Simply Jesus: On Miracles


A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature, and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as could possibly be imagined. … Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. … There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. – David Hume (On Miracles)

In chapters 6 and 7, Wright explores Jesus’ miracles and asks us to consider what they mean? Before tackling their meaning, Wright asks the skeptic – one who rejects the idea that Jesus performed any miracles and suggests that his followers made up the stories – to consider four questions.

God is in charge now – and this is what it looks like! – Wright

1) How did Jesus attract large crowds?

Wright reminds us that the Gospels all associate the drawing of the crowds coming to see Jesus with the desire to be healed.

2) Why did people accuse Jesus of “being in league with the devil”?

People don’t accuse you of being in league with the devil unless you are doing pretty remarkable things.

3) Why did Jesus announce something new was happening?

If all [Jesus was] doing was encouraging people to feel better about themselves and not actually transforming their real lives, there would have been no sign of anything new. There would have been nothing to explain.

4) Why shouldn’t we be skeptical about skepticism?

Skepticism is no more “neutral” or “objective” than faith.

For those interested, Victor Reppert, a philosopher and the author of C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, takes on Hume and his skepticism of miracles.

Once we accept that Jesus did miracles, the next question to consider is – what was the purpose of the miracles?

… [The are part of] the announcement that Jesus was making: “God is in charge now – and this is what it looks like!”

Wright, who has already demonstrated that the term “gospel” would be associated with the announcement of a new emperor or a great victory, goes on to remind us:

When Caesar’s herald comes into town and declares “We have a new emperor”, it isn’t an invitation to debate the principle of imperial rule. It isn’t the offer of a new feeling inside. It’s a new fact, and you’d better readjust your life around it.

In chapter 7, Wright continues to build on this theme adding:

… when the herald came in to read the proclamation. “Good news – Tiberius Caesar is emperor! … it wasn’t a take-it-or-leave-it affair. It meant that Tiberius was not in charge – and that his local agents, with his backing, had to be obeyed.

So when we consider Jesus’ announcement that God is now in charge we should remember that it is similar to the proclamation made by Roman heralds.

When I say that Jesus was talking about God being king, I mean that he was announcing it. … This is an announcement about something that’s happened because of which everything will be different. It isn’t a piece of advice about how to live …

Jesus’ announcement that God is in charge would certainly provoke those in power and be considered treasonous. Therefore, Wright asserts, Jesus was in actuality starting a new campaign against those in power.

Jesus’ answer to, “What exactly does [a campaign announcing God is in charge now] mean?” seems to have been partly, “Wait and see.”

In Scripture and the Authority of God, Wright wrote:

God’s purpose is not just to save human beings, but to renew the whole world … to restore God’s creation and God’s people – to put things right in human society, human bodies, human lives, and the land which they cultivate.

And in Simply Jesus, he adds:

No point putting the world right if the people are still broken. So broken people will be healed …

These healings were not just physical. Jesus also spoke about forgiveness.

Forgiveness, indeed is a sort of healing. It removes a burden that can crush and cripple you.

The miraculous healings and the forgiveness of sins led to celebrations among those who were excited about Jesus’ announcement that God was in charge.

And, as is well enough known but not always fully understood, [Jesus] seems to have specialized in celebrating God’s kingdom with all the wrong people.

These “wrong people” were part of God’s working in ways that were unexpected to those who heard and saw Jesus.

[But Jesus knew] that one of the great things Israel had to do so that God would launch his great renewal movement, his new Exodus, was “to turn”, to repent, to turn back from the ways of the heart, and to turn instead to God in penitence and faith.

The miraculous healings, the forgiveness of sins, and the celebrations with the “wrong people” were meant to communicate that God was in charge, that a New Exodus was happening (in this paper Wright explores that idea in Romans), and that the exile was over.

All 3 parts of the puzzle are being pulled together – Jesus’ world, Jesus’ God, and Jesus’ actions. Jesus’ actions provide a glimpse of what His God being in charge (and setting things right) looks like in His world. But we will have to wait for His return to see the larger picture unfold.

His healings, his celebrations, his forgiving of those in dire need of it – all these were the up-close-and-personal versions of the larger picture he knew his hearers would pick up on whenever he spoke of God becoming king.

The point that Jesus is announcing something that has happened should not be missed. Christianity is a worldview based on events that occurred in history. The claims it makes can and should be examined. That is why Wright encourages Christians (and others) to dig into the historical Jesus and examine the evidence. C. Michael Patton at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries writes:

If I decided to start a religion, deceptively or not, I would not make false claims to recent historic events that did not happen. Why? Because I know those claims could be tested. Also, I would not give details about the time, place, and people involved. More than that, I would not invite contemporaries to investigate these claims. …

The amazing thing about Christianity is that there is so much historic data to be tested. Christianity is, by far, the most falsifiable worldview there is. Yet, despite this, Christianity flourished in the first century among the very people who could test its claims. And even today, it calls on us to “come and see” if the claims are true.

 

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