Saturday, February 13, 2016

How many miracles are in John?

A little background might prove to be best in this instance. First, John himself does not limit the number of miracles, except perhaps in his narrative. He himself reminds us that “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30). And then John says it again in his closing words of John to remind us of the greatness of our Savior, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen” (John 21:25). So John is not just limiting himself to the miracles that he chooses to narrate; rather he reminds us that what the Savior did could not be written about completely because that would make a book simply too large to be read.

I should also remind the reader that John stands alone; it is not a synoptic gospel. I have read where scholars feel that Matthew built his book in part on the gospel of Mark, and Luke, coming later, brings to the forefront his skill set as a “scientist” of his day, being very careful to research and detail a good account of the life and death and resurrection of our Lord. Even though the gospels each have a theme in presenting Christ, each of the synoptic gospels is remarkably similar. John stands alone, and actually presents Christ doing just a few miracles—each which is woven into the tapestry of John to make the presentation of the Savior stronger.

Perhaps it should be no surprise to those who are familiar with all the sevens presented in Revelation, but surprise or not, there are exactly seven miracles which Jesus performs prior to resurrection. Of each of these seven miracles included by John, much is validated by John concerning Jesus. Consider the first miracle: the turning of water into wine (2:3-10). First, look at the mother of Jesus, who is honored by God in starting the first of these miracles. She comes to her son telling them that they have no wine. Jesus replies that he time is not yet come, and then Mary is given the privilege of starting that time, saying to the servants, “whatever he tells you to do, do it.” And thus the ministry of the very Son of God is started.

What can we learn from John in this first great miracle? First, that Mary, who has lived with a poor reputation all of her life concerning her “illegitimate” birth (See John 8 for how the Jews still were mocking his birth). All of that shame that she has endured is now freed in her being the one who commences the ministry of the Son of man. But perhaps more importantly, John chose this miracle because it shows that Jesus has power even the things found in creation itself. He was able, today we know, to molecularly restructure water into wine, and that instantly. Is John showing us that Jesus is master over matter by this miracle?
The second miracle is not recounted until the fourth chapter when a desperate nobleman finds Jesus and attempts to bring him to his sick son (4:46-54). Instead of going with him to see the sick son, Jesus merely says to the nobleman to go his way, for his son lives. What is John trying to show through this great miracle which, if you will, is done by remote control? Could it be that John is showing us that the Master of matter is also omniscient and omnipotent. God is both all-powerful and all-knowing, traits which we separate in our discussion about God, but which are likely not divisible—that is, one goes with the other. I do not see how God could be all-knowing without also being all-powerful. Here, I think, John is showing us that Jesus, the Master over nature, is also that One with unlimited power.

The third miracle likewise seems to me to build on the first two. It is the healing of the impotent man (5:2-9). The man was at the pool of Bethesda, totally isolated by his illness. He did not even have a friend to stand by his side to put him into the pool, and his immobility kept him by the side of the pool whenever the angel stirred the waters, causing him to see others healed, but never himself. Is John demonstrating the love of God for the weak and powerless here? If so, notice the theme is building. In the first miracle, we have Jesus demonstrating power over matter itself, and in the second miracle we have Jesus demonstrating the “all-ness” of the very nature of God. But now, is John not showing an incredible dichotomy? That the God of the universe in all his vast power should be concerned about the weakest of society beggars my imagination. In fact, the most humbling part of my coming to Christ over forty years ago was that fact made so plain to me—there was not only a God in control of everything, something my naturalism kept me from seeing, but also there was a God who knew me and loved me. In this miracle I see Christ defining himself as the Lover of mankind, the one willing to see the weakest and to extend his power and love to even them.

The next miracle (6:5-14) is the feeding of the five thousand. God took five loaves of bread and two fish, multiplying them to feed over five thousand people. Why does John relate this miracle? I believe that John is now presenting the Christ of Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd, John later tells us, know his sheep, and they know his voice. In this miracle, is Jesus being presented as the Good Shepherd, the one who always cares for his flock?

The next miracle is Jesus (and in other gospels, we are told Peter also, but not in John) walking on water. Sending his disciples on ahead in a boat, he has no boat, and does not let that slow him down, but begins walking across the sea to the disciples. This miracle has always been a great one for me, if only because I think about walking on water. Supposing for a moment that I could find the buoyancy, which is its own miracle, but then I am walking, perhaps for miles on the surface of water, Water has no traction, and thus would be impossible to propel oneself by stepping. So there has to be a second miracle present giving him traction in a tractionless environment. What did John mean to share with us by recounting this miracle? I think that John meant to show Jesus as the master of creation here. Regular properties of matter, water, did not apply to Jesus, who sovereignly chose to override them at this point.

The next miracle is the healing of the blind man (9:1-7), and I think this miracle is recounted by John with one aim in mind. John wishes us to know that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. The Jewish leaders fought his healing on Sabbaths, and they consistently believed that healing, being work, was a violation of the Sabbath. We find from the testimony of the other gospels that this was a continual source of friction between the Jewish leaders and Jesus. What is John trying to teach us? That one greater than the Sabbath, one greater than the Law itself was here. Only if that were true could we rest assured that Jesus did not break the Law, for he was the Law-giver. From him we got the Law, and from him we should seek the meaning of the law—an idea the “experts” in the Law could not get past. It was a stumbling block to them.

The seventh miracle, in some ways, is the greatest of all (excepting the resurrection, of course), and it is the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus, dead four days, lying in the tomb and decomposing, still responds to the voice of our Lord when he tells him to come forth. Although Jesus raised several from the dead, it is Lazarus who gets the most drama. Deliberately slowing his way, he arrives four days later than receiving the message, and tells the disciples plainly that Lazarus is already dead. Standing in front of the open tomb, in the presence of many witnesses (some who bore him ill-will), he calls Lazarus to him. What does John wish us to see by this miracle? I think John is trying to tell us that Jesus is the Lord even over death. Paul teaches us in Romans that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God, nothing—not even death itself.

You may have a proper objection in noting that I was the one who interpreted the reasons for these miracles, and in that objection you would be absolutely right. I have used my mind to try to see what John was trying to tell us, and in that I may have strayed from his message, but probably not by much. It may occur to you to further object that maybe John had nothing special in giving us these seven miracles, that is, that John was not using these seven miracles in any special way to teach us. But if that is your objection, you would find yourself arguing with scripture, for John himself tells us “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name (20:31). He tells us plainly that these miracles are given so that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the very Son of God. I think John chose each of these miracles to plainly display the fact that God came down to us that we might be saved by believing.

Miracle List of John
1. Water into wine (2:3-10)
2. Healing of nobleman’s son (4:46-54)
3. Healing of the impotent man (5:2-9)
4. Feeding of the 5,000 (6:5-14)
5. Walking on water (6:19-21)
6. Giving sight to the blind man (9:1-7)
7. Raising of Lazarus (11:1-44)

Lesson from the miracle
1. Jesus is master over created things
2. Jesus is all powerful and all knowing
3. Jesus cares about men, even the weakest
4. Jesus is our Good Shepherd
5. Jesus is master over all creation
6. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, even the Law
7. Jesus is the light, the life of men.

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