Episode 1. The Truth About Miracles
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So – question – do you believe in signs, wonders and miracles? Not just 2000 odd years ago in the Bible – I mean today, here, now … for you and for me? A Biblical Perspective on Miracles Well …
So – question – do you believe in signs, wonders and miracles? Not just 2000 odd years ago in the Bible – I mean today, here, now … for you and for me?
A Biblical Perspective on Miracles
Well – we don’t think too much about miracles it seems, until we’re desperate for a miracle. Until some crisis comes along – perhaps a health scare, cancer, a heart attack, an accident, some other terrible illness and then we go to God in desperation, almost as a last resort – begging for a miracle. But I’m not sure that that’s necessarily how God wants us to think about miracles.
I – for one – believe that God is still doing amazing things today. And yes, miracles can be an exception, but sometimes, I don’t think that we’re expectant enough, matter of fact enough, prepared enough to go to God – in the normal course of business, right here in the ordinary, mundane things in the lives that we lead, and ask for Him to intervene in a miraculous way.
So we’re about to set off on a journey to explore 8 miracles – the 8 signs, as the Apostle John calls them – that are recorded in John’s Gospel. 8 signs – signs that point to the supernatural power of Jesus. And that’s the thing – John in His Gospel calls them signs – signs that point to Jesus. Signs that authenticate who He claims to be – the very Son of the one, true, living God. In fact, Jesus makes exactly that point in his John’s Gospel, Chapter 5, verse 36. This is what He says:
But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has indeed sent me.
I used to be really sceptical of this whole, signs, wonders and miracles thing. We’ve all seen the tele–evangelists on TV – hyping an audience, prancing around a stage, laying their hands on people, pushing them over so hard that you wonder whether instead of being healed, the person just got whiplash. Have you seen that – my reaction is to cringe from that … it doesn’t work for me – and it doesn’t work for a lot of other people. And here’s why. Jesus:
For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.
So the whole point of these so-called signs – the wonders and miracles – are to point to the authenticity of Jesus; to point to the existence of this God who is ready and willing and able to intervene supernaturally in our lives, to suspend the natural order and to do miraculous things.
The point is not – as in the case of the tele–evangelist, to point to the authenticity of the showman, but to point to Jesus. That’s why we cringe when we see that stuff, because it’s not what Jesus intended. Does God still use that in power and might, sure He does sometimes. But miracles are meant to bring God the glory, not us.
So – that’s the first thing about miracles. The second thing for today is our level of expectation. Now I am not suggesting for one moment that we should expect a miracle in every situation, that somehow because we believe in Jesus, we get an easy ride. That’s not at all what Jesus promised:
In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world He said to His disciples. (John 16:33)
On the other hand, Jesus makes it clear that He expects us to expect miracles of Him. He expects us to put our trust and our faith in Him. And to the extent that we don’t do that, we miss out on the supernatural power of God. Do you remember the first time that Jesus visited His home town of Nazareth after He’d begun His public ministry? Have a listen:
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom that’s been given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.’ And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:1–6)
I don’t know about you, but I do not want Jesus to marvel at my unbelief. The thing that caught his fellow Nazarenes, was the fact that He was familiar – remember that Jesus, that’s Joseph and Mary’s son, the carpenter’s apprentice who grew up here in scummy old Nazareth. Who does He think He is?
Because they were so immersed in the natural, they couldn’t believe in the supernatural. They couldn’t come to grips with miracles being done in the midst of the mundane. And I think it’s often the same with us. Look around – your home, your workplace, your boring little routine of day-to-day drudgery. Come on, do you expect Jesus to show up in that place, and do something miraculous for you?
Hmm? … I thought not. Most of us simply don’t expect miracles in the mundane. And when we don’t expect it, when our faith doesn’t reach out to Jesus in a plain and simple expectancy that He’s in this place, that He is prepared to do things for us supernaturally – it’s going to be just like Nazareth. Let these words ring in your ear: He could do no mighty work there … and so He marvelled at their unbelief.
I guess the point that I’m trying to make here, getting us ready to look at these eight signs, wonders and miracles that John records in his Gospel is this. On the one hand, Jesus doesn’t want us out there in some outrageous showmanship, that points to us and not to Him. Miracles are not magic, they’re not tricks. They’re not entertainment.
He’s not looking for super–spiritual swamis to serve Him. On the other hand, neither is He going to intervene all too often with His supernatural power, if we simply don’t expect him to, if we deny His power. If we don’t ask Him and go to Him and beg him to intervene.
The Bible talks about people who hold to the outward form of godliness, going through all the religious rituals and motions, showing up at church, playing the game, but at the same time, denying the power of God. You’ll find that in 2 Tim 3, 4–6 – and it says this about those people. That people who go through the religious motions but deny the power of God: that we should keep away from those people and have nothing to do with them.
So as we head off on this journey looking at the signs, wonders and miracles of Jesus it’s this Biblical balance, that we need to keep in mind.
Water Into Wine
So … the very first miracle in John’s Gospel – the one that we’re going to look at right now, is such a … weird one. Let’s have a listen, as I read this from John Chapter 2, verses 1–11:
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it.
When the master of the feast tasted the water which now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.
It’s a totally weird one this one, isn’t it? I mean, healing the blind, the sick, the lame – I totally get that. That makes sense. Even feeding the 5,000 people who were out there somewhere in the middle of nowhere listening to Jesus. Sure, I get that. But turning water into wine, because someone’s planning wasn’t quite good enough to make sure there was enough grog at the party. Really? The first public miracle of the supposed Son of the Living God – God Himself on planet earth? What’s that say about God?
Well the first thing it tells me, is that God is into helping us with real world problems. This was a real world problem that the groomsmen was facing here – serious embarrassment. Weddings went on for days back in the first century. And when a father had a daughter, when she was born, he would put down a cask of wine in the cellar, and each year thereafter on her birthday another cask – so by the time when she was married – in her mid to late teens, he’d have some really good, mature old wine, and some newer wine, perhaps some fresh wine that was not so good. That’s what the steward was referring to about drinking the best wine first, and leaving the younger wine until people were slightly more inebriated.
Now, Jesus has no real intention of doing anything here, until his mother, Mary, gives him a gentle nudge. I love that – the Son of God aged around 30 years old, still does what His mother tells Him to do – bit of a lesson in that alone, for some people.
So – the wedding runs out of wine. Our edgy, radical Saviour Jesus – when, according to the steward’s own assessment – a good many people had already had a good deal too much to drink, Jesus gets up, and looks around – what’s available for this miracle?
Well, over there are these huge stone jars, 6 of them, each one holing 20 to 30 gallons. That’s 120 to 180 gallons, or 550 to over 800 gallons of water. I don’t know how big the wedding party was, but that’s a huge amount of water … and it’s a huge amount of wine. Can you believe it? And without doing anything much – just commanding the servants to fill the jars, Jesus – through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit – turns all this water, into all that wine. And not just any wine. The very best wine. So – what’s going on here? Well, a few things.
There was a practical need, and Jesus met that need. Okay – that’s what He did back then. But … how many weddings have you been to recently, where they ran out of wine, and someone prayed and God did that sort of a miracle? Hmm? No – me neither. So there must be something else going on here that speaks into our situation, your life and mine.
As things turn out, there is. There are two other things. The first –is what Jesus uses, to create the wine and what the wine symbolises. He uses the religious symbols of the day, the ritual of purification water – of course the Old Testament commanded people to purify themselves, and certain purification rites are prescribed. By this time people were taking things a bit far – they were turning God’s law into rules and rituals.
So – Jesus grabs the symbols of those rituals and transforms them into a symbol of God’s abundant blessing – wine. Through this miracle God’s saying something powerful, the old is about to pass away, and the new is about to come – that’s why this is Jesus’ very first miracle. Old, rule based, law based religion is about to go out the door, and it’s about to be replaced by something much better – the abundance of grace and blessing that comes only through Jesus Christ – that’s the megaphone message behind this miracle.
And it’s a message that rings down through the centuries to you and me here and now – the miracle of the transformation of our lives, when we believe in Jesus – is the end of our judgement under God’s law, and the beginning of a sweet, pure, beautiful and yes … intoxicating … grace in Jesus Christ.
Let that message ring loud and clear and pure and true in your heart. The transformation of our lives through the power of grace isn’t some theory lesson. It’s real. It’s alive and it’s totally miraculous. And the other thing, the second thing that’s going on here, is that God brings glory to Himself. Listen again to people’s reactions to the miracle:
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
God’s miracles always bring God the glory – the reason John calls them signs, is because they point to the authentic power and love of God in Jesus Christ. My friend – God is still doing some miracles now – if only we’d go to Him, in the midst of our very real, very practical needs and ask Him. Haven’t received a miracle yet? Perhaps that’s because you haven’t asked Him yet … with the sort of expectancy that He calls … faith.
The Nobleman’s Son
So – are you ready. Jesus’ second sign, in the book of John Chapter 4:46–54:
So Jesus came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water into wine. And at Capernaum there was a royal official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’
The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
Now earlier we saw how easy it is to deny the power of God. Like the people in Jesus’ own home town, sometimes we don’t expect miracles in the midst of the mundane realities of life – the place where you live, where you’ve grown up, where you work. Look around – where you live, and where you work – do you really expect Jesus to come into those places and do some miracles?
And yet here was this nobleman – a man of position and power, so desperate that he was prepared to humble himself, even humiliate himself in front of the crowd, by racing to Jesus and begging that He come and heal his son. He was a ROYAL official.
Jesus, whilst He was pulling the crowds, whilst He had unofficial rock star status, – Jesus, in the Jewish Social Pecking Order, in the scheme of things – was a nobody. He wasn’t a member of the Sanhedrin – the ruling religious body. He hadn’t gone to have His credentials stamped by the Religious hierarchy in Jerusalem. He was from Nazareth – Ugh!! Does anything good come from Nazareth?
And yet, He’d been doing these amazing miracles. The father – because he was a father as well as a royal official – was at his wit’s end. This child of his was about to die. He hears that Jesus is around – the Jesus who they say that has been healing people. Desperation drove him to come to Jesus. And he didn’t just ask – he begged, he implored – that’s the sense of the original Greek word translated here to ‘ask’ – He cast himself completely on the mercy and the power of Jesus.
Big call – something that sometimes we’re not prepared to do. Either because we’re too ashamed to go up for an altar call at church, or ask for someone to pray with us, or let people know that we are completely at the end of our tether and we’re relying on Jesus to do the miraculous – because we can’t.
All too often we want to appear like we have it all together. We don’t need any help. Well can I tell you, none of us have it all together and none of us lives a life where we don’t need the supernatural power of God to break into our natural, boring little world from time to time. So this man of position and status casts himself at Jesus feet – and how … how does Jesus respond?
Jesus takes this as the opportunity for some teaching to the crowds: So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ Not exactly the response he was looking for – but Jesus was making a point. Some people just won’t believe in Jesus, no matter what.
Another time a bunch of religious leaders came to Him and demanded a sign from Him – He called them a faithless and perverse generation, and said to them no sign will be given to you.
That’s an important lesson for you and me to learn. That’s an important lesson when someone we love is dying and God, by His sovereign will, chooses not to heal them because in the lost and fallen world, we all get sick – and unless Jesus returns beforehand, we are all going to die. I know one young man who goes to a church not far from where I live who said – Hey, unless there are signs and miracles and wonders at church each week, you know that God isn’t in that place.
Well, that’s not what Jesus is saying here – in fact, you read say the book of Acts and you imagine that it was wall to wall miracles going on there. When in fact, that book chronicles the first 20 or so years of the fledgling church – and those miracles it talks about are spread over 2 decades and across much of the then known world, right?
So Jesus is putting this whole signs and wonders and miracles thing into perspective here and saying in effect – Yes, these signs do point to me, they do speak of my authenticity, that I am who I say I am, but they’re not the be all and end all and they shouldn’t be the thing on which your faith hangs. Great bit of teaching wouldn’t you agree? But where does that leave the nobleman begging Jesus to come quickly and heal his son?
He’s not phased, he just focuses on Jesus, and says again – Sir, come down before my child dies. And when Jesus speaks that healing out through His lips and as we read … the child was healed. But NOT in the way the man had hoped. He wanted the physical presence of Jesus at His place where is son was. Jesus on the other hand spoke healing by His Word. – How would you and I have reacted? No, No Jesus – come on you have to come down to my place and lay hands on my son and do whatever it is that you do.
Not how this man reacted – no. Instead, he took Jesus at His Word, He believed – and you know the rest of the story, the boy was healed. Question: will you take Jesus at His Word? Will you listen to His powerful Word today and simply believe?
Sometimes, He doesn’t show up because we’re asking Him to do something that isn’t part of His plan. And you know what – fair enough too. As much as it may hurt, God is God and He gets to decide that and it inevitably works out for the best. But sometimes He doesn’t show up, because we don’t expect Him to, because we don’t humble ourselves to ask, because we don’t admit that we need Jesus help in public; because we don’t go to Jesus – and whatever else may be going on around us – ask Him… for a miracle.