37. Miracle Worker (1)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 37.  Miracle Worker (1)

Acts 2:22  Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

It is easy when you have been a Christian for many years to take for granted the things you read in the Gospels and it is for that reason that I have approached many of these studies in the way I have. This is as true of what we might call the ‘divinely supernatural dimension’ of Jesus’ ministry as anything else in the Bible. If it were not for this dimension of his ministry, the new reader might be tempted to simply say, “He was a great teacher” (even though much of his teaching was about claims he made about himself, people still say this). But the miraculous side of what he did no longer give even the casual reader that opportunity, and so, in our studies of the Christ, this is an essential area for us to investigate.

Within this area we might consider healings, deliverances, raising the dead and then other miscellaneous miracles. As I have said, I suspect we take many of these things for granted, so let’s try and catch an overview of these. Let’s start in this study at least with healings:

 

There are general references and then specific records. First general references. Let’s be very clear:

  • Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.” (Mt 4:23,24) Note the ‘healing every
  • “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” (Mt 8:16)
  • “Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick,” (Mt 12:15)
  • “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Mt 14:14) Note, by ‘their sick’, implies ‘all’. Just a bald statement of fact.
  • “People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.” (Mt 14:35,36) Not only his general intent to heal but his very presence brought healing.
  • “Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.” (Mt 15:30) No indication that he healed just some of these ‘great crowds’.
  • “Large crowds followed him, and he healed them (Mt 19:2)
  • “The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.” (Mt 21:14)

There it is – 8  general references. Now admittedly Matthew is the Gospel writer who seeks  to show Jesus as the Messiah bringing in the kingdom but we have to accept the testimony of his writing otherwise we might as well write off all the New Testament writings. The early Church Fathers were sure enough to put Matthew in the canon of scripture, so we should as well. I make these comments because of the strength that comes through these 8 sets of references – and the unbelief that so often prevails today.

Now as I have testified elsewhere before, I know people who have gone to observe healing ministries elsewhere in the world and the staggering truth is that God does choose times of spectacular healings in massive numbers, and that was obviously happening through Jesus. If you are still not certain, scroll back up and reread those verses – all EIGHT of them! (Is it coincidence that 8 is the number of resurrection or of new life in Scripture?) There is no doubt that part of Jesus’ acceptance by the crowds was because of this aspect of his ministry.

For individual examples we can cite in Matthew, the cleansing of the leper (Mt 8:2,3), the centurion’s servant healed (Mt 8:5-13), the fever leaving Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14,15), the paralytic healed (Mt 9:2-7), the bleeding woman (Mt 9:20-22), the ruler’s daughter raised (Mt 9:18,19,23-25), two blind men healed (Mt 9:27-30), the blind & mute demoniac healed (Mt 12:22),and two blind men healed outside Jericho (Mt 20:30-34).

It is clear from that list of nine instances that Matthew lumps most of them together in chapters 8 and 9 with two later exceptions. If we go to Mark and Luke we will be able to add other healings not covered by Matthew and if we go to John we find him using what appear to be some of the same ones but he uses healings as signs pointing to who Jesus is, rather than signs of the kingdom coming as Matthew does.

From even our limited coverage above it is patently obvious that Jesus exercised his power as the Son of God, again and again and again and in hardly any cases (one or two exceptions only) sin is not mentioned, i.e. contrary to much modern counseling, surprisingly, Jesus virtually never dug into an individual’s background – which he would have known anyway – but simply healed them. Again he would have obviously known that when it came to the time of his death, many of those who had been healed would not stand up and testify for him, but that clearly did not concern him.

The difficult conclusion – and I say difficult because so much modern evangelical teaching focuses on sin and guilt – is that Jesus just delighted in using his power to heal people regardless of what they would then go on and do. In fact in some instances, if we look further afield in the Gospels than we have done, it is clear that some of those who were healed were either not particularly grateful or not particularly thankful and that they would not then support Jesus. All of this points to a God who simply wants to do good to people and then leave the outworking of that to whatever direction their hearts were facing.

We, the human race, can be incredibly fickle – bless and praising one minute then indifferent or critical the next – but Jesus isn’t. His determination was to bless and bless and bless – and many of us struggle with that. We want to rationalize it or make it conditional but the record shows that it wasn’t!

As far as Matthew was concerned, Jesus did what he did to fulfil his Father’s will which had been decreed in prophecy: “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” (Mt 8:17 citing Isa 53:4) In the next study we will go on to consider another aspect of the miraculous ministry of Jesus.

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19. Seasons of Revival

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 19 : Seasons of Revival

Acts  5:12-17    The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.  Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.

I commented in a previous meditation that I believe these times recorded in the early chapters of Acts are the equivalent of what, in any other period of history, we might call revival, times when God is moving sovereignly and powerfully. These verses demonstrate this. Oh that we might have such days today! Note what happened.

1. Signs & wonders.The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (v.12a). Now Jesus did say, I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and the apostles are leading the way in that, but it isn’t something automatic because it is only God who does ‘signs and wonders’, yet when He finds those open and available He will do it. Yet there do seem to be ‘seasons’ when the Lord comes in such powerful ways and it doesn’t happen all the time. Yet here were the apostles speaking out the word of God and committed to it regardless of threats to their lives.  Power – miracles – are a clear sign of  revival.

2. Confidence & Fellowship.  Then we find, “And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.”  (v.12b) There was a confidence in the church that allowed it to meet openly, and fellowship and meeting together was important for them. Another sign of the moving of God.

3. Fear of the Lord. Next we see, “No one else dared join them.”  (v.13a) This was the ‘fear of the Lord’ we considered in the previous meditation. When God turns up in power – including in discipline – it can be scary.

4. Public acclaim. “even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (v.13b)  The church received the favour of the people because the favour of the Lord was clearly on them. Although the world was scared by it they knew that what was going on in the church was good.

5. Conversions.Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” (v.14) Salvation is THE sign of revival as God moves sovereignly in the community, convicting of sin and of need for forgiveness.

6. Miraculous healings.  “As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” (v.15) We assume that people were healed even by Peter’s shadow falling on them. Such strange things DO happen at such times.

7. The World Comes. “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” (v.16)  When this sort of thing happens, the world takes notice and comes looking and seeking. They see here, as nowhere else, there are answers to their needs and so unashamedly they come looking for healing or deliverance – and find it!

8. Opposition. “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.” (v.17) Sadly, but understandably, such things also bring opposition – but we will leave that for the next meditation.

The key thing we are looking at here is that all these things are motivated by the power of God being unleashed. Sadly history shows that when these things carry on for any length of time, people start growing used to them and almost treat God casually, and so often dissension and upsets occur, such is the folly of residual sin in us. Perhaps this is why that revivals in history have been short lived. The Lord knows that even if He turns up in power regularly, the old sinful nature eventually takes it and Him for granted. After all, it happened in the early life of Israel, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens in the life of the church. That should not stop us asking for it and doing all we can to be in a right place for the Lord to come and use us, even if it is not in such widely dramatic ways. Pray for that to happen.

58. Problems

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 58. Misc. Problems

Mk 3:20-21 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Life with Jesus was never dull! The good side of it was that you witnessed amazing healings and deliverances. Joy must have been the currency of the day. But then there were the problems that accompanied all that.

First of all, popularity meant large numbers of people. Jesus turns up and is invited into a house. The word quickly spreads that he is there and before you can blink there are people streaming to the house, wanting to meet Jesus and be touched and healed by him. The tide of human beings is at flood proportions and the house is filled with bodies. It is almost impossible to move and with the demands upon him there is no time to stop and take a leisurely meal. Time would have rushed by and a day without food became normal.

Then there was the problem of dissenting voices. Already Mark has recorded those voices from the Pharisees and other religious people but now those voices are joined by his own family. The saying is that a prophet is not honoured in his own country and it is true of all leaders. Those closest to them take them for granted and fail to see the grace and goodness of God flowing in them. Often it is that those who are closest to us know our weaknesses and our foibles and those things blind them to the good things.

For Jesus is must have been a case of familiarity breeds contempt. His family knew him, knew him to be the son of a carpenter, a carpenter himself. The thought of him becoming a spiritual leader was too much for them. They were blind to the healings and the miracles and the teaching; they could only see the man they knew. They say that prejudice blinds, but so does familiarity, for there is no other way to explain the reactions of his family who claim, “He is out of his mind”.

It is, of course, always possible that his family, despite who Jesus is, were just a part of the mass of mankind in Israel for whom a relationship with God was unreal. That some of them al least came through in the end, doesn’t mean that for much of his ministry time his family was not behind him and were part of unbelieving Israel. Each individual has to believe in his own right.

 

51. Jesus Distressed

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 51. Jesus Distressed

Mk 3:5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

It is easy, when we are focusing on just one or two verses a day, to forget what has gone before. Mark has left us in no doubt about Jesus’ ability to heal people. First there had been the demon possessed man (1:23-26), then Peter’s Mother-in Law (1:30,31),  then mass healings (1:34), then the leper (1:40-43), then the paralytic (2:10-12) and now a man with a shrivelled hand.  This one is slightly different though, because Mark is showing us this healing in the context of the conflict with the Pharisees.

Previously we had seen him moved by compassion (1:41) and we have already seen him arguing against the opposition before healing (2:8-10) but this incident involves his emotions more than any one previously in this Gospel. This time it is not compassion that moves him but an angry challenge to the hard hearts that surround him – in a synagogue of all places!

Yes, this seems to be the main issue here – it is in a synagogue in the midst of the apparently faithful people of God who gather week by week to hear the word of God read. These are supposed to be the people of God, the people who have given themselves to the will of God; that is why they are there, and yet their hearts are hard and stubborn and resistant when God Himself turns up in the form of His Son with the power available to alleviate this suffering.

Surely the people of God should be reflecting the character of God? Haven’t they realised that God is a God of love and compassion and grace and mercy? All those things ARE revealed in the Old Testament – and they listen to it week by week, and still they don’t take it in and still they don’t live it out and still they don’t apply it!

Surely a godly community, hearing of all the wonderful things that Jesus had been doing, would welcome him into their synagogue and basically line up everyone with a physical need? But no, they are more concerned to object to him and oppose him because he doesn’t come out of their mould and he shows them up. There is not an ounce of care and compassion there; it has been lost in legalism and in their unrighteous negativity towards Jesus because he reveals the emptiness in their lives. No wonder he is upset.

 

Power in Action

Readings in Luke Continued – No.28

Lk 7:14-17 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

In our previous meditation we pondered on the imponderable, why some things happen to some people and not to others, and why God seems to turn up for some people and not for others. Over the years I have pondered another issue – why is it that God turns up in revival at certain times in history and brings utter transformation, but mostly doesn’t? My only conclusion, and it may only be very partial, is that even if He did keep on turning up in power, the sinfulness of mankind would still distort it or fail to appreciate it. I have travelled in parts of the world where revival has come and have been in villages where 100% of the village population were Christians, yet somehow there was almost a lethargy there that did not seem good. When I compare that with the reports from the underground church in China , struggling against fierce persecution, there is not the same vitality that is present when there is opposition, it seems. It appears that when God’s presence is constantly there, it needs less on our part and, this side of heaven, we do better when there is some opposition or God’s power is relatively limited. That may sound incredible to say, but that is how it seems in practical reality.

I say these things in the light of the miracle that we observe in today’s verses. Jesus, moved by the plight of this woman who has just lost the second important person in her life, steps up to the funeral procession and puts his hand on the coffin being carried. Those carrying it sense something is about to happen, so stop and Jesus calls to the dead young man to get up – and he does! Immediately he sits up (which supposes that the coffin was an open topped one) and starts talking. It is patently obvious that he is alive, and everyone sees it and comments upon it.

Now the point that comes to mind is that this is one of only three instances of those who Jesus raised from the dead, the others being Jairus’s daughter (Lk 8:40-56) and Lazarus (Jn 11:38-44). Why, with the power available to him, didn’t Jesus raise more people from the dead? The answer to that has to be, surely, that God allowed him, or guided him, to do these three for what have to be specific reasons that fitted the will of God. Now that may sound a bit bland but everything Jesus did, he did for a purpose – his Father’s purpose: “Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19). The Father, in His wisdom, obviously sees that simply bringing lots of people back to life, i.e., extending their lives, does little good either for them or for others, but on rare occasions He does do it to reveal His power and, indeed, His compassion.

The Bible thus reveals to us a God who does have the power to bring back the dead, prevent people dying and healing them and utterly transforming lives physically, but He appears to do it sparingly most of the time. There are times and places where He comes in mighty power and healings etc. are seen in great abundance, but taking the world as a whole, they are relatively few. Does the Lord delight to bring healing? Yes, He clearly does, looking at the numbers of people who were healed by Jesus. Does He heal today? Yes, He clearly does. What seems to be a vital ingredient for this to happen? Well as John Wimber used to point out, faith was always present in one person at least in all the situations in the Bible where people were healed, but then faith is simply responding to what God says, and so in every case where healing occurred, and does occur, first of all there is God’s expression of His intent to heal. Our faith, our response to His words of prompting, give Him the space to do it.

Does Jesus raise people from the dead today? Yes, he does. I have heard of rare instances where I trust the integrity of the reporters. However, when we come to this subject, let’s be careful to check our hearts out, because such happenings reveal the state of our hearts. Those who are critical will criticise and say, “Well why doesn’t He do that all the time?” and will thus reveal the short-sightedness of their thinking. Those who are open-hearted to God will find themselves stirred by such events as in today’s verses and will ‘come running’, in their thinking at least, and will want to learn more of this one who can do such things. Those who are utterly given over to God will just praise and thank Him for every token of His goodness expressed in such instances as this.

After all Jesus didn’t have to raise us this young man. He just did it as a token of his Father’s love for the widow and her family. He obviously saw that here was a situation where ongoing life of this young man would truly benefit this family. That isn’t always so although, if it is our family, we will almost certainly think it would be. Why did God allow my loved one to die? I don’t know, but I just have to trust that when God weighed the alternatives He considered that in the long term this indeed was the best option. It may take us a long time to see that because in the immediate, grief blinds us to the bigger picture, and anyway it may take a long time to see the good outcomes. We may not see it even until we get to heaven and see the big picture through God’s eyes. In the meantime we would do well to join with Job who declared the classic phrase: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21 ) Amen.