by chab123 at Ratio Christi-At The Ohio State University
Miracles play a significant role in Christian theology. Obviously, if miracles can’t happen the Christian claim is false (see 1 Cor. 15). What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. For example, Peter Kreeft says, a miracle is “a striking and religiously significant intervention of God in the system of natural causes.” (1) So we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. In the Bible, miracles have a distinctive purpose: they are used for three reasons:
1. To glorify the nature of God (John 2:11; 11:40)
2. To accredit certain persons as the spokesmen for God (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4)
3. To provide evidence for belief in God (John 6:2, 14; 20:30–31). (2)
Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (Jn. 3:1–2).
In Acts, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22). Miracles also confirmed the apostolic claim. In 2 Corinthians 12:12: Paul says, “The things that mark an apostle signs, wonders, and miracles were done among you with great perseverance.” (3) For the record, Jesus’ miracles are not the same thing as magic. But that topic can be dealt with at another time.
There is no kingdom without a king. In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. In Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” In this Scripture, God confirmed the Messianic claim when Jesus said the sign that would confirm his Messiahship was to be the resurrection.
And in Matthew 11:13, John the Baptist, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” In response to John, Jesus provided evidence that His miracles serve as an evidential feature of his messianic identity. Jesus responded to John’s question by saying, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4–6; see also Lk. 7:22). So the pattern for miracles in the Bible is the following:
Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation
Why Won’t God Show Me A Sign?
Many skeptics have told me they would become a follower of Jesus if God would just show them a sign. In response to this, let’s go back to the Gospels: It is important to note that not all witnesses to a miracle believe. On many occasions Jesus did direct miracles for his audience and they still rejected His claims to be the Messiah. Even in Matthew 12: 22-24, it says:
“ Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
In this case the Pharisees attribute the miracles of Jesus to Satan. And in some cases the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (2)
Just the other night, our apologetics ministry at The Ohio State University hosted an event called “Can We Detect God in the Natural Sciences?” The speaker was Dr. Paul Nelson. During the question and answer time, a student asked Dr. Nelson the following: ” What would you do if you got direct, concrete evidence for the existence of God?”
I think Dr. Nelson did a great job with this question. He said if God happened to walk through the door here (where he was speaking), he is not sure how he would handle it. He said he would be quite terrified. He also said that perhaps most of the audience would probably think we were hallucinating. Also, (as mentioned above) Dr Nelson discussed the issue of how the audience of Jesus did not believe in His miracles. The point is that the desire for concrete, or direct evidence for the existence of God can be misguided. This has been written about in Paul Moser’s work.
- Kreeft, P. Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1994, 101-120.
- Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481.
- Ibid, pgs 470-481.
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