The Meaning of Miracles

Monday, July 27

Jesus performed a lot of miracles. He had several goals in mind. 1) He drew attention to Himself to get people to listen to His message. 2) Miracles validated His claim that He was the Messiah. 3) Miracles demonstrated his divine traits—one with the Father, creator and sustainer of the universe, His holiness, sovereignty, power over Satan, power over nature, power to forgive sin, power over sicknesses and death, and more. 4) The miracles were also to prepare the disciples for their future ministry. 5) He was compassionate; He had a heart for people that were hurting. Though His miracles had a range of specific goals, they all had one thing in common: redemption. Jesus had compassion on sin sick people. He wanted to reveal truth that would change lives. He wanted to reach people. He knew their lost condition and directed His efforts to bring them into a saving relationship with the Father. His miracles were not just physical; they were spiritual. The healing of lepers: leprosy, a death sentence—analogous to spiritual death. Turning water into wine: a creative act, a radical change, from something common to something special. Blindness: light dispelling darkness as righteousness replaces the sin nature. Raising the dead: restoring physical life as a picture of restoring spiritual life. Healings resulted in salvation, not just physical healing. Every miracle was part of the redemption process. Every miracle was out of compassion for lost sinners.

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Grace and Gratitude

Friday, July 24

“Grace deserves gratitude.” The opposite of gratitude is self pity, regret, resentment, revenge—all self-centeredness. Gratitude does not exalt self; non-gratitude does. You will remember the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19 that were healed of leprosy. Only one went back to thank Jesus—and Luke points out that he was a Samaritan. The New Testament recounts a number of times when Samaritans were seen in a better light than the Jews, a scathing rebuke of the Jews and the rejection of their Messiah. This account only occurs in Luke, and Luke was probably a Gentile. I wouldn’t call Luke anti-Semitic, but he certainly makes a claim for the universality of Christianity. He was a loyal co-worker of Paul’s in his ministry among the Gentiles. I think many of the Jews of that day—and perhaps today—think they are special in God’s eyes (and they are) and therefore think they deserve grace. That’s the part that’s wrong, as Paul makes very clear in Romans. Getting back to the ten lepers, nine of them did not go back to thank Jesus. I think in view of the fact that Luke noted that one was a Samaritan, we can assume the other nine to be Jews. Were all nine ungrateful? It would be insane to think that any of them were resentful or steeped in self-pity, but they were undoubtedly self centered. But were they converted? I mentioned some time back that Jesus’ miracles resulted in conversion, but I don’t think we can assume that to be universally true. The thousands that were miraculously fed followed Jesus just for that reason—to be fed. In contrast, the Samaritan leper not only showed gratitude; he also showed contrition and I fully believe he was converted. Yes, gratitude follows grace.

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Gratitude Equals Work

Thursday, July 23

Tom Thieme (quoting R.J. Sproul): “The heart of redemption is grace; the works that follow are works of gratitude.” It’s quite obvious that redemption is a work of grace. As sinners, we can do nothing to get back into fellowship with God. There is one thing we can and should do in response to our redemption, however. We can thank God for it. I can’t imagine anyone failing to thank God for his redemption, but it should be a continuing thing, especially in view of the fact that over the years we get an expanded understanding of the sin problem and of the price paid for it. We may be a bit lacking in this. We simply can’t thank the Lord enough for what He has done for us. But I think Sproul had more than this in mind. Our gratitude should result in work. It is no accident that the Word calls redeemed people servants. We are also called soldiers. Whatever the term, we are indebted to God for our salvation. We cannot pay the debt, but we can respond with “works” which is a way of demonstrating our gratitude. We call Jesus our Lord. That says it quite well. Unfortunately, too many Christians put the Lordship of Christ on the back burner. Scripture tells us that some of us will have very little “works” to show for our gratitude. Some of it will not be fruit; it will be wood, hay, and stubble. I like to think that Jesus will say to me “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I wonder what He will say to those who don’t fit that description.

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The Stick and the Carrot

Wednesday, July 22

I like sports. To see great athletes perform is a treat for me. Competition is the spice of life. Winning is good, too. Watching the Seattle Mariners is my chief relaxation. Unfortunately, the team has fallen short of expectations. Nothing new, I guess. But with the addition of some star athletes this year the expectations were very high, so I’ve had a few “downers.” After the all star break, the manager declared a change. The TLC of the first half of the season was to be modified to give a more hard nosed approach. It reminded me of the old cliché about the carrot and the stick. The carrot apparently didn’t work, so he’s going to the stick. We’ll see if it works. I can’t say that I’ve seen much change, and the won-loss record hasn’t changed, either. Yes, I’m going somewhere with this. Satan has a number of ways of trying to thwart God’s plans, mostly by rendering Christians ineffective. One of his methods is persecution. That’s the stick. Another is lies and deceit. That’s the carrot. He wants to entice us into things that will compromise our witness. Persecution has always been counter productive for Satan. Throughout church history persecution has always brought about church growth. You’d think Satan would learn! On the other hand his lies and deceit have been quite successful—and the church has done little to combat it. Most of us are appalled at the savagery toward Christians all around the world, but Satan will not win that battle. The stick is less effective than the carrot. Maybe the Mariners will turn things around, but I’m not too optimistic. Yes, I know it’s “only a game.” The battle between God and Satan is not a game; it’s all out war on a cosmic scale. I trust you are being a good soldier. If you are old enough to remember World War II, you might remember the sign “Uncle Sam Needs You!” Well, God needs you. If you haven’t signed up, now’s the time.

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Excuse or Reason

Tuesday, July 21

Some people might use Pope’s quotation as a legitimate excuse for sin. Everyone does it; it’s a built in trait, we can’t do anything about it. Conclusion: sin cannot be held against us. All of that is true except for the conclusion. We are still guilty and will suffer a just penalty. From Adam’s sin on, the sin nature was an integral part of human nature. Self became the primary focus. We want to cover up sin. We want to hide it from others if we can. If we can’t, then we instinctively blame others. This is making excuses for sin. Excuses are counter productive. Excuses keep us from dealing with sin. God wants us to acknowledge sin and take action, to change our behavior. I don’t think Pope meant that the universality of sin can be an excuse for sinning. Acknowledging that the sin nature drives us to sin is quite rational. But it is not to be used as an excuse. So when sin occurs, we have two options. We can use the truth as an excuse, i.e., we don’t need to change, or we can use it as an understanding of our condition and then look to God for change. I think you will have no trouble determining which of these two options I would recommend.

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Pope’s Quote

Monday, July 20

“To err is human.”—Alexander Pope. It is not only one of the most quoted “bon mot,” it is probably the most commonly used excuse in the modern era. There’s a valid truth here, but there is a side issue that needs to be understood. Adam and Eve were human, but they were made perfect. They had no sin at all in the beginning. God did not create man with the propensity to sin. That doesn’t mean they could not sin, but sin was not driving them, compelling them to sin. Yes, they did sin, and from that time on sin became the driving force in their lives. It became endemic, a universal part of humanity. My point is that this expression can be applied to man only after sin entered into the picture. In heaven, this phrase will not be “apropos.” In fact, no longer will we have the option of choosing to sin. We will be forever free of sin. We will not be just like Adam and Eve before their fall, but on a higher moral plane. We can thank God for that. Saying that “God is good” is an understatement of vast proportions. His love for us has no bounds. He’s covered all the bases.

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Four Graces

Sunday, July 19

The above quotation is not complete. “To err is human; to forgive divine.” Adam’s sin made sinning a permanent component of human life. And sin means judgment. Judgment brings guilt, which is no surprise to us. Guilt is recognizing sin and knowing that it must be paid for. But we tend to minimize the affront to a holy God and the validity of the punishment—eternal damnation. Grace now enters the picture. We are helpless and only God can deliver us—which He did by Jesus dying on the cross. So grace can be applied—indeed, must be applied—vicariously. Belief in the substitutionary death of Christ is not easy. You mean that we can be forgiven without paying for it ourselves?” A gift of this magnitude is hard to receive. So grace—to believe—is also supplied. God makes it clear to us. “Therefore there is now no condemnation.” Rom. 8:1. On top of all that is the grace of sanctification. God works in our lives every day to make us more like Christ. When we sin, He has the answer. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. We can’t live a godly life on our own. It’s a divine gift, i.e., grace. Part of the sanctification process is to apply grace to others just as God has done for us. So God’s provision of a substitute is grace. Belief in Christ as our savior is grace. Becoming like Christ is grace. And forgiving others is grace. God is our model. Response to God’s grace allows us to forgive others without their having to pay the penalty they deserve. Placing blame and wreaking vengeance is not the answer.

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