How is it possible for people to listen to the radio, watch television, see people walking on the moon, use computers, and know that an International Space Station circles the earth not believe in the miracles of Jesus?
Rudolf Karl Bultmann (August 20, 1884 – July 30, 1976) was a German theologian and professor of New Testament at the Universe of Marburg. But, he did not believe in the miracles of Jesus. As a liberal theologian, Bultmann believed the miracles of Jesus were shrouded in mythology. He foolishly wasted his life, promoting what he called the demythologization of Christ. Bultmann argued that only faith in the kerygma, or proclamation, of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith. Any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus did not matter. Bultmann was suspicious of the stories of miracles associated with Jesus. His skepticism was an assault upon the integrity of the Bible, and served to undermine the faith of many.
When the Bible is read in its entirety, miracles are found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The miracles recorded in the Bible are not constant, but clustered at certain critical periods of history. They are found when a major revelation of God is being brought before the world.
For example, the revelation of Creation is associated with one miracle after another. God said, “Let there be light: and there was light.” (Gen. 1:3). God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Time and again God said something, and it was done. There are the miracles of Creation.
Then, there are the miracles of Moses. God revealed Himself afresh to His people. With a mighty display of His power, God performed miracle after miracle in the Land of Egypt, and then extended His miracle working power throughout the wilderness journey of the Exodus Generation.
Moses himself was invested with the power to perform miracles so that he might be believed. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee forever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD.” (Exodus 19:9)
Following the death of the Exodus Generation, centuries passed without many miracles being performed. Then came the prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Divine revelation was given to Israel. Then, the miracles were less frequent. We do not read of any miracles associated with David, Jeremiah, or Isaiah. But we do find miracles associated with Jesus, because, once more, new revelation was being given. Jesus performed miracles so that He might be believed. “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.” (John 14:11)
The record of Jesus is a record filled with miracles. So, questions arise. “Can we trust them?” “Are the miracles true?” “Was Bultmann right when He said the miracles of Christ were formulated in mythology?”
Nineteenth century naturalism denied the miracles in totality. Twentieth century neo liberalism denied their historical reality based on Form Criticism. The critics saw a form to the miracles of Jesus. First, there was a crisis, perhaps a disease or a death. Second, there was the miracle performed. Third, there was astonishment, or amazement, and happiness for the individual, followed by the exaltation of Christ. Modern day atheists continue to mock the miracles of Jesus.
This contempt for those who believe in the miracles of Jesus is misplaced, and shows a high degree of intellectual and cultural arrogance. Those who have gone before modern man were not ignorant. The people in the first century were just as intelligent as anyone living today, reflected in their art, literature, government, and architectural achievements. The people were not prescientific, nor were they unscientific. They were not primitive. They were not credulous or gullible. They did not take miracles for granted, which is why the people were constantly astonished when Jesus displayed His power. Time and again we read in the Bible how astonished the people were at Jesus.
The people were astonished at His words, His doctrine, or teaching. “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:” (Matt. 7:28)
They were astonished at His works. “And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.” (Mark 7:37)
People had never seen anything like Jesus. Seeing someone raised from the dead was astonishing. “While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? 36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe. 37 And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James. 38 And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. 39 And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. 40 And they laughed him to scorn. But when he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him, and entereth in where the damsel was lying. 41 And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. 42 And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment.” (Mark 5:35)
People in the first century were not so naive as to readily embrace statements about a miracle worker. They had to see for themselves. The fundamental issue, with respect to the miracles of Jesus is this. “Does a person believe in God?” “Does a person believe that in the beginning God created ex nihilo (Latin, “out of nothing”)? If the answer is yes, then nothing is impossible with God. (Matt. 19:26)
Another question can then be addressed. “Did God the Father endorse the words and works of Jesus Christ who performed miracles?” The answer is, He did. “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)
It is instructive to note that the critics of Jesus, in the first century never denied He was doing miracles. What the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes criticized was the source of His power to do miracles. They ascribed the works of Jesus to Beelzebub, or Satan. When they did that, Jesus said they had gone too far. They had blasphemed the Holy Spirit, and would never be forgiven of this sin. “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. 32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matt. 12:31-32)
The critics of Jesus recognized that His words and works were superhuman. They were extraordinary. But they did not want to ascribe His miracles to God, for that would validate Him. Miracles authenticate not only the person who performs them, but the very existence of God Himself. Nicodemus made this point when he visited Jesus one night. “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:1-2)
This was a tremendous insight by Nicodemus. As a ruler of the Jews, Nicodemus was familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. He knew that God did not perform miracles at random. The prophets did not promote miracles with presumptuous signs, such as, “EXPECT A MIRACLE”, for good reason. The extraordinary facet of a miracle would be lost. People will yawn in the presence of the ordinary. They will acknowledge the marvellous, such as the birth of a baby. But they will be amazed, and astonished, at an authentic miracle. Something dramatic and transcendent must happen.
Turning to the book of Hebrews we read something very significant. “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. 2 For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; 3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; 4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Heb. 2:1-4)
Notice that God also bears witness to that which happens. Bearing witness is not something that humans alone do. It is something that God does as well. And God bore witness to Jesus by the miracles He performed, and then, by raising Him from the dead. The miracles of Jesus certified that He spoke for God. This is why we must be careful about embracing the so called miracles of individuals today. The descendants of the Biblical charlatans of Egypt are alive and well on planet earth. Individuals have invaded the Church to declare they can work miracles. The problem is that their words contradict their works. Therefore, they are suspect.
The suspicion of modern miracle workers is justified, for the term miracle is used far too loosely in the Church. In the Bible there are three Greek words used to speak of a miracle. There is the word, signs (semeion). What Jesus did became a sign, mark, token, that He was sent by God. There is the word, wonders (teras). Jesus was a wonder worker. There is the word, powers (dunamis). Jesus displayed powers that were beyond human ability. It was with mighty power that Jesus spoke to the storm, and said, “Peace be still!” It was with authority that Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, and he did.
What a Saviour!