During his ministry, the Savior performed wondrous miracles that blessed the lives of the less fortunate. He healed lepers, restored the sight to the blind and even raised the dead. On a few occasions he cautioned the recipient of his divine power not to tell anyone he healed them. This censure did not work too well and his fame spread with people gathereing by the hundreds to seek relief from their ailments. There is even one story of a women who simply touched his robes as he passed and was healed.
I am of the position that God is not magic. He is not a wizard that can conjure up supernatural wonders with a flick of a wand. God just has a better understanding of the physical world, perhaps greater than we will ever be able to grasp (see my blog The Genetic 1%). We have yet to figure out how Jesus performed his miracles, but there are some factors that play into how and why they occur:
- Faith somehow determines the outcome. Faith, it is said, precedes the miracle. The more faith a person has, the more profound the miracle. This suggests that miracles are a two way act between giver and the recipient.
- Miracles were performed to teach a principle. It was not simply a show of power, or used to impress an ignorant multitude.
- The miracles were not global in nature, generally only a few perceived them.
- None were used to usurp power. Jesus did not come to conquer kingdoms, rather he came to conquer sin and death.
- The Savior used contemporary methods that the recipient would understand, be they ever so strange, such as putting dirt on the eyes to heal blindness.
- Miracles are described by the observers who were clouded by their own understanding of the natural world. For example, it could well be that the many recordings of Jesus casting out devils may not have involved evil spirits at all. These people may have suffered from a mental illness. When we read the scriptures, we need to understand that they are written by people who, as Paul explains it, see through a glass darkly.
- Miracles do not convert. Those who witnessed miracles, even benefited from them, did not decide to follow Jesus if they did not already have faith in him.
To this final point, consider the Old Testament story of Elijah, perhaps my all time favourite scripture story. In 1 Kings 18, the prophet Elijah was tasked with pulling Israel away from worshipping their many false idols back to worshiping Jehovah. He challenges the people by calling out to them “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him, and the people answered him not a word”
There is a final show down between Elijah and the priests of Baal. Each built an altar and were competing to produce the more miraculous burning sacrifice. The one who could show forth a great miracle would win the war of the Gods. The loser got to die an ignominious death. My kind of contest. The priests of Baal were experts in special effects. They were notorious for loading up their altars with flammable oil so that when they secretly lit their match when the time was right, the alter would go up in a burst of flames, dazzling and impressing their worshipers who did not have access to the internet where they could watch ‘how to’ videos on using accelerants. To the observer who did not detect the sleight of hand, this pyrotechnic display was a miracle.
As the stage is set, Elijah goaded the wicked priests on, as they prayed from morning until noon but no voice from heaven is heard. Elijah mocked them saying “Cry aloud; for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked’. The priests of Baal raised the ante through self-mutilation in a hopeless effort to have their god ignite the altar. When the time of sacrifice arrived and no miracle occurred, Elijah stepped up to take his turn.
Elijah prepared his altar and had a total of 12 barrels of water poured over top, soaking the wood and everything around it. He then filled the trench with water completely submerging the entire area so that there could be no claim that he was cheating the way the priests of Baal so often did. At this point, he prayed to Jehovah who immediately responded by sending fire that consumed the entire altar, water and all. The people were astonished and all present praised the God of Israel and put to death all the priests of Baal. Their jubilant worship, however, was short lived and the King immediately sought to take Elijah’s life.
Elijah won the contest hands down, but to his dismay he did not win any converts. Confused and dismayed, he went off the pray and Jehovah visited him. And here is a most powerful lesson. God shows him a great wind, an earthquake, and a great fire and says “But the lord was not in the wind, and after the wind and earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice”. The latter being the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. Conversion has to be self motivated; it has to come from within through genuine conversion. Amazing miracles do not convert. It may impress the non believer, but without the witness of the Holy Ghost, they have little effect. People often ask, why doesn’t God just come down and dazzle us with his power. Because, simply put, it doesn’t work that way. Change has to come from within.
Rex C Reeves (The Miracle of Jesus – Studies in Scriptures v 5 The Gospels) presents 10 purposes of the miracles:
- Witness that Christ had power over all things
- To demonstrate Jesus’ love and compassion
- To motivate people to cast off their spiritual infirmities in the same way physical infirmities were eliminated
- To create teaching opportunities
- To give evidence, confirmation and example of his teachings
- To prevent the frustration of the purposes of God
- To reward and strengthen the faith of those who believed in him
- To set the example for his disciples for them to perform miracles
- To open the heart of nonbelievers
- To stand as a witness against nonbelievers
There are numerous ways to organize the miracles as recorded in the gospels of the New Testament. The following is my own chart that I created. I hope you find it of value as you study the miracles of Jesus Christ.