For the next 12 sessions, we will be walking through this study: Miraculous! The Miracles of Jesus. Our first study is an introduction in which we will be taking an in-depth look at what exactly defines a miracle, what miracles teach us about God and Jesus, and why Jesus performed these miracles. Starting with our first content study, which is part 3 of this Bible Study, we will dive into the actual miracles themselves, but I thought we would start with some introductory material to get our hearts in tune with miracles and their purpose. Starting us off is one of my favorite Scripture verses that is found in Matthew 19:26 (NIV):
With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
This is a beautiful reminder that anything is possible with God, don’t you think? Even when things seem impossible, we can trust that with God… anything is possible. Even miracles.
WHAT IS A MIRACLE?
Webster’s Dictionary defines a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” It then goes on to list the healing miracles that we all can remember from the Gospels as examples. That’s a pretty complicated description for you and me, really. I looked up a simplified version for kids and liked it much better. It stated that a miracle is “an extraordinary event taken as a sign of the power of God!” Much simpler and easier to understand. Now with that said, not every extraordinary event that shows God’s power is going to be a miracle, so let’s look at the characteristics of what makes up a miracle.
- Demonstrable fact. This is the first important characteristic of a miracle. Miracles either happen or they don’t. The occurrence is not debatable. We see a perfect example of this in Matthew 12:22-24 (NIV), the story of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man:
Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
Jesus healed this demon-possessed man. He performed this miracle of healing and even His enemies didn’t question whether He performed the miracle. They only attempted to attribute His power to another source. As in this instance, the Pharisees were quick to accuse Jesus of healing in Satan’s name. By his power and not God’s. This is one example of a miracle being a demonstrable fact. No one was questioning whether Jesus healed the demon-possessed man. They only questioned by whose power the healing came from.
- Worthy motive. A second, very important characteristic of miracles is that they possess a worthy motive. They are never accomplished for personal gain. They are always pointing back to God and are for His glory. There is always a higher purpose, a Kingdom intention that God has in mind. That is the worthy motive. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is from John 11, and this story illustrates this characteristic beautifully. Let’s look at this for a moment. The story of Jesus raising His close friend Lazarus from the dead:
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So, the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jn 11:1-4 (NIV)
The rest of this story, for those of you who remember, was one of great love between Lazarus and Jesus, as well as between Martha and Mary and the Lord. We found Jesus hearing that His friend Lazarus was sick but choosing to wait before returning to Judea to visit him. Jesus already knew that Lazarus had died at that point and that, for God’s glory to shine, He would need to perform a miracle. While He loved Lazarus, His motive was not to bring him back to life or for any personal gain. Had that been the case, Jesus would have returned earlier when he was sick and cured him. But Jesus chose to sit and wait.
Have you ever wondered why? Why wait when your close friend is close to death? Why not hurry there and heal Lazarus? He could have, right? After all, He is Jesus.
But no, He waited. He waited until there was no hope left for Lazarus. No hope left except for a miracle. And that is when He stepped in and acted, all for God’s glory. To bring faith and hope to those who were there and to those who would hear of the miracle of Lazarus.
- Presence of Witnesses. The next vital characteristic of a miracle, as a rule, is that they were performed in the presence of multiple, credible witnesses. This is obvious though, isn’t it? If no one sees it, then how would anyone know it happened? We can think of many Biblical examples of this, such as in the story in John 6. When we read the miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 people, I think we tend to focus so much on the enormity of the miracle that we look past how many people were there to witness it. Think about it for a minute. Can you imagine being in one of the crowds sitting up on the mountainside that day?
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about 5,000 men were there.) Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.” Jn 6:5-11 (NIV)
- Instantaneous Effects. As human beings, patience is not our strong suit and God certainly knows that. For our faith to be strengthened and aligned with God’s will, our hearts to be turned back to the Lord and God’s glory to be seen, we need to see immediate results rather than a slow process. At least when it comes to a miracle. Miracles are something so WOW and EXTRAORDINARY that they must be instantaneous for us to be affected. We see this repeatedly throughout the Bible wherever a miracle occurs, especially in those cases where healing occurs. For example, Mark 10:52 (NIV) and Acts 3:7 (NIV) show us how immediate healing comes when a miracle occurs. There is no waiting weeks or months after a miracle to see its effect. It is right now. In Mark 10, we see Jesus and His disciples traveling through Jericho and they come upon a blind man named Bartimaeus who is begging by the side of the road. He calls out to Jesus for mercy and healing. Jesus’ response is one of compassion and mercy, showing us the importance of the instantaneous effects of this miracle.
Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” Mk 10:52 (NIV)
In Acts 3, we see another great example of instantaneous healing as Peter and John entered the temple gate and encountered a man who was begging for money. When Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have, which is Jesus”… and then he ordered the man to walk.
Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” Acts 3:7 (NIV)
- Sense Perception. All miracles have some sort of sense perception attributed to them. We see Jesus turning water into wine at the Wedding of Cana. We also see Jesus slicing the high priest’s servant’s ear that Jesus later heals. And then again when Jesus appeared to his disciple Thomas in John 20. These are all sensory examples involved in the miracles that Jesus performed. In the story of Thomas, we can remember how early on Thomas doubts, saying that unless he sees the marks in Christ’s hand and feels them, he will not believe. Well, Jesus put him to the test a week later when He appeared in front of him:
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Jn 20:26-27 (NIV)
A genuine miracle will have more than a superficial and temporary interest. The miracles that Jesus performed were never denied in His time, or immediately thereafter. So, as we look at what exactly miracles are, I think it is important to pause and reflect for a moment.
When things get difficult, when someone is sick, finances are struggling, marriages crumble, life happens… don’t we all ask for miracles? I know I do. We ask God to change people. To heal our loved ones. And the thing I think we need to understand is that with miracles comes the hope that anything is possible with God.
And so, we hope and pray for the impossible to be made possible by God. And when He answers our prayers with what we deem as a miracle, we are thankful, and we praise Him. But what about the times when we ask for a miracle and God is silent? That person with cancer dies. What then? I prayed and prayed for my dad when he was diagnosed with cancer. But he died. He died a difficult death.
Rebecca Faires wrote this very telling quote that I think is very true. She said, “His miracles aren’t His message, but rather a testament to who He is.” See, I was looking for what God could do FOR my dad, FOR me, really… SAVE HIM physically, but his death brought so much more than that. There was a greater purpose. You see friends, I did not grow up a Christian. Before my dad died, I didn’t know Jesus AT ALL. I believe my dad died to bring me to Christ. My prayers at first were for God to save him, to heal him, and honestly, they were the first real prayers I ever prayed. And at first, I was like, “REALLY GOD? You let him die?” But then I began to search and find God and I realized over time as I chased after Jesus and eventually fell head over heals in love with Him, that the purpose and meaning in all of that was so much more… so much deeper than I ever realized. He did save my dad because I know that my dad is in Heaven with Jesus, but more than that, in the end, God saved me. It was really a beautiful story of redemption that I am forever grateful for.
Can you think of a time in which you have witnessed one of God’s miracles in your own life?
WHAT DO MIRACLES TEACH US ABOUT GOD?
So yes, His miracles may be important for us to see but only if we can truly see who He is. That He is supreme and is our Father and Creator. And we must remember that His plan for our lives is so much bigger than we can envision. We see such a small picture in the grand scheme of things and His purpose for His Kingdom uses us in great ways that we don’t always see.
- God is supreme and omnipresent. He is ALWAYS present everywhere. We see this clearly in Scripture if we read 1 Kings. Remember when Elijah was on top of Mount Carmel with Ahab and they were having their showdown? Ahab and all the people prepared their sacrifice and called down their false gods, but nothing happened. Then Elijah prepared his sacrifice to the One, True God and prayed in 1 Kings 18:36-39 (NIV):
LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD-he is God! The LORD-he is God!”
- God is sovereign and omnipotent. He is the ULTIMATE MASTER of everything, including nature and we can see this as He calms the storm in Matthew 8. If you remember, Jesus and His disciples were in the boat when a big storm came upon them. They were all asleep and when the disciples awoke, they were terrified. But Jesus woke up, and Scripture says in Matthew 8:26-27 (NIV):
Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
- God is merciful and good. He is the source of our salvation and loves us so much. This is evident throughout Scripture, but can be seen in one of the most read verses in the Bible:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jn 3:16 (NIV)
- God is holy and omniscient. He is an ever-present help in our lives, always guiding. We see this even back in the Old Testament in the book of Exodus. Moses and the Israelites were camped in front of Mount Sinai and the Lord appeared to the people on the third day that they were there.
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.” Ex 19:16-18 (NIV)
As we wrap up talking about what miracles specifically teach us about God, we will move into what they teach us about Jesus. Yes, the lines blur as Jesus is the Son of God, but we will be looking at the character of Jesus more and WHY Jesus performed miracles for this last section. In Part 2, we will look at what miracles teach us about Jesus and why Jesus performed miracles. Thanks for reading!
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for this time to study your Word and the wonder and awe of your miracles. Open our hearts to what you want to show us through your miracles. Lead us into a deeper relationship with you, Lord. Change us, help us to grow and walk stronger in our faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.