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Pastor Glenn McDonald: The Mystery of the Miraculous

Every day during this season of Lent we’re looking at the miracles of Jesus – his spectacular displays of supernatural power that are reported in the Gospels.    


On March 6, 2015, Jennifer Groesbeck, a 25-year-old single mom, was driving after dusk from her parents’ home in Salem, Utah, toward her home in Springfield.   


While driving alongside the Spanish Fork River, Groesbeck’s red Dodge sedan clipped a concrete barrier and careened across the road and down an embankment.  Her car landed upside-down in the icy water, which poured through her broken windows.  Fourteen hours passed before a fisherman spotted the wreck and dialed 9-1-1. 


The first responders wondered if they might be looking at an abandoned vehicle.  Then they noticed an arm dangling inside.  It seemed clear that no one was likely to have survived such an accident.


That’s when they heard a woman’s voice, clear as a bell. “Help me, we’re in here!” The responders sprang into action.  “Hang in there!” they shouted. “We’re trying to do what we can.”  Energized by the possibility that someone was still alive, they plunged into the river, which was neck-deep in places, and wrestled the car onto its side.


When they looked inside, they were stunned.  Jenner was dead, her injuries consistent with someone who had been killed on impact. 


In the backseat was her unconscious 18-month-old daughter Lily, buckled securely into her car seat.  She had hung upside-down for 14 hours, just inches above the freezing water.  Police and EMTs formed a human chain to remove her from the car and carry her to safety. 


Lily was taken to a local hospital and released a few days later.  Several of the first responders were treated for hypothermia.


Nine years later, the mystery remains: Whose voice was heard crying for help? 


Officer Tyler Beddoes, who was on the scene, confirms that he and others heard a woman’s voice, not a child’s.  Jennifer had died hours earlier, and Lily was unconscious. “That’s the part that really sends me for a whirl,” he told a reporter.  “I’m not a typically religious guy.  It’s hard to explain – it was definitely something.  Where and why it came from, I’m not sure.”


Lee Strobel includes the story of the accident in his 2018 book, The Case for Miracles.  He poses the question that immediately comes to mind: Was Lily’s survival some kind of anomaly – easily explainable if we had the right kind of data – or evidence that a gracious God intervenes from time to time in human affairs? 


That, of course, leads to an even more compelling question: If a miracle-performing God actually exists, why are there hospitals?  And why do we need funerals? 


Those are among the questions we’ll address from time to time between now and Easter Sunday.  Such questions were just as urgent in the first century as they are in the twenty-first.   


Ask someone to dial up a story from the life of Jesus and they are likely to mention a miracle.  He turned water into wine.  He brought dead people back to life.  He walked on water, healed paralytics, and changed the way experienced fishermen on the Sea of Galilee dealt with severe storm warnings.   

In all, the four biographies of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – report about three dozen miraculous events.  Approximately one-third of the Jesus stories in the Gospels involve something miraculous.


What exactly are we talking about?  We’re not focusing on something trivial (“right after I prayed, the point guard on our team hit the game-winning shot from half-court!”).  Or something that can be explained psychosomatically (“and suddenly my stomachache just went away”).  Or something that aligns with what seems to be normal cause-and-effect (“it’s a miracle, but after working hard for years, my daughter finally got the job of her dreams”).   


Instead, philosophy professor Richard L. Purtill suggests: “A miracle is an event (1) brought about by the power of God that is (2) a temporary (3) exception (4) to the ordinary course of nature (5) for the purpose of showing that God has acted in history.” 


In his book, Strobel cites a 2004 survey of 1,100 physicians by HCD Research which revealed that three-quarters of them believe that miracles happen today; that 55% of them have seen results in their patients that they would consider miraculous; and that six out of ten of those doctors pray for their patients individually.


But do we have grounds to say that contemporary “miraculous events,” which can now be scrutinized by means of rational inquiry and medical technology, are evidence that God is actively at work in our world? 


To address that issue, we need to go back in time.  Let’s look together at the meaning of the miracles that the Gospel writers report.  


The Bible makes it clear that Jesus’ actions were never random or arbitrary. 


There was a central message in the miraculous that can help today’s followers of Jesus grasp what they can expect to experience.


That’s where we’ll go tomorrow.




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