Miracles and Ministry

Part 1: Opening Prayer

Powerful God, your son Jesus did things we cannot understand. Help us to see that in healing, casting out demons, feeding thousands and stilling storms are all witnesses to your grace and power. May we look for ways we still see you at work in our lives, and may we see the miracle that is life every day.  Amen.

Section 2: The Story

What is a miracle?

Miracles are sometimes hard to wrap our head around. After all, they are something that goes against everything we are used to. Food doesn’t multiply before our eyes. Water stays water and does not turn to wine. People who are blind don’t start seeing because you wipe some mud on their eyes.

But in the Gospels, they do. All of these things and more.

So what exactly is a miracle? It is a word we toss around from time to time, but when we do that, we overuse a word and it can lose its meaning. Like calling a sports play a “miracle catch” or a “Miracle Comeback”. They may have been good; they may have been surprising, but are they really miracles? Did God intervene? Did some ordinary law of nature somehow not apply? No.

A miracle, simply put, is a supernatural deed, an event that cannot be explained on a natural or scientific basis. We see miracles as God intervening in earthly events. Another way that theologians have talked about the miracle stories is to use the term “Spectacular”, which they define as “referring to events that go beyond what we usually think are possible.” Another way to understand what is a miracle is to consider if it can be regularly (more than once and on command) caused by human action, or that can be explained. No regular human can curse a fig tree and cause it to become withered and dead within a day, but in Matthew chapter 11 that is exactly what happens.

Types of miracles

Jesus miracles can be divided into four general categories:

  1. Cures
    1. The most common of Jesus’ miracles, a cure is where an illness is taken away by some means other than medicine or time. Examples include blind people who begin to see, lame people who recover instantaneously, and more. These are physical injuries or disabilities (unable to walk, weak / useless hand, blindness, etc.) as well as illnesses like fevers, hemorrhages (uncontrolled bleeding), or the like.
  2. Exorcisms
    1. These are stories where people are possessed by an evil spirit and Jesus orders it to leave them. Some of the things that get described as demon possession might be recognized or described as mental illness or even physical disabilities (seizures were sometimes considered a sign of demonic power), but that does not change that an instantaneous cure is considered a miracle.
  3. Raising of the Dead
    1. These are stories where someone who was dead returns to life.
    2. There are three of them: the daughter of a Jewish leader (Matthew 9), a widow’s son (Luke 7), and his friend Lazarus (John 11).
  4. Control over nature
    1. These miracles show Jesus’ power over natural events or phenomena. These are stories like turning water into wine, feeding many people with a small amount of food, making a storm stop on command.
    2. Examples are: turning water into wine (John 2), the great catch of fish (Luke 5 and John 21), Stilling the Storm (Matthew 8), Feeding of 5,000 (Matthew 14), causing a fig tree to wither and die (Matthew 21).

Section 3: The Message

Miracle Story Form

Any story follows a form, and helps you know what sort of story you are hearing. Some common ones are the “Coming of Age Story”, where a young person faces a challenge of growing up and often a specific destiny or hurdle to overcome. For this one, think of the Harry Potter series. The story centers on one person and how he grows to accept a future destiny. Another form is the Tall Tale, a humorous story with exaggerated and impossible events and accomplishments. A third is fable, where a story of talking ‘humanlike’ animals teaches a moral lesson.  Each of these story types have a pattern that you recognize.  Miracle stories in the Bible have a form too.

Most of these miracles follow a basic form or pattern, with twist elements added that move the story in different ways. The story begins with a statement of the problem. It may be a paralyzed man, or a hungry crowd, a man with a demon, a storm. At any rate, there is a problem that seems beyond hope of fixing. As we meet this person Jesus usually finds a way to gets to know just a bit about them.

The second phase is the cure or solution. This happens in different ways. Sometimes Jesus simply says for something to happen and it does. Other times the person needing help touches him, or he touches them. At first, once something happens, it is often kept secret at least at first.

The final phase is the response: what happens because of the miracle. This is different each time. Sometimes the person eventually tells many people. Sometimes they start to follow Jesus. Other times Jesus becomes more and more famous.

To look at the story and what happens, read the story of water turning to wine from John chapter 2:1-12. Click here to read it in another window.

The story starts with the problem: a wedding party where they run out of wine.  This story adds a complication here (one of those ‘twist elements’) that Jesus and his mom disagree on whether he should do something.

The cure or solution here is pretty straightforward… Jesus told them to fill the stone jars full of water, then to dip some out and take it to the chief steward (the person in charge of food and wine for the party), who discovers that it had become wine. Again, a miracle solution is not something that can have any sort of natural explanation.

Then the final phase is the response: Jesus’ disciples believe in him, and they follow him as he begins his ministry.

Interestingly, the first miracle he does is to show the disciples who he is.  Read about the last miracle he performs (John 21) here.  In the comment section, put why you think this last miracle took place.  It may help you to read another of Jesus’ early miracles in Luke 5 here.

In this story, what do you think the twist is about? Why do you think Jesus and his mom had the disagreement over whether he should do something? Why does that end the way it does? Put your thoughts in the comments below.

Conclusion

Ultimately, what purpose do the miracles serve?  Why did they happen?  Most of all, they are there to build faith, and show that Jesus has a connection to God unlike anyone else has ever had. They fulfill prophecies about the messiah, so that people knew that he was the expected one.

Because we know about these miracles, we can begin to ask questions about our own lives. There have been times that I would like to have had a miracle like this happen for someone I’ve known; to have someone cured of an illness or disease, or to have someone who had died brought back to me. This can begin to have us ask the question of why the people in the Bible have a miracle and we do not. There is no answer for that question. But we also have to remember that not every sick person or dead person around at that time had a miracle. We still see miracles today; we still have occurrences that we cannot explain. But not every situation that would need a miracle gets one. And we can’t understand why not. We simply have to trust that when and where they do happen, they are signs of God’s power and grace. But we also understand that where they do not, they are not signs of a lack of God’s power or grace.

Section 4: Learn & Engage

Respond to the two questions above in the comments and take the quiz at testmoz.com/447100. Please remember to use your real name.

Section 5: Closing Prayer

Almighty God,  your Holy Spirit equips the church with a rich variety of gifts.  Grant that we may use them to bear witness to Christ  in lives that are built on faith and love.  Make us ready to live the gospel and eager to do your will,  so that we may share with all your church in the joys of eternal life;  through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

From Sundays and Seasons.com. Copyright 2014 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #47913.