Monthly Archives: August 2015

Miracles, Part II

The big thing – not just in miracles, but in living a “life of faith” constantly, which is all that Christianity is, — is for us to discover insofar as we are able, exactly what God’s will is for our lives, and to live or walk accordingly.  This is the way Christ lived when he was visibly here upon earth, and it is that very kind of life he wants to and will live in our lives today.  This is what is meant by the statement that he was “led of the Spirit” even into temptation in the desert, etc.  He was not asking himself every five minutes, “Lord, what will you have me to do?”, though he certainly did ask that question often, spending entire nights sometimes in prayer before making big decisions, such as choosing his twelve disciples.  Rather, he was so possessed of the Holy Spirit, as we can and should be, that he intuitively, instinctively, automatically did God’s will, perfectly.

This will help explain one of the most puzzling stories in Scripture, namely, Jesus’ agony (the only occurrence of that word in the Bible) in Gethsemane.  Hebrew 7:7,8 says that his prayer was “heard”!  Was it, in the sense of being “answered”? Some say that he was not asking to be spared the cross; he told his disciples that he had to be crucified.  His horror – say they – was the possibility that that infinite sacrifice, done “willingly” enough, might be in vain, what with every “follower” of his defecting, and his work dying with him.  This, happily, didn’t happen, and perhaps the encouraging angel of Gethsemane reminded him of Isa. 53:10-12.

More possibly, Christ was literally agonizing as to whether it really was God’s will that he should die, not that it was Christ’s will (not to) versus God’s certainly that he would.  True, the Scriptures predicted it, but the same God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  Both “murders” were obviously contrary to God’s desires”, divine declarations as to what should be and what should not.  Christ’s entire life was lived with the tension between hoping against hope people would accept, receive, believe in him, and “knowing” they would not.  (Hence the tears over Jerusalem.)  Hence the tears too at Lazarus’ grave, when he could have reached Bethany before his friend died, but God’s will was that he loiter.  Jesus was “party” to the death of Jairus’ daughter when it was God’s will to have a woman with a twelve-year malady delay him.

While Jesus did prepare his disciples (and himself) for his death by predicting it, the possibility or desirability of avoiding it was always for him (to whom any death is abhorrent, especially of one completely undeserving) a real temptation.  When Peter tried to discourage him from talking about the subject, Christ called him a tool of the devil!

It might help to clarify this point if we say that Jesus’ blood-sweating anguish to discover the will of God (which had often caused him sleepless nights) was a matter of timing (not whether, but when!).  Frequently he had refused to die or let himself be killed (if that’s all there was to being our Savior), but “his hour had not yet come”.  Here now is the awful question, “Is this really it?  No more final warnings, no more opportunity to preach, no more hurting people to heal?  Father, is this your will, now?  Have I misread you and your word, who take no delight in the death of any one, much less the innocent?  Is there some wonderful way out, as in the case of Abraham with Isaac?

We know that our blessed Savior won through, prayed “through.”  An angel, a messenger from God himself, came with an answer.  Christ went to the cross confidently, composed.  And somehow it is easier to think that it was because of angelic, divine confirmation as to what God’s will was for that very moment rather than the alignment of his “natural” desire with what he clearly and certainly knew to be God’s in that unholy hour.  He had lived too long and “naturally” with such merging of two wills, in doing things sometimes humanly undesirable and seemingly un-divine, to have such hell in reconciliation of the two at this late date.

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Miracles (Part I)

The inspiration (infallibility) of Scripture and our preaching from it have often been discredited by attacks upon the miracles reported in the Bible, whether performed by Christ or occurring upon such (Old Testament) people as Jonah.  (This subject can include too such supernatural phenomena as the Flood and Noah’s ark.)

This is not the place to explore that big subject; books have been written on it, including C.S. Lewis’ Miracles, which ably defend the traditional, orthodox acceptance of the reality, authenticity of miracles in Bible times and otherwise.  Suffice it to say, for our purposes here, that a “man of God’ should have no hesitation in preaching on a given miracle in Scripture (or Scripture at large) for fear his text is merely a legend, folk-tale, Jewish myth, etc.  (One wonders why those who think so, continue to use them for sermonizing!) And either the whole Bible is true or forget figuring out what is and what isn’t. If there was no Jonah, how can we be sure that there really was a Jesus Christ, who thought and taught that Jonah was real?

One reminder is in order; many preachers (and lay Christians) feel threatened if a given miracle in Scripture is explained naturally.  For example; the Jordan river has frequently in its long history been dammed up for a while when its tall, clay banks become undercut and crash into the gorge.  This could well indeed have happened at the time of Joshua’s crossing.  An earthquake may well have caused Jericho’s walls to fall.  A volcano of sorts might have inundated Sodom and Gomorrah.  And so on.  The miraculous element in all these is the fact that their occurrence was predicted; their timing was supernatural, God-controlled, like the strong east wind that blew all night on the
Red Sea before Israel crossed through it.  People used to laugh at the idea of Judgment’s trumpet being heard around the world, until radio was discovered (not invented!).  Or the possibility that at the Second Coming “every eye will see him” – because, (don’t you know) TV pictures do not follow the curvature of the earth in the fashion that radio waves do – but then along came satellites, technological “angels” indeed.  In short, generations to come, if Jesus tarries, will no doubt laugh at today’s sophisticated criticisms of Scripture the way we smile at medical and other “scientific” truths that were taught and believed as certain fact only fifty years ago!

What about miracles today?  Some Christians have sincerely thought that when Scripture was completed, miracles ceased as being unnecessary.  Others, correctly, point out that we may never “box” God in such fashion (where he does not explicitly reveal his will and plans), and we may not deny or doubt the possibility and reality of miracles today or at any time in history.  Regeneration is as much a miracle as raising a dead body to life.  And if it did not happen constantly, the physical birth of a human being from a virtual nothing would be called a miracle; a miracle, after all, is just an unusual, unfamiliar example of God at work.

Unfortunately, where our lives are actually full of “miracles”, such as hamburger turning into hair or even brain-cells, we Christians pretty much limit the word to physical healing, forgetting how He has altered weather in answer to prayer and caused “ravens” to bring us blessings from unexpected sources.

Suffice it to say that we may expect any kind of miracles, including healing, if God knows it is best for our eternal welfare.  (In another connection these notes point out that God allows the satanic angel of death to carry off some of his people “prematurely” (I Cor. 11:30), in order to save their souls.  And so, while it is perfectly true that it is God’s will, desire, even command that we be healthy and well (if we believed otherwise, we ought not to run off to the doctor and take medicine the moment we get sick), he certainly allows a lot of us to remain unwell, physically imperfect (just think of all the eye-glasses we wear!) in order that we may be whole, healed, in the fullest and finest sense of that word.  We may indeed pray for healing for ourselves or others, even in terminal illnesses (which often proved not to be terminal, just on account of answered prayer), but we must be sure we have God-honoring reasons for such a prayer.  That’s what it means to pray in Jesus’ name and according to God’s will.  “Failure” in such a case to receive what we want and asked for does not (repeat, not) imply lack of faith on our part; faith as such has very little to do with it, any more than the force with which a person presses a button determines whether a machine will start, a light go on.  Real faith is revealed by the fact that the person prayed with the conviction that God could if he would, and if he didn’t (exactly when and how we asked) it was still OK.  (Faithlessness says peevishly, when God does not jump like a magician’s assistant, “I didn’t think (or even), I knew “it ” wouldn’t work!  Now I’m through with that kind of a God.”  Faith says with Job, “If He kills me, I will still trust Him!”, and often ends up with greater faith and more possessions than he had before.

Inspiration of Scriptures

This doctrine (article faith) is basic to all others, for what do we know about God, ourselves, salvation, etc. apart from the Bible?  And if the Bible is not infallible (contains error), then “the game is up”.  Preaching is a waste of time.  (Which is why many of those who continue to “preach”, though themselves not believing in the authority, etc. of Scripture, use other books, etc. for their “texts” besides the Bible.  Confucius and others undeniably said many sensible things.)

First, infallibility (freedom from error) is not the same as inspiration.  A textbook (on math or physics) might be free of error, but hardly inspired (or inspiring.)  By in-spiration we mean that the Holy Spirit is in it, much like God “occupied” the hair and fingernails of the body of Christ, who also is called the Word of God.  In other words, the Bible (unlike many inspiring, influential books by merely human authors) does not simply change us, so that we become abolitionists (after reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin) or ecology-minded, but we ourselves are trans-formed, are made over into the very likeness of the Author.  (James 1:18, I Peter 1:23 – 2:3)

Like God himself, neither infallibility nor inspiration of His Word can be “proved” in the “scientific” sense.  (The Bible doesn’t try to do either, but simply states them as fact.)  On the other hand, there are many evidences for all these truths, and none of them, of course, have been “scientifically” disproved.  In fact, many supposed errors in the Bible are increasingly being found to be factual.  “Inaccuracies” of timings (military vs. civilian), measurements (metric vs. British), etc.  Despite our emphasis upon scientific accuracy, like the Bible, we speak of the sun rising and setting, and the “four corners of the earth” (directions) when we know it is round.   Historians of the future may wonder how “Pearl Harbor” was Sunday in Hawaii and Monday in the Philippines.

Matter of fact, the timeless and accurate Word of God displays its divine endowment of the human authors by saying that our sins are separated from us as far as East is from the West (not such precise statements as North from the South, with their measurable distance, a difference which was of no significance to people in Jesus’ day, with their ignorance of the world geographically).  Jesus’ incidental story of people in bed while others were working in the field must have seemed droll, if not ridiculous, to people without a comprehension of our time zones, true in those days even though they were not marked off from Greenwich.

Suffice it to say that the infallibility and inspiration of Scripture are “proved” by that best of confirmation, personal experience, like the once-blind man who could not defend Jesus’ divinity nor explain his cure medically, but simply said, irrefutably, “Once I was blind; now I see.” What non-inspired book would have accomplished what the irresistible, God-Indwelt Word (His voice, that brings into being and makes the dead come alive) has done in history and in our own lives?

Next time we will talk about the subject of miracles in the context of the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture.