March 25, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: He worked miracles

We cannot discuss the Jesus who is revealed in the Gospels without discussing the miracles he worked. Yet some Christians seem to be embarrassed by the miracles and try to explain them away, pretending they didn’t really happen.

At the beginning of his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Whatever experiences we may have, we shall not regard them as miraculous if we already hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural.” If we don’t believe in the supernatural, of course we don’t believe in miracles. But how can Christians not believe in the super­natural?

If we don’t accept miracles, we might as well discard the Gospels as fiction. Between Cana and Calvary, we are told that Jesus performed 33 individual miracles, plus the occasions when he cured great numbers of people. That doesn’t include either what Lewis called the “Grand Miracle” (the Incarnation) or the Resurrection—surely the grandest of all.

Eight of those 33 miracles demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature: He changed water into wine, twice multiplied loaves and fish to feed large crowds, calmed a storm at sea, walked on water, twice caused large catches of fish, and cursed a fig tree to make it barren. The other 25 miracles concerned human beings: He raised three people from the dead, healed 15 people of diseases or physical defects, cast out six demons and restored a severed ear.

Some people who are embarrassed by miracles try to explain them by saying that the people of Jesus’ time were ignorant of scientific laws or of modern medicine. I guess they prefer that we believe that a lowly carpenter from a small village in Palestine had somehow learned of those laws 2,000 years ago.

Some people simply cannot accept the possibility of miracles. A miracle violate the laws of nature, they say. But that isn’t true. A miracle is an exception to the laws of nature, but the laws still exist. The law of gravity isn’t “violated” when a man catches a ball on its way to the ground. So it is with miracles: God wills to intervene in some way.

Why are there miracles in the Gospels? John’s Gospel explains that better than the other three, although it details fewer miracles—only seven, which Jesus calls his “works.” Jesus said, “The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me” (Jn 5:36).

Later, he makes the same point: “Even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:38). He used his miracles as a way to get people to believe not only in his message, but in himself.

Even his enemies accepted the fact that he performed them: “The chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, ‘What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him’” (Jn 11:47-48).

That’s why Jesus worked miracles. †

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