Throughout redemptive history, the Lord has worked wonders that are impossible to explain apart from His divine power. Today, Barry Cooper describes what miracles are and what they are for.
What is a miracle? What isn’t a miracle?
The word miracle comes from the Latin miraculum, meaning “object of wonder.”
As is traditional in my country, let’s start by being negative. What isn’t a miracle?
We tend to use the word miracle in a tongue-in-cheek or over-the-top way. It’ll be a miracle if England wins the World Cup in my lifetime. Well, it might surprise the bookies, but it wouldn’t defy the laws of nature. So that wouldn’t be a miracle. The iPhone is a miracle of miniaturization. Arthur C. Clarke used to say in the 1970s, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But no, not even the iPhone qualifies as a miracle.
Here’s another one you hear quite a lot. It was a miracle more people weren’t hurt by the accident. Again, it may have been a very rare or unlikely outcome under the circumstances, but it’s not a miracle.
When Scripture speaks of miracles, it’s talking about very specific occurrences with a very specific purpose. The first time you see the word used is in Exodus where the Lord tells Moses that He has given him the ability to work particular miracles in the presence of Pharaoh. He gives Moses the power to do things that would be humanly impossible specifically as a sign or proof to Pharaoh that the God of Israel is real and that Pharaoh should repent.
In 1 Chronicles and in Psalm 105, David exhorts his hearers to remember the miracles God has done. Why? Because they prove to us that there is no God like Him and that we should turn to Him.
When we get to the New Testament, we see a similar pattern. For example, at the wedding in Cana, Jesus turned water into wine. This was not done as a crowd-pleasing stunt, something to while away the minutes between the hors d’oeuvres and the entree. Jesus did it to show who He is and that we should turn to Him. In fact, one of the main words used for miracles in the New Testament is more commonly translated as “sign.” And like any sign, Jesus’ miracle at Cana pointed away from itself. It pointed to the reality that standing right there in front of them, at a wedding reception, was God in the flesh.
Imagine we’re on a long road trip. And somewhere on the freeway, we see a large green sign that says “Grand Canyon.” Immediately, I hit the brakes, pull over, and run toward the sign. “Wow,” I shout, “that is amazing. They told me the Grand Canyon was beautiful, but I had no idea!” Then I get my phone, take some selfies with the sign, and drive us home.
Regrettably, this is the way many folks related to Jesus’ miracles. They got very excited about the miracles themselves without realizing that each miracle was a signpost pointing to something beyond itself, something infinitely more wonderful: the Messiah Himself. And it can be an easy trap for people to fall into today. We can become so fixated on miraculous signs, they can end up drawing us away from Jesus Himself.
Sometimes people express ridicule or doubt about the Gospels because they contain miracles. But if God does exist—and the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life are one very good reason for believing so—then the temporary suspension of natural laws would only be consistent with that fact. How else could God prove His existence except by doing something clearly Godlike—something that is, humanly speaking, impossible?
Their impossibility is the whole point. We’re meant to see these “objects of wonder” and let them tell us something about the One who has done them and how we should respond to Him. As it says in John chapter 20:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.