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THE MIRACLES OF CHRIST
The foregoing discussion by no means exhausts the significance of miracles in the Bible. Until now, we have discussed primarily those miracles that God directly and immediately performed Himself. Their purpose was to demonstrate that God’s power far exceeds that of nature, though her power, too, is impressive. Those who thought nature to be a superior power would backslide into the idolatry of nature worship. Only those who recognized and confessed that the power of Jehovah far exceeded that of nature, would bow themselves in humility and adoration before the Invisible One. Fear filled the hearts of everyone, fear that expressed itself either in terror before nature or in the worship of the God of miracles.
More needs to be said. If we stop here, we will not see the relationship between the task of the human race to rule and develop the world (Gen. 1:26-28), the Cultural Mandate, and to the power to perform miracles of which the Scripture speaks. If we are to obtain a clear and complete understanding of the miraculous, we need to pay attention to two other series of miracles, namely, those performed by the men of God and, secondly, the wonders and signs of Christ Himself.
As far as the miracles performed by the men of God are concerned, we will discuss only those that these men themselves have performed by means of a power granted them. We will ignore the signs of competition with the wise men of Egypt as well as those wonders by which these men of God played only an external role.
When Moses stretched his staff over the River Nile or over the Red Sea, it was not as if Moses brought these miracles about on his own power by simply swinging his staff. Moses himself rejected any such interpre-tation. He gave the glory to God alone when he sang, “By the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up…” (Exodus 15:8). When he hit the rock with his staff, instead of speaking to it, his self-esteem prompted him to take the initiative with respect to this miracle, even though he was not the source of the power to accomplish it.
It is not always easy to distinguish clearly between miracles performed directly by God Himself and others in which God is involved, but in which people serve as tools or channels through which the power of God comes to expression. Nevertheless, there is a difference between them. The flood was a direct miracle in which no human being participated. The raising of the child of the widow by the prophet Elisha, however, involved the medium of the prophet. The virgin birth of Christ was an immediate miracle of God, while the signs and wonders performed by the disciples were possible because Jesus empowered them.
There is a direct relationship between the miracles performed through the media of the men of God and the royal mandate to the human race to rule the world. The power to perform these miracles has been given to us in order to gain the victory over nature and to undo the effects of the curse.
We are faced here with a mystery, namely the power of the spiritual over the material. There is no better example of this power than that which we exercise over our own bodies. In all that we do through and with our bodies, it is not the body that does it, but the spirit within us.1010Not being a psychologist, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the details of the theory here advanced. However, the general picture advocated would seem to be confirmed by the Biblical emphasis on the role of the spiritual in human action. It is our spirit that moves our bodies around and makes it perform. When one person holds the hand of another or embraces another with his arm, the hand and arm are merely in the service of the spirit in us that makes our bodily parts perform. In all that we do, our bodies are the servants of our spirits.
As much power as the spirit has over our body, it does not have the power to influence the world outside our bodies in an immediate way, that is, without some external means. The ability to exercise such external immediate influence is restricted for most of us to our speech. We are no longer capable of exercising immediate influence on the material world around us. The means through which such influence could have been exercised has been broken. We now stand almost helpless before nature. The Bible testifies often that the supernatural world of spirits can exert influence on our world, good influence from God’s angels and evil influence from demons. Fallen man is as powerless with respect to demonic influence as he is over against nature. He is not capable of delivering a man possessed by demons. However, it is clear from the residual after-effects of the instinctive power over nature found in animistic societies, that such instinctive power belonged originally to the entire human race. Anyone who denies these instinctive residual after-effects will have a hard time explaining all the reports coming from animistic societies.1111Only yesterday a Nigerian Muslim theologian recently converted to Christ told me that he used to have the power to make people berserk by placing a curse on them. After his conversion, he undid the curse, the victims became free and he apologized to them for his actions. These curses can affect people without anyone knowing the perpetrator. Only the day before yesterday, I received a letter from a Nigerian pastor who from his childhood on was dedicated by his parents to the service of Satan. He had the power to curse and otherwise ruin the lives of anyone he desired. Upon his conversion, he also renounced these powers. He is now engaged in a Christian healing ministry. People with such demonic powers are found throughout Africa, among adherents of Traditional Religion as well as Islam.
This instinctive after-effect of humanity’s original ability has gradually faded away until our race became almost totally powerless. Our spirits were restricted to influencing our bodies as well as other spirits by means of the word and personal influence. The one appointed by his Creator to rule the world had collapsed into impotence. Although he retained his authority to rule, his scepter and crown had fallen away.
In this context, the miracles that God enabled a few people to perform have a unique meaning. True, they served to rescue or liberate people from the miserable predicaments in which they found themselves, but their actual purpose lay elsewhere. Misery was rampant in Israel, while it was even more intensive among the other nations. If the purpose of these miracles was to rescue people from their miseries, the power to perform them should have been much more widespread than in fact it was. They were small in number. They took place within a small area and among only one nation. They occurred only sporadically. They were performed by only a few individuals, all of whom stood in the higher service of interpreting God’s revelation. The purpose of these miracles was to buttress faith in his revelation, to place the seal of truth on this revelation and to evoke the conviction that a greater power had come down among the people. This purpose could have been achieved if all these miracles had been performed directly by God and without intermediaries, but that was not what happened. In addition to those performed by God directly, others were carried out by the mediation of these men of God. The reason for God’s using their mediation was to restore mankind in its royal power over nature and over evil spirits in a prophetic way. These miracles were a prelude to the triumph, a foreshadowing that in the future, humanity would regain what it lost. They showed a glimmer of the power and majesty that had been man’s at his creation. They demonstrated that the human spirit is capable of greater power when that spirit is touched by the Spirit of God.
These miracles were not produced by magic. The Scripture sharply condemns miracles by magic. All magic and trickery was banned from Israel. The demonic element that had become mixed up with these miracles was strongly opposed in every way. Over against this semi-demonic power of magical miracles, arose in Israel the ability to perform miracles by means of empowerment of the human spirit by the Spirit of God. This was no magical power; it was a continuation or renewal of the original power of the human race over nature. These miracles were momentary flashes seen in a few godly people that showed and reminded Israel of the original nobility that was mankind’s. They also were prophetic of the glory that lay ahead. They constituted a breakthrough of the curse that had since the fall oppressed the human race and continues to do so partially, but that will one day be lifted.
The story of Daniel in the lion’s den reminds us of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Of course, it was God’s power that restrained these animals, but that power is the secret in all that we do, not only in our miracles. When one is victorious in battle, he may return home a hero, but he will give God the glory, for God’s power was operative through the victor. The miraculous power that suddenly came to life in Daniel was the same power of which we see a glimmer in a tamer of wild animals and which Adam possessed fully in the Garden of Eden. Daniel stood among the kings of the forest as the human king over nature.
The above power is displayed in its full majesty by the son of Man, our Saviour. The Old Testament miracles have to be seen in relationship to the Messiah. They were distant prophecies of what would be accomplished by Christ. They were reminders of the high position of the human race before the fall. They demonstrated that restoration of those original powers was possible and prophesied, that, indeed, they would be restored. However, these miracles could not reveal that power in its fullness. That revelation would first come with Christ, in whom we meet mankind without sin, that is, mankind with its original unbroken power.
It is important in this context that we do not turn the miracles of the Son of Man into miracles of the Son of God. It would be easy to do so. God is almighty. It is easy to attribute Christ’s signs and miracles to His divine powers and to regard these miracles as proof of His divinity. Their purpose was to show that the Father had sent Him, that He had a task to perform on earth. He never made a sharp distinction between His own miracles and those of His disciples. He made the remarkable promise to the disciples that whoever believed in Him would do even greater works that His (John 14:12). With respect to forgiveness of sins, the Lord said, “But so that you may know that the Son of Man (not: “Son of God”) has authority on earth to forgive sins… Then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home” (Mat. 9:6). Matthew adds that the crowd was amazed that such authority was given to people. You will completely misunderstand Jesus’ work, unless you realize that He was among us as the Son of Man. He humbled Himself, in fact, destroyed Himself, when He took upon Himself the form of a servant. While on earth, He neither ruled as the Son of God nor did He display the majesty of His divinity, but He appeared among us as a human being, as one of us, and He did not reveal any power other than that potentially available to all humanity. He simply obeyed His Father. He came to fulfill the work to which His Father had called Him.
All his powers resided in His spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to Him in rich measure. It was a spiritual power that worked in Him always within the parameters of our human nature, subject to the ordinances that God Himself had embedded in the creation of our human nature. When Jesus was arrested, He said to Peter, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mat. 26:53). He was not speaking as the Son of God. God does not need the help of angels. He spoke as the Son of Man, who would be rescued from danger and death by an invincible army of angels.
Jesus represents for us the restored person in whom the human spirit had reached the pinnacle of power over against nature, material and the demons. It would be wrong to assert that Jesus was like Adam, for in Adam human development was in its beginning phase, while in Jesus this development reached its climax. He was not merely a person, but He was the Son of Man, the central person. He represented the human race in its fulfillment, humanity in its richest and highest power and authority. Adam’s power over the creation collapsed the moment the curse fell upon creation and made it go berserk. The Son of Man, however, possessed the power of the human spirit to the highest possible degree so that He could even control nature, disoriented as it was by the curse. Similarly, His power to perform miracles remained to the end a human power, that is, a power that falls within the limits of our human nature. Human nature here is, of course, to be understood not as we know it today, but as it was in Adam, except that it had reached mature development. In Jesus’ signs and miracles there resided a power that far exceeds our power, but it was a power that He received, that was given to Him. It was not something He possessed in Himself as Son of God. In His signs and wonders He revealed Himself not in His divinity, but in His humanity. Even in His present state of glorification He is and remains the glorified Head of the church, the glorified Son of Man. As God, He could not have been glorified in the sense of being “promoted.” And as to His future glory, the apostle teaches that His saved ones will one day reign together with Him as King. Also, our humiliated bodies will one day become glorified like His.
It is not possible here to treat exhaustively the relationship between Christ’s divine and human nature, but it must be emphasized that the signs and miracles of our Lord must not be regarded as direct divine miracles. The work of Christ in its totality was one grand miraculous display of power of the man Jesus Christ or, better still, of the Son of Man. He was robed with the majesty of Adam before the fall, except that in Christ this majesty had reached its full development, culmination. Furthermore, Christ applied His power to a nature deeply disturbed by the curse and become violent. Thus He stood in all His human majesty and power over against the worlds of demons and of nature. The power and authority that humanity lost in the Garden were restored in Him and then developed to their culmination. In His miraculous power we see the reappearance of the glory of human control over the earth.
When Jesus was tempted in the desert, “He was with the wild animals, and angels attended Him” (Mark 1:13). This scene reminds us of the story in the Garden when Adam gave names to the animals. His temptation in the wilderness reminds us of the temptation of Adam and Eve, the difference being that while Adam and Eve gave in, the Son of Man was victorious. His battle was first of all against demons. Casting out devils breaks the demonic power. When Jesus sent out His disciples, their main assignment was “to drive out evil spirits” (Mat. 10:1). It is this demonic power that undergirds so much of nature. This demonic power displayed itself especially in those considered possessed. Jesus broke that power with a power that is within reach of humanity, for both the disciples and the apostles also drove out demons.
The power of the Son of Man showed itself in ever widening spheres. Not only were the animals in the desert subjected to Him, but so were the fish of the sea. He also demonstrated power over the world of plants by turning water into wine (John 2) as well as by multiplying loaves of bread (Mat. 14, 16) and by causing a fig tree to wither (Mat. 21). He displayed His power over the inanimate world when He walked on the water (Mat. 14) and stilled the storm (Mark 4). This display of power was not limited to the realm of nature. He also attacked the result of the curse. He freed the blind, deaf and dumb from their shackles. Victims of every kind of disease received mercy and healing at His hands. Finally, at least three times He re-united body and soul of those who died. Not only did He heal the diseased, but He also healed the wounded, as in the case of the servant of the High Priest (Luke 22).
All of Jesus’ miracles are cut from the same cloth and form a unit. It could almost be said that there was a plan in the way the Messiah restored and fully developed the power of the human spirit, thus demonstrating clearly His triumph over the various realms of the demonic, of nature and of suffering in general. You can appreciate this display of power fully only if you recognize in all of it the Son of Man as victorious King over all that opposes or attacks mankind.
The above does not deny the legitimacy of looking at each miracle individually and attribute individual meaning to each one. You may also admire Jesus’ pity for the maimed or His love for the suffering. Jesus’ miracles form a holy string of pearls, in which each pearl by itself is of great value. Nevertheless, it is only when you regard the pearl string as a single entity that you can understand the basic meaning of Jesus’ miracles and thoroughly analyze their deeper significance. Such analysis and understanding require that you do not take the godless race or the sinner as your point of reference, but mankind as God created it in His image, crowned with honour, clothed with power and majesty, anointed as king over creation.
That race had gone under, disappeared, no longer to be found. However, the germ of that power and glory was still present in human nature, though smothered under the ruins of sin and curse. It was that original human nature that Jesus adopted. He was the seed promised to Eve. As far as the flesh is concerned, He was from Adam’s loins. His Spirit was allotted a level of power that restored in Him all the glory of the Garden. In Him that glory shone once again, but now in its complete potential brilliance. In the presence of that brilliance all the agitation and turbulence caused by sin and curse became pale, even as far as the triumph over death. Thus the kingship of Christ in its first manifestation was not a foreign robe hung on His shoulders. Neither was it a foreign authority laid upon Him. This kingship, this power, this authority emerged from human nature, spiritually elevated to a very high and rich state. It was the man-King from the Garden that was revived in Jesus and developed far beyond its initial form.
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