later revealed that “nearly two out of five US adults…said they have had such an experience…”
Even more fascinating is the fact that according to a 2004 survey 55 percent of American doctors have seen patient results they deem miraculous intervention.
He goes on to point out that the math is nearly unbelievable, over 94 million “Americans are convinced that God has performed at least one miracle for them personally” (Strobel, 2018, pp. 27-30).
Ninety-four million is an astounding astonishing number that is hard for me to fathom or put in terms that I can begin to comprehend. One could truthfully say that is more miracles than miles to the sun. You could also illustrate 94 million as the combined populations of Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas.
What is even greater and more astonishing, is that I have seen a few of those miracles and experienced a few myself. Shortly after my wife and I were married we moved to a house in a small town in northern Missouri. My wife Angie began to experience horrible headaches. They weren’t just painful; they were debilitating and nausea inducing. After consulting the doctor on numerous occasions about the debilitating headaches my wife was having, we just resigned to the fact it was going to be a way of life for us. It was customary to at the church we were attending at the time, to have midweek services on Thursday evening. That week Angie was too sick with one of these headaches to attend. I believe my mother came and stayed with her while I went to church. I don’t remember much from the service, but do remember Bro. Lorton, the pastor ended the service in corporate prayer. As I knelt at the altar, I was at the end of my ability to help in any way with the headaches, but I knew that the one who created the body could heal the body. The Holy Spirit came so near as we were praying and a thanked the Lord for touching my wife. When I returned home, my wife was not only feeling better but has never had another headache of that nature again.
There is still so much we do not and cannot know about miracles, simply because they are within the realm of God’s business and scripture tells us that “His ways are higher than our ways…” (Isa. 55:9). We cannot always predict or know when or where God will intervene within our situations and circumstances. We can be sure that God is in control and will continue to allow “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We aren’t believing in miracles; we are believing in God who is able to work miracles. I think G. K. Chesterton summed it up best in his fictional work The Innocence of Father Brown, “The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen” (Chesterton, 1911 p 2).
Many times I’ve heard people sing John W. Peterson’s song:
I believe in miracles I’ve seen a soul set free Miraculous the change in one Redeemed thru Calvary I’ve seen the lily push its way Up through the stubborn sod I believe in miracles For I believe in God
Squire Parsons went to an even more personal reason when he wrote in his song:
I wasn't there by the shores of Galilee When Jesus touched those blinded eyes And made them see And though I did not see the empty tomb that day I still believed, for I know what Jesus did for me.
I believe there is power in the blood of the Lamb And I believe there is healing in the touch of His hand But the greatest of all miracles was when Je --sus saved me For I know what Jesus did for me
Don't Give Up Your On The Brink Of A Miracle Chorus Don't give up on the brink of a miracle Don't give in, God is still on the throne Don't give up on the brink of a miracle Don't give up, remember you're not alone
References
Augustine. (1887). "On the Profit of Believing" in St. Augustin: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises (Vols. Vol. 3, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church). (P. Schaff, Ed., & C. L. Cornish, Trans.) Buffalo, New York: Christian LIterature Company.
Geivett, R. D., & Habermas, G. R. (Eds.). (1997). In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
Grounds, V. C. (1973). "Miracle", in Baker's Dictionary of Theology. (E. F. Harrison, Ed.) London: Pickering & Inglis.
Keener, C. S. (2011). Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. United States: Baker Publishing Group.
Keener, C. S. (2021). Miracles Today: The Supernatural Work of God in the Modern World. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Lewis, C. (2014). God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Lewis, C. S. (2009). Miracles. United States: HarperCollins.
Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh ed.). Springfield: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
Metaxas, E. (2015). Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life. New York: Penguin Publishing Group.
Myers, A. C. (1987). "Miracles" The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Roberts, R. D. (2016). "Miracles" The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham: Lexham Press.
Strobel, L. (2018). The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural. United States: Zondervan.
Wace, H. (1915). "Miracle" The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. (J. O. al., Ed.) Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.
Walker, D. (2013). God in the ICU: The Inpsirational Biography of a Praying Doctor. United States: Dave Walker.
Great stuff from
Dr. Dobson’s interview with Lee Strobel (download and put in YouTube to get transcript)
Also Niel Shenvi [sp] program with Frank Turek had some information on the supernatural and miracles
Great illustration of miracles not breaking the laws of physics but rather God intervening in them
1 Cor 12:10, 28 “working of Miracles” is a gift of the Spirit

There Is Power in the Blood

1899

Inasmuch as there is none like You, O LORD (You are great, and Your name is great in might). Jeremiah 10:6

Both the words and music of this old hymn were written during a camp meeting at Mountain Lake Park, Maryland by Lewis Jones. Jones, a California native, graduated from Moody Bible Institute and spent his vocational life with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). On the side, he wrote hymns. This, his best known, is particularly effective in resisting the ‘‘wiles of the devil.’’

One day as missionary Dick Hillis preached in a Chinese village, his sermon was suddenly interrupted by a piercing cry. Everyone rushed toward the scream, and Dick’s coworker, Mr. Kong, whispered that an evil spirit had seized a man. Dick, having not previously encountered demon possession, didn’t believe him.

Just then, a woman rushed toward them. ‘‘I beg you help me!’’ she cried. ‘‘An evil spirit has again possessed the father of my children and is trying to kill him.’’

The two evangelists entered the house, stepping over a filthy old dog lying in the doorway. The room was charged with a sense of evil. ‘‘An evil spirit has possessed Farmer Ho,’’ Kong told the onlookers. ‘‘Our God, the ‘Nothing-He-Cannot-Do One’ is more powerful than any spirit, and He can deliver this man. First, you must promise you will burn your idols and trust in Jesus, son of the Supreme Emperor.’’

The people nodded. Kong asked Dick to begin singing the hymn, ‘‘There is Power in the Blood.’’ With great hesitation, Dick began to sing, ‘‘Would you be free from your burden of sin. . . .’’

‘‘Now,’’ continued Kong, ‘‘in the name of Jesus we will command the evil spirit to leave this man.’’ Kong began praying fervently. Suddenly, the old dog in the doorway vaulted into the air, screeching, yelping, whirling in circles snapping wildly at his tail. Kong continued praying, and the dog abruptly dropped over dead.

Instantly Dick remembered Luke 8, the demons of the Gadarenes who invisibly flew into the herd of swine. As Kong finished praying, Farmer Ho seemed quiet and relaxed, and soon he was strong enough to burn his idols. At his baptism shortly afterward, he testified, ‘‘I was possessed by an evil spirit who boasted he had already killed five people and was going to kill me. But God sent Mr. Kong at just the right moment, and in Jesus I am free.’’*

*This story is related in Steel in His Soul: The Dick Hillis Story by Jan Winebrenner (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), chapter 6, ‘‘The Day the Dog Died.’’

From Twentieth-Century China

One day as missionary Dick Hillis preached in a Chinese village, his sermon was suddenly interrupted by a piercing cry. Everyone rushed toward the scream, and Dick’s coworker, Mr. Kong, whispered that an evil spirit had seized a man. “That is heathen superstition,” said Dick, who had not previously encountered demon possession.

A woman pushed through the crowd toward them. “I beg you help me!” she cried. “An evil spirit has again possessed the father of my children and is trying to kill him.”

Kong stepped over a filthy old dog lying in the doorway and faced the madman. The room was charged with a sense of evil. “An evil spirit has possessed Farmer Ho,” Kong told the onlookers. “Our God, the ‘Nothing-He-Cannot-Do One’ is more powerful than any spirit, and He can deliver this man. First, you must promise you will burn your idols and trust in Jesus, son of the Supreme Emperor.”

The people nodded. Kong asked Dick to begin singing the hymn “There is Power in the Blood.” With great hesitation, Dick began to sing, “Would you be free from your burden of sin.…”

“Now,” continued Kong, “in the name of Jesus we will command the evil spirit to leave this man.” Kong began praying fervently. Suddenly, the old dog in the doorway vaulted into the air, screeching, yelping, whirling in circles snapping wildly at his tail. Kong continued praying, and the dog abruptly dropped over dead.

Instantly Dick remembered Luke 8, the demons of the Gadarenes who invisibly flew into the herd of swine. As Kong finished praying, Farmer Ho seemed quiet and relaxed, and soon he was strong enough to burn his idols. At his baptism shortly afterward, he testified, “I was possessed by an evil spirit who boasted he had already killed five people and was going to kill me. But God sent Mr. Kong at just the right moment, and in Jesus I am free.”*

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