Do You Believe in Miracles? (Part 2 of 3)

(Continued from Part 1)

From the earliest stages of the Old Testament, instructions were given for people by God concerning miracles and their proper functions.  In Deuteronomy 13:1-3, God’s people received a succinct, yet irrefutably clear, annunciation of the function of miracles.  There are two primary functions of the signs and wonders.

First, the signs and wonders acknowledge the presence of God.  Yet, the mere presence of the signs and wonders is not enough to affirm the presence of God at work. It is possible that signs and wonders might be performed by false prophets (as was the case with Pharaoh’s magicians in Egypt). Thus, a second function of the miracles was to affirm all that God taught and commanded.  Deuteronomy 13:1-3 orders Israel to test the prophet to see whether his signs and wonders are followed by leading the people astray from the one, true God.  If so, then the false prophet is to be executed for misleading the people by deceitfully performing signs and wonders only to lead God’s people to worship false gods.

Ironically, this Deuteronomy 13 passage is that which was used by the Pharisees against Jesus.  Their legalistic

Miracles christ pharisees

Christ and the Pharisees
(Public Domain)

interpretations of the Old Testament were too restrictive to realize that Christ was leading to the Father (John 14:6) and not away from him.  To the Pharisees, Jesus was performing signs and wonders, but he was also leading folks away from God.  Again, no one doubted whether Jesus was performing miracles.  No one doubted whether his miracles were supernatural either, but there was doubt among the unbelieving—and especially among the religious leaders—as to whether his miracles came from God.

This matter of Jesus’s signs and wonders brought the inevitable clash between Jesus and his accusers to its ultimate head.  The Pharisees, in accordance with Deuteronomy 13, demanded that Jesus perform a sign in order to test him (Luke 11:16).

Ostensibly, they were testing him in accord with the faithful practices outlined in Deuteronomy 13.  Yet, instead of affirming God’s presence from the works of Jesus, these leaders instead insisted that his signs and wonders were empowered by the devil (Luke 11:14ff).  Against their accusations, Jesus confirmed that his miracles represented nothing less than the dawning of the kingdom of God (Luke 11:20).

Undaunted, the Pharisees and others persisted in their unbelief—even ascribing Jesus’s miracles to Satan.  In this context, the unpardonable sin arises. It is a severe rebellion which will not answer the cry of the miracles of God.  How much more severe a crime is it to ascribe those miraculous outbursts of God’s good works to the evil one himself!  From the perspective of Jesus, the miracles speak loudly and clearly to the presence of God at work in the midst of his creation.

Lewis is correct, then, that the miracles write out quite legibly a testimony from God that He is at work in the midst of humankind.  Lewis had his skeptics to deal with, just as Jesus had his.  Some, like the Pharisees, would deny the source of the miracles.  Others—like the followers of the Scottish philosopher David Hume—would deny the very presence of miracles.  Still others—like King Herod—sought to see the miracles just for the sheer entertainment value, as though Jesus were nothing more than a spiritual magician (Mark 8:15).  For all these who fail to acknowledge the presence of the living God, the miracles stand as a testimony of their unbelief (see John 9:41).

Justice and Vengeance

Folks often confuse the concepts of justice and vengeance, but God is not confused. He makes a clear distinction.  Justice concerns dealing with someone according to a fixed law or standard—particularly a standard by which all are governed equally.  Vengeance, on the other hand, concerns an individual or group who perceive a wrong against them and seek revenge in response.  They forego justice for revenge.

Clint Eastwood’s famous film The Outlaw Josey Wales was an exercise in blurring the distinction between the two concepts of justice and vengeance.  Josey went after a band of murderers who had killed his family.  In taking on the mission personally and seeking revenge for the wrong done against him, Josey Wales enacted vengeance.  He subverted the law.  However, the men who were killed genuinely were guilty of murder and, thus, should have been punished.  So, in that sense, there was ultimately justice.  We call this kind of justice a vigilante justice.  All of Clint Eastwood’s acting and directing after Rawhide were directed towards the gray areas just off the edge of justice (think Dirty Harry).

No matter how Eastwood and others attempt to murky up the water’s edge, there is a pool of clear water out of which the Lord has established justice.  Deuteronomy 19 makes the point plain.  As the people of God were entering the Promised Land, they needed a system of justice to maintain order against the chaos of vengeance.  The Lord established for them cities of refuge in order to maintain the distinction between justice and vengeance.  His justice was displayed in several ways.

First, the Lord commanded that there be 3 cities of refuge, evenly spaced throughout the land.  The proportional spacing meant there would be refuge within the reach of all citizens, justice for all, not just for the privileged few.  In the event that Israel increased her land and population, she could add 3 more cities of refuge, again, ensuring justice for all.

Second, the cities of refuge were designed to promote justice and diffuse vengeance.  Whenever someone was killed, the family of the victim understood that they had the right to kill the killer in return (life for life).  However, the cities of refuge offered protection for the killer.  If he fled to the city of refuge, no one could kill him, thus providing protection for him against vengeance.

Third, the city of refuge offered justice.  If the person killing another actually were guilty of murder, he would not be allowed to stay in the city of refuge.  The elders of the city of refuge would have to apprehend the suspect and hand him over to those seeking justice.  I use the word justice here rather than vengeance because the family allowed the system of justice to work.  The family allowed the killer to reach the city of refuge.  They allowed the city of refuge to pronounce judgment as to guilt or innocence.  And they were right in their judgment against the man.  Because the killer was guilty of murder, he deserved to die for murder.  This is justice, not vengeance.

Fourth, the system of justice displayed by the cities of refuge is a remarkable manifestation of the justice of God.  In reality, there are no innocent people in the eyes of God.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  And yet, God makes a refuge for the innocent.  Though in an ultimate sense, all men are guilty of crimes against God, in a lesser sense, not all men are guilty of all crimes evenly.  If a man kills another man by accident, he is not guilty of murder.  The Lord Himself knows this and accounts for this reality in His great justice and mercy. God is perfectly just, and His justice and mercy are displayed in all His ways—even in the way that he maintains the distinction between justice and vengeance.