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Wednesday, January 31, 2007 

Topic: Theology

Reading: Susan Hunt Heirs of the Covenant
Enjoying: Scoresby's
Listening: Ordinary Means podcast

Whenever miracles are recorded in the New Testament, one of their primary duties is to point to either the arrival or the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in this present evil age. The miracles Jesus performed show Him to be the true King, who binds Satan, sickness, and evil, and each miracle is a shaft of light piercing through the clouds and showing the imminent arrival of the kingdom.

Now, post-resurrection, the apostolic miracles confirmed this truth, and furthered the joys to be owned in the eschatological age. All miracles were in this sense redemptive-historical, ultimately pointing to God's glory and causing men to glorify Him. Ridderbos notes, " the whole of Jesus' power to work miracles the coming of the kingdom is realized and is evidence of its presence... Jesus' preaching of the kingdom and his miracles are repeatedly mentioned in the same breath (cf., e.g., Matt 4:23, 9:35)... Moreover, the real issue with miracles is the glorification of God..."[1]

One other interesting aspect of miracles is their function in an apologetic nature in furthering the kingdom individually upon men's consciousnesses. Francis Schaeffer noted a kind of "pre-evangelism" that clears away people's preconceived ideas that hinder them from believing the Gospel when it is presented. An example would be explaining theodicy - the problem of evil - to someone who cannot stomach the message of Christ crucified because he is too overwhelmed by this seeming impossibility. Thus explaining the problem of evil is not necessarily preaching the gospel, yet it is an important part of the entire evangelical process with the individual.

Calvin recognizes a similar function for miracles. In his commentary on John 3 when Nicodemus inquires from Jesus, he notes, "In a word, as miracles have a twofold advantage: to prepare the mind for faith, and, when it has been formed by the word, to confirm it still more..."[2] Here, Calvin describes miracles as going before "the word," and then following to confirm the faith "still more." The clear miraculous quality of what Jesus had done, and what his followers continued to do, overwhelmed any carnal defenses the mind had projected to defend itself, and the Holy Spirit "irresistibly" draws the heart to belief in the good word of the Gospel. Finally, the miracle functions to strengthen and confirm the individual's faith. "God always intended that miracles should be seals of his doctrine."[3]

This is not, as Calvin goes on to say, grounds for thinking that "faith depends on miracles."[4] The word of the Gospel is the fulcrum on which these two uses of miracles turn, "for this reason the miracle in itself is not the most important thing nor even the sharing in Jesus' miraculous power, but much rather, the participation in the redemption of the kingdom which is thereby revealed... where Jesus interrupts the miracles in order to go elsewhere to preach the kingdom of God with words..."[5]

Is there a sacramental parallel with miracles? In some senses, such language could be justified. While miracles are not the Gospel, "they make visible and audible the fulfillment of the promises, the coming of the great era of salvation... Jesus' miracles reveal the coming of the kingdom of God." Again, while they are not properly the Gospel, they do produce the same crisis: "A miracle, as much as preaching in its sense of being a revelation of the kingdom of God, is a confrontation which necessitates a decision: for or against Jesus as the victor of the Evil one and the Bearer of the Spirit of God."[6] So like the sacraments, miracles do herald signs of the Gospel, but ultimately are in the end signs of the Gospel themselves.

Except in certain circles, no matter one's cessated view we live in an age where there seems to be less miracles than in the apostolic era. While healings and other miraculous occurrences still pop up, they seem more sporadic and less sensational (no doubt due to several factors, materialism and technology not the least of these). Nevertheless, one of God's greatest miracles is power of godliness the releases and enables men and women to walk by the Spirit. The God who stopped the sun, split the sea, and raises the dead has made us His handiwork for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). The faith He has planted in our hearts, which was a divine gift, has the seeds of love within it. Our regenerated lives with hearts that love for the first time are His miracles. We have been resurrected (Colossians 3:1), and we who were dead in trespasses have been made alive and live with our Life, Christ Jesus, in heaven (Colossians 3:3-4).

We ought to think further how the miracle of resurrection living can function in Calvin's two bookends of miracles. Our resurrected lifestyles should "prepare the mind [of others for] faith," and it ought to confirm the good word of the Gospel preached. If we for even a second focus on the bookends to the exclusion of the Gospel-middle, we will be lost. At the same time, Christian character has for too long been a stumbling block to the free offer of Christ crucified, and instead of holding forth the miracle of the new birth it looks more like hypocritical curses. Only by recovering an emphasis on Gospel will our miraculous lives have any lustre to prepare minds, and only by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus will we find the grace to live Spirit-led lives that confirm His good testimony.

What do you think? Is this an accurate portrayal of miracles? Of faith? Of evangelism and the Gospel? Follow up with a comment or shoot me an email.


[1]Ridderbos, H. The Coming of the Kingdom. P&R Publishing, 1962. p. 65, 70. Back

[2]Calvin, John. Commentary on John, Vol. I. Christian Classics Ethereal Library (John 3:1-6). Back

[3]Ibid. Back

[4]Ibid. Back

[5]Ridderbos Coming of the Kingdom p. 70. Back

[6]Ibid. Back

[theology] | [miracle]


Great thoughts brother and well said! Please don't tell me that you typed all that *while* listening to Ordinary Means. Even if you did, please don't tell me. Oh, who's Susan Hunt and is she one of the heirs (not of Hunt's ketchup but of the covenant)? is she your pastor (okay that was mean, sorry)? and what is a Scoresby? All that technical jargon hurts my face.

Aside from your lucidly mysterious heading, I think you touched on some very important things here.

I think the weight of the paragraph where you mentioned Schaffer should be felt by those of us who like Van Til's more radical comments (i.e. those places where he seems to deny the value of arguments that are not purely Gospel, properly considered). Your thoughts here make Reformed apologetics more consistent, not to mention the fact that they are clear presentations of confessional, biblical Christianity.

One question: What is the essential core of the Gospel? Is there any sense in which that core is relative? IOW, does that core shrink for a person once he is more aware of sacred Scripture, historical theology and philosophy? or is this a distortion of "beware of what you hear, for whatever measure you measure it will be measured to you"? Please understand, I am *not* saying that the core is any smaller than justification through the instrument of faith on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Okay, two questions: can we tie redemptive hisory & biblical theology closer to apologetics than what you have done in this post? and is there anyone who has made an attempt to systematically employ the drama of redemption in the realm of apologetics? If you can't think of anyone, can you do it? I just saw a mini printing press on the web. I would be willing to be your publisher if you buy me the said printing press.

Thanks for those thoughts. I was particularly keen of the paragraph on the relation/parallelisms of sacrament and miracle--ironically I was considering this very thought just minutes before I read the post. It is interesting that Christ's actions when performing a miracle (i.e. spitting, putting fingers in ears, touching tongues, and so forth) which were certainly not in themselves the cause of the cure but rather the sign of the exerting power Christ had in himself to cure. I wonder if these 'signs' served to encourage the faith of those that were healed and the others that attended? This seems to contrast with the use of signs in our sacraments (bread, water, and wine). Anyway, no real challenging question or incredible thought, just a comment.

Could you add a little to your thoughts here? What do you mean exactly when you contrast Christ's visible signs with the NC sacraments? Just wondering.

BD & BL,
I will try my best to add to some thoughts, though I must admit my thoughts have not been fully considered. When considering the NC sacraments I think Calvin rightly points out, “But as our faith is slight and feeble unless it be propped on all sides and sustained by every means, it trembles, wavers, totters, and at last gives way. Here our merciful Lord, according to his infinite kindness, so tempers himself to our capacity that, since we are creatures who always creep on the ground, cleave to the flesh, and, do not think about or even conceive of anything spiritual, he condescends to lead us to himself even by these earthly elements,” (Institutes 4.14.3). It is not the elements (bread, wine, and water) that confer grace but rather they serve as a “visual sermon” to the grace being offered.
Ridderbos sets out to show how miracles are a visual display of the kingdom. He cites Matthew 13:16, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear,” to which he says, “this ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ refer to their seeing of the miracles” (The Coming Kingdom, p65). When Christ performed miracles it is interesting to note the difference in the modes of healing (i.e. spitting and washing eyes, holding the tongue, being touched, speaking a word, commanding, laying hands on, placing in water, etc). None of these acts should be looked upon as the reason they were healed (should they?) Rather they were ‘signs’ that accompanied the work of the physician—much like the sacramental elements are signs of the grace given but have no real power in themselves.
That is where I see the parallel between, not necessarily miracles, but the mode by which the miracles were performed and the NC sacraments; but I do note a difference and Ridderbos seems to point in this direction when he states the miracles confirm the fulfillment of the promises—that the gospel has arrived (65) whereas the sacraments present the gospel, “the administration of the sacraments presents the same gospel to the eye-gate,” and “they are means through which God the Holy Spirit is wont to convey His grace to believers (The Glorious Body of Christ, R.B. Kuiper, pg 202-203).
Anyway, that is just a continuation of my thought, as I said I have not yet fully considered all of this it’s just what I was considering as I was reading through the Gospel of Mark the other day.

Good clarification. I wondered where sacramental union (WCF27.2 or Brian's statement "So like the sacraments, miracles do herald signs of the Gospel, but ultimately are in the end signs of the Gospel themselves") fitted into your previous comment. But it appears you were trying to talk in a more analogical way, which is certainly acceptable, helpful and not without warrant. In fact, I just discovered that the Protestant champion of the eucharist, Peter Martyr Vermigli, was quite the analogical thinker, not to mention probably the sharpest first-generation Reformer.

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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