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Jesus, Miracles, & Reason
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Ps. 50:1-15; Ex. 3:1-15; Eph. 3:13-21; Lk. 7:11-17
The Gospel lesson from Luke, the raising of the son of the woman who lived in Nain, comes right after the healing of the servant of the Centurion in Capernaum, which was apparently not far away. Jesus performed healings partly because He had compassion on the people, living in a society in which death was always right around the corner, and the average lifespan would have been perhaps about half of ours today.
Some lived to a relatively old age, but the average age was brought precipitously down by the ravages against children, who died at a terrible rate. If you made it into your teens, your chances of living a longer life increased considerably.
But Jesus healed people not only out of compassion, but because He wanted to demonstrate who he was. He wanted people to trust Him in a realistic way, not following Him because He said so, but because they saw the extraordinary things He had the power and authority to do. He had the power to change lives, to raise the dead, to heal the lame. And He had authority to forgive sins. On one occasion He said, So that you might believe that I have authority to forgive sins, I say unto you, arise and walk. And the man got up and walked. What could the hostile Pharisees say?
I grew up thinking Jesus would not do miracles in order to prove who He was. Somehow I picked up from the Christianity I was being taught the notion that doing miracles to prove His identity was beneath His dignity as the Son of God. Giving such evidence would be unworthy of the King of kings and Lord of lords. He was too majestic for that kind of merely human activity.
But Scripture does not reveal such a God. All through His relationship with His people, God is consistently reaching down to meet us at a level we can understand, both in the Old and New Testaments. God does express disgust at the foolishness of our thinking and behavior, our inconsistency with what we say we believe, and in keeping covenant with Him, but God is always willing to come down to our own level to introduce Himself to us. He talks down to us because He knows that our understanding is twisted and inhibited by the effects of the Fall. But God is not disgusted with honest questions, nor with the efforts of honest truth-seekers.
The unfortunate attitude of so many Christians toward evidence comes more from the fear that a scientific investigation of the faith just might prove our faith to be false. The trouble with that fear is that it is untrue to Biblical history. The God of the Bible understands and gives us reasonable evidence. He wants us to test our beliefs.
When the disciples of John the Baptist came to ask Jesus whether He was the Messiah, Jesus did not give them a direct answer, He replied, Look around you. What do you see happening? The sick are healed, the dead are raise, and the poor have the Good News preached to them. He did not answer them directly, but the clear implication of His words were: Who else but God could do these things?
Jesus did not want to just assert His authority. The Book of Revelation does picture Jesus riding on a white horse with a sword coming out of His mouth, the word of truth which would slay the lies and deceits which made up the fortress of Satan. There will be times when He will assert His authority.
But with His disciples it is different. Jesus draws His disciples (past and present) as suggested by Isaiah, Come, let us reason together... That is a theme of the several covenant relationships and of the prophet, especially the last 26 chapters of Isaiah. Use your heads, He was saying. What do you conclude from what I have been doing? Whom is it reasonable to believe? The pagan gods or Yahweh?
Jesus must have understood that His personally claiming and asserting Himself to be the Messiah might sound arbitrary and self-serving. Just as Moses, in the Old Testament lesson, asked God, but what will the people say when I tell then that you have sent me? What reason would they have to believe me? So, God gave Moses miraculous signs to perform with his staff so that Moses would have proofs understandable by the people and their leaders.
People rightly ask for reasons to believe, evidence to believe. God has made us reasonable so that we would ask such questions. How else are we to protect ourselves from charlatans and con-men?
There had been some in recent Jewish history who had claimed to be the Messiah, but who eventually proved themselves incapable of living up to that status. The majesty of God includes, not excludes, the ability and willingness to come down to our level precisely so as to draw us spiritually and morally up to His level.
That is the meaning of grace and gracefulness. God leans down to our level. God incarnates Himself as one of us because we cannot imagine ourselves associating with a God whom we in the Fall understand to be the distant, aloof, an arbitrary commander of impossible tasks. That is not the God of the Bible. It is the god of the Koran, who does not discipline Himself, as the Pope noted, to either reason or morality. There is no reasoning with the Muslim deity, only blind submission.
The problem is that such a deity will never be able to create faithful, loving, and hopeful relationships with creatures to whom He has given reason and freewill. Being made with reason, creatures of God will rightly ask for reasons to believe. Is not that precisely what the God of the Bible is doing with us? And, as far as I know, He is the only deity in all the history of the human race who, because of His moral and reasonable relationship with His creatures, engages us in intelligent discussion about our relationship with Himself. We are the ones who run from that discussion, not God.
Secular people sometimes consider miracles themselves as arbitrary, and as violations of the laws of nature. In the Biblical world, that is not the case. The highest law of all, including over nature, is the law of love. That law dominates over all laws, including natural law. That means that, if love requires it, God can ignore, change, or revise any law of nature as He pleases. So He can heal a cripple, raise a dead man, or quiet a storm because, for whatever reason, the law of love requires it. With miracles, God is being consistent with His laws of nature, not violating them. He is being consistent with His design for nature. And He is not answerable to anyone else.
Jesus understood that He had to go deeper with us than the world, the flesh, or the devil could do. Yes, He had to get their attention, and used unusual and startling events to do so. He had to wake them (and us) up out of our fallen stupor. But, He must also dig much more deeply into our souls, to expose us to ourselves, to inspire and open our vision to things which might seem utterly beyond our comprehension or capability. Hence, miracles.
Jesus has to show us that the way to being a somebody is not the way that the world teaches power-struggle, deceit, and control. He has to show us that the way to being a somebody is the way of loving God and ones neighbor, even at great cost to oneself, and that God is Himself prepared to pay an astonishing price to show us how to get there, and to aid and abet us in getting there.
Satans three temptations in the desert were shallow side-show miracles and distractions from honest reality: turn stones into bread, jump off the Temple, and worship him, Satan. Satan had put himself on a fools errand in his attempt to seduce Jesus away from the Father. Jesus quotes Scripture to reveal the mind of the Father on the matter, and to show that there is a much deeper and more substantial way of leading people into reality, not into Never-Never Land where children never have to grow up, and will sooner or later get eaten by the crocodile.
Jesus came to challenge the human race at its deepest levels, first the level of our being, our identity as persons, as somebodies, and secondly, the level of obedience to the moral order, the purposes of God. And yet, He was able to combine seamlessly into the miracles both (1) having compassion on those broken and struggling people by restoring their sense of being, and (2) providing evidence for who He was and is and ever will be the Son of God, the eternal Self-revelation of God. Compassion and providing evidence go together in that beautiful sense of the peace of God which passes all understanding. Only God who lives on high but humbles Himself down to our level can do that. Something in us knows that unless we are in hopeless rebellion against Him.
So Jesus enters Nain, sees the funeral procession, approaches the mother, grieving over the death of her only son, the son who would have taken care of her in her old age, and says, Weep not... Weep not??!! What do you mean... Weep not??!! It all happened perhaps too quickly for the woman to be insulted by Jesus words... Jesus touches the bier, those that carried it stopped, and Jesus says, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. The boy sat up and began to speak.
Maybe the people knew it was Jesus. Maybe the mother knew. But we are told that a great fear came upon the people. What does one make of such power? The Hebrews understood that it meant the presence of a holy God who would look into their own souls. And that must have scared them.
But they glorified God, rejoicing that such a miracle had happened, and could not stop talking about it. They knew that God, through the person of Jesus, had again visited His people.
We Westerners typically have a hard time believing that miracles happen, and when they do, even right in front of us, we do not typically get scared at the presence of a holy God. We might recognize a miraculous event, but not the presence of God Himself
That, I believe, is because we Westerners have so depersonalized the presence of God that we hardly sense the reality of it. We can admit intellectually that miracles happen, and maybe even this event right in front of us. But it often does not seem to bring with it the sense of His presence. The machine-like world which has dominated the thinking and perception of the Western world, gets in the way. God is perhaps somewhere but mysteriously distant, somewhere beyond the far side of that cosmic machine.
Jesus says, No! The Kingdom of God is among you. I am among you. And I will demonstrate exactly what I mean... Miracle after miracle after miracle. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.
The Kingdom of God is not on the far side of some illusory machine, it is here in our midst, available, and ready with power. That is the Good News, that is the Gospel that God has come in a way to make available to us the forgiveness of sins and the power of the Holy Spirit. It may be a narrow gate, and it may be the hard Way of the Cross, but it leads to the fullness of the Kingdom.
Jesus, Miracles, & Reason says our title.
The Christ, the Word of God, was speaking to Moses at the Burning Bush. Moses, who was having a very hard time with Gods plans for him, asked, When the the people ask me, who should I say is sending me? The Christ replies, I AM who I AM... Say this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you... This is My name forever, and thus am I to be remembered throughout all generations. The scribes, rabbis, and Pharisees were wrong in proscribing the use of this name. God Himself told them that this was the name they were to use.
Why is that name so important? Why does God want us to know Him by that name for all generations? It is important because that name describes precisely who God is. God is the one, and the only One-Who-IS, fully and completely and by His own power and authority. He needs no other than Himself. Everything else that exists, all of nature, all living beings, are His creatures. We live and exist only because He does. We piggy back on Him for both our existence and our reason for existence.
God tells Moses His name, and then uses miracles to convince Moses of what He had just said, that He can indeed lead Moses and the people out of slavery. God used miracles to convince the Hebrews that Moses represented Him, and God used miracles painfully to convince stubborn Pharaoh to let His people go.
If there is a God such as that, then miracles are not arbitrary and irrational.
The real miracle is existence itself. Without the God of the Bible, without Him-who-Is, the existence of all things is a total, arbitrary, and irresolvable mystery. But with Him, everything else can be accounted for. God, who exists in and of Himself, is the explanation for all other things that exist, for how they work, and for their purpose. God has the original blueprint of all things in the cosmos in His mind, and can completely and totally redeem and repair any sinful and broken part of His creation.
Those objects in His creation to whom He has given reasonable freewill, i.e., us persons made in His Image, must cooperate with God to be healed and forgiven. But if we do cooperate, we can be returned to our original goodness and innocence. We can be whole and holy beings.
How must the mother have felt as Jesus, shining with the glory of God, gently and compassionately restores to her both her son and her future? I AM, who spoke to Moses, who defeated Pharaoh, stood before her and gave her back her son.
Miracles illustrate the union of grace and law, of freedom and order, of personal and impersonal. In a cosmos where there rules a loving God, miracles make perfect and reasonable sense.
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