Out of the ordinary

 

Do you ever wonder why Jesus performed certain miracles for certain people? I don’t think it was so much that he was selective about whom he did things for, I think he performed miracles for those who went to the trouble of getting his attention.

Once Jesus’ ministry took off, he was in high demand. People followed him everywhere he went. And, let’s face it, if you knew he was going to feed you, you’d probably show up, too. There were always crowds around him. He healed a lot of people. I’m sure the Gospels only list a small portion of what he really did. But the ones that stand out are those who took the extra effort.

In Luke 18, there’s a blind man. He discovers Jesus is nearby.

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Luke 18:38-39 (NIV)

There was no way this man was going to let Jesus go without getting his miracle. And he did. All his hollering got Jesus attention.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”

Luke 18:42 (NIV)

This blind man wasn’t the only one to take extra effort in getting Jesus’ attention. Remember those four crazy friends who tore a hole in a roof to lower their paralysed friend down in front of Jesus (Luke 5:19)? What about the sinful woman who came into the Pharisee’s house and dumped a bottle of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38)? Or the woman with the issue of blood who crawled through a crowd just to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak (Luke 8:44)? Then there were the ten lepers who stood at a distance yelling at Jesus to heal them (Luke 17:13).

It seems to me that those who want something from the Lord, really want something, will do whatever it takes to get it. And here we sit and pray a little prayer once and assume it’s not God’s will if it doesn’t happen immediately. Have we really done all we can to get Heaven’s attention? Have we, like the blind man, called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” until he has no other choice but to acknowledge our cry?

Those who received the most from Jesus are the ones who couldn’t care less what society thought of them. They were the ones who shoved social and cultural norms aside and said to themselves, if Jesus is able to do this, I’m going to make sure he does.

Maybe, just maybe, we don’t see the signs and wonders we want to see because we’re not really asking for them. What have you done lately to capture Jesus’ attention? Have you done anything unusual or out of the ordinary?

Read: 2 Samuel 4-6, Luke 18:18-43

Side effects

As much as possible, I avoid the use of prescription medication. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I’m one of those people that experience side effects more often and more acutely than most. I can use nearly any list of side effects as a checklist should my health require the use of prescriptions. In most cases, the initial symptom is easier to endure than the side effects of the drug. As a result, I deal with chronic allergies instead of the nosebleeds, cough, fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, trouble breathing, and fatigue that come with over-the-counter nasal spray.

Now, I’m a more extreme case than the majority of the population, but most of us, in one way or another, have resigned ourselves to side effects and recovery time. A common cold may last just a few days, but the recovery of it can last a week or more. The same goes for the flu. A couple of days of being sick and medicated can lead to a week or two of recovery. We’re used to the idea. We expect it. And, whether we realise it or not, I think it’s had a dramatic effect on our faith.

“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

Luke 4:35 (NIV)

So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

Luke 4:49 (NIV)

These are just two accounts of many where Jesus performed a miracle. The miracles are incredible, but for now, look at what happened afterward. The demon-possessed man was freed without injury. Simon’s mother-in-law got up and started serving guests. When was the last time you were up and around doing housework the moment your fever broke? Probably never.

Here’s the thing about Jesus. Not only did he heal people, not only did he free them from demons, he did so without side effects. I cannot think of a single miracle in the Bible that required a time of recovery. Even Lazarus, dead for days, simply walked out of his tomb as though nothing had happened.

Our resignation to side effects and recovery time has stifled our faith. We pray just to get better and that’s good enough. But what Jesus has in mind for us is far better than good enough. It’s more than enough.

I think the possessed man would have been glad for a few scrapes and scratches, even a broken bone just to be free. Simon’s mother-in-law probably would have been content just to have a few degrees relief from her burning fever. Jesus didn’t just heal them, he made them whole.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 (NIV)

There are no side effects in Christ. There is no recovery time. When Jesus does something, he gets the job done the first time. That is where our faith should be. You may have heard it said that good enough is the enemy of great. It’s true. We’ve adopted an Eeyore mentality, convincing ourselves that just enough is okay. But it’s not.

The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who called Simon to cast his nets so they could be brought back up so full they nearly sunk two boats. The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who first forgave the paralytic, then told him to get up and walk. The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who not only rose from the grave, but conquered death itself.

So why are we settling for just enough when we serve the God of more than enough?

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 14-15, Luke 4:33-44 

Do you believe?

I have a special corner of my house that I use almost exclusively for reading my Bible. There’s a comfy couch, pillows, and a blanket from Mexico. Surrounding said couch is books. Lots of books: Bibles in at least five translations and two languages, dictionaries, concordances, sermon references, and commentaries. I love reading through other’s thoughts on what I’ve read. Sometimes theses books confirm my own ideas. Sometimes they open up a new way of thinking. And sometimes, like today, they are downright disappointing and even disturbing.

I read this today in a popular commentary:

The signs authenticated the faith the early believers proclaimed, not the personal faith that any one of them exercised. In light of this and historical evidence it is reasonable to conclude that these authenticating signs were normative only for the apostolic era.

To what signs is the writer referring?

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Mark 16:15-18 (NIV)

Nothing in Jesus’ commission to his disciples indicates that signs would only follow for a few decades. There is no time frame or limit in this passage. Jesus simply stated that signs will follow believers. Period.

So what happened? Why do we Westerners see so few signs, wonders, and miracles? Ask yourself this question:

Do you believe?

If a well-respected commentary can state that miracles were only for the early apostolic period, imagine what is being taught in our churches all over the world.

Allow me to break this down logically.

Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news. What good news was that? That Jesus had come to save them, to offer a new covenant through his blood rather than the blood of a sacrificial animal. This new covenant would bring eternal life to the spirit of any who accepted it.

Jesus told the disciples to baptize the new believers. Why? Baptism is an outward confirmation of an inward decision. You don’t need to be baptized to be saved, but it is a physical affirmation of a spiritual awakening.

Jesus told the disciples that miraculous signs would follow them.

Observe what power the apostles should be endued with, for confirming the doctrine they were to preach. These were miracles to confirm the truth of the gospel, and means of spreading the gospel among the nations that had not heard it.

Matthew Henry

Here’s my question: If signs and wonders aren’t for today, how is our message supposed to be confirmed? Why did Jesus go around healing people and teaching his disciples how to do the same if he didn’t mean for that practice to carry on? If miracles weren’t needed, why did Jesus bother at all? If the message is supposed to be enough, why is our message getting lost?

I believe in miracles. I have seen them firsthand. I have seen broken bones mend. I have seen stunted limbs grow. I have seen life when there should have been death. And I have seen people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of those things. Miracles aren’t a sign for believers. They are a benefit to us because we believe, but they are a sign to the unbeliever that there is power in the blood that washes away our sins.

At the risk of reducing the Word to a new low, let me put it simply. You’re watching television late at night and a loud Australian appears on the screen with an incredible new product. He spends ten minutes yelling at you, touting the near-miraculous qualities of the product he’s trying to sell. You stay tuned because you’re moderately interested and oddly enthralled. Then he puts the product to use. You’re sold. You dial the 1-800 number before the five minutes runs out and, for just the added shipping and handling, you will receive a second item for free! It wasn’t his words that sold you, it was the product in action.

The Word of God draws people in. And for some, that’s all they need. But others need that extra confirmation. They need to see the product in action. They need to see what it can actually do. And if the world can’t see our “product” actually do anything, what are we really trying to sell?

God didn’t fill His Word with the miraculous only to stop once Jesus left the stage. His Word is filled with wonders because He is a God of wonders. We do Him (and ourselves) a great disservice by setting the miraculous aside when it was a miracle that brought us where we are in the first place.

So I will ask again, do you believe?

Read: Deuteronomy 29-30, Mark 16

Faith and forgiveness

Read: Deuteronomy 3-4, Mark 11:20-33

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.

Mark 11:22-26 (NIV)

In Mark 11, we can’t wait to get to the good part about telling a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and then we quickly skip over that uncomfortable part about forgiveness and move on to the next parable.

Who doesn’t want to see a miracle? We should long to see the miraculous. Signs and wonders should be following every believer. But what if the miracle God wants to perform has to do with you forgiving your brother? What if the sign He wants to show someone has you asking for forgiveness from your neighbour?

Not every miracle, sign or wonder has to do with healing or provision. Sometimes they seem so insignificant to us that we wouldn’t even deem to call the event worthwhile. But to the person who’s been forgiven, it can be life-changing.

If grace does not produce joyful obedience it has been abused. Forgiving is the very essence of grace.

The Weston Study Bible

Forgiveness isn’t something we should look at that we need to get out of the way so we can see the mountain move. Forgiveness may be the mountain itself.

When Jesus took the time to explain to his disciples how they should pray, he didn’t include the miraculous, but he did include forgiveness.

This, then, is how you should pray,

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Jesus then went on to say that when we forgive those who sin against us, God will forgive us, but if we withhold our forgiveness, God will not forgive us.

It would seem to me, then, that as much as it is impossible to please God without faith, it is also impossible to please him without forgiveness.

Give me a sign

Read: Numbers 24-27, Mark 8:11-38

Mark 8-11-12.jpg

It seems a little bit contradictory that Jesus would say this right after performing some of the most spectacular miracles of his ministry. This would be like asking an Olympic gold medalist to repeat their performance to prove they were good enough and have them refuse. The evidence for their athleticism already exists in the form of the gold hanging around their neck. For Jesus, the evidence of the wonders he had done was all around in the form of the thousands of people Jesus had healed, set free, and fed.

By refusing to perform a sign from heaven for the Pharisees on command, does this mean that Jesus didn’t want to do the miraculous anymore? Of course not! He knew that, if the evidence already available to these men wasn’t enough, one more miracle wasn’t going to do the trick.

He who is not convinced of the value of unseen things from a knowledge of the personality and spiritual message of Jesus will be unmoved by the most spectacular miracle.

J. Newton Davies, The Abingdon Commentary

I’m so confused! Do we want miracles or don’t we?

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Mark 16:17-18 (NIV)

These were some of the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending into heaven. I think it’s safe to assume that this message was an important one.

But why are miracles for some people and not for others? Harper’s Bible Dictionary says this:

The miraculous healings and exorcisms, then, were unique personal experiences of the salvation brought by Jesus.

As much as miracles prove the existence of a loving God, they are not for unbelievers, but those who believe. Notice that when Jesus healed someone, he often told them that their faith had made them well. Jesus didn’t heal them to make them believe, he healed them because they believed.

It then begs the question: why isn’t the church as a whole seeing miracles?

Do we really believe?

Just…

Read: Numbers 11-13, Mark 5:21-43

Just is a big word. I just need more time. It was just a little. If I could just… A lot of weight can rest on those four letters. Other words associated with it include: nearly, almost, merely, barely, or close. It gives a feeling of reaching. A last effort before giving in to failure.

The latter portion of Mark 5 talks about two people who just.

…because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”

Mark 5:28 (NIV)

These words were spoken by a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She’d spent all of her money on doctors and, instead of getting better, only got worse. Her last ditch effort was to just touch Jesus’ clothing.

Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Mark 5:36 (NIV)

Just believe? The man’s daughter had been declared dead. What was he supposed to believe? He’d come to Jesus for healing, but to bring his little girl back to life? Already, going to see Jesus would have been his last ditch effort. As a ruler in the synagogue, he would have been a learned man, well-acquainted with the law. He would have known process over promise. Yet here was Jesus very matter-of-factly telling him to just believe.

I think that we too often wait too long to get Jesus’ attention. We believe that we must have all of his attention to get our miracle. Our just is desperate, like the woman. We’re straining and reaching, hoping to get just enough to get by. We have nothing more but that last push. It works, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

But, we have Jesus’ full attention, like the synagogue ruler. Jairus had more of Jesus’ attention than anyone else. It was to his home that Jesus was going to. The just he needed, according to Jesus, was simple. A meh, don’t worry about it, I got this.

You get to pick what you just want to do. Do you just want to reach out and brush the hem, fighting your own battle, pushing against the crowd, crawling toward Jesus? Or to you just want to believe, walking beside Jesus, trusting everything is alright no matter what the facts say?

The good news is, that no matter where you find yourself, both ways work. If you can do nothing more than just touch, that’s okay. Or if you’re in a place where you can just believe, that’s okay, too.