The Essence Of Miracles

This[changing water to wine], the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.(John 2:11 ESV)

Did God foresee a day when there will be speculations about Jesus’ childhood with some citing miracles He did as a child? I guess the answer is yes. So here in John 2:11, we are told the changing of water to wine ” [is]  the first of his signs”. The Holy Spirit, through the pen of John categorically tells us this was Jesus’ first sign. As indicated earlier, there are speculations about Jesus having worked miracles as a child. As a child, it is speculated Jesus created a bird out of clay and raised the dead to life. The Bible debunks any of such claims and is silent on most of Jesus’ childhood and we must be silent where the Bible is silent. Where the Bible spoke of His childhood, we can speak of His childhood. Example of  details the Bible narrates about Christ’s childhood can be found in Luke 2:41-52. Here we see a clear narration of a childhood event beyond which we can add nothing.

Now, moving away from speculations of  childhood miracles, we are faced with Jesus’s first miracle in His earthly life, that is, changing water into wine. The details of this first signs or miracle are important. It 1) Occurred at a wedding and 2) Involved wine. What precipitated this miracle we are told in verse 3 is that they ran out of wine. This could indeed be an embarrassing moment. John MacArthur commented that “such a wedding celebration in Israel could last for a week…[and] to run out of wine for the guests would have been an embarrassment to the groom”¹. I can identify with the groom in the narrative. During my own marriage and wedding ceremony, we sat nervously at the high table and wondering; “is everyone being served?

Marriage

There are a number of lessons to learn from the fact that Jesus’ first sign was at a marriage celebration. This tells us of the premium Jesus places on marriage. God delights in marriage because he created it in the beginning. Also, the only analogy of the relationship between Christ and the church is that of a husband and wife — (Eph 5:32). In heaven, there will be a marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). Note also that Jesus was invited to this marriage. And there He saved a situation—an embarrassment for the groom and the couple. Christ bestows His blessings on a marriage He is invited into. Finally, Jesus attending a wedding ceremony tells us He was human. He had a social life. A believer must separate themselves from the world in the sense that they don’t partake of their sins. However, a believer must not withdraw himself entirely from the company and gatherings of the world because that is equally the only way we can reach them with the gospel.

Changing Water To Wine

This is the first sign or miracle in view in this text. This miracle presents us with numerous questions. Was the wine alcoholic or non-alcoholic?  This will probably send us into a debate over teetotalism. Indeed, the argument for and against alcohol consumption are numerous. But one thing is certain, the Bible warns against drunkenness and we must be guided along that path. I will argue on the side of Christian liberty in this regard and say our Christian liberty in such matters, i.e.  must not be flaunted to hurt the conscience of others. One thing could be said of wine and its significance at the feast.Wine is associated with merry making and joy ( Psalm 104:14-15, Proverbs 3:9-10).

All these said, the main lesson here is not about marriage and consumption of wine. Rather, it is about the person of Jesus Christ–His divinity and the essence of biblical miracles.

What Is A Miracle?

A miracle is defined as “an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause, i.e. God.² Sinclair B. Ferguson, in his book From The Mouth Of God  writes this about miracles: The New Testament uses the  word miracle in three senses: 1) Dunamis–A work of power, 2) Teras–, 3) Sémeion–A sign (Acts 2:22)³. He continues by asking? “What, then, marks out biblical miracles?  Characteristically, they are actions that:

  • Demonstrate the power of God in a way that causes wonder and awe
  • Express his mercy to the weak and needy and his judgement on sin;
  • Confirm and authenticate those who inaugurate new epochs of divine activity and/or are the divinely commissioned bearers of a new stage of revelation
  • Defend of advance the kingdom of God at significant epochs of its history
  • Give us brief glimpses of the way in which God will fully and finally overcome Satan and the effects of his work and restore men and women to what he intended them to be 4

Miracles, it must be noted were not arbitrary everyday occurrences in Scripture. David M. Howard Jr in his book Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books wrote this about miracles:

The Bible is well known for its chronicling of many miracles. However, what is not as much noticed is that the miracles are not evenly spread out; they tend to occur in clusters. They were separated in time by many hundreds if years. One such cluster is …in 1 & 2 Kings, through the human agency of Elijah and Elisha.

Two other major clusters may be found in the Bible. The first is during the time of Moses, both in Egypt  (the plagues) and in the wilderness (provision of manna, water, and so on). The second is in the NT, during the ministry of Jesus and in the early church period. Each of these periods was one of transition or crisis. The Mosaic period was crucial for the life of God’s people, and many authenticating miracles  were performed by God through Moses. Jesus’ miracles also served to authenticate his (new) message at another crucial time of transition, and the miracles in the book of Acts performed the same function. The time of Elijah and Elisha was not as dramatic a transition, but it was a critical  time of decision for the nation of Israel, whether to follow pagan worship or to remain faithful to the Lord.

This pattern maybe relevant for this interested in observing miracles in post biblical times, including the present. When it is remembered that miracles were clustered into certain time periods (and even in certain locations, such as the northern kingdom or Babylonia), similar patterns– i.e., when miracles abound in certain times and places and are scarce in others-throughout history and today may not be so perplexing 5.

From these, we can make these conclusions about miracles:

They Manifest God’s Glory

Every biblical miracle had one objective; to point people to the glory and power of God. In the previous Chapter—i.e.  John 1—we see John laying clear the divinity of Christ, theoretically if you may, he goes further on and practically showed us the divinity of Christ by this very miracle: Christ “manifested his glory”. As God, this miracle was like a statement: “God is here”.

They Usher In A New Era

In the quote above, we are told miracles happen in times of transition or crisis. Also, miracles serves to authenticate God’s messenger and message. When Moses was sent to the Israelites and Pharaoh, he went with signs and wonders. Elijah and Elisha worked miracles to authenticate their message. Christ ushered in a period of grace as compared to Moses ushering in the law (John 1:17). Christ and His apostles ushered in the church age attested with signs and wonders (Acts 2:22, 43, Hebrews 2:3-4, 2Corinthians 11:13)

They Lead People To Believe

Moses went with a sign so the Israelites will believe he was sent by God. Jesus’ disciples believed when they saw the signs he did. However, miracles are not the normative. There are many instances in Scripture where miracles were performed but people didn’t believe. The preaching of the gospel is the means by which God saves. Faith built on miracles is shallow and superficial (John 2:22-25).

What Are The Implications Of Miracles For Today?

There are those who claim they will see a miracle before they believe. Jesus has a word for them: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah”. (Matthew 16:4). “The sign of Jonah” is a typological metaphor  of the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you want a miracle, look to the cross, look to the empty grave and look to the resurrection: That’s a miracle and that’s  the gospel. Believe it!

Indeed, there are numerous miracles in the Bible enough for us to believe. We are not to go seeking after miracles but to take God’s word as true. Following after miracles today is actually a sign of unbelief. If the recorded miracles of the Bible are not sufficient to lead you to faith, but rather, you have to experience a miracle before you believe; that is unbelief. The miracles of the Bible are recorded so you will believe. Chasing after miracles is unbelief disguised as faith and many Christians are guilty (John 20:30).

Notes

  1. John MacArthue,The MacArthur Study Bible (Kindle edition)
  2. Dictionary.com
  3. Sinclair B.Ferguson, From The Mouth Of God ( Edinburgh: The Banner Of Truth, 2015) pp. 121-122
  4. ibid
  5. David M. Howard Jr, Introduction To The Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993) pp. 195-196

 

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