The Reality of Miracles
August 7th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
2 Kings 6
THE REALITY OF MIRACLES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Kings 7:1-2
8-07-66 8:15 a.m.
On the radio, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Some of you live a long way off. Many of you listen to this service regularly. And in the name of our Lord and in the cause of the great truth we present from the Holy Scriptures, we greet you and pray God’s blessings upon you.
The title of the message this morning is The Reality of Miracles, the purpose of miracles; and there could hardly be a more pertinent subject in this scientific, pseudoscientific and skeptical age in which we live. Not in anywise as a passage to exegete, but just as a background, I am reading a passage out of 2 Kings. In the sixth chapter of 2 Kings, there is described the famine in the city of Samaria, so sore, so heavy that even the people were eating, boiling their own sons [2 Kings 6:28-29].
Now, at the seventh chapter, Elisha says:
Hear ye the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered . . . and said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might such a thing be?
[2 Kings 7:1-2]
Now that is the background of this message this morning. The skeptical and unbelieving askance of this lord, when by the power of the prophetic Spirit who was in him, Elisha made that unbelievable and amazing prediction. And that leads us into the subject of the reality of miracles.
First, we shall discuss a definition: what are miracles? Miracles are the works of God. Any work of God is a miracle. For example, to create something out of nothing; that is a miracle. All of the works of God are miracles. May I define it further? May I put it in a narrower sense for us? Miracles are those marvelous phenomena that accompanied the revelation of God in the Bible. They are the works of a divine power, of deity, for a divine purpose by means beyond the reach of men.
Now I want to discuss those two first. First: the definition that miracles are the works of God. The supernatural is inherent in nature, in its very existence, in its very life, not as an outside power interfering with its natural processes but as the inside power by which all nature moves and is activated. It was a marvelous miracle when Jesus turned the water into wine [John 2:1-11]; but in ten thousand vineyards this very minute, God is turning the water there into the juice of the grape. It was a miracle when Jesus took five loaves and fed the multitudes [Matthew 14:15-21; John 6:5-14]; it is no less a miracle in ten thousand wheat fields when God is turning carbon into grain. Augustine said that to him a birth was a far greater miracle than a resurrection. “For,” said Augustine, “to me it is a far greater miracle that something that has never been should come into existence than that something that was and ceased to be should start over again.”
The idea of the Old Testament Hebrew prophet regarding the miracle was this: that a miracle was just the coming into human experience of the divine power, invisible, that guides the destiny of the world all the time. Miracles are, to us—they’re just viewed by us—as such; but to God they’re just the daily providences by which He runs the world. Now that’s a discussion of miracles as the works of God, all the works of God are miracles; all of them. Name any one of them, it’s a miracle. It’s supernatural, all of them.
Now I want to define it further. Miracles are those marvelous, incomparable phenomena by which God has revealed Himself in the Bible. Now they are of two kinds. First, those that accompany the self-revelation of our Lord as you read them in the Scriptures. Now, God isn’t dead, so the great providences of God continue on through this present day; the same Spirit of God that brooded over the face of the waters and brought order out of chaos [Genesis 1:2] is the same Spirit of God that watches over in shepherdly care His people today. There’s no difference.
But I want to make a distinction between the two. I want to make a distinction between the miracles of God that in shepherdly care watches over our people to this present day and shall forever. I want to make a distinction between that and these marvelous, incomparable, unrepeated phenomena that we find in the Bible in the self-disclosure of God.
Now the shepherdly care of the Lord over His people—and God can do anything, anytime, anywhere—that continues. But these marvelous phenomena that accompanied the revelation of God in the Scripture ceased when the Scriptures were perfected, and completed, and preserved, and placed in our hands. By that I mean no longer will you find somebody raised from the dead who has been dead four days [John 11:17, 43-44]. You won’t find that any longer. No longer will you see the sun standing still in answer to the prayer of a man [Joshua 10:12-13]. No longer will you see Mt. Sinai ablaze of fire and of glory [Exodus 19:18]. These phenomena, these miracles have ceased.
They are like the scaffolding on a great building. When the building is completed, the scaffolding is torn down. They’re like the swaddling bands that clothe the infant. When he’s grown and full grown, he needs them no longer; he has other garments. These miracles of the phenomena we read in the Old Testament and the New Testament are like the paidagōgos, the schoolmaster that leads the child to Jesus [Galatians 3:24]. After he’s at Jesus, don’t need him any longer.
They are the lights of heaven, and they are the bells of heaven that ring in the ears of a man and say, “Look, look here, listen, listen to me!” I use that to refer to such a thing as the burning bush on the back side of the desert that burned unconsumed, and Moses turned aside to see that marvelous phenomenon [Exodus 3:1-3]. Or the same thing as Nicodemus said to the Lord Jesus when he came to Him: he said, “Lord, I know that You are a teacher come from God because no man could do these sēmeion, no man could do these signs,” you have it translated “no man could do these miracles, except God be with him” [John 3:1-2]. They call attention to what God is trying to tell us and what God is doing. Now, those are definitions and designations of miracles, what I’m to speak about. I am to speak about that unrepeated phenomena that we find in the Bible in the self-disclosure of God; we call them miracles, and they’re not repeated anymore.
Now there are three words used in the Bible to designate those marvelous phenomena that accompanied the revelation of God. In Acts 2:22, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you by”—and this is the King James Version—“by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” There are three words: miracles, wonders, and signs.
Now you find those same three mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:12. “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and”—the word is translated here—“mighty deeds,” same three Greek words. You find those same three Greek words in Hebrews 2:4, “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles.”
Now those three Greek words refer to those marvelous phenomena that accompanied the self-revelation of God, the disclosure of God, that you read here in the Bible. They are called terata, wonders, always in the plural: tera, wonder; tarata, wonders; the word’s always used in the plural, wonders. They are called semeia: sēmeion, a sign; semeia, signs; and they are called dunamis, powers, miracles, translated miracles.
Now they are called tera, terata, wonders, because of the amazement that they produced in the eyes of those who beheld them. “And His name,” said Isaiah 9:6, “and His name shall be called Wonderful” because of the wondrous works that He does, the amazing things that these who are of God were able to do, wonders, amazing things. They are called sēmeion, semeia, plural.
They are called signs because they are done, they are wrought for a great purposive, and moral, and holy, and godly end. For example, the only word that John uses in the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John is sēmeion, translated miracles in the King James Version. They are all signs, all of them point to something else. They are called signs. They have a great purpose, a moral end. They are in the self-disclosure of God.
For example, when God spoke to Moses and sent him down into Egypt to deliver His people [Exodus 3:9-4:1], God gave Moses three signs that he was sent from heaven. One, remember, he cast his rod down on the ground, and it became a serpent [Exodus 4:2-5]. Second, he put his hand in his bosom and it became leprous; put his hand back in his bosom and it was whole again [Exodus 4:6-7]. Third, he dipped water and poured it on the land, and it became blood [Exodus 4:9]. They’re called signs.
Gideon asked a sign from God: make the whole world dry and the fleece wet; make the whole world wet and the fleece dry; a sign from God [Judges 6:36-40]. When Samuel anointed Saul as king, as the sign that God had chosen him, he gave him three signs that he should meet, one, two, three after another that day ad seriatum [1 Samuel 10:2-7]. When the unknown prophet from Judah came to Bethel at the altar before the golden calf, he cried against the altar, and he prophesied destruction, and he said this shall be the sign: the altar shall be rent into, and the ashes shall be poured out on the ground. And that was the sign that it came from God, and the altar was rent in place, and the ashes were poured out on the ground that moment, that moment [1 Kings 13:1-5].
It was a sign to Ahab, the virgin birth, “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name God with us” [Isaiah 7:14]. It was a sign to Hezekiah that he should have fifteen years of life when Isaiah had the shadow on the dial of Ahaz go back ten degrees, a sign, a sign [2 Kings 20:1-11].
These are great purposive miracles, and that’s why John called the wondrous works of Jesus signs. When He healed the blind [Matthew 9:27-30], it was a sign: this is the light of the world [John 8:12]. When Jesus fed the multitudes [John 6:5-14], it was a sign: He is the bread of heaven [John 6:41, 51]. When He healed the sick [Matthew 8:14-17], cleansed the lepers [Mark 1:40-42], it was a sign: He could cleanse the soul from sin [Mark 2:10]. When He raised the dead [John 11:43-44], it was a sēmeion: that He was the resurrection and the life [John 11:25]. Those miracles are called signs because they have great ethical, purposive ends.
Now they are also called dunameis, a great dunamis; dunameis plural, dunamis, singular. They are called a great power, translated many times, miracle, a great work of God. When the Lord Jesus upbraided Chorazin and Bethsaida, He said of the great works, the great sēmeia, the great sēmeia, “If the great works, the miracles, had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented and believed, but, oh, the judgment that lies ahead of you, the great works, the mighty miracles” [Luke 10:12-14].
Do you remember when Herod heard of the mighty works, the sēmeia, the dunameis? When Herod heard of the mighty works of Jesus, he said, “Why, this is John the Baptist whom I beheaded: he is raised from the dead” [Mark 6:16]. Now you see all three of those words, descriptive words, used in the healing of the paralytic who was borne to Jesus of four [Mark 2:3]. It was a great tera, wonder; and the people that looked upon it, when they saw Jesus heal that paralytic [Mark 2:4-11], they were amazed! [Mark 2:12]. That’s one sign. It was a sēmeion. It was a sign for, says Jesus, “that ye may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sin. “Therefore,” He said to the paralytic, “I say to thee, take up your bed and walk” [Mark 2:10-11]. It was a sign that He had power to forgive sin [Mark 2:10]; and it was a great dunamis, it was a great miracle, it was a great power because this man who had been paralyzed all his life arose, took his bed and walked away [Mark 2:12]. Now that is the miracle of the Bible, the self-disclosure of God.
Now I am to speak next of why they were given, their purpose. Their purpose was to authenticate, to authenticate the great epochs of God’s revelation. They placed the imprimatur of heaven upon what was being revealed, and what was said, and what was done. And there are five of those great epochs in the self-disclosure of God in the Bible.
And you just think, why, they just worked miracles all the time. Oh no! It was just once in a while, just once in a while that these great miracle groups occurred in human history. And without exception, they came at times when God was authenticating a new dispensation, a new revelation, a new self-disclosure of Himself. They accompanied the great epochs when God is revealing new truths.
All right, there are five of them I have said. First: those marvelous miracles that accompanied creation, that’s the first, the miracles of God in creation. Second: the marvelous miracles that accompanied the Mosaic legislation, the glorious miracles that were wrought by Moses and the children as they journeyed through the wilderness and entered into the land of Palestine. Third: the marvelous miracles that accompanied the prophetic era beginning with Elijah and Elisha in the days of the apostasy when God, through His prophets, was calling His people back to faith in Jehovah. Fourth: when Jesus introduced a new dispensation, the dispensation of grace in which we now live. And fifth and yet to come: there shall be those same marvelous heavenly and earthly phenomena when the end time and the consummation shall come as described in the Book of the Apocalypse—those five.
Now, I’m going to take one of them to discuss. We’d discuss all five of them if we had time. I shall take one. I’m going to take the marvelous phenomena that accompanied the introduction of the dispensation of grace, the age of grace, the ministry of Christ and the founding of the infant church. That was one of those epochs that was accompanied by marvelous, miraculous phenomena.
Now, the authentication of Christ as the Son of God, and as the Ambassador from heaven, and as the Savior of the world; the authentication of Christ was found in the marvelous works, in the miracles that He did. For example, when John the Baptist sent to Jesus and said, “Are you the Christ, or are we to look for another?” John was told, by the disciples that Jesus sent back to him, he was told by the Lord Christ “You tell John,” Jesus said to those disciples that came to see Him, “You tell John that what you have seen with your own eyes: the blind see, and the deaf hear, and the lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised” [Matthew 11:1-5]. The authentication of the true character and mission of Christ was found in the miracles, the mighty works, the dunameis that He did.
Again, in John 14 and verse , the Lord says, “Believe that the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake, those marvelous miracles, those great works that I have done” [John 14:11]. They are the authentication from heaven. To us, today, the whole ministry, the whole authority and the whole character of Christ as God rest upon the miracles that He did; and one above all, the miracle of His resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. The miracle, the phenomenon of the resurrection from the dead carries with it irresistibly all of the other miracles that are found in the Holy Scriptures.
The empty tomb is the cradle of the infant church; and if that tomb is not empty; and if Jesus died as any other mortal man died, then the church has no other choice but to lay herself down by the side of the decaying, corrupting remains of her supposed Lord who [is] dead and gone back into the dust, for there’s no future and there’s no destiny for u, no more than for Him if He didn’t rise from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:17].
The resurrection of the dead is written all over the infant church! That’s what gave us birth, and that authenticated the character and the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ, the miracle of the resurrection! [Romans 1:4]. Jesus based His whole authority and the truthfulness of His mission on that miracle. For example, He said to those Jews who asked Him a sign when He cleansed the temple, He said, “You destroy this temple, and in three days will raise it up!” [John 2:19]. And John says He spake of the temple of His body [John 2:21]. And when the Jews, again in the Gospel of Luke, asked Him for a sign, why, He said, “I will give you no other sign but the sign of the prophet Jonah; as Jonah was in the heart of the earth three days and three nights so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights and shall be raised from the dead” [Matthew 12: 38-40, Luke 11:29-30]. And in the fourth verse of the first chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul says that Christ is declared the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead! [Romans 1:4]. This is the great authentication of the marvelous ministry and truthfulness of the Son of God.
Now I want to illustrate what a marvelous miracle that is. I have heard this story as far back as I can remember, but I never was able to find out actually where it came from until this week when I was studying and preparing this sermon. I’d heard it from one great man, and of another, and of another; but this time I found out where it came from, and I copied it out of the book. Now you listen to this.
The theophilanthropist La Revelliere-Lepeaux once confided to Talleyrand, the incomparable French diplomat and statesman who left his place as a bishop in the church in order to be an ambassador and statesman, Revelliere-Lepeaux once confided to Talleyrand his disappointment at the ill success of his attempt to bring into vogue a new religion of benevolent rationalism which he had invented to meet the needs of his present age, of that age. And Lepeaux said, “My propaganda makes no way. What shall I do?” he asked Talleyrand.
The ex-bishop, Talleyrand, politely consoled him and said that he feared it was a difficult task to found a new religion, more difficult than he imagined, so difficult that he hardly knew what to advise. “Still,” Talleyrand went on after a moment’s reflection, “there is one plan which you might at least try. I should recommend you to be crucified and to rise again the third day.” That’d sure do it. That’d sure do it. Wasn’t that smart, and wasn’t that shrewd? Here’s a man who wants to found a new religion, and he’s having a hard time. “Well,” says Talleyrand upon reflection, “I could recommend a procedure to you. You could get yourself killed, say electrocuted or hanged on the gallows, and the third day rise again.” That’d do it. That’d do it.
The miracle of the resurrection gave birth to the church, to the faith and was the great authentication that this is the Son of God, the Emissary from heaven [Romans 1:4]. Hear Him! Hear Him! Now you see, I have spoken to you that the purpose of miracles, these marvelous phenomena in the Old Testament, their purpose was to authenticate what God was doing, and what God was inaugurating, and what God was saying in those great epochal periods, five of which I have named.
Now, I want to talk to you about their rational possibility, their rational possibility. The skeptic said, “I don’t believe it. I never saw it.” You know, that reminds me of the Irishman who was haled into court for murder, and a witness stood on the stand, called by the prosecuting attorney, and said, “I saw him kill a man.” And the Irishman stood up and said, “Your Honor, I can bring fifty men in here who will swear, ‘I never saw him do it.’” Now you’ve got to have a little sense when you listen now. Now that was shrewd and illustrates the point I’m talking about. When a man says, “I wasn’t there. I never saw it; therefore, I don’t believe it,” why, that is inanity in itself.
Now let’s look at why men un-believe, why men disbelieve. First, they disbelieve because they worship the idol, the god of law and order. You know, they say there’s not any God, He doesn’t exist. Or they say that God is exhausted and can’t do anything else when He had made the world. Or they say God has no interest and no concern, and He has made this thing automatic, and it just goes on forever, and, oh, what a dull monotony!
Why, Lee, you listen to me. Every day of your life, ten thousand natural laws are contradicted, and contravened, and changed, and done a thousand things to it, and yet they’re never suspended, and yet there they are, they’re never annihilated. For example, in New York City when I was up there, I looked again at the Chrysler Building, to me that is one of the most beautiful architectural feats in the world; and there are giant gargoyles sticking out, way up there seventy, sixty stories above the pavement, great gargoyles sticking out of the corners like that. Why don’t they fall down, those great gargoyles; why don’t they fall down? Simply because there is a law of cohesion that does away up there with the law of gravity, and there they are stuck way up there and staying up there all these years. Isn’t that a marvelous thing? And yet the law of gravity is still there; but there, that contradicts it, right up there, right up there.
When I was in Houston one time, I saw them loading scrap iron on a ship, and they had a big lever, a big crane; and a fellow on the inside working that crane punched a button and created a great magnet at the end of that lever. And I saw those great pieces of iron jump up, jump up to that magnet, go straight up! They’d pick it up and put it over here in the ship. Why, I thought iron fell to the ground. Why, there it was jumping straight up. Just look at what you can do with the laws of nature.
Now, think of what will can do to the laws of nature. Think of what “will” can do. You, what the human will—why, every day we contradict ten thousand laws of nature ourselves. For example, going along on the beach, I saw a little pebble, a little pebble just walking along on the beach, way up high on the beach. And I want you to know that all the wind, and all the storms, and all the hurricanes in Florida, and all of the tide, and all the sea, with all of their power put that little pebble way up right there. And that’s the most they could do.
And as I was walking along I took my foot and I kicked it four inches high. I did it. With my own little—with my own big foot, I did it. After nature had exhausted itself, I did it just like that, just like that. And I do it ten thousand times every day, things that the laws of nature could never do. Now, mechanical forces change those laws all around, the human will changes those laws all around, and think of the divine will. Think of the divine will. How God changes those laws around, any time, any day.
Then last, the reason for unbelief and rejection: because they purpose not to believe. “It says that in the Bible? I don’t believe it per se. I reject it.” And to the heart of unbelief, there is no proof, none whatsoever. When an angel spoke to Jesus in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John, those around who didn’t believe said it thundered. “It thundered” [John 12:28-29]. Isn’t that an amazing thing? When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, some believed; but others went away and plotted His death, plotted His death [John 11:43-53]. And when the Pharisees saw these mighty works—these dunameis we’ve been talking about—of Jesus they said, “We cannot deny that He is raising the dead and opening the eyes of the blind and unstopping ears. We cannot deny that, but He does it by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils” [Matthew 12:24]. You can’t convince a man who will not believe.
O Lord, that I might have the open heart and the open spirit. When Jesus was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], He appeared only to those of His disciples who believed, those who had faith in Him and who had followed Him in the days of His ministry; and He never appeared to the Roman governor, or to the Roman soldier, or to the unbelieving world. He appeared to His disciples. “For,” said Jesus in the parable of Dives [Luke 16:19-31], “neither will they believe, though one rose from the dead” [Luke 16:31]. And if I don’t believe the testimony of the Bible, and if I don’t listen to the Holy Spirit wooing in my heart, neither would I believe though God wrought for me the most marvelous miracle that mind could imagine, for miracles are for the purpose of authenticating the voice of God to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
O God, give me a believer’s heart, a hearing ear, a golden ear, and save my soul, Lord. Be to me truth, and sanctification, and redemption, and righteousness in my soul now [1 Corinthians 1:30], and in my body and life when the full purchased redemption is made in the world that is yet to come [Ephesians 1:14].
Now, on the first note of this first stanza, somebody to give his heart and trust to Jesus, you come and stand by me. Somebody to put his life in the fellowship of the church, a family or a couple, somebody you, while we make this appeal, you come and stand by me, on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand together and sing.
THE REALITY OF MIRACLES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Kings 7:2
1. Works of God, something out of nothing
2. Phenomenon of revelation
1. Terata – wonder
2. Semeion – sign
3. Dunamis – power
3. Elijah, Elisha, prophets
4. Christ, His work and the New Covenant
5. Consummation of the age
IV. Humanist rational possibility – basis of rejection
1. Worship of law and order, “I never saw it so it didn’t happen.”
2. Heart of unbelief