The Miracles of Jesus

Luke 8:22-56

7 February 2010

Woodley Baptist Church

First morning service


What do you make of miracles? Do you spend more effort praying for miracles to happen, or coming up with reasons why they won't happen? I mean, do you think we should expect miracles today, or are you resigned to the idea that God doesn't do miracles any more?

Well, our theme this morning is the miracles of Jesus. And there's no shortage of miracles in Luke's gospel that we could look at. We saw two healings in chapter 5 last week, and a miraculous catch of fish the week before. But this week we've skipped to chapter 8, where Luke recounts a string of four of Jesus' miracles together.

Luke has chosen to do this quite deliberately. He's inviting us to put them together, building on one another, miracle on miracle, and come to a conclusion.

So, let's look at the four scenes from Jesus' ministry that Luke puts before us.

The power of Jesus

Power over Nature

In scene one, we're with Jesus and his disciples in a boat on the sea of Galilee. [Actually, Rembrandt seems to have painted himself into this picture. There are fourteen in the boat: twelve plus Jesus, plus the artist at the front, looking straight at us.]

Now, due to the geography, localised violent storms are not unusual on the Sea of Galilee. So, the waves are crashing against the side of the boat; the wind is shredding the sails; the planks of the boat are creaking and groaning; the boat is listing and tossing and filling with water. Even the experienced, professional sailors are scared: Master, Master, we're going to drownref!

And Jesus has slept through it all: they had to wake him up. Unconcerned, he simply gets to his feet and says a word. He rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.ref

The disciples seem more terrified by this than the storm. In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."ref

Jesus has power over nature: power over the storm.

Power over Demons

In scene two, we see Jesus' power over demons.

Jesus and his disciples make it to a Gentile region on the other side of the lake, where a demon-possessed man comes to meet him.

But this is not any demon-possessed man: this man has many, many demons. A Roman legion had 6000 soldiers: that may be an exaggeration, but Luke says that many demons had gone into himref.

As a result, this man was powerfully deranged. He was out of control: naked, living in the tombs, fleeing to solitary places having broken his chains and overpowered his guard. We're faced with a different sort of chaos. In scene one we saw a storm in the physical realm; now we are confronted with a storm in the spiritual realm.

This wild-man comes out to meet Jesus, and it's immediately clear who is in control. The demons had complete power over the man, but at Jesus' word they are helpless. Three times, we're told, they beg him: they know where the power resides.

Just as Jesus brought calm to the storm in the lake, so he now brings calm and order into the life of this man. We find him afterwards sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind.ref

Why did Jesus allow the demons to destroy the pigs? Well, it is the pigs that show us that this episode was a genuine encounter with the forces of evil. If it weren't for the pigs we might be able to say that this was only a miracle of psychology: that Jesus somehow simply changed the mental state of the man, restoring a deranged man to sanity. But the destruction of the pigs shows us that the demons were real. Jesus had confronted the powers of evil and won.

What a scene it must have been as the maddened herd of pigs raced down the bank into the lake! No wonder the people were overcome with fear and asked him to leave.

Power over Sickness

In scene three we are back over the lake, and in quick succession Jesus encounters two more desperate people.

First there is Jairus, who falls at Jesus' feet, begging him to come and heal his twelve-year-old daughter, who is on the verge of death.

But Jairus will have to wait! This scene belongs to a poor sick woman who has her own reason for desperation. She has been bleeding for 12 years: according to the law, this makes her ceremonially unclean; effectively excluded from all religious life. She is helpless and powerless, no-one can cure her.

Only, she's heard about this man who heals. She dares to fight her way through the crushing crowd and merely touch his cloak. She's not bold enough to demand his attention. She believes, and desperately hopes that a touch will be enough.

But Jesus notices. He feels the healing power flow from him: despite the crush of people, and the urgency of his journey, he knows that a desperate soul has made contact with him.

So he stops: he makes sure that everyone knows this woman is healed; she is no longer unclean. And he makes sure that they know that it is his power that has done it.

Jesus has power over sickness.

Power over Death

In scene four, we're back with Jairus. While Jesus delayed, his daughter has died. Jesus may have power over sickness, but no-one has power over death. For this little girl it's too late.

I think Jesus' delay was deliberate, just as in John's gospel, when he hears that his friend Lazarus is sick and close to death, he deliberately stays away for two more days so that Lazarus dies.

In this little sequence of power-plays, there is no value in showing once again that he has power over sickness. Jesus is going for the big one. He has power over death itself.

So, to everyone's incredulity, Jesus presses on. And with a mere two words of Aramaic, he brings this little girl back to life.

Nothing and no-one on Earth has power over death, yet for Jesus it is effortless.

So there we have four scenes of desperation, and four demonstrations of power. If I were the kind of man to use alliteration, I would say that Jesus demonstrated power over destruction, demons, disease and death. In these scenes we see Jesus exercising power in every sphere of fallen creation.


What are we to make of all this? I want to share with you four observations.

Jesus' miracles reveal his identity

First, Jesus' miracles reveal his identity.

This is the big theme controlling Luke's organisation of the material. In the disciples' words of verse 25, Who is this?ref

Ironically, the demons were in no doubt. In verse 28, they call him, Jesus, Son of the Most High Godref! And the Gentile former demoniac seemed pretty clear. Look at the lovely parallel in verse 39. Jesus tells him, Return home and tell how much God has done for you. So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.ref

In short, Jesus does things that only God can do.

Psalm 89 says, O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.ref

King Canute, the 11th century king, got this. In the famous story, Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes; but the tide failed to stop. Canute leaped backwards and said "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws." He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again. God created those eternal laws; only he can subvert them to perform miracles.

Similarly, who else in the entire history of the world has been able to order demons around, able to heal at a touch, or able to restore life with a word?

Only God can do these things. The miracles of Jesus reveal his deity. He is God in human form.

Jesus' miracles reveal God's kingdom

Second, Jesus' miracles reveal God's kingdom.

To demonstrate his mastery over all of creation, Jesus could have done it by destroying: how spectacular it would have been if he'd commanded a volcano to erupt, or an asteroid to smash into the temple. How spectacular if he'd sent the Roman army mad with demons. How spectacular to inflict boils on all the Pharisees. How spectacular to strike Pontius Pilate down with a word.

But Jesus' miracles have no whiff of the destructive about them. In every case he chooses to bring order instead of chaos, he chooses to heal instead of harm.

In this way he shows us what God's kingdom is like.

You see, the creation we live in is like a wonderful, bright painting that has been obscured by a think layer of dirt and grime. We can just about make out the underlying picture, but it is faint, and our world is full, not of brightness, but darkness and evil.

What Jesus does in these miracles is punch a few holes through the grime so that we can see a speck of the glorious picture underneath. In Jesus' miracles, we catch a glimpse of creation ordered, so that never again will 200,000 people perish in an earthquake. We catch a glimpse of evil banished forever. We catch a glimpse of a world where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.ref

For now, it is only a glimpse. The miracles are down-payment and guarantee of Jesus' promise to return and bring the kingdom in full; to wipe away all the grime and restore the picture in all its glory. He can do it; he will do it.

Those who receive the miracles

The third observation I want to make is about those who receive the miracles.

In each of the cases we've seen, the recipients were desperate. There was no human means by which they could be helped. They had reached the end of the road: Jesus was the only hope they had left.

This applies equally to the disciples about to drown, the helpless man possessed by a legion of demons, the bleeding woman whom no-one could heal, the grieving father whose daughter was dying. All were desperate, they had nowhere else to turn.

So we learn that Jesus helps the desperate.

But it's not enough simply to be desperate. The other thing they have in common is that all of them came to Jesus. The disciples may not have had much faith, but they had enough to make them wake their Master. Even the demon-possessed man came to Jesus: apparently enough sanity prevailed that he came out of the tombs to meet Jesus on the shore. The woman forced her way through the crowd just to touch him. Jairus fell at Jesus' feet and pleaded with him to come.

These miracles were done for desperate people who cast themselves on Jesus as their only hope.

It's worth noticing that these seem to be the only important qualifications. In other respects, the recipients are a thoroughly mixed bunch: from Jesus' close friends, to a Gentile man, to a poor unclean woman, to a prominent leader of the synagogue. Jesus doesn't discriminate according to who you are: anyone can be desperate; anyone can come to him.

Miracles today?

So what of miracles today? That's the elephant in the room, isn't it? Does God work miracles today, and if so, why don't we see more of them in Woodley?

To reveal my hand, I see no reason from the Bible to suppose that miracles such as healing should be limited to New Testament times. And I've read plenty of Christian biographies — like, Brother Yun's The Heavenly Man, or the book Faith Like Potatoes that's reviewed in the latest Radar magazine — where miraculous signs and wonders seem almost commonplace. I've no reason to believe these people are deluded or lying.

So what of Woodley? Why aren't we seeing frequent demonstrations of the power of God?

Perhaps one reason is that, on the whole, we are simply not desperate enough. We are not desperate to glorify Jesus as God in our town, nor are we desperate enough to cast ourselves upon Jesus mercy. In general, we find other ways to solve our problems. We don't naturally and habitually turn to Jesus to help us. We don't readily cast ourselves upon his mercy, pleading for his help.

I can't be certain about this; it's just a guess. But it's something to reflect on after the sermon: why don't we see more miracles here?

But another possibility is that we simply don't recognise the miracles that are happening all the time. What I mean is that, most of us in this room do experience miracles on a daily basis!

The promise in Romans chapter 8, that in all things God works for the good of those who love himref, is a miracle! Whatever storms of life come our way, they will do us not harm, but good. The non-Christian has no such hope. But we are promised a miracle, [nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.ref

And the capability we have to resist evil is a miracle. The non-Christian is helpless against demons: the Apostle Paul refers to the devil as the god of this worldref. But James writes to Christians, resist the devil and he will flee from youref. That's a miracle! In the power of Jesus we are completely freed from the devil and all his demons.

Even death for the Christian is no longer a mortal enemy, but the doorway to life, and permanent healing. This is a miracle.

These are miracles that God works in the lives of each one of us who has cast himself upon Jesus. When you became a Christian, you bowed before Jesus, desperate and empty-handed, didn't you? You came to Jesus, the only one who could help you, knowing that without him you were lost. And Jesus worked a miracle in you: healing you and saving you.

He's done the same thing for every one of us who is truly a Christian.

We should not be complacent about the miracles Jesus works in each of us who believes. We should not always be seeking the spectacular, but recognising the astonishing miracle in our lives. And we should pray most of all for this miracle to be repeated right across Woodley.

It is possible that you don't know what I'm talking about. You've never experienced the miracle of God at work in your life, freeing you from anxiety, evil and fear. If so, then you can come to Jesus today. There will be an opportunity to talk with someone from the prayer ministry team after the service. Like the people in our reading, your only hope is to cast yourself on Jesus' mercy.