The Meaning and Purpose of Miracles

Jesus calms the storm

The Bible is a unique book, superintended by the Spirit of God, recording how God stepped into history to save His people. As such, it records miracles, or fingerprints of God; proof that He is real and acting on behalf of His people.

“A miracle is “an event which runs counter to the observed processes of nature.” J.D. Spiceland

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, however gives a wider definition of a miracle. He says, “A miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” This would take into account many of the wonderful things that happen in our lives or the lives of others in answer to prayer.

One often hears of someone being saved for whom we’ve long been praying, or a prodigal returning to the Lord, when we had begun to give up hope, or a person, healed of cancer or some other disease. Some would say a sunrise or sunset, the beauty of creation, or the birth of a baby is a miracle, but just one we take for granted.

While one wouldn’t call these miracles in the strict sense, Grudem’s definition would apply here. Remember, he called it, “…a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself.”

That is not to say that the miracles that are recorded, such as the lame being able to walk, or Jesus walking on water, are just tricks. They are not. God is truly intervening in our world in a supernatural way. He is not just interested in our world in a theoretical way. He actually acts on behalf of His people in history.

The most significant Old Testament miracle was the parting of the Red Sea, in order for the Israelites to escape their enemies. It demonstrated both His power and His love. It is the centrepiece of Jewish history in the Old Covenant.

God has power that we don’t have because of Who He is. By extension, the disciples were given that power to perform miracles, from Jesus, Himself.

In the New Testament, we see God again acting on behalf of His people, by the coming of Jesus Christ in history. We know God by His actions and what they reveal about Him.

It’s important for us to understand the role of miracles in validating both our faith and the person and work of Christ. Some people would think that the Bible is full of miracles from cover to cover, but that is not the case. There are key time periods when a great number of miracles were done, in order to accomplish something amazing, like creation, or to validate a particular person or time period.

So we see the five main time periods in Scripture with many miracles are at Creation itself; at the time of Moses, who represents the Law; at the time of Elijah, who represents the Prophets; during the life of Jesus Christ, to validate His Person and Work; and during the establishment of the early church, to validate and expand it throughout the world.

What then is the purpose of miracles?

1. For the glory of God, both in that instance, and ultimately, as His kingdom goes forward. We see that as a person was healed, for example, they gave praise to God. After Jesus healed a paralyzed man, Matthew says, “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.” When the disciples asked why a man was born blind, Jesus stated it was “so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:3b

2. To be restorative; that is, to reverse the effects of the fall, such as sickness. An example is how the gift of tongues at Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2 reversed the effects of the curse at Babel. It was not an example of what would happen when anyone was saved, but a miracle unique to that time; a once for all event, like the Red Sea crossing was only done once.

At Babel, they were trying to make a name for themselves, and reach God their own way, so God confused their languages and they spread out through the world because they couldn’t understand each other. Now they were spreading out to share the gospel in all the languages God had created, in order to make His Name great. Now speaking in different languages was a blessing rather than a curse. This also resulted in the first reason, to glorify God in that instance, and to spread the gospel through the known world quickly, without having to learn languages.

3. To point to a deeper truth; they are directly linked to His redemptive work on our behalf. Why are these particular miracles recorded for us? Blindness; because we are spiritually blind and cannot see the beauty of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Deafness; because we are spiritually deaf to the wonderful gospel that can set us free. Disability; because our walk (lifestyle) is compromised so we cannot follow the Lord. Paralysis; because we cannot do anything to save ourselves. Lepers; because our sins have disfigured the image of God in us and separated us from fellowship. Demon possession; because we’re enslaved to sin and Satan and Christ sets us free. Death; because the wages, or payment for sin, is death. Death is separation; our souls from our bodies.

4. To validate His person and His message. Notice that only Jesus did miracles that proved His power over creation, like calming a storm with only a word. Only God the Creator could do that. There is no record in Scripture of the disciples doing any miracles related to control over nature. That’s why they were so surprised and terrified when Jesus calmed the storm. “So the men marvelled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’” Matt. 8:27 The miracles were the fulfillment of prophecies concerning the Messiah. They were signs that pointed to Who He was, rather than merely good works. To the unbelievers who witnessed them, they were mere wonders. To those who witnessed them and believed, they demonstrated that the promised Messiah was now in their midst.

5. To strengthen our faith. We know that since God has acted in history before, He will keep His promises and finish the work He began in us by faith. He can be trusted to do as He has said, and we know He has the power to fulfill His word. He will restore creation to its proper order, He will restore the image of God in man, He will bring these bodies back from the grave and He will destroy death and usher in His glorious kingdom. This we know. Our faith is not centred in theory, but in the action of God.

6. To fulfill Scripture. Matthew 8:16,17 “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
Just a few general thoughts about miracles. Jesus was not a magician doing parlour tricks. All of the miracles were done for a reason. Jesus never did miracles on demand. We see this when before His trial, Luke says, “When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see Him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.” Luke 23:8, 9

Also, Jesus did not empty all the graveyards, nor did He heal everyone who was sick at the time. Jesus did not heal Joseph, Mary’s husband. He died before Jesus’ public ministry began.

Again, it goes back to the purpose of miracles. Performing miracles was not the main reason He came to earth. The ones He did were not intended to be comprehensive, but representative. Miracles pointed to deeper truths, like blindness, deafness, disability, leprosy, paralysis, demon possessions and death. Just as with salvation, He does not intend to save all the people in the world, but representatives from all groups of people.

Do we need to see miracles in order to believe? No, because the ones that are recorded should be enough to confirm our faith as we see in John 20:31. When we become believers, we believe everything that God says, because He is trustworthy.

Also, even with seeing these miracles firsthand, and hearing the best preacher EVER, many did not believe. Unbelief never has enough evidence.

Jesus’ resurrection is the greatest miracle of all. He raised Himself from the dead. It validated all of His claims as to Who He was, and what He accomplished on the cross, namely our Redemption.

Miracles are not recorded in Scripture merely to entertain us or give us great stories to read to our children. They are there to encourage believers. They are also evidence that demands a response. Faced with these aspects of the life of Christ, we must respond in repentance and faith.