The Wonder of His Works. Did the people believe on Jesus because of his miracles? Is that still true today when he is not among us?
Study and Discussion Questions
- Matthew 4:23-25 suggests that one of the reasons for Jesus’ fame was his many miracles of healing. Was that a crucial factor? Was that part of the reason that so many turned away when they discovered that following Jesus entailed a significant personal commitment?
- Matthew 9:35-37 suggests that Jesus’ compassion was connected directly to his healing ministry. But over against that healing ministry was Jesus’ teaching and proclamation of the good news. How did these two branches of ministry mesh together in his overall ministry?
Comment: Just as Jesus worked in two kinds of ministry, one teaching, the other healing, so the church today seeks to balance its humanitarian outreach to heal the body, and a Gospel outreach focused on saving souls. Do you think the church has the balance about right, or are we failing to be faithful to Jesus’ example and teaching?
- In Matthew 11:2-5, John asks about Jesus’ ministry. Again, the emphasis is on healing, something which was not prominent in John’s forerunner ministry or in the “judgment” scene in Matthew 25. How do we relate Jesus’ miraculous ministry with our more ordinary callings?
Comment: John’s Gospel in particular makes a point of saying that Jesus’ miracles were “signs” to help people believe. Yet it is also John’s Gospel that records Jesus’ commendation of those “who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29). Does God really desire that we be impervious to extraordinary signs and miracles? Two C. S. Lewis quotes highlight the challenge of knowing when to expect miracles and when to expect more “normal” interaction with the divine. The second one consists of several paragraphs addressing the question of answered prayer:
He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy”s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. – C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, p. 39
Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate.
It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”
Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, be-[10-11] yond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle. — WLN 10-11
- How would we relate the word “unselfish” to Jesus’ ministry? To what extent is it appropriate for the God of the universe to turn the other cheek and go the second mile? Shouldn’t the God who created everything also be attentive to the needs of his children?