Thursday, February 20, 2003

Jesus' Miracles and What They Teach Us

This is part 2 of a series that looks at why Jesus performed miracles and what He taught us through them. The series will work its way through:

  1. Why Jesus performed miracles.
  2. More Reasons
  3. His Authority Over Disease
  4. His Authority Over Satan
  5. His Authority Over Nature
  6. His Authority Over Death
  7. His Authority Delegated to His Disciples
  8. His Authority Delegated to His Church

You can get to any of the available lessons by clicking on the lesson title. If nothing happens you are either already at the lesson, or I have not written it yet.

More Reasons Why Jesus Performed Miracles

To Preview the Kingdom of Heaven

The kingdom of this world is full of sin and the calamity it causes. Jesus' miracles let us know that it is only a matter of time before sin and its effects are done for:

Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23, The Net Bible)

The kingdom message is good news. Along with its announcement, Jesus healed the people. Later, He sent out the twelve to do this same work. At that time Jesus said this to them:

Heal the sick in that town and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come on you.’ (Luke 10:9)

Here Jesus made the direct connection between the miracles of healing as foreshadowing the kingdom of God. And, it would seem, that part of the gospel message was and still should be accompanied by a demonstration of its power to undo the effects of sin in the soul and in the body. It will not be perfect until the kingdom of God is on earth, but miracles are a harbinger of the world to come.

To Challenge the Religious System

The Pharisees in Jesus' day followed a strict religious code that had roots in the days of Ezra. The rationale for this code was simple and not totally incorrect. The forefathers had disobeyed Torah and suffered the Babylonian exile. Now they worked to fence the Torah by developing a stricter code. The theory was that stricter obedience provided a safety margin with respect to God's requirements. They answered the questions about how far one could walk and still not work on the Sabbath. In all this admirable effort they missed some essential principles encoded in the Torah. I have a saying, "Legalism loves the tithe and hates the corners of the field." Both parts of the saying come from Torah. The tithe is a 10th part of your income. Once you have given the tenth, you are in compliance. The corners of the field refers to the commandment to not harvest to the very corners of the field, but leave some for the poor. The legalist wants to know how much of the field can be left and still be in compliance. The one who knows the spirit of the Torah sees a principle of generosity and seeks, perhaps, to leave more each year.

The issue of Jesus healing on the Sabbath was the fatal issue in His ministry. It was this activity that gave the religious establishment a hook on which to hang Him. Jesus, however, used it to challenge the measured righteousness of legalism and asked that it be replaced with a heart that loves God and loves men. Here is an example:

Then Jesus again entered the synagogue, and a man was there whose hand was withered. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. So he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Stand up among all these people.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” But they were silent. After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. So the Pharisees went out immediately and began plotting with the Herodians, as to how they could assassinate him. (Mark 3:1-6)

Note how it says they watched Him closely to see if He would heal. They knew He would! They almost even wanted Him to heal so that they had an excuse to accuse Him of law breaking.

With a single question, Jesus raised the central challenge to a legalistically bound Sabbath. "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?" Here He suggested that a Sabbath day could be full of labor on behalf of others. By the use of healing and the associated power, Jesus confirmed the validity of His challenge.

To Confirm that He was the Messiah

John the Baptist, in Herod's dungeon, had a crisis of faith. Although he was the forerunner of the Messiah and announced Him to the world, he now wondered if he had tagged the wrong man. So he sent word, through his disciples, and asked Jesus, "Are you the one?"

Now when John in prison heard about the deeds Christ had done, he sent a question by his disciples: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. (Matthew 11:2-5)

Jesus said, in effect, "Look at the miracles John. I am He."

To Authenticate His Ministry and His Word

The miracles of Jesus backed up His authoritative way of speaking. It caused some important people to seek Him out:

Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:1-2)

The miracles showed that God was with Jesus. Jesus also used this to encourage His opposition to accept Him:

If I do not perform the deeds of my Father, do not believe me. But if I do them, even if you do not believe me, believe the deeds, so that you may come to know and understand that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Then they attempted again to seize him, but he escaped their clutches. (John 10:37-39)

It was the miracles that Jesus performed that gave strength to those who believed and would later bring the gospel of the kingdom of Heaven to the world.

Monday: His Authority Over Disease

Jesus' Miracles and What They Teach Us

This is part 1 of a series that looks at why Jesus performed miracles and what He taught us through them. The series will work its way through:

  1. Why Jesus performed miracles.
  2. More Reasons
  3. His Authority Over Disease
  4. His Authority Over Satan
  5. His Authority Over Nature
  6. His Authority Over Death
  7. His Authority Delegated to His Disciples
  8. His Authority Delegated to His Church

You can get to any of the available lessons by clicking on the lesson title. If nothing happens you are either already at the lesson, or I have not written it yet.

Why Jesus Performed Miracles

Jesus was not a traveling show. In His travels He taught that everyone should "repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17, The Net Bible) A big part of His message was the working of miracles. There are obvious reasons why He would do this, not the least of which is that He was able to do so. They showed His power and authenticated His message. But there were other less obvious reasons, and they are important too.

Jesus Performed Miracles to Obey His Father

Jesus did not have a lone ministry. He was the Son and He had a Father, and, therefore, He obeyed that Father. It was the Father who sent Him to earth on a mission of salvation. It was the Father who decided what Jesus was to do and when He was to do it. As John records:

Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities began persecuting him. So Jesus told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.” For this reason the Jewish authorities were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God. So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and greater deeds than these he will show him, so that you may be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. (John 5:16-23)

The initiative for everything the Jesus did came from the Father, but the power to perform came from Himself. The Father and the Son both raise the dead, but it is the Father who chooses who to raise and when. Jesus one day will judge the world, but it is the Father who delegates that judgment. I realize that the doctrine of the Trinity is more mysterious that I am making it out to be right now. Even Jesus intentionally blurs the distinction even as He drew it. Nevertheless, the Son knows His place and gives honor to the Father.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit, Paul was able to put the works of the Holy Spirit's gifts within the same framework within which Jesus worked:

Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus requested that the Father send to us, gives us gifts in order serve in the ministries that the Son (Lord) which produces the results that the Father (God) intended all along. The Father initiates, the Son creates, and the Holy Spirit empowers. As we employ and deploy the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us, "to each person." we need to seek the will of the Father, as Jesus did, and do His work on earth.

Jesus Performed Miracles to Notify the Authorities

The miracles that Jesus performed sent a signal to the Jewish authorities in Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem, that He had come. The one miracle that did this best was the healing of lepers. According to the Law of Moses, a cleansed leper had to present himself before the priests at the temple. They would examine him. If he was found clean, he could offer the appropriate sacrifices. Note: Biblical leprosy was an infectious skin disease.

Jesus began His ministry by sending a stream of cleansed lepers to Jerusalem:

After he came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. And a leper approached, and bowed low before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you do not speak to anyone, but go, show yourself to a priest, and bring the offering that Moses commanded as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

It is no wonder that there was soon a delegation put together to see this man who was performing these signs.

Jesus Performed Miracles to Show Compassion

Jesus cared for us, or He would not have come in the first place. It is, therefore, obvious that compassion would be a motivation behind His works of power:

Now a leper came to him and fell to his knees, asking for help. “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” (Mark 1:40-41)

Jesus reached out and touched the unclean man. That action communicated the full extent of His compassion for this leprous man.

Friday: More Reasons for Performing Miracles

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Wednesday Post Delayed

My friend looks like she is going to make it. She is sitting up and talking.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The Neglected Gift

Several years ago, I was teaching through Ephesians. I came across the phrase "manifold wisdom of God." "What does 'manifold' mean?", I asked myself. How often had I read that and never stopped to wonder about that word. I grabbed the dictionary and soon learned that "manifold" meant many sided. Thus the "manifold wisdom of God" means that God's wisdom can meet many different situations.

I thought that I would have some fun the next day by asking the class what the word "manifold" meant. I was sure that none would know, and if someone did, I could congratulate them.

The class assembled. I was ready. However, as Bill sat down, he put a book on the table. "I brought the dictionary for you Don," he said and the air was let out of my balloon. It's not that Bill had detailed intelligence about what I intended in the class. He was just following what he thought the Holy Spirit was telling him to do. It just happened to coincide with my vocabulary lesson. For those of you who like to think of all angles, that class is the only one in my memory that I planned to ask the meaning of a particular word.

Bill has a prophetic gift. I have a teaching gift. I have the ability to study and see things in the Scriptures that are relevant to me and others today. Bill sees the world in symbols and dreams and inner promptings, but his gift also helps build up the body that is the Church. it was always a good day, when he would call and say that he had a dream that I should know about.

Unfortunately the workings of the self acclaimed prophetically gifted people in the church is suspect, and has been for some time. Some of my fellow Christians would say that this is simply because the miraculous gifts were sign gifts given to the Apostles to give validity to the infant church. They died out when they died. Their arguments have experience on their side, but I cannot find such a hard edge in the New Testament. It is true that we do not see many miracles in Christendom, and some and maybe most of what we see seems contrived and false. Nevertheless, when I read the New Testament, I always feel that the problem is on my end. That there is more that the Church could live and experience.

Maybe I am deluded, but I would rather teach the scriptures than teach my experience. The other elders at my church agree, so we are praying and teaching to enable prophetic gifting to manifest itself.


How should a prophetic gift  operate in the Church. Should it be primarily one on one? Should it be more public? What controls need to be in place? What should we expect? That is what I want to explore here. 

Paul does explain the purpose of prophecy as a gift in the church, "But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement and consolation." (1 Corinthians 14:3, The Net Bible) Of course, such things can come directly from the Scriptures, but often the Scriptures speak general principles and a new believer may not have had the time to give the Book much study. The prophetic gift can help manifest the Lord's individual love to a person by revealing specific details about the situation. It is interesting to note that Paul does not emphasize a forecast of doom and judgment. Prophecy is to build up, not tear down.

The prophetic gift can bring about salvation, "But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uninformed person enters, he will be convicted by all, he will be called to account by all. The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and in this way he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring, 'God is really among you.'” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25) Note how casually Paul uses the phrase "if all prophesy?" Paul seemed to think that this gift could be very common. Indeed, he would like it to be, "Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy." (1 Corinthians 14:1) Prophecy is a gift that is legitimately prayed for. I pray for it, but I do not have it -- yet.

Paul also gave instruction about the use of prophecy in a church meeting, "Two or three prophets should speak and let others evaluate what is said. And if someone seated receives a revelation, the person speaking should conclude. For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged. Indeed, the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is not characterized by disorder but peace." (1 Corinthians 14:29-33a) Paul gives some important guidelines here. First, the congregation should evaluate what a prophet says. This implies the possibility of error, although Paul assigns no great punishment for such. It does say that you do not surrender your will to a prophet. The prophet must be sensitive to the prophetic gifts in others and give them time. Indeed the prophet must be quick to surrender the stage. Again Paul notes that prophecy is to encourage. Also the man or woman with a prophetic gift must appear in control of themselves. God may speak to them, but He will not be controlling them.

I am watching for men and women that God will raise up who are able to hear His words for the moment and use them to strengthen the weak, encourage the strong, and console the broken hearted. I expect them to habitually defer to others and see their unique gift as something to serve the body and not themselves. They will tend to be symbolic and frequently dream. I would like the gift to be so common that no one will think much of it. It will be just one more example of our God's generous love

Wednesday: The Miracles of Jesus

Monday, February 17, 2003

Jesus' Teaching Methods

This is part 3 of a series that examines the methods Jesus used to teach His disciples and the multitudes. The series covers these topics:

  1. Teaching as One with Authority
  2. Offending the Mind to Reveal the Heart
  3. A Cloaking Device
  4. One Story to Bind Them All

You can get to any of the available lessons by clicking on the lesson title. If nothing happens you are either already at the lesson, or I have not written it yet.

One Story to Bind Them All

The Setting

Let's begin with the setting:

Now one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. Then when a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. (Luke 7:36-37, The Net Bible)

In Jesus' day, people reclined at table. The tables were low to the ground and people would lie on their left side and eat with their right hand. Since the rest of the story makes clear that the woman who brought the perfume was not a wanted guest, we must surmise that the Pharisee served dinner to Jesus and some honored guests and opened his home to townspeople who wanted to hear Jesus speak. It is important to picture Jesus and the others reclining at the table to best understand the events.

If you were going to see Jesus face, you would need to be opposite Him at the table. Those would be the seats of honor. One of the worst places, I imagine, would be at His feet. This is where the woman in our story found herself:

The Offense

As she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:38-39)

In an earlier series I mentioned that behind each encounter with Jesus there is probably a more involved story. For this woman, we do not have any details besides what is given here. Why was she weeping? Was it from Jesus' teaching at the table? Given the assessment of the Pharisee, why was she even there? Clearly she must have heard Him teach before, and wanted to know more.

No matter what had gone on before, she was, in the Pharisees' home, undone by Jesus! Her inner defenses crumbled, her excuses ran dry, and her heart burst with change. She knelt down at His dusty feet and began to cry and the tears feel on His feet. Being already humiliated and having no more to lose, she let down her hair to wipe the tears and the dirt off. Then she poured the oil on Jesus' feet and possibly wiped them more with her hair. Imagine what she looked like. Tear stained face, eye makeup running, wet muddy oily hair, and she continued to cry. Imagine the uncomfortable murmuring around the room. While the room murmured, the woman felt safe.

So neither the woman nor Jesus cared what the rest of the room thought. But the host did. He wanted Jesus, the prophet, to get her off Him. Jesus did not. So the Pharisee took offense at the embarrassing situation in his home.

The Parable

So Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” (Luke 7:40-43)

A simple story of debt owed and forgiven and who would appreciate the freedom more. Simon could not but answer that the one forgiven most loved more.

Turning the Tables

Then, turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of greeting, but from the time I entered she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfumed oil. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47)

Luke tells us that Jesus turned toward the woman. To do that, He had to sit up and turn His back on Simon, his host. Jesus turned the geometry of the room to His and the woman's advantage. She who had the worst place, not has the best. Those who had the best, now had the worst. Picture Jesus lifting the woman's chin and looking her in the face while he spoke to Simon. Simon did not greet Jesus with the customary kiss or the customary foot washing. He gave Jesus no honor at all except to sit at dinner. But she had given Him honor while dishonoring herself. She got the best.

Another Offense

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)

Here was Jesus forgiving sins again. The table, who only saw His back is now upset at His presumption, but He ignored it all so that He could continue to give honor to the sinful woman.

This story illustrates all the elements of Jesus' teaching style. He spoke with authority when He told the woman that her sins were forgiven and that her faith had saved her. He created and maintained offense that revealed the heart of Simon and the others at the table. He spoke a parable.

This story illustrates something else about Jesus' teaching methods and style. Those who received His words changed. The woman may have come into the Pharisee's as a sinner, but she did not leave the house as one. The transformation may have occurred earlier, but there was a transformation that took place. As I read the gospels, I see over and over how Jesus was open to those who messed up their lives with bad choices. Jesus never compromised a righteous standard in word or deed, but His message did not seem to drive sinners away. Instead he attracted many of them.

We the body of Jesus Christ on earth must present the same face. Some churches are very accepting, but maintain a low standard and hold few accountable. Others maintain high standards among their members, but are not open to unclean people. We must learn to do both. It means we must endure offensive situations and understand that as we introduce sinners to Jesus, He will clean them up, just as He has done for us.

Tuesday: The Place of Prophecy in the Church