On Signs and Miracles

So my friend Josh gave me permission to repost this as a blog entry. He posted this as a myspace bulletin earlier today. He received the following question from one of his students: (my words are all in purple, so as to avoid confusion)

The Question:

I finished Mark and now am in Luke, now my question is, why does Jesus do miracles, but afterwards say not to tell anyone what He has done? Also, why when He casts out demons, why does He tell them to be quiet and not say who He is? But why would He say to be quiet and not say what He has done or who He is, wouldn’t He want people to know?

I remember that we briefly touched on this in our “Disappointment With God” sphere earlier this year. I thought Josh brought up some excellent points in response, which I’ve posted below.

The Response:

Hey friend,

Glad to see that you’re really digging into the Gospels! Also, these are some great questions. I’m going to be reading up on some real answers for them, but until I get that done, here’s my first perspective on it (and remember, this is just my own uneducated opinion;) There were a number of other alleged miracle workers around the same time as Christ. They gained a following and they start mini-revolts that were soon suppressed. Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t come to start a physical revolution – that wasn’t his goal. He was here to lay a foundation for a revolution to happen. Let’s face it, Jesus could have come down here and wowed people with all of his powers, but He didn’t. He kept His powers in reserve. This makes me believe a couple things about his miracles (I actually prefer the word ‘signs’ to ‘miracles’):

1) Jesus’ miracles were a declaration of who He is, but they weren’t intended to gain a following. Every time Jesus started gaining a following, He purposefully scared them away with His teachings. For instance, it says that at one point that 5000 people were following Him (probably shortly after the ‘feeding of the 5000’) and that he then told them that they would have to ‘eat of His flesh’ and ‘drink of His blood.’ That freaked most of them out and they bolted. In fact, Jesus then turns to His disciples and says, “are you all that is left?” This ties into my opinion about the foundation Jesus was trying to create. It’s easy to impress people when you can stop the sun – but Jesus wants people who are dedicated to His TEACHINGS not His SIGNS.

2) I like calling the miracles ‘signs’ because I think that’s really what they were. Jesus could have come down and healed every single person in the world – but He didn’t. Why? My guess is that He simply did signs as a sign, or verification, of who He is. It’s kind of like Jesus’ ID or fingerprint. He would do a sign and then teach. The signs got people to listen to what He was saying. In addition, I think that He did some of His signs just to illustrate a point. Scholars debate on this, but it seems that many of Jesus’ signs reflected miracles that were done by great leaders in the Old Testament.

It’s almost as if Jesus is saying: I have the same power (and more) as these men who you consider so amazing! Those are two of the big reasons why I think He actually did these signs. In concern to asking people not to talk about it, word spread anyway, didn’t it? He asks the blind man not to talk and the guy goes and tells everyone He knows. I think that Jesus wanted silence because (in His words) His time had not yet come. It wasn’t the right time to reveal who He was. I think that time was the resurrection. I think that His raising from the dead was Jesus’ declaration to the world that He was more than just a ‘miracle worker,’ He was the Son of God. Previous to that declaration, He didn’t want anything interfering with the Foundation that He was building. So, to sum up:

  • Jesus used His three years of ministry as a time to build a foundation for the Kingdom that was coming.
  • Signs were used to illustrate points and get peoples attention, not to build a revolution.
  • The one sign He broadcasted (and told everybody else to talk about) was His resurrection. This was His declaration of revolution.

Anyway, might not answer your question – but hope that it gets you to think 😉 And maybe I gave you way more than you expected…who knows!

I think Josh did a great job of responding, but I just wanted to see if anybody else had anything to add.

I ultimately can’t circumvent the fact that Jesus Himself said that a “wicked and perverse generation” asks for signs, and that no sign will be given except the “sign of Jonah,” which is a prophetic reference to His death and resurrection.

Eugene Peterson’s “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” has an excellent section on the topic of signs. The whole book is stinkin’ amazing, actually.

Anyway just wanted to see if you guys had any additional thoughts. Please share:)

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5 thoughts on “On Signs and Miracles

  1. A thought:What is God’s main goal with us (or at least his short-term goal)? If we think (as I do) that it has to do with our characters growing to function solidly in line with the values of the Kingdom, then we realize why miracles are in some sense useless: no one (not even God, by his own choice) can effect our spiritual growth and development for us. We can be encouraged, and we can be in environments with more or fewer “spiritual nutrients”, but at the end of the day, our decisions/discipline are an unavoidable aspect of growth. Miracles (at least God-ly ones) can’t make this switch for us!So maybe this is part of what Jesus was worried about when he warned people not to focus on the wrong (external) things.

  2. I totally agree. That very principle was displayed by the people in Christ’ day. They followed Him around hoping for some grand miracle to occur, but as soon as He started talking about the sacrifice it took to become a Kingdom worker the crowds would vanish!I think that the Israelites (in the Old Testament) illustrated this as well. Time and time again, God performs some amazing sign, and yet they choose not to change and to continue to complain. Hhh…We humans can be so frustrating sometimes. – Josh

  3. I like how Philip Yancy describes this human tendency in his book, Disappointment with God:”We tend to rank God’s revelations by their dramatic effect, with spectacular personal appearances at the top, supernatural miracles just below, and the words of the prophets at the bottom” (the human factor as Josh said it).John Piper, in Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, describes specific miracles Jesus performed, such as the waves and winds obeying His voice, the water turned into wine. He asks, “Will we worship or will we curse the One who rules the world?” I wanted to quit writing my dissertation during its last crucial phase. I had no more to give, my strength all zapped from an assortment of things – I asked God to give me the words as I just decided to put in the longer hours (the discipline aspect, according to Jonathan). That’s a miracle to me!When someone you love who is angry with God for some time starts listening to familiar old gospel songs – I paid attention to that small miracle!Excellent blog, Lee.Mom

  4. Great thoughts, guys.Good point, Josh. I also remember that Yancey spends a lot of time exploring this idea in DWG… That as believers sometimes we complain and ask why God doesn’t send burning bushes or parted seas or chariots of fire like He did in the “good ‘ole days.” But the truth is, even though they witnessed all these fantastical and obviously supernatural miracles firsthand, the Hebrew people remained as willful and disbelieving as ever. Miracles didn’t transform their wills or their hearts. Jesus didn’t perform signs to superficially correct or improve someone’s situation. There was always some deeper purpose behind it. And He knew that focusing on the “external” (as you say, Jonathan) would only serve to distract them from what was really going on. By the way, Mom, it gladdens my heart that you are reading Yancey:)

  5. Reading this made me think of something that I thought was kind of odd at first but then the more I thought about it, it started to make sense.When you start a fire with kindling and smaller sticks, then work your way up to larger sticks and then logs, you lay a solid foundation for that fire. Even if the wind blows or it rains a little, the fire will keep burning because of all the coals. If you start a fire with gasoline, you might get it burning but there will be no foundation, no coals smoldering under the flames to protect it. A strong wind or a few raindrops can put it out in an instant.Miracles or signs can be quite dramatic but I think Jesus wanted there to be more coals so that the fire would be stronger and hotter and less likely to go out.

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