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The purpose of the gospel miracles

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posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 03:02 PM
“If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons…” –Luke ch11 v20
“If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons
Then the kingdom of God has come upon you”- Matthew ch12 v28

What is said about the casting out of demons holds true for the gospel miracles in general.
They can only come by “the finger of God”- that is, by the power of God.
We may say “by the Spirit of God”, since the Spirit, in the Bible, is the expression of God’s power.
This goes back to the Creation story in Genesis, where the Spirit was “moving upon the waters”.

So the gospel miracles would have begun when Jesus received the Holy Spirit, as it descended upon him in the moment of his baptism.
(That consideration should dispose of the childish miracles reported in the Gospel of Thomas and other “apocryphal” works.)

From the beginning of his mission, the power was made available to meet the needs of his mission,
So what was the purpose of these miracles?

In the first place, they were simply showing the presence of God’s power, and the authority that implied for everything that Jesus said.
From an early stage, he showed his ability to calm the waters of the Sea of Galilee.
The natural response of the disciples was to ask themselves “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark ch4 v41)
When they also see him walking on the water, there seems only one possible answer to that question; “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew ch14 v33).

These events are the credentials of Jesus.
They show him subduing the force of the natural world.
But there’s a deeper symbolism which commentators have begun to recognise.
According to the Creation story, the seas of the world are a surviving fragment of the great Abyss, that part of the created world which God did not organise.
So the sea, in the Bible, frequently represents the source of evil. That is where Leviathan lives.
When Jesus walks on the surface of the Sea of Galilee, that echoes the Spirit “moving on the face of the waters”.
In symbolism, it displays his ability to subdue all the powers which are not of God.

The same point is demonstrated more frequently by his ability to expel demons.
This provokes the same questions; “What is this? With authority he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
The demons themselves provide the answer; “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark ch1 vv23-27).

But the expulsion of demons has the additional purpose of meeting people’s needs.
As when Jesus responds to appeals made by parents, including the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark ch7) and the father at the bottom of the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark ch8).
The work of meeting people’s needs extends to the healing of sickness and infirmity, which is a major part of his activity.
In fact some of the ailments which trouble the people can be dealt with in both ways.
On the one hand, blindness (Mark ch8 vv22-25), and dumbness (Mark ch7 vv32-37) are evidently infirmities which need healing.
Alternatively, the same troubles may be overcome by the expulsion of demons, as in Matthew ch12 v22.This was the incident which prompted the Pharisees to claim “He casts out demons by the prince of demons”, which in turn brought out the retort quoted at the top of the page; the power to subdue the evils of the world is the sign of the presence of the kingdom of God.

Leprosy is another form of evil with special significance, because it straddles the boundary between physical sickness and spiritual defilement. On at least one occasion in the Old Testament (the case of Uzziah, 2 Chronicles ch27), leprosy is the visible mark of sinful disobedience.
The leper must be isolated from society, until he has been cleared by the priest (as in Matthew ch8 vv1-4).
So the healing of leprosy is also a symbol of the healing of the condition which isolates men from God.

When Jesus was at Capernaum, four men brought in a paralysed friend to seek his attention. They could not get near him, because of the crowds, so they made an opening in the flat roof and lowered the man down. When Jesus saw THEIR faith (and I’ll come back to that point in a moment), he said to the man “Your sins are forgiven”. Being conscious of the private scepticism of the scribes, he added the instruction to get up and walk, “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark ch2 vv1-12)
So, in this case, demonstrating authority is the declared purpose of the healing.
The story does not tell us that every act of healing entails forgiveness of sin.
The real message is that forgiveness of sin is part of the purpose of his mission and therefore included in his powers.
It is another way of meeting people’s needs, one of the aspects of the presence of the Kingdom of God.

At the same time, we find that nothing much happens without faith.
Jesus remarks on the faith of his petitioners, and responds accordingly.
He complains about the absence of faith, as in the case of the epileptic boy of Matthew ch17.
It was almost impossible for him to do mighty works in his home territory, because of the atmosphere of disbelief (Mark ch6 v5).
Yet the strong faith of the woman “with a flow of blood” (Mark ch5) was able to draw healing from him simply by touching him. The best way of accounting for this effect is that the Spirit, the immediate source of the power, had already recognised her faith.
That would explain, also, the part played by the faith of other people, such as parents and the four friends in Capernaum.
So part of the purpose of these miracles is to demonstrate the importance of faith in what we receive from God.

The miracles were meeting people’s needs in a more positive way when they gave renewed life.
This happened when Jesus gave them food, as in “the feeding of the five thousand”.
But he gave life more directly on those rare occasions when he raised them from the dead, as in the case of Jairus’ daughter.

Here is the key that brings all these themes together.
Forgiveness of sin is the supreme example of dealing with evil, and the new life which comes from forgiveness of sin is the supreme example of meeting people’s needs.

So the purpose of the whole body of gospel miracles is to be the visual expression of the gospel teaching, as Jesus proclaimed it from the beginning.
Namely, that new life by way of the forgiveness of sin is available through faith in the power of God.
In other words, the kingdom of God has come upon us.

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 03:03 PM
The miracles of John’s gospel deserve to be taken separately, as a compact unit.
Their message and purpose is the same as the message and purpose of the other miracles, but there is a more conscious symbolism in their choice and presentation.

There are seven miracles in this gospel, or eight if we count in the Resurrection of Jesus.
Seven is the number of Creation, because God made the world in seven days.
Eight is the number of the new Creation, because Jesus was raised from the dead “on the eighth day of the week” (that is, the day after the seventh).

The first on the list are the two miracles of Cana. They are called “the first of his signs” (ch2 v11) and “the second sign” (ch4 v54). All the miracles are “signs”, in a sense, because they point towards God, but these are the only signs that have been numbered. They provide the key-note of the series.

1 When Jesus turns the water into wine (ch2), the significance of the event is expressed in the pointed comment “You have kept the good wine until now”. We are to understand that something radically new has arrived on the scene.

2 When Jesus heals the son of the official (ch4), the significance is expressed in the words “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him”. It is about the importance of faith.

Since the first miracle occurs in the context of a wedding celebration, it implies an allusion to the husband-and-wife relationship between God and his people Israel.
The second miracle occurs after Jesus has been “without honour in his own country” (ch4 v43, where the observation has to be a reference to his previous reception in Jerusalem). The story resembles one that is told in the synoptic gospels about a Roman centurion.
So these two miracles between them hint at the gospel coming to the Jews and then turning to the Gentiles.

3 Paralysed men are healed in the synoptic gospels, but the healing of the man lying at the pool of Bethesda (ch5) is also a symbol of the spiritual helplessness of men in relation to the gospel and their need of God’s power.

4 The feeding of the five thousand appears in this gospel (ch6), but the symbolism is made more explicit by the teaching in which Jesus presents himself as “the bread of life”.

5 As in Mark and Matthew, the feeding miracle is followed by the walking on the water (ch6). Only in John’s gospel, though, do we discover the reason why the disciples were sent off separately (viz. the dangerous enthusiasm of the crowd).
It is very appropriate that John should include this reminder of God’s authority and power at the heart of the gospel mission.

We might also detect a supplementary miracle in this story, which could be called “the miracle of the unexpected arrival”. At one moment, the boat is far out in the middle of the sea, as it is in the other gospels. Then the disciples literally “take Jesus on board”, and the boat is immediately found running onto the shore. The same theme of “the destination is closer than you think” is expressed verbally in a previous chapter; “People say there are yet four months, then comes the harvest? Lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest” (ch4v35)

6 Blind men are healed in the synoptic gospels, but the healing of the man “blind from birth” (ch9) is also a symbol of the spiritual blindness of men in relation to the gospel.

7 Young people are raised from the dead in the synoptic gospels, but John has chosen to relate the raising of Lazarus (ch11), where the symbolism is in the timing as the precursor to the raising of Jesus himself. Jesus draws attention to this, in his declaration; “I am the Resurrection”.

8 The Resurrection of Jesus. More overtly than in the other gospels, the presentation of the Resurrection story is the climax of the whole message-presenting sequence of the miracles.

The fundamental message is the same.
Namely, that new life by way of the forgiveness of sin is available through faith in the power of God.
In other words, the kingdom of God has come upon us.

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 03:04 PM
Footnotes on some of the miracles

Turning water into wine

The water is transferred into six large stone jars, which would have produced much more wine than the company could have needed. This has been seen as abundance of generosity. The commentary of Westcott offers the alternative explanation that the water only became wine in the act of being drawn out to be taken to the guests. The filling of the jars relates to John’s theme of “testimony”; the servants who filled the jars are witnesses, in principle, that the liquid had been water, while the “ruler of the feast” is the witness to the quality of the wine. Between them, they “prove” that the miracle has taken place.
The servants of the official are the witnesses of the second miracle. The rest of John’s miracles, down to Lazarus, are very public affairs. Of course the disciples are the witnesses of the fact of the Resurrection.

Walking on the water

The modern age has produced the rationalising explanation that Jesus was walking on a sandbank or in the shallows close to the shore. This theory seems to be based on John’s note that the boat arrived at the shore immediately afterwards. It overlooks the clear statement, common to all the accounts, that the boat was far out in the middle of the sea. It is quite absurd to imagine that any sandbanks or shallows could reach out that far (without being a known hazard to navigation), or that a man could have walked along them comfortably in the middle of a storm. The better explanation of the “sudden arrival” is the one used in the OP and discussed in my separate thread on the subject; Walking on the water
Anyone who doesn’t want to believe in this miracle needs to reject the narrative as a whole.
The rationalised version of the story does not work.

The healing of the lepers

Soon after I became a Christian, curiosity led me into attending meetings of a student society which turned out to be a group of “liberal Christians”. Once I saw the trend of their approach to Christianity, I lost interest in them. I had been down that road of not believing in God, once already. Having got that far, I had done the honest thing and called myself an atheist. Neither as a former atheist nor as a new Christian could I swallow the half-hearted compromise of “We don’t want to believe in a personal God, but we’ll call ourselves Christians anyway.”

They would pray, but they were not sure why they were doing it. And of course they could not believe in miracles. One of the visiting speakers drove me as a diarist to heights of exasperation and neologism;

The purpose of Christianity, in his eyes, was to bring out the “true nature” of the individual, teaching him to have faith and confidence in himself. The function of Christ, as far as I could tell, was to be the first and supreme example of this, standing to the Christian religion as Einstein stands to the law of Relativity. The blatant rubbishness and tripeosity of the premise was most evident in his explanation of the curing of the lepers. Laying aside the miraculous part of it if we liked, he said blandly, he saw the achievement of Christ in bringing the lepers to faith in themselves and realisation that they could be integrated into society despite their blemishes. This explaining away was nonsensical, if only because not all the self-conviction in the world that leprosy was beautiful could have got the lepers acceptance into their society unless there had also been a physical cure.

I don’t think I can improve on that judgement (though the rest of the group, I must admit, received the talk with enthusiasm, and the secretary promised to circulate copies).
He was trying to detach the message of the event from the event itself, as some people try to detach the message of the Resurrection from the event of the Resurrection. It can’t be done, because the event is the foundation of the message.

If there is a Creator God, then his powers cannot be limited. He must, in principle, be capable of making changes in the world he has created. In other words, we should not baulk at the possibility that he might suspend his own material laws for miraculous purposes. Only people who don’t believe in a God can rationally refuse to believe in the possibility of miracles.

edit on 11-3-2018 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

edit on 11-3-2018 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 03:06 PM
B.F. Westcott’s “Introduction to the gospels”, from 1881, includes a possible classification of the gospel miracles (pp480-483).
The schema may be of interest for Bible studies and reflection, so I have transcribed it below, with minor adjustments in the format.
(Chapter numbers are changed from Roman numerals to Arabic. I have not tried to wrestle Word into his elaborate system of indentations, finding other ways to express the different levels.)

“The arrangement proposed is not offered as absolute or final. Deeper study may lay open more subtle and profound points of union between the different incidents.”

Miracles on nature

1 Miracles of creative power

Water made wine John ch2 vv1-12; Character changed. Christ the Source of Joy
The Bread multiplied
(a) Matthew ch14 vv15-21; Mark ch6 vv35-44; Luke ch9 vv12-17; John ch6 vv5-14;
(b) Matthew ch15 vv32-39; Mark ch8 vv1-10; Substance increased. Christ the Source of Subsistence
The walking on the water Matthew ch14 vv22-26; Mark ch6 vv48-49; John ch6 vv16-21; Force controlled. Christ the Source of strength.

2 Miracles of Providence

[2a Miracles of blessing]

The first miraculous draught of fishes Luke ch5 vv1-11; The foundation of the outward church
The storm stilled Matthew ch8 vv23-27; Mark ch14 vv35-41; Luke ch8 vv22-25; The defence of the church from without.
The stater in the fish’s mouth Matthew ch17 vv24-27; The support of the church from within.
The second miraculous draught of fishes John ch21 vv1-23; The church of the future.

[2b Miracle of judgement]

The fig-tree cursed Matthew ch21 vv19ff; Mark ch11 vv20ff; [The consequence of not being forgiven]

Miracles on man

1 Miracles of personal faith

[1a Organic defects]

The two blind men in the house Matthew ch9 vv29-31; Faith special.
Bartimaeus restored Matthew ch20 vv29-34; Mark ch10 vv46-52; Luke ch18 vv35-43; Faith absolute.

[1b Chronic impurity]

The one leper Matthew ch8 vv1-4; Mark ch10 vv46-52; Luke ch5 vv12-16; Open impurity. Faith special.
The ten lepers Luke ch17 vv11-16; Open impurity. Faith special and absolute contrasted.
The woman with the issue Matthew ch9 vv20-22; Mark ch5 vv25-34; Luke ch8 vv43-48; Secret impurity.

2 Miracles of intercession

[2a Organic defects- Simple intercession]

The blind Mark ch8 vv22-26;
The deaf and dumb Mark ch7 vv31-37;

[2b Mortal sicknesses- Intercession based on natural ties]

The nobleman’s son healed John ch4 vv46-54; Fever
The centurion’s son healed Matthew ch8 vv5-13; Luke ch7 vv1-10; Paralysis
The man borne of four healed Matthew ch9 vv1-8; Mark ch2 vv1-12; Luke ch5 vv17-26; Paralysis

[2c Miracles of love]

The blind man healed John ch9;
The fever healed Matthew ch8 vv14-15; Mark ch1 vv29-34; Luke ch4 vv38-41;
The dropsy healed Luke ch14 vv1-6;
The withered hand restored Matthew ch12 vv9-13; Mark ch3 vv1-5; Luke ch6 vv6-11;
The impotent man restored John ch5 vv1-17;
The woman with a spirit of infirmity set free Luke ch13 vv10-17;

A girl raised Matthew ch9 vv18ff; Mark ch5 vv22ff; Luke ch8 vv41ff; The Death-chamber
A young man raised Luke ch7 vv11-18; The Bier
A tried friend raised John ch11; The Tomb

Miracles on the spirit-world

1 Miracles of intercession

[1a Simple intercession]

A dumb man possessed by a devil Matthew ch9 vv31-34;
A blind and dumb man Matthew ch12 vv22ff; cf. Luke ch11 vv14ff;

[1b Intercession based on natural ties]

The Syrophoenician’s daughter healed Matthew ch15 vv21-28; Mark ch7 vv24-30;
The lunatic boy healed Matthew ch17 vv14ff; Mark ch19 vv14ff; Luke ch9 vv37ff;

2 Miracles of antagonism

The unclean spirit cast out Mark ch1 vv21-28; Luke ch4 vv31-37; In the synagogue.
The legion cast out Matthew ch8 vv28-34; Mark ch5 vv1-17; Luke ch8 vv26-37;

“It will be seen that in the fundamental and crowning miracle of the gospel- the Resurrection- all these forms of miraculous working are included. The course of nature was controlled, for there was a great earthquake; the laws of material existence were overruled, for when the doors were shut Jesus came into the midst of his disciples, and when their eyes were opened he vanished out of their sight. The reign of death was overthrown, for many of the saints came out of their graves and went into the holy city. The powers of the spiritual world were called forth, for angels watched at the sepulchre and ministered to believers. Thus full and harmonious is the whole strain of scripture;
‘All things are double one against another, and God hath made nothing imperfect’ [Wisdom ch42 v25]”

edit on 11-3-2018 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 03:31 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

For me , I've only read the first few sentences so far, god is time not a person. Doesn't intervene at all, when you pray you thank time & ask for more acceptable timing for your emotional support. It's a chemical reaction to how our universe works when you pray, it's god, I say pray, chemicals work specifically to help life & death naturally. Spirit is a form of momentum, gods spirit is the momentum of creation, our sport is also, but it is a chemical compound. I believe in all of God stuff, but not in physically impossible stuff.

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 03:32 PM
a reply to: SatansPride
When you've read the OP, you may be able to contribute something on-topic.

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 03:38 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

The 7 days part, I kinda keep saying this, but it's 7 thousand years for 7 days. Peter says it look it up. Say to the baby anti Christ, verse about 100 years for us being 1000 for god.

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 03:47 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

I think the miracle part at the end, he was only human, he tried his best & went all over the world helping people. It doesn't mean he didn't make mistake & not do as well as he wished he could've, like when he cried on the cross. Jesus isn't a Sally, he cried because he knew he could have done more & in a different way & actually stop all of these mean & cruel thing. He didn't have the chance, we forgive him as much as he forgives us. If god showed his face, I would say he lied because he is suppose to be perfect, not even a word & I live in forever bliss. Time should never show its face, it's a lie if they did. I love god, it is always there for us. Christ did what he could when he was alice, he was only human for the moment.

posted on Mar, 11 2018 @ 03:49 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

& Good job on the post, that takes a lot of effort & ambition. That I don't have. Good job.

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