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Today: 31 May 2020


How Many Miracles?

First published 05/05/2019

He was very sceptical.  “How can you possibly believe in a man who walks on water?”

Jesus disciples had that problem too.  Their first reaction when they saw him apparently walking on water was one of terror - they thought he was a ghost and ”screamed with fear”.  (The account comes in three of the four gospels, see Matthew 14, verses 22-32, for instance.)  They took a lot of reassuring that it was Jesus and that what they had just seen was for real.

It’s doubtful whether, on its own, Jesus walking on water would have convinced anyone as to who he was.  In any case, so far as we know, he only did it once, and it was only the disciples who saw it.  So it was never a crowd-pulling ‘trick’.

There are some remarkable stories of Jesus’ miracles.  But Jesus himself seems to have been quite ambivalent about them.  When people asked for miracles or expected him to be some kind of magician or conjuror, he refused.

But Jesus didn’t use miracles to brow-beat people.  Mostly whenever he performed miracles it was without fanfare, with just a few people present and very much for someone’s healing or benefit in some way.

The trouble with miracles is that you can either have too many or too few of them.  If Jesus had focussed on miracles, people would have seen him as a wonder-worker, and they would have followed him just for the thrills.  Some of the religious leaders saw the danger of his miracles and worried that ignorant people would go running after him.  But if he had performed no miracles, people might have wondered what was special about him.

When people asked for a miracle (see Matthew 16, 1-4), he refused. That’s not what he was about. They would only get one miracle, he replied - the miracle of Jonah.  That mystifying comment has always been understood as a hint about his resurrection on the third day, like Jonah’s experience of three days inside “a great fish”.

Miracles were only incidental to Jesus ministry.  Who he was, God’s Son, his teaching and his own death and resurrection are much more significant.  They were ‘signs’ or pointers to who he was.  Walking on the water was a pointer to his mastery of nature, but more than that it led his disciples to worship him, saying “Truly you are the Son of God!”

We don’t have to understand or be able to explain or even believe in his miracles.  If they help us that’s great, if we find them an obstacle, then we don’t need to focus on them.  What is important is that we see who he is, and respond to him, not to the miracles.

Except that there is one great miracle at the heart of the Christian faith - that on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead.

That miracle is the greatest of all, and is the key to our trust and confidence in him.

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Whatever miracles I see or don’t see, help me, through the many clues you give, to believe, to trust and to follow you gladly.

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