Interpreting the Miracles of Jesus
Pastor John, it seems the miracles of Jesus can be so situational that it can be hard to know what the takeaways are from the stories as we read them in the gospels. How do you process the miracles of Jesus in your personal devotions?
Recently, I was reading through the Bible with M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan, and came across Matthew 16, where Jesus says to the disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” So clearly he is using a metaphor. I say clearly. It wasn’t so clear to the disciples. They start squabbling with each other about how they didn’t bring any bread.
Jesus hears them, and he says to them, “Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?” (Matthew 16:9-11).
Now, when I read that in my devotions I just thought: What is Jesus saying? He’s saying that if they had really understood the miracle where he fed thousands with a little bit of bread, they would have perceived the meaning of his metaphor. And my take away is that they totally misunderstood him, missed the metaphorical meaning, and went straight to the literal meaning.
So Jesus says, “That was stupid, because if you had understood my miracles, you wouldn’t have made that mistake,” which implies that there are mistakes we make in the language of Scripture because we don't grasp the power or miraculous working of Jesus. So I came away from that praying, “Let me know God. Let me know Jesus in all his works. Let me discern the point of the feeding of the 5,000, so that when he says something oblique or metaphorical, I won’t make the same mistake that the disciples did.”
That has held my attention for the last two days — trying to see the hermeneutical implications of missing out on the power of Jesus. Clearly, the disciples didn’t understand his miracle, and that had a bad interpretive effect on how they understood his other language.
Slow Down and Meditate
A takeaway is that we should slow down in our reading, and when we finish reading about a miracle, we ought to pause and say, “Jesus, show me what this is saying about you.” Fall down, worship him, and let it have its humbling and strengthening effect. I have a Christ who not only feeds 5,000 but also gives twelve baskets to the twelve men who were distributing it. That is just huge.
Piper: "When we finish reading a miracle, we ought to pause and say, 'Jesus, show me what this is saying about you.'"
In other words, Jesus is saying, “I will take care of all your needs.” I think, frankly, that is the essence of what they missed. For the disciples, the point of the feeding of the 5,000 was the twelve full baskets left over. Through his miracle, Jesus is saying that if you go ahead and give away what you don’t have, you are still going to get everything you need.
So when we come later, and he says, “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees,” their first thought should not be, “Oh, shoot, we forgot to bring bread.” Their first thought should be, “What is it about the Pharisees that is going to undermine our faith?” By understanding the miracles of Jesus rightly, they will start to see.
Again, the takeaway is: slow down and meditate. Nothing that I have said here demands any scholarly training. You don’t need to know Greek. You don't even need to go to seminary. You just need to slow down and pray and think and worship over the miracles of Jesus.