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Why we need the miracles

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” 

A couple of generations ago, many churchgoers were embarrassed by the gospel accounts of miracles Jesus performed.  Could modern people really believe in these? Thus Professor William Barclay of Glasgow, writing in a series published in the 1950s-60s, famously explained the feeding of the five thousand as everyone sharing their packed lunches. 

That tide is perhaps turning, including in academic circles.  Writing in 2021 David Ford, formerly Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, writes in his commentary on John that “We need to be open to unprecedented things happening.  In a God-centred understanding of reality in which the regularities of the world (what today we might call ‘the laws of nature’) are due to the constancy and faithfulness of God, who wants us to be able to live in a reliable, mostly predictable order; but God is, of course, also free to do new things…”

However, the miracles in the gospels remain a stumbling-block to some. Why, we might ask, are they there?  Do we need them?  Here are three key answers.

First, the miracles point to Jesus’ identity as Lord and God.  Thus the disciples’ shocked question in the boat, after Jesus calmed the storm, was “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41).  He is able to do only what the Creator can do.

C S Lewis, in his book Miracles, shrewdly observes that the miracles Jesus did were never just random things like the ‘miracles’ reported in paganism: ships becoming goddesses, people turning to trees, and the like.  Rather, they always reflected the Creator God’s activity: controlling the weather, giving life, feeding us, looking after the human body.  This is entirely consistent with the Creator Himself stepping into our world.    The miracles are a vital part of the evidence base for that.

Secondly, the miracles point to Jesus’ role as Saviour of the World.  Every single miracle He performs – with the possible exception of His acted parable of judgment on the fig tree He curses – start with a bad situation and make it better.  The sick are made well, the lame walk, the blind see, the hungry are fed, the storm is calmed, the dead are raised to life.  Even the changing of the water into wine in the wedding at Cana sorts a situation of great embarrassment! This is surely consistent with His role as Saviour.  

Thirdly, the fact that Jesus’ saving work is illustrated by miracles is consistent with the fact that His saving work is itself miraculous.  In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul tells his Christian readers that they have been raised from death to life.  Conversion never happens naturally; it goes against our natural tendencies.  It is miraculous.

So then: read the gospel miracles and learn their consistent message!