THE MIRACLES OF JESUS
Written by Doug Ponder on August 28, 2016
A Parable of Miracles
Suppose that you stumbled upon a scene unlike anything you’ve witnessed before: a man walking through a massive parking lot was fixing broken cars, not with the typical tools of the trade, but with his hands and even with just his words.
As he touched several cars you see cracks on windshields suddenly resealed, and the bulbs of broken headlights instantly flicker on. Passing another row of cars, the man’s outer garment brushes against the hood of one vehicle, stopping an oil leak that had flowed for a dozen years. All around you see flattened tires refilled with air by the sound of his voice alone. Broken down cars left waiting for the tow trucks spring back to life. And from the reserves of one small car you watch him siphon seemingly ends amounts of fuel, enough to fill the tank of every vehicle on the lot.
If you were to witness something as marvelous as all that, what would you think? How might you make sense of what you were seeing? Who is this man? How did he do this? Why did he do this? What does it all mean?
At the very least, you would have to conclude that this man is someone remarkably significant. And you would probably also wonder why he’s using his incredible power to fix cars. Of course, that’s where the analogy between Jesus and that miraculous “mechanic” quickly breaks down. But as rough as the comparison is, it does highlight two important aspects of the miracles of Jesus recorded in the Scriptures.
First Things First: What a Miracle Is
The way we use the word miracle today is very misleading and really doesn’t help us understand what a miracle actually is.
When a young athlete makes a full court shot as the clock expires to give the home team their first championship in over a century, news articles the next day will call it a “miracle.” Or suppose the last of ten siblings, who was also the oldest, finally gets married after many years of the family wondering if it would ever happen. “It’s a miracle!” one of his brothers says in jest. Or again, perhaps you have heard someone say that they were in a car accident and “it was a miracle that no one was hurt.”
All of those instances involve unlikely occurrences, but not miraculous ones. Genuine miracles are direct acts of God intervening suddenly and specifically to suspend the usual course of events for redemptive purposes. Miracles are things that can’t possibly happen apart from the work of God.
Consider that people who die momentarily can sometimes be revived. A child who drowns in the pool might be resuscitated by CPR. A man whose heart stops beating on the operating table might be ‘shocked back to life’ by defibrillators. The advances of modern medicine are truly marvelous, but they’re not miracles but they do not require a direct act of God.
By contrast, Jesus once raised a man to life who had been dead for days—not seconds or even minutes, but days! That man wasn’t coming back with the help of CPR or shock paddles. He needed a resurrection; he needed a miracle; he needed a direct act of God intervening suddenly and specifically to suspend the usual course of events (in this case, death) for redemptive purposes.
Note the the phrase “for redemptive purposes,” which is not a throwaway statement. It reminds us that miracles are most commonly called “signs and wonders” in the Bible. They are “signs” because they point us to something true, and they are “wonders” because they are meant to inspire awe and worship.
Signs and Wonders: What a Miracle Is For
There are two reasons why Jesus performed miracles: they reveal who he is, and they remind us why he came to the world.
Jesus’ miracles often led observers to exclaim with wonder, “Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). There is a reason for this. Walking on water is not just improbable; it is impossible without a miracle. Feeding five thousand people with a couple fish and a few rolls is not just hard; it’s impossible without a miracle. Jesus’ miracles were signs that he is the Son of God and the world’s true Lord. As the apostle Peter said, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst” (Acts 2:22).
Jesus’ miracles had another purpose: they are a picture of how the world ought to be. God’s world as it now exists is skewed by sin and broken in a billion ways, but Jesus is in the redemption and restoration business. His miracles are a sign of the world as it will be when he returns and his kingdom is all and all: no more sickness, no more sadness, no more hunger, no more death—that’s why Jesus performed the miracles he did. They were not random acts of kindness. He was showing us that the world is not the way it’s supposed to be—and he has done something about that.
As Tim Keller deftly explains, “Jesus’ miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts.”
In other words, Jesus’ miracles lead us to recognize who he is and to rejoice in what he has done, is doing, and will do for us by his grace. Miracles are a “challenge to the mind,” as Keller says, leading to wrestle with the same question he disciples asked: “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?” And miracles are a promise to our hearts, stirring our affections and leading us to worship Jesus with eager anticipation of the day when he consummates his kingdom.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.