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THE PURPOSE OF MIRACLES IN THE MINISTRY OF CHRIST
by bruno sebrechts
3/16/2021 / Miracles
The miracles in Jesus’ ministry served as signs marking the dawning of the messianic age; first of all for the people of Israel. For the demons, Jesus’ authority was a sign of what awaited them—their ultimate defeat (Matt 8:29). It proved that the Messiah had entered their territory and gave a public preview of his coming kingdom (Matt 11:3–5). If Jesus could forgive sins, raise the dead, and deliver the demonized on a local basis, then one day he could do the same on a full-scale basis. Healings and deliverances were
- signs of God’s love and grace,
- a confirmation that Jesus and his teachings were as authoritative as the Scriptures of old,
- a miraculous foretaste and proof of the coming realities in his kingdom.
Signs and Miracles and the Deliverance Ministry
Placing all hope in instant miracles and relying on spectacular signs can neglect the need for processing trauma or facing hard realities. God’s ability to perform miracles does not relieve us of our duty to start helping with the natural means at our disposal. When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, he started with the bread and fish that were available. When he provided wine at Cana, he first ordered the vessels to be filled with common water. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan honors practical care and help as examples of commendable behavior (Luke 10:37). Though his ministry was marked by many signs and miracles, the miracles were not an end in themselves, but rather a divine approval of Jesus (Acts 2:22); nor were they a magical way of meeting all individual needs.
The Crowd Loved His Miracles More Than His Message
The Gospels include the casting out of demons among the records of Jesus’ healing miracles. His miracles were unprecedented, complete, abundant, and irrefutable even to the skeptics. In a single visit to a village, he could heal all the sick and cast out all manifested demons of the people that were brought to him. He even healed the serious injury of one of the men who had captured him (Luke 22:51).
Miracles confirmed his words (John 14:11), with important moments accompanied by special natural phenomena: an unusual star at his birth (Matt 2:2); a solar eclipse during his last hours (Luke 23:45); and at the moment of his death, an earthquake and the raising of many who had died (Matt 27:51–52).
Jesus announced his kingdom with miracles, which he viewed as prophetic signs, rather than simply giving people what they wanted. He rebuked those who demanded miracles (Luke 4:23–27, see Luke 11:16–17).
The crowds’ interest in his miracles did not extend to trusting him when he did not meet their earthly expectations. They shouted hosha–na! (“save now”), but within a week they had abandoned him at his trial and crucifixion.
Although Jesus’ miracles revealed his character and mission and confirmed his teachings, people often failed to grasp their intended lessons, which is why he did not make unlimited use of them. He denied the Pharisees any more signs (Mark 8:12) and uttered a general rebuke: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and there will be no sign given to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt 16:4). Furthermore, “he began to denounce the cities in which most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent ” (Matt 11:20). He did not rush back to those cities to perform even more convincing miracles. Rather, he admonished them. He did heal a blind man from there, but only after he had taken him by the hand right out of town, telling him later: “Don’t enter into the village, nor tell anyone in the village” (Mark 8:22–26). Jesus would not give “that which is holy to the dogs” (Matt 7:6). He applied this principle again by driving scornful bystanders out of Jairus’s house before raising his daughter from the dead, denying them the privilege of seeing the miracle (Mark 5:40–43). Some miracles were clearly meant for all to see (John 2:11), but apparently not all did. For example, King Herod wanted to see a miracle when they met (Luke 13:32; 23:9), but his wish was not fulfilled. Nor did Jesus agree with the desire of his brothers to showcase his exceptional deeds in Jerusalem (see John 7:2–5).
Jesus would not allow the importance of his message or his ministry to be measured solely by the accompanying signs. Apart from the solar eclipse, no miracles occurred while he was suffering on the cross, not even when he was challenged to miraculously free himself. He ignored that demand, enduring the cross for the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:2).
Some weeks later at Pentecost, when Peter proclaimed the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection to the multitude, thousands came to faith. Though the crowd was attracted by the miracle of hearing the great deeds of God in their own native tongues, it was the preaching of Peter that made them conscious of their need for salvation. Likewise, we are not called to chase after supernatural signs, but to put the message of the cross at the center, trusting God to confirm it with his power in the way he wants (1 Cor 1:22–23).
Miracles and their Lessons
Several of Jesus’ miracles were intended as spiritual lessons. His feeding of the multitude was not merely to satisfy their physical hunger, but to encourage them to seek the true bread, “the food which remains to eternal life” (John 6:27; see Mark 6:51–52). The miraculous catch was a picture of the true calling of the disciples: “From now on you will be catching people” (Luke 5:10). Jesus’ intent behind raising Lazarus was that those who saw might believe that he was sent by God (John 11:42). And when he healed a paralyzed man, he declared: “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matt 9:6).
Though Jesus fed two crowds by multiplying bread, produced two miraculous catches of fish, and made sure that a living fish offered money from its mouth (Matt 17:27), such miracles can never excuse us from working for a living, or providing food and clothing for those in need (2 Thess 3:10; Jas 2:16).
Sensational miracles do not always indicate spiritual maturity. The Israelites received daily manna from heaven in the desert, but when they had to conquer their enemies in the promised land, God provided food through normal channels (Josh 5:12). We must trust God in how he chooses to lead us and work in our lives, for though special manifestations may accompany deliverance from evil spirits, such outward signs are not the essence of deliverance.
Jesus, Peter, and Paul tempered people’s euphoric reactions about miracles and deliverances, as if pruning was needed to remove the useless branches that grow in such circumstances (e.g., Luke 10:20; Acts 10:26; 14:15).
Human responses to genuine miracles can be shortsighted (Mark 1:44–45, Acts 14:11). Even the aged John on Patmos acted wrong twice, almost worshipping an angel. Being overwhelmed by the glory of God was no guarantee against error (Rev 19:9–10; 21:7–9). After the multiplication of the loaves, the people wanted to force Jesus to be their king (John 6:15). The crowd came back the next day for more food: they did not really believe in him for who he really was; they just wanted more miracles (John 6:26ff). When Jesus healed ten lepers, only one returned to express gratitude (Luke 17:11–19). Three times after healing people he asked for them to stay quiet about it, but on all three occasions they ignored it and trumpeted it forth! (Matt 9:29; Mark 1:44–45; 7:35–36).
We affirm that miracles—then and now—fulfill specific and important functions; but their impact can be relative, for humans often respond to them in the wrong way.
Text is available in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Chinese, Russian, Arabic and Farsi.
For a general treatment of the theme of spiritual deliverance, see
"Light In Our Darkness, Essentials of Spiritual Deliverance" – Bruno Sebrechts.
Humble Joy Publishing ISBN 9789083136400.
Spanish Edition ISBN 9789083136417
Bruno Sebrechts is a counselor and Bible teacher with over twenty-five years of pastoral experience. He saw God at work, especially in the healing and deliverance of the most damaged believers. His writings are the result of his extensive experience and continuous study. www.LightInOurDarkness.net
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