The Miracles of the Master
Mark 1:29-34, 40-45, Acts 3:1-10, Psalm 103:1-8
If we were to survey popular opinion in the days when Jesus lived among us, and asked about the first thing that popped into their minds about the man they called Jesus from Nazareth, they would have zoomed in on his miracles. They thought of him as a miracle worker for wherever he went he was healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out evil spirits.
1. The Miracles
And the popular perspective is correct. When the Jesus walked among us, teaching us about a new way of life, miraculous things happened. And when the miracles started happening, the crowds started gathering. Dozens turns to hundreds and the hundreds turned into thousands.
- His miracles affected nature, as wind and water seemed to recognize in him their commanding officer.
- People with diseases that seemed to be incurable, found instant health.
- The spiritual powers that dehumanized humanity met their match in him, and fled.
- Even death was not immune to his word, as the dead were brought back to life.
The crowds responded with exclamation of amazement.
Nicodemus says, “No one could do these things unless God were with him.”
Others cried “What kind of man is this even the winds and the waves obey him?”
Jesus worked miracles!
But it is clear throughout the Scriptures that Jesus is not doing anything that His Father had not been doing throughout human history. The Old Testament bears witness to the activities of God the Father among his people Israel.
Creation itself was a miracle of God.
The Exodus from Egypt had been a miracle.
The words of the prophets like Elijah & Elisha were accompanied by miracles. And Jesus acted for the redemption of the world, just as His Father had, worked miracles in the redeeming of his people.
But that is not the end of it. For Jesus will say to his disciples, “And greater things than these will you do, because I am going to my father, and I will send you the Holy Spirit who will be with you forever.”
The Book of Acts then shows the church working in the atmosphere of miracle as the sick are healed, the dead are raised, and demonic is banished through the ministry of Peter and Paul and the others.
But after saying all that can I use the word “However”? Because things are not always what they seem. That is not to say that the miracles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit were not really miracles. I am convinced that the miracles were accurately reported, and took place, and there is no other adequate explanation for their occurrence than the intervention of God himself in human affairs.
However, a caution is still needed. But, just in case I do not say it later, let me say it now: God our Father is a miracle working God, as Jesus our Savior was. And the Holy Spirit still performs miracles in the lives of people. Miracles did happen, and do happen. Nonetheless, a caution is needed.
2. The Reluctant Miracle Worker
Have you noticed the reluctance in Jesus when it comes to miracles?
- Repeatedly he says to people who have benefited from his ministry of healing,
“Tell no one.”
- At other times he takes only the inner 3 disciples with him where he will do the miraculous, leaving the other 9 outside along with the gathering crowds. He wants this to be a private matter.
- When he wants to bring healing to some individuals like the man who was deaf and mute, he takes them away from the crowd to speak with them and bring health to their lives.
- We also see Jesus, leave the pressing crowd and retreat either alone or with the 12 to the wilderness areas.
There is also another phenomenon in all 4 Gospels that underscores his hesitancy about performing miracles. For the first half of each of the Gospel accounts there are miracles of all sorts early in his ministry, and then there comes a point where they tail right off. This turn of events takes place at the half way point of the gospel story. At a place called Caesarea Phillip, Jesus stops the disciples in their tracks as he asks them a question. “Who do people think I am?” And the disciples do their best to answer. Then comes the second question comes, “And who do you think I am.” When Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” everything changes. It is here that Jesus begins speaking of his coming death. And it is here that the miracles drop right off.
- In Mark’s version, before Caesarea Philippi, 18 miracles stories are told involving thousands of people, but only 2 healing miracles for 2 solitary individuals take place after.
- In Matthew’s version, he notes only 3 miracles after that crucial event.
- In Luke’s Gospel only 4 take place after that event.
Why would this be so? It is interesting to note that the 3 gospels, Matthew, Mark & Luke, frequently indicate his reluctance, but because Jesus finds himself moved with compassion for the people he met, he ministered to them in their need.
In these 3 gospels the miracles are called deeds of power (The word is Dunamis from which we get our word Dynamite!) In John’s Gospel only 7 miracles are recorded in his entire Gospel. But in his gospel these miraculous events are called Signs. (semieia.) And the reason given for the miracles is not compassion so much, but that these miracles are signs given to indicate Jesus’ true identity and the nature of his mission. They are signs to encourage those who believe in him that the one they have longed for is finally here.
But once the disciples believe in him, the miracles are not as necessary, and might actually be misleading. It may be why, after Caesarea Philippi they are less frequent, because a miracle does not reveal clearly enough what Jesus has actually come to do for us.
On this same note, it is also intriguing that in the book of Acts, the further we read, the less the miraculous takes place. As we read the letters of Paul we begin to hear of Paul and his coworkers suffering from unhealed illnesses.
“Trophimus I have left at Ephesus because he is sick….
“Timothy, take a little wine for your stomach’s sake and frequent infirmities.”
Then there is Paul’s thorn in the flesh that remains in spite of prayer.
3. Why the reluctance?
Listen to Jesus in the Gospel of John:
- 4:48 Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.
- 6:26-30 You follow me not because you “understood” the signs, but because you ate your fill.
- 12:37 Although he had performed so many signs they did not believe in him.
The 3 other gospels are even more insistent, Jesus says on one occasion, “It is an evil generation that seeks signs, but no further sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.”
Why the reluctance? Jesus has no desire to be Superman rescuing people from falling off tall buildings, or changing water to wine for every wedding reception. He has no desire to be extricating every person from difficult circumstances. “A miracle a day” would not keep the devil away, but would addict us to irresponsibility and brinksmanship.
Do you remember the temptation stories that begin the gospel stories? Satan wanted a miracle working Jesus who changes stone to bread and jumps off tall buildings. That is the way most of us would like the Messiah to act. Jesus will have none of it. The temptation to do miracles of power either as self-preservation, or great advertising would betray the reason for his coming.
Instead Jesus came to teach us how to live in community, how to help one another that flows from a compassion that would take root in our lives. But more important than all that he came to die a death that would change the hearts of all people. He came to redeem us from our sinfulness, not our accident proneness. He came to save us from our selves and our ingrained selfishness, not from the irritants or inconveniences of life.
Does God still do the miraculous? Oh yes! We should pray for miracles to happen in the lives of those in need of divine intervention. And sometimes he says “yes” and sometimes he doesn’t. But when we experience no miracle, what should we do then? Doubt his love? Question his power? Oh no!
What do you think would happen if Christians could pray and get what they wanted (within reason of course)? How many could resist becoming a Christian? If it were known that when your child was ill, “a little prayer to Jesus made it right”, people would be flocking either to your door, or the church’s door to get in on the power. If a Christian never was unemployed because a little prayer would fix things, do you not think that people would gladly follow God. It would be the best deal in town.
But, Christians are not to presume that we should be immune from the realities of life and death. As Christian we are committed to doing right because it is right, not because it pays! We give away our monies because we want to share with others, not because it pays to give. Christianity does not always pay. At least not in bread and fishes, nor in health and wealth.
God wants us to come to Him for the right reasons. He wants us to come in gratitude, not for greed or gain. He wants us to come in faith and penitence, not for selfish ease.
God still does the miraculous in human life, but because he is the sovereign Lord, we leave it in his hands; and leave it there gladly, knowing that if the miracle does not come, then we may find instead, like St. Paul did, that God’s power in us is made stronger by our weakness.