When it comes to Christianity, inevitably the topic of miracles will come up. Vern Poythress, professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, presents four main issues (though there are more) the that come up in the debates about miracles:
- The existence of God. If God doesn’t not exist, then miracles certainly do not exist.
- What kind of God- Is God a distant, deistic God? If so, he’s irrelevant to our daily living.
- The credibility of miracles in the Gospels. Can we even believe the Gospel’s authors? Didn’t they merely write to turn Jesus into a legend?
- Who is Jesus? Was he really the Messiah? Or a good prophet? Maybe he was a nice guy, who told stories, and ‘legends’ just don’t hold up.
Sure, we could go into more detail, but already we have a lot to work with in terms of discussing miracles with non-supernaturals. But even in Christian circles is the question, “I believe these miracles are real, but how should I read them?” What does this have to do with me, if anything at all? And this is the question Poythress aims to answer.
The book is broken up into four parts:
- Part One: Introducing Miracles
- Part Two: Miracles as Signs
- Part Three: Miracles in Matthew
- Part Four: The Resurrection of Christ and its Application
Throughout his book, Poythress shows that Jesus’ miracles help reveal God’s purposes. They show
- Jesus is God.
- Jesus is fully human, and as a human being performed miracles in a way analogous to the miracles of Old Testament prophets.
- Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, the one mediator between God and man” (Kindle Location, 370-373).
What do the miracles in the Gospels have to do with us today? Poythress states that the miracles represent redemptive analogies. They are “small stories of redemption [which] point especially to the climax of redemption in Christ’s crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension, reign, and second coming” (KL, 405-406).
The Gospel miracles weren’t only applicable to those people in that time, and while we aren’t going to experience the same miracles simply by reading the miracles in the Gospel, they do point to greater truths: Christ’s crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension, reign, and second coming. We need Christ just as much those who lived in Jesus’ time.
Poythress’ purpose is to “show the nature of these redemptive analogies. God has built redemptive analogies into history” (KL, 418-430). Poythress spends chapter three looking at most of the miracles in John’s Gospel and how they point to Christ’s redeeming cross work. His next two chapters look at Christ’s sacrificial, redeeming cross work as already being embodied in his life (Mk 10.45), and how the Christian life is to be patterned after Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Rom 6.4-6).
Chapter six covers the “typological reasoning” about miracles (how miracles ultimately point to Christ’s redemptive work on the cross). [Picture]. Chapter seven looks at the broader implications of Jesus’ miracles. John 6 describes the feeding of the 5,000 and how Jesus is the bread of life (a la Deut 8.3). Ultimately, the miracles and power of Jesus should give us reason to glorify God. Chapter eight looks at four specific (hypothetical) applications (cleaning dishes, disciplining a child, failing a big chemistry test, and finding fulfillment in a new relationship) and how Christ’s work can encourage us now.
In Part Three, Poythress spends 28 chapters on the miracles in Matthew’s gospel. While he doesn’t examine all that goes on in the miracle, he briefly states the context, what it meant for the person then, how it points to Christ’s work, and how that influences our life today.
In looking at Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14.22-23, Poythress says,
Application of this miracle to us in the gospel age depends on two prongs of continuity: (1) Jesus is the same divine Lord who has power over the sea and over death. (2) People have wavering faith, which mixes faith and unbelief. Their wavering faith is analogous to what happened with Peter. Jesus lives in heaven, victorious over death. By the Holy Spirit he reaches out his hand into people’s lives, as they cry out, “Lord, save me.” He pulls them out of the sea of sin and death. We praise him that in his mercy he is willing to strengthen our wavering faith. And he is able to rescue us absolutely, because his power rules over everything.
Poythress should be applauded. Though he has taught at WTS for 39 years, this book is extremely easy to read. It’s academic without being very academic which should appeal to a broad audience. The chapters in Part Three are quite short due to Poythress having to cover so many miracles, but he gets to the point without waffling around for a while or getting into needless textual discrepancies (which a broad audience would not want to read). This would be helpful for the high schooler, the average layperson, and even for the pastor (though, that depends on how much you read regularly).
I’ve never studied much through Matthew, so Poythress’ work here is helpful. From strange and obscure to the mighty and amazing, what do we do with these miracles today? How can we use them to help those around us? How do they lead us to a greater love of God? They point to the power of God through the Holy Spirit who brings new life in Christ.
“No human being has the power to change the heart. Only God does. He has demonstrated that power in the miracles of Jesus. And he continues to demonstrate that power as he applies the healing of Jesus’s death and resurrection to all kinds of situations of human sin and human need” (K.L., 3030-34).
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Crossway (January 31, 2016)
- Author: Vern Poythress
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[Special thanks to Crossway for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].