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WHAT ABOUT MIRACLES??
A brief review of Miracles and their role in the Divine economy
by Given O. Blakely
Prior to the consideration of this subject, a few observations are necessary. First, no one may speak for God on this, or any other, subject, where God has not spoken for Himself. Second, the confinement of the working of God to nature cannot be justified by Scripture. Third, there is nothing in Scripture that indicates an omnipotent God has, or ever will, cease to employ that omnipotence in His dealings with humanity. Fourth, claims to miraculous power are subject to testing, just as surely as affirmations of having received a message from God. Fifth, while there are extended Apostolic writings on faith, justification, love, hope, etc., no such approach is taken to miracles. Sixth, no person, however astute or knowledgeable of Scripture, can affirm miracles ought to exist in every age, or that they have ceased for some ages.
I will not confine myself to an etymological approach to miracles-simply defining them from a lexical, or dictionary, point of view. There are at least six words used to define supernatural works in Scripture. Here are Vine's comments on that matter.
The supernatural works of Christ and His apostles are denoted by six different words in the New Testament, exhibiting these works under different aspects and from different points of view. These will be considered in detail as they occur. Generally, a miracle may be regarded: (1.) As a portent or prodigy; as Acts 7:36, of the wonders shown by Moses in Egypt. (2.) As a sign, pointing to something beyond itself, a mark of the power or grace of the doer or of his connection with the supernatural world. So Matthew 12:38. (3.) As an exhibition of God's glory, Luke 13:17; glorious things. (4.) As a strange thing, Luke 5:26. (5.) As a wonderful thing, Matthew 21:15. (6.) As a power; so here (Matt 11:20): a mighty work. (Word Studies)
I am using the word "miracle" to denote a work that is transcendent to nature, or supernatural. I will show that such works can be either good or evil, from God or from Satan. I will also affirm that the possibility of such works is beyond all question. However, miracles are not required to substantiate the Word, convert the soul, or strengthen faith. Mighty works from God are strictly according to His will. They can be for blessing or cursing, and cannot be controlled by men - even holy men. Here is an area governed by God's good pleasure.
THE MIRACULOUS ORDER
God's Word is filled with supernatural works. Creation, the flood, confusion at Babel, the birth of Isaac, Destruction of Sodom, Lot's wife turned to a pillar of salt, and the closing of the wombs of Abimelech's house. The burning bush, the plagues upon Egypt, the exodus of Israel, passing through the Red Sea, manna from heaven, and water from a rock. Balaam's ass speaking, the fall of the walls of Jericho, the sun standing still, and Elijah fed by ravens. The Word of God is filled with supernatural occurrences! Elijah raised a widow's son from the dead, stopped and started rain by prayer, brought fire from heaven on Ahaziah's army, and divided the Jordan River. Elisha increased a widow's oil, cured Naaman of leprosy, caused an axe head to float, and caused blindness to come on the army of the king of Syria. Who can forget Jonah in the fish's belly, Daniel in the lion's den, or the three Hebrew children in a furnace of fire? The Gospels record 36 of Jesus' miracles, and over 20 wrought by His disciples.
Our faith has been bathed in the supernatural. The resurrection of Christ, His ascension into heaven, the empowerment of the Apostles at Pentecost, and the success of the Word of God can only be explained within the context of Divine working. There IS a miraculous order-a dimension of working that is higher than nature.
The Phenomenon of John the Baptist
John the Baptist stood above his peers. Jesus said a greater had not arisen among those born of woman (Matt 11:11). Yet, something is said of John that will help us get a good perspective of our subject. "John did no miracle"-he wrought no sign (John 10:41). Yet, he touched the hearts of the people more than all of the accumulated prophets before him. Filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb (Lk 1:15), supernatural works were wrought through him in another dimension-bringing men to repentance (Matt 3:5-6). He readied the people to receive Christ Jesus, a work of unspeakable magnitude. Who would dare to compare that with making an axe head float, or causing the meal and oil of a widow to multiply. None of those things could have been done without God! Nor, indeed, could John have brought men to repentance without the mighty God.
It would have been absurd for men to assume God has ceased working supernaturally with the advent of John's ministry. Modern scribes would probably have made a good case for that.
An Area Where Delusion Is Possible
The realm of the supernatural is one in which Satan is also active. When Moses confronted wicked Pharaoh and his magicians, he was not the only one who worked miracles. The magician's turned their rods into serpents, turned water into blood, and brought frogs upon the land, (Ex 7:11, 22; 8:7). Their power was inferior to that displayed by Moses, but it was supernatural. Scripture also speaks about Satanic activity characterized by "all power, signs, and lying wonders" (2 Thess 2:9). Do not think Satan will overlook those who have an inordinate appetite for the supernatural! Realms of Satanic activity that extend beyond nature include witchcraft, sorcery, false prophets, charmers, enchantment, wizards, necromancers, and divination (Deut 18:10-12; 2 Chron 33:6; Gal 5:20; Acts 16:16; Matt 24:24). Here, then, is an area where we dare not depend upon an academic approach. Nature is not the only realm, and we dare not suppose that it is! We are doing battle "against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). We dare not adopt a theology that is confined to nature, and thus devoid of power. Satanic power must be countered with Divine power!
Scripture affirms God placed gifts in the church according to His own will (1 Cor 12:1-11). Among them was "the working of miracles" (1 Cor 12:10). Scripture does not say every church possessed this gift, or that it was a token of unique blessing. This gift was found in Corinth. There is no evidence it existed in the churches in Rome, Ephesus, Colossae, or Philippi. The placing of this gift has always been a Divine prerogative, whether in Moses' day, or the time of the Corinthian church. It was not a sign of superiority, for Corinth was anything but superior (1 Cor 3:1-3).
Miracles Not Wrought at Will
The spiritual environment has more to do with Divine working than the possession of ability. For example, when Jesus came to "His own country," it is written, "Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief" (Mark 6:5-6). On another occasion, Jesus confronted a blind man in Bethsaida, a city dominated by unbelief (Matt 11:21). The healing of this blind man is the only occasion where Jesus nearly failed-He had to touch him twice. Because of the unbelief rampant in that city, Jesus led the blind man out of the town in order to heal him (Mark 8:22-25). The absence of miracles, therefore, can also be due to unbelief.
On one occasion, one of Paul's fellow-laborers almost died in his very presence, in spite of repeated prayers (Phil 2:25-27). Paul also told Timothy to "use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities" (1 Tim 5:23). The point is that even where the gift was given, it could not be exercised at the will of the possessor. It was still strictly controlled by the Lord Who gave it. This lifts the matter of miracles from the philosophical and speculative realm.
Faith has always been honored by God! Jesus said, and He has not retracted it, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes" (Mark 9:23). James (who was not an Apostle) confirms "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much," citing the powerful prayers of Elijah as confirmation of that truth (James 5:14-17).
Having been called into the "fellowship" of God's dear Son (1 Cor 1:9), and being urged to "draw near" to God Himself (Heb 10:22), it is the height of absurdity to think nothing supernatural, or transcendent to nature, will ever occur. Equally true, those who expect to live in the midst of a steady stream of supernatural phenomenon must acknowledge such a condition has never been a standard for men. Only the earthly ministry of Jesus is an acceptation to that rule.
There Are Things Miracles Cannot Do
There are things miracles CANNOT do. They cannot change a heart! Israel experienced miracles on the grandest scale ever known to man, yet remained obstinate and hard-hearted. The marvelous miracles of Jesus did not change Jerusalem, or cause the people to be gathered together to Him as He desired (Matt 23:37). The unparalleled plagues poured out upon Egypt did not induce them to repent, or cause them to become worshipers of God. Even though Stephen was a great miracle worker (Acts 6:8), he was killed by the very people who beheld those wonders. Miracle power is not the greatest power-else John would have worked miracles, and Jerusalem would have repented at the preaching of Jesus. When men theorize about miracles, they must consider these things, lest they be led into an affection for the supernatural like that of wicked Herod (Lk 23:8)
SOME MIRACLES DURING THE FIRST 4,000 YEARS
001-The flood (Genesis 7)
002-Confusion of tongues at Babel (Genesis 11)
003-Fire on Abraham's sacrifice (Genesis 15:17)
004-Conception of Isaac (Genesis 17:17; 19:12; 21:2)
005-Destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19)
006-Lot's wife turned to pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26)
007-Closing of womb's in Abimelech's house (Genesis 20:17-18)
008-Opening of Hagar's eyes (Genesis 21:19)
009-Conception of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:21)
010-Opening of Rachel's womb (Genesis 30:22)
011-Burning bush (Exodus 3:2)
012-Moses's rod turned into serpent (Exodus 4:3-4; 7:10-12)
013-Moses' hand becomes leprous (Exodus 4:6-7)
014-Ten plagues in Egypt (Exodus 8-12)
015-Pillar of cloud and pillar of fire leading Israel (Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19-20)
016-Israel crosses Red Sea (Exodus 14:22)
017-Pharaoh and army drowns in Red Sea (Exodus 14:23-30)
018-Sweetening of waters at Marah (Exodus 15:25)
019-Manna for forty years (Exodus 16)
020-Quails given to Israel (Exodus 16:13)
021-Defeat of Amalek (Exodus 17:9-13)
022-Moses' face glows from the Divine presence (Exodus 34:29-35)
023-Water from the rock (Exodus 17:5-7)
024-Miriam stricken with leprosy (Numbers 12:10-15)
025-Destruction of Korah and cohorts (Numbers 16:31-35)
026-Aaron's rod buds (Numbers 17:1-9)
027-Scourge of serpents (Numbers 21:6-9)
028-Destruction of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2)
029-Balaam's ass speaks (Numbers 22:22-30)
030-Jordan divided (Joshua 3:14-17; 14:16-18)
031-Fall of Jericho (Joshua 6:20)
032-Midianites destroyed (Judges 7:16-22)
033-Destroying hail on confederation of kings (Joshua 10:11)
034-Sun and moon stand still (Joshua 10:12-14)
035-Dew on Gideon's fleece (Judges 6:37-40)
036-Samson's strength (Judges 14:6; 16:3,29-30)
037-Samson supplied with water (Judges 15:19)
038-Fall of the idol Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1-4)
039-Cows return the ark of the covenant (1 Samuel 6:7-14)
040-People struck with hemorrhoids (1 Samuel 5:9-12; 6:1-5)
041-Destruction of people at Bethshemesh (1 Samuel 6:19-20)
042-Uzzah struck dead (2 Samuel 6:1-8)
043-Jeroboam's hand withered (1 Kings 13:3-6)
044-Elijah fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:6)
045-Elijah fed by an angel (1 Kings 19:1-8)
046-Elijah increases widows oil and meal (1 Kings 17:9-16)
047-Elijah raises widow's son (1 Kings 17:17-24)
048-Elijah prays it will not rain (1 Kings 17:1)
049-Elijah prays it will rain (1 Kings 18:41-45)
050-Elijah brings fire on Ahaziah's army (2 Kings 1:10-12)
051-Elijah divides Jordan (2 Kings 2:8)
052-Elijah translated (2 Kings 2:11)
053-Elisha divides Jordan (2 Kings 2:14)
054-Elisha sweetens waters of Jericho (2 Kings 2:19-22)
055-Elisha increases widow's oil (2 Kings 4:1-7)
056-Elisha raises Shunammite's son from dead (2 Kings 4:18-26)
057-Elisha heals pottage (2 Kings 4:38-41)
058-Elisha feeds 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44)
059-Elisha cures Naaman's leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-9)
060-Elisha puts leprosy on Gehazi (2 Kings 5:26-27)
061-Elisha causes axe head to float (2 Kings 6:6)
062-Elisha reveals counsel of king of Syria (2 Kings 6:12)
063-Elisha prays eyes of his servant will be opened (2 Kings 6:17)
064-Elisha smites Syrian army with blindness (2 Kings 6:18)
065-Dead man restored when touching Elisha's bones (2 Kings 13:21)
065-Destruction of Sennacarib's army (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36)
066-Shadow on sun dial turned backward ten degrees (2 Kings 20:9-11)
067-Three Hebrews children delivered from fiery furnace (Dan 3:23-27)
068-Daniel delivered from lion's den (Daniel 6:22)
069-Jonah in fish's belly (Jonah 1-2)
070-Jonah's gourd (Jonah 4:6)
071-Jonah's gourd destroyed by a worm (Jonah 4:7)
Period covered - 4,000 years - Average, a miracle every 50 years, if not clustered
MIRACLES OF JESUS
001-Water into wine (John 2)
002-Heals nobleman's son (John 4:46-54)
003-Draught of fishes (Luke 5:1-9)
004-Heals demoniac (Mark 1:23-26)
005-Heals Peter's mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-17)
006-Cleanses leper (Matthew 8:1-4)
007-Heals paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8)
008-Heals impotent men (John 5:1-9)
009-Restores withered hand (Matthew 12:9-13)
010-Restores Centurion's servant (Matthew 8:5-13)
011-Raises widow's son from the dead (Luke 7:11-16)
012-Heals demoniacs (Mark 3:11)
013-Stills the tempest (Matthew 8:23-27)
014-Casts demons our of Gadarene (Matthew 8:23-34)
015-Raises Jairus' daughter from the dead (Matthew 9:18-26)
016-Cures woman with issue of blood (Matthew 9:20-22)
017-Restore sight to two blind men (Matthew 9:27-31)
018-Heals demoniac (Matthew 12:23-30)
019-Feeds 5,000 (Matthew 14:15-21)
020-Walks on raging sea (Matthew 14:22-30)
021-Heals Syrophenician woman's daughter (Matthew 15:21-28)
022-Feeds 4,000 (Matthew 15:32-39)
023-Restores deaf and dumb (Mark 7:31-37)
024-Restores blind man (Mark 8:22-26)
025-Restores lunatic child (Matthew 17:14-21)
026-Tribute money from fish's mouth (Matthew 17:24-27)
027-Restores ten lepers (Matthew 17:11-19)
028-Opens eyes of man born blind (John 9:1-9)
029-Raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11)
030-Heals woman with spirit of infirmity (Luke 13:10-17)
031-Cures man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-6)
032-Restores two blind men near Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34)
033-Curses a fig tree (Matthew 21:17-21)
034-Heals ear of Malchus (Luke 22:49-51)
035-Second draught of fish (John 21:6)
036-Resurrection from the dead (Acts 13:30)
MIRACLES OF CHRIST'S DISCIPLES
002-By other disciples (Mark 9:39)
003-By the Apostles (Acts 3:6-16; Acts 9:34-35; Acts 16:19)
004-Peter cures the sick (Acts 5:15-16)
005-Peter cures Aeneas (Acts 9:34)
006-Peter raises Dorcas (Acts 9:40)
007-Peter brings death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5,10)
008-Peter and John sure lame man (Acts 3:2-10)
009-Peter and other Apostles delivered from prison (Acts 5:19-23; 12:6-9)
010-Philip carried away in the spirit (Acts 8:39)
011-Paul strikes Elymas with blindness (Acts 13:11)
012-Paul heals cripple (Acts 14:10)
013-Paul casts out spirits and cures sick (Acts 16:18; 19:11-12; 28:8-9)
014-Paul raises Eutychus to life (Acts 20:9-12)
015-Paul shakes deadly viper from hand (Acts 28:5)
Before the book of Acts concludes, we begin to see a dissipation of miracles.
The Apostles occupy a unique position in the Kingdom of God. They were placed "first" in the church, not only in respect to chronology, but in priority as well (1 Cor 12:28). Because of their message, believers are said to be built upon "the foundation of the Apostles . . . " (Eph 2:20). Their prominence is depicted in the Revelation, where their names are said to be upon the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem, or glorified church (Rev 21:10-14).
Paul spoke of the "signs of an Apostle" - a category of mighty works that validated both the persons and message of the Apostles (2 Cor 12:12). These included curses as well as blessings (examples of curses: Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10), and Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:8-11). I know of no contemporary claims to such workings-even among those boasting of great power.
In another place, Paul spoke of "those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient; in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God" (Rom 15:18-19). Notice the priority of the things Paul did-"WORD and deed." It was his message that produced a reason for the "mighty signs" wrought by the Apostle. Here, then, is a special category of "mighty works." it should be evident they are not to be duplicated by those who are NOT apostles-who are NOT the foundation upon which the church is built.
"AT THE FIRST"
"How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:3-4)
The magnitude of our salvation is underscored by what was done "at the first"-i.e., when the Gospel was first preached, following Christ's enthronement at the right hand of God. There are some key things to note in this text.
This is not a statement limiting the time during which miracles, or mighty works, were to be accomplished. These were "special miracles" (Acts 19:11), not the ONLY miracles, and were unique to the "first" period of the church.
THE GREATNESS OF THE POWER TO US
Ephesians 1:19-21 is a pivotal text in our consideration of mighty works. Here Paul prays God will open our eyes to see how great this power is. It goes far beyond what is reflected in the average church agenda!
It is inconceivable that this great power is no longer available to the church, or that Christ has ceased to work through it. It is the vision of the church that is defective, and which can-yes, MUST--be expanded by the grace of God.
The teaching of this passage (Eph 2:17-2:6) is that God has incorporated us into Christ, having put us into Him (1 Cor 1:30). God has made Jesus "the Head over all things," and given Him "to the church" in that capacity. Although He is the "Head of the church" (Eph 5:23), that is not the meaning of this text. Rather, it teaches that Jesus has been given TO the church as One possessing all power. He is over the enemies of the church, the angels who minister to the church, and the blessings reserved for the church. The church, however, cannot take advantage of His authority unless they see that it is for them. They are why He rules!
NOW GOD IS ABLE
With a great burden for the church, Paul also prayed they would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to take hold of this power (Eph 3:15-21). In this marvelous text we see the following.
A successful church is not one with a large attendance, extensive program, or talented staff. It IS one through which the mighty power of God can work-when He desires, and for His purpose. A powerless, uninvolved church brings no glory to God.
The ability of God ("Him that is able"-Eph 3:20) is not a subject to be debated and philosophized. It has to do with the fulfillment of His purpose IN the church. There is no known limit to this power - all of the limitations are found in the affections of the people, or their unbelief (2 Cor 6:12; Matt 13:58; 17:20; Heb 3:19).
WHAT ABOUT NOW?
Does God work miraculously, or outside the realm of nature, NOW? The answer to that question is not to be found in a mere theological position. How God works depends upon several factors, some of which are determined by us.
God has called us into "the fellowship of His Son" (1 Cor 1:9). That fellowship has more to do with us joining with Christ in His working, than with Jesus joining with our self-made plans and agendas. It is pointless for any person or collection of persons to speak about the possibility of God working, if they are not "workers together with God" (1 Cor 3:9).
We have a commitment from Jesus that "all things are possible to him that believes" (Mark 9:23). We also have a revelation that the mighty power of God is devoted to those who believe (Eph 1:20). Furthermore, believers are told that God is working in them "both to will and to do of His own good pleasure" (Phil 2:13).
If we choose to involve ourselves in the good will of God, we will find His power is available to us - but only to the extent our wills are harmonious with His. That degree of harmony is far more extensive than most have dared to think.
THE PRAYER OF FAITH
Faith is the catalyst of the Kingdom of God - it is what makes everything happen. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews confirms this with remarkable power and detail. Every person obtaining the blessing of God, whether in trial or in glorious triumph, did so by faith. So far as Scripture is concerned, there is no detached period of history during which faith is effective. Wherever faith is found, God is pledged to honor it, in accordance with His will and purpose.
At this point, there is a passage that is relevant to our discussion. It declares a procedure to be followed when one is sick among us. ""Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit"" (James 5:14-18).
Several things are notable about this unique text.
It is not wise to speculate about such a text, or to make attempts to diffuse it with an empty theological position. This is not a guarantee of healing - it IS an open door through which such a benefit can come. But it all depends upon faith, which is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). No individual or group of individuals will go astray seeking to have a strong faith, and to involve themselves whole heartedly in the will of God.
WHY DO PEOPLE SEEK MIRACLES?
Why do people seek miracles?, and is it wrong to do so? The answer is not as simple as it may appear. Like everything else in the Kingdom, there are acceptable and unacceptable reasons. In the case of unacceptable reasons, there are some driven by a lack of understanding, and some by stark unbelief.
Remember, God honors faith. He will not consistently do things extraordinarily beneficial for someone dominated by unbelief. I say "consistently," because He did feed the multitudes miraculously, only to have them leave because of unbelief (John 6:26,66). He also healed ten lepers, nine of which were unthankful (Lk 17:17). This was not, however, the norm of His ministry.
Consider four examples of people seeking God to work supernaturally. In three of these cases, the request was denied. Yet, there were different reasons for each denial. It will be to our profit to grasp the significance of these occurrences.
Certainly, none of us ought to be upset if our requests for Divine intervention are not answered. Neither, indeed, should we be surprised if they are.
WHAT IS THE ANSWER???
Well, what is the answer to the matter of miracles? Are they still with us? Is it still possible a miracle to take place? Are there still people in the body of Christ who can work miracles? THESE ARE ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS! Who would dare to step forward and speak for God on these matters-particularly when God has not clearly and concisely answered them in Scripture? Who can affirm there are no longer any miracles - they are no longer possible? Who will speak concerning whether or not they are present in the body of Christ, which is represented throughout the world? God had neither directed nor appointed us to answer for Him in these matters. It is not on the part of wisdom to do so.
We have not been called to a position, but to a Person - a Living and Exalted Person with Whom all things are possible. The enthroned Christ is not idle, He is working. He is, however, looking for someone through whom He can work. In closing, consider the possibilities that attend the following conditions.
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