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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

True Miracles

Jim Feeney, a major figure in the Pentecostal Movement, claims that charismatics (those who believe in modern day speaking in tongues, healing services and prophecy) are the fastest growing group of professing Christians in the world, second only to the Roman Catholic Church in numerical strength. This statistic is repeated in nearly all religious circles, sometimes with pride, sometimes with unmitigated fear. Somewhat closer to home, Lakewood Church and the immensely popular Calvary Chapel movement both hold charismatic beliefs, although not as openly as the Pentecostals. Anything this popular requires that we search the Scriptures and either wholeheartedly endorse it, or deny it and refuse to tolerate it (recalling Eph 4:14: "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine"). To that end, I begin a series here on miracles. Before we may search the Scriptures, we must know what we are seeking. Let me give a brief overview of this movement.

In the first century, the Bible records the use of the miraculous gifts the charismatics claim to hold today. However, by the third century or so, all claims of these gifts banish (with most claims fading before 150 AD). That is, until 1900 AD. In 1900 AD, the Pentecostal movement kicked off, creating a small group of churches who claimed to partake of the gifts of the Spirit. This was still a very restrained movement, until after WWII. Sometime between 1945 and 1960, the seeds were planted for either a revival of spiritual gifts which had apparently slept dormant for some 18 centuries, or the seeds were planted for the illusion of such a revival. You will note, if you are familiar with your history, that this first movement took place during the third Great Awakening and picked up at the same time as Billy Graham's revivals and a general increase in the popularity of conservative Christianity. A great deal happened during this time period (some of it directly involving the American Baptist Association) and so it would be nearly impossible to untangle what influences brought up the charismatic movement and what was causing other religious fervor. However, the timing is significant enough that it is worth noting. During periods of intense religious revival, an increase in claimed spiritual gifts also increased.

Jumping back to the canonical record of miracles, there is more information to be found. Miracles occurred in roughly four different periods in the Bible. First, Jacob (Israel) received the income which he used to start his family by performing a miracle stripping wooden sticks (see Genesis 30 and 31). Second Moses and Aaron performed miracles to aid in the Exodus from Egypt. Then the prophets performed miracles, as they stood up against the kings. Last, Jesus performed fantastic miracles during his ministry and the Early Church performed miracles beginning on Pentecost. There is something very interesting about this: the Bible is not so very full of miracles as we might suppose. Let's investigate what the purpose of each period of miracles was, then we might have a better understanding.

As far as the miracle of Jacob, I include it because it is a legitimate miracle performed by the hand of men. Otherwise, we might consider it an isolated incident. Still, we are given a reason for it.
"Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob,' and I said, 'Here I am.' "He said, 'Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 'I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.'"


(Gen 31:11-13)
Because God saw what Jacob (later called Israel) was unfairly being subjected to and because Jacob was under His protection, God gave Jacob the power to perform this miracle. More clearly, there were two reasons: (1) So Jacob might return to enjoy the promises God gave to Abraham and (2) so God could be identified as the true God to whom Jacob was devoted. Keep this in mind.

More familiar, perhaps, are the miracles of the Exodus. The parting of the Red Sea, the plagues and the other miracles performed at the hand of men will be familiar to most Americans. In the future, these alone are worthy of a study, but for now, we are content to have a divinely inspired reason for the miracles performed there:

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land." God spoke further to Moses and said to him, "I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them. "I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned. "Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. "Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 'Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 'I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.'"


(Exo 6:1-8)
So the reason for the miracles is made plain. God intended to use the miracles so he might identify Himself to His people (because up until this point they regarded Moses as a troublemaker - see Exodus 2:14) and carry out His promise.

Next we have the prophets, the foremost of whom were Elijah and Elisha. I believe that, if the Bible gives a clear reason for one of Elijah's miracles, we may be fairly safe in extrapolating to the other prophets:
Now it came about after these things that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, "What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!" He said to her, "Give me your son." Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed. He called to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, have You also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, I pray You, let this child's life return to him." The LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."


(1Ki 17:17-24)
Again, two plain reasons. Elijah performed a miracle so it might be known that he was truly from God and that God's word was true - that He keeps His promises.

To see why the ministry of Christ and the Early Church were marked by miracles, I invite you to the book of Hebrews, where the author (believed by many to be Paul, but I disagree completely on the basis of 2 Thess 3:17) reveals the purpose of spiritual gifts:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.


(Heb 2:1-4)
Who they were and the truth of what they said were confirmed by miracles. I then propose that if we are to believe the modern charismatic movement really holds miracles, that it would be of the same nature - identifying them as God's messengers and verifying the truth of their message. Is it? Next time, we will turn to the the book of 1 Corinthians to find out when the Bible says miracles will occur and see if we might use this study to interpret it.

Hasta luego - good Lord willin and the creek don rise.

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