Miracles and Emptying Graveyards
A major mistake in our looking at the biblical miracles occurs when we insist on dislocating them from their setting. I don’t just mean the chapter or section in which we find the record; I mean from the vast Story the Bible brings to us.
We have another problem. Because miracles (almost always) brought immediate and profound benefit to those who experienced them and because we have our own (sometimes profound) needs—because all this is true, we’re tempted to see them as proof that God wants us all to experience them and so we go in search of them.
A further temptation is to feel that if they aren’t for everyone they shouldn’t be for anyone.
It’s perfectly legitimate to say that the miracles Jesus worked were to bring benefit to people and were a response to an existing need. That is, it’s acceptable to say, “Jesus gave men sight because they were blind; he fed people because they were hungry,” and so on. It’s correct but it isn’t enough to say this. That Jesus acted out of compassion is true, but it’s also true that compassion was only one of the motives for his actions.
With a word, I suppose, Christ could have emptied the graveyards of Palestine, so why didn’t he? Why did he limit himself to, “Lazarus, come forth”? Had he no compassion for the other brothers, sisters and bereaved ones standing by who had buried their beloved dead? He said of his own Father, that there were many widows in Israel but God sent Elijah only to the home of a foreign woman and that while there were many lepers in Israel in Elisha’s day, only the foreigner, Naaman was healed (Luke 4:26-27).
No, while miracles genuinely reflected the compassionate character of God in Christ, they were part of the over-arching purpose of God toward a world filled in each generation with the hungry, diseased and lost people. That purpose was/is not fulfilled by a ceaseless stream of miracles that would ensure the absence of pain and suffering in a sinful world.
To obliterate every disease and physical malady would be nothing short of abolishing physical death and in a world as evil as ours is, and can be, that would be no long-term blessing. The foundational need of humanity is not physical health or the absence of biological death—it is reconciliation with God and one another.
Miracles—though they were expressions of God’s compassion—were only one strand in a great tapestry.
• They were never intended to be the rule of life, or even commonplace. The compassion of God existed even when miracles were not worked; the compassion of God in Christ was real and genuine even for those he did not miraculously rescue (John the Baptist in prison is a prime example).
• Miracles were never meant to be a substitute for the loving hearts which feed, clothe, nurture and comfort those in need.
• Miracles were never intended to make up for or to be the means by which all the wrongs that people worked against each other were righted.
• Miracles were never intended to be an endless series of props that kept a decaying world from falling apart.
Miracles were the promise and prophecy that one day the entire creation would be redeemed from the curse.
NT miracles are to be viewed in light of the OT assurances that God had not abandoned the human family or the creation though he had brought curse into the picture in response to our sinful rebellion.
Miracles are to be seen as part of the reaffirmation of God’s creation intentions; intentions that humans might have thought he walked away from in light of our sinful rebellion.
Miracles are to be seen as moral deeds that reflect the character as well as the purposes of the Lord God in and through Jesus Christ.
Miracles are to be seen in part as the credentials of Jesus Christ that he is indeed the One sent from God to right all wrongs.
God was after something that went much deeper than an endless stream of miracles that transformed peoples’ circumstances. He was pursuing the transformation of their hearts through reconciliation with himself and one another and as a consequence of that he was after a human society where righteousness reigned and the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Miracles were only one of his tools in such a profound objective.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.