Since the miracles of Jesus brought awesome glory to God and inspire deep faith in those who read their account, as important as this is, should we conclude that this is the whole aim of God’s Word? Or is our Lord’s intent also to teach us by these how to enter into his ongoing ministry of healing and mighty works? (which should in no way lessen the significance of the New Testament accounts).
The 21st Century Church in the West reminds us that we owe much hand wringing about people who do not receive miracles, that healings are the exception, and shouldn’t be really expected. In my circles we’ve hit the mute button as to why we don’t see much in the way of miracles today (what a bland way to say this!). Many report they know a loved one who got no miracle and died. I grieve with you and don’t know how to tell that part of the story. To try to search that out is beyond me and the scope of this study, chiefly because, if we’re looking at the Bible, we can find no Gospel record to support such an inquiry (i.e. why healing failed to come). Furthermore, there is no account of Jesus denying anyone of healing or miracle in the New Testament documents. For us to conclude otherwise would be to present a false narrative. But our thinking about this subject is certainly colored by the times we live in. So our goal will be to not judge Scripture by our experience; rather Scripture must stand as judge over our experience and our faith.
So let’s go into the Bible and observe Jesus’ first miracle. The setting invites us in as observers of a difficult moment. The social embarrassment was heart-wrenching, especially for the bride: they had run out of wine. Jesus responded with an over-the-top solution. The effect of the first sign, turning water into wine at the wedding, is found in John 2:11 – “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” This sets the tone for all other signs. The purpose of signs is to present the glory of Christ which generates faith, faith for repentance, and faith to believe him for everything he promised. Biblical signs produced faith, but not in everybody.
To get better acquainted with the word ‘miracle’ let’s do a simple overview of the Gospel of John, where he highlights just seven miracles or signs (Greek Text has σημείων) with several intense conversations in between. To help you to lighten up, I present these in rhyme: 1. The First Sign is Prophetic Wine (John 2:1ff). 2. The Second Sign is the Nobleman’s Time (John 4:43ff). 3. The Third Scroll (sign): Will you be made whole? (John 5:1ff). 4. The Fourth Token (sign): Prophetic Bread broken (John 6ff). 5. The Fifth Sign see: the Lord’s walkin’ on Galilee (John 6:15ff). 6. The Sixth Sign is about a man born blind (John 9:1). 7. The Seventh Correction (sign): a friend’s resurrection (John 11:1ff). To this list John includes the greatest possible sign by definition to the human race: Jesus’ own bodily Resurrection from the dead as told by eye-witness account (John 20-21).
These miracles show Jesus engaging the impossible, the unsolvable, and the overwhelming sorrows of mankind with miracles. But these weren’t mighty works without significance (like growing hair on a billiard ball). These were ‘signs’ that pointed to a greater reality than the miracle itself. For example, as the 5,000 ate the boy’s five loaves and two fish, it pointed to Jesus himself as the ‘bread of life’, and that “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (6:53), which was a very radical, graphic, but figurative way to describe what faith in Jesus is like. Or, the healing of the man born blind pointed to Christ the ‘light of the world’ (9:5), which infers, if he could do that with him, what could he do about my blindness? The blind man represents me.
So Jesus’ signs have ‘sign’-ificance in that they point to an even greater reality. And that greater reality is eschatological, i.e. the signs hold a meaning that has a future beyond earthly time tables, and that enters into the ages to come. When Jesus did signs, it was another Kingdom breaking into this dark kingdom on earth, but ahead of time (not waiting for the end of the age).
Let’s review for a moment the point about these seven signs and their eschatological connection:
1. Water into wine – the Kingdom of heaven is within reach now and worth celebrating.
2. Healing the nobleman’s son – the power of Jesus’ word transcends time and space.
3. The healing of the man 38 years lame – we will walk in heaven which is breaking forth in part already.
4. Feeding 5,000 with a lad’s lunch – to believe in Jesus is to eat the bread of heaven now; you’ll live forever.
5. Jesus walks on Galilee – the Creator demonstrates his stuff; walk with him right into eternity.
6. The blind man now sees – what issues forth from Jesus’ mouth will heal my blindness eternally.
7. Jesus raises Lazarus out of his grave (and himself – John 2:19) to prove true what he said about raising me up on the last day.
Look more closely: when Jesus commanded the man who had suffered for 38 years with lameness to “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8), though it happened in Jerusalem about 32 A.D. it was also an eschatological event that happened as a foretaste of eternity.
For, 1) he intentionally ‘broke the Sabbath.’ This anticipates a time to come when we will enter into his ‘rest’ or sabbath at the end of the age.
2) Jesus was working with “my Father”, as he put it, “making himself equal with God” (5:18), which meant he and his Father held a relationship that went into eternity itself.
3) Jesus healed an incurable disease and gave him back his legs, which points to a future time already breaking in when we will get a new body to walk with him in heaven.
So Jesus’ signs were a little bit of heaven on earth.
The signs, which were eschatological events, were accompanied by Jesus’ message which was also eschatological. Notice this element in John 6:27 after he fed the 5,000 – “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you.” Eternal life is given now and goes on into the future forever, and his signs fit that message.
Now here’s the challenge to us. Our Lord said at the Last Supper to his disciples, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12). He had already sent out the 12 and then the 70 in Luke 9:1-10:1, and is now addressing not only the 12 but also anyone who believes on him. This indicates his ongoing purpose with our doing the signs and wonders he did.
Furthermore, he said in Mark’s Great Commission: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. . . .they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:17). This would mean that all his mighty works were meant to be instructive for our learning, to do what he is doing. Similarly Paul spoke of his ministry in these terms: “Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Rom. 15:19). We arrive face to face with the Master who calls us to do what only he can do, signs that point to an even greater reality, one that’s rooted in eternity, till we slap ourselves and say, Why have I been living like this? Could I really present Jesus like this? Why do I defer this to some far off distant future? Is there a chance I could work with God like this? Would this not certainly lessen the significance of ‘my works’ whereby I try to find myself? Am I ready to lay all that down? Can I conclude, Oh to do mighty works with him!? Did you ever want anything more?