Day 178

The God of Miracles

Wisdom Psalm 78:21–25
New Testament Acts 17:22–34
Old Testament 1 Kings 18:21–39

Introduction

After an Alpha Weekend, a soldier called Quincy Bellot wrote to me: ‘This pain started twelve years ago. After joining the Royal Marines, it became extremely bad. The cartilage below the kneecap was completely gone. Last year was the worst when the ligaments and the tendons were torn and the kneecap went in a forty-five-degree angle. It has been a long and painful journey. I could not sit or stand for too long.

‘Cut a long story short, I decided to try God and try Alpha. I got back from the Alpha Weekend and agreed to come to HTB after much hesitation. I heard people testifying and I was thinking, “yeah, yeah, yeah”. When someone said [a word of knowledge] about the cartilage issue, I took the sharpest breath I ever took. I agreed to be prayed for. I felt God moving in my knee. I dropped on my knees to test it and remarkably no pain. It’s just miraculous. I went for a run last night… it was the first time after a very long time I haven’t had any pain. God is real.’ The email was headed ‘Brand New Knee!!’

God is a God of miracles.

Wisdom

Psalm 78:21–25

21 When the Lord heard them, he was furious;
 his fire broke out against Jacob,
 and his wrath rose against Israel,
22 for they did not believe in God
 or trust in his deliverance.
23 Yet he gave a command to the skies above
 and opened the doors of the heavens;
24 he rained down manna for the people to eat,
 he gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Human beings ate the bread of angels;
 he sent them all the food they could eat.

Commentary

Receive the miracle of God’s provision

The psalmist continues to tell the history of the people of God’s journey from Egypt to the promised land. In spite of God’s miraculous provision, they ‘sinned even more’, rebelled and ‘whined like spoiled children’ (vv.17–19, MSG).

God helped them anyway. He ‘rained down showers of manna to eat, he gave them the Bread of Heaven’ (v.24, MSG). This prefigured the spiritual food that Jesus provides (John 6:30–35).

Likewise, ‘When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly’ (Psalm 78:20). In a miraculous way, God provided water from a rock. Yet, the people still doubted God ‘for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance’ (v.22). Although miracles are wonderful, they do not always cause people to believe in God.

The miracle of water from a rock really happened, but it also prefigured and anticipated something even more amazing. St Paul writes, ‘they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Jesus said, ‘“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flowing from within.” By this he meant the Spirit…’ (John 7:37–39).

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the ‘living water’ of the Holy Spirit who lives within me. Help me to be the bearer of this supernatural life to all whom I encounter today.

New Testament

Acts 17:22–34

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 24 ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 “For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” 29 ‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’ 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed...

Commentary

Believe the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus

The message is: Jesus. When in Athens, Paul begins talking to the people on their level. He does not start with the Old Testament, as he did with the Jews – proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. Rather, he begins with their worship of a higher power, an 'unknown god' (17:23a), and uses that to explain Jesus to them.

Paul’s preaching was remarkably positive. Rather than reproaching them for their idolatry, he says, ‘Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you’ (v.23b). He says three things about God: He is the creator (v.24), he is self-sufficient (he does not need us) (v.25) but we all need him (vv.27–28).

Paul goes on to quote one of their poets approvingly: ‘One of your poets said it well’ (v.28, MSG). Christians do not have the monopoly on the truth. God has revealed himself in creation and we find remarkable insights in secular sources.

His talk climaxes with the proclamation of the greatest and most important miracle in history: the resurrection of Jesus (vv.30–31). Paul claims to have historical proof of the resurrection. He had met the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus.

The implications are huge. Death was not the end for Jesus and it will not be the end for you and me. You too will be raised to life. Here, Paul says that the resurrection is evidence that God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed: Jesus. Paul gave people the opportunity to respond to this message.

The reactions to hearing a talk about Jesus and the resurrection of the dead were very similar to those we experience today.

  1. Some sneered
    ‘Some laughed at him and walked off making jokes’ (v.32a, MSG). Do not be surprised if you get this reaction from some people.

  2. Some were interested
    ‘Others said, “Let’s do this again. We want to hear more”’ (v.32b, MSG). Many people today, as they were then, are genuinely interested but they need time to hear more and think through the issues. Courses like Alpha provide an opportunity for people to do this.

  3. Some believed
    ‘There were still others... who were convinced then and there’ (v.34, MSG). They believed straight away. It is unusual but wonderful when people accept Jesus the first time they hear about him.

    When Paul went to Corinth, presumably he preached the same message of Jesus and the resurrection. He ‘reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks’ (18:4). He was not asking them to exercise blind faith. Your faith is not irrational. The facts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus give reasons to believe. It is possible to persuade people on the basis of the evidence. If Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead, that is evidence that Jesus is the Christ (v.5).

    Again, as in Athens, there were different responses. Some were abusive (v.6). But some believed – ‘Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised’ (v.8).

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus and for the power of this message to transform lives.

Old Testament

1 Kings 18:21–39

21 Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing. 22 Then Elijah said to them, ‘I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – he is God.’ 25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you.’ 26 So they took the bull that was given to them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. 27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or travelling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.’ 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 30 Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come here to me.’ They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob… 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench round it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, ‘Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.’ 34 ‘Do it again,’ he said, and they did it again. ‘Do it a third time,’ he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. 36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’ 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD – he is God! The LORD – he is God!’

Commentary

Experience the miracle of fire from God

God performed a remarkable miracle through the human agency of Elijah. This account stresses the supernatural nature of the event.

We all have to decide how we are going to live and who we are going to follow. Elijah says, ‘How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!’ (18:21, MSG).

He sets up a test for them and says, ‘The god who answers by fire – he is God’ (v.24).

It is futile to serve gods made by human hands. However loud they shouted, ‘there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention’ (v.29). But when Elijah prayed he did not need to shout (v.36). Because he was praying to the living God.

You can have the confidence of Elijah every time you pray – knowing that you, too, are praying to the living God, who hears you and will act on your behalf.

Every time we pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, we are asking God to repeat the miracle of Pentecost when the fire of God came on all the people. We do not need to shout or stir up emotion – we simply need to ask.

In response to Elijah’s prayer, the fire of the Lord fell (v.38). When all the people saw this they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!’ (v.39).

This was a wonderful miracle, but Elijah is no different from us – he was just a human being (see James 5:17). After this spiritual high, he experienced an emotional low. He was ‘exhausted’ (1 Kings 19:5, MSG). He became afraid, discouraged, depressed and almost suicidal: ‘Enough of this, God! Take my life’ (v.4, MSG). When we are exhausted we can easily feel abused, misunderstood and mistreated. After a good sleep and some food, he was re-energised.

Nevertheless, he felt that he was the only one left (vv.10b,14b) and that everyone was out to get him.

It was not actually true, as there were ‘seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal’ (v.18). But it is easy to feel isolated and alone in your place of work, your family or your neighbourhood. When you come together (for example on a Sunday) you are reminded that you are not alone.

The ways of the Holy Spirit are gentle. God spoke to Elijah. He was not in a ‘great and powerful wind’, nor in an ‘earthquake’, nor in a ‘fire’ but in a ‘gentle whisper’ (vv.11–12). We often need to get away from the noise and find a place and time of quiet to hear God’s gentle whisper deep within our spirit.

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that you – the God of miracles, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God who answers by fire, the God who brings water from the rock - communicate in a gentle whisper. Help me today to hear your voice.

Pippa adds

1 Kings 19:2

Even great people of God have times of discouragement. Having killed all those false prophets, you would think that Elijah could take on anything. But after spiritual and physical exhaustion, we need replenishing. Elijah’s recovery seems to come through sleep, food and exercise (although walking for forty days and forty nights seems a bit excessive) and also taking on an assistant (which dealt with his feeling of isolation). But, most importantly, he hears the voice of God speaking to him again.

Verse of the Day

Acts 17:27

’God… is not far from any one of us.

Thought for the Day

God is the God of miracles.
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References

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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