JESUS, A MAN APPROVED OF GOD BY SIGNS AND WONDERS
Christianity is no mere philosophical view of life but a system of redemption grounded and validated in miraculous deeds.
In George MacDonald's novel, The Curate of Glaston, Thomas Wingfold, the Anglican preacher in the small village of Glaston, was a preacher with no real conviction about the message he preached. In his journey to faith, which the story recounts, there comes a point where he asks the question which is eventually asked by all who seriously ponder the validity of Christianity: "why should the weight of the story...rest upon...miracles?" (67).
The relevance of this question is evident for at least two reasons. First, there's the fact that Christianity is the only religion that bases itself upon the occurrence of certain historical events. If these happened, Christianity is validated; if they didn't, it is worthless (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Second, is the claim that Christianity's foundational events are miraculous (supernatural) in nature. But to note this still begs the question as to why "the weight of the story should rest upon miracles." For an answer, I would ask you to consider the Old Testament accounts of Gideon (Jdgs. 6) and Elijah (1 Kgs. 18).
Gideon recognized how easy it is to deceive oneself in matters of subjective religious assurance. To ensure that he wasn't engaged in an act of self-delusion, he sought objective evidence from God by which he could know that the Lord really intended to use him to deliver Israel from the enemy. And God complied, not once, but twice. First, the dew fell on Gideon's fleece, but not on the surrounding ground; then the dew fell on the ground, but not on the fleece. Here's how J.W. Montgomery explained the point: "Gideon, like any spatio-temporally bound member of the human race, was incapable of knowing by subjective, existential immediacy that the voice within him was God's voice; yet he had to know, for the lives of others as well as his own safety depended upon his ability to make a true religious judgment. In this quandary, God provided Gideon with external evidence--in concrete, empirical terms--showing that it was indeed He who spoke withing Gideon's heart" (The Suicide of Christian Theology, Bethany Fellowship 1971, 343).
On Mount Carmel, Elijah faced the problem of conflicting religious claims. Since the prophets of Baal said one thing and he said another, how were the people to know who (if either) was telling the truth? The solution was an objective test. "So Elijah gave the false prophets the opportunity to demonstrate the 'reality' of their god through his ability to perform an act of divine power on earth. The inability of the false prophets' truth-claim to hold up under such a test (fire from heaven, 1 Kgs. 18:24), when coupled with Yahweh's positive response to the identical test, provided the needed ground for belief in the true God" (ibid).
In the New Testament, the situation is no different. How were people to know which men claiming to speak for God actually spoke for God? More specifically, how were people to know that Jesus of Nazareth was who He claimed to be; namely, Emmanuel, God with us?
Here's how: "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; 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). Miracles were the means by which God chose to "approve" (point out, show off, demonstrate) Jesus as His Son. Their suitability as a means to this end is obvious. There are some things men cannot do. Therefore, if a man appears doing what men cannot do, it is reasonable to believe that something "super" human is at work (Jno. 3:2). And speaking for myself, any man who can cure the incurable (Matt. 8: 3), stop the unstoppable (Matt. 8:26), predict the unpredictable (Matt. 17:27), do what can't be done (Matt. 14:25), and raise the dead (Matt. 9:25), is one to whom I'm going to listen.
Very simply, a miracle is an extraordinary event that could never have occurred without special divine intervention. Some of the salient characteristics of Christ's miracles have been aptly summarized by Norman Geisler in his work Signs and Wonders (Tyndale House 1988).
Their extent included power over every disease and demon (Matt. 4:23,24) over nature (for example, Matt. 21:18-20), and raising the dead (Jno. 11:43,44). They were always successful. The results were immediate. No one Jesus healed ever suffered a relapse. They confirmed Jesus and His message as God's Son (Jno. 10:36-38).
God never performed miracles arbitrarily, but always purposefully. And His most singular purpose was that miracles confirmed (authenticated) some individual as His spokesman or representative (Mk. 16:17-20; Heb. 2:3,4; see Exo. 4:5). Through the means of objective, historical, verifiable miracles Jesus was "designated beyond all question the Son of God" (Rom. 1:4, Barclay). Had He not done what no one else ever did, we would be justified in ignor- ing His claims to deity (Jno. 15:24). But in doing what mere man can never do, He removed every excuse for unbelief.
We need always, therefore, to remember "that to hold aloof from Christianity is nto simply rejecting some creed, or system of opinion, it is rejecting Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God, the Savior of men" (John Broadus, Jesus of Nazareth, Baker 1962, 104-05). When fully impressed with the unparalleled magnitude of Christ's miraculous power (Matt. 9:33), we will have all the proof we need of His identity, and will marvel and confess, "What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him!"? (Matt. 8:27).
By Kenny Chumbley in Biblical Insights, Vol. 4, No. 10, Oct. 2004.
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