Dangerous Miracles

Why Jesus Did Signs and Wonders

I once knew a premed student who didn’t believe in miracles but still prayed for them.

As he read of Jesus multiplying the bread and fish, transforming the water into wine, casting out demons, raising the dead to life — he claimed that he could not come to believe in “that sort of thing.” He was a man of principle, of reason, of science. He would not follow his well-meaning ancestors and be impressed with fire and smoke, gullible to natural phenomena that the prescientific mistook as God invading the natural realm.

“Jesus performs mighty acts to underline, highlight, and bold the font of his monologues.”

And yet he prayed for just that. He liked to cover all his bases, he explained. If something out of the realm of his understanding existed, he wanted in on the benefits. He prayed to Jesus occasionally because he wanted family members healed, he wanted to date a girl out of his league, he wanted his food occasionally blessed and the consequences of his sins occasionally avoided. He wanted the signs and wonders, nothing more. And in this, he missed the meaning of the miracles.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo

With a wave of her wand, the fairy godmother in Cinderella transforms a pumpkin into a carriage, mice into mares, a horse into a coachman, a dog into a servant, rags into a gown — all at the magical incantation of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo. At the speaking of gibberish, the miracle happened.

This stands in stark contrast to the miracles of our Lord in the Gospels. The miracles exist for the sake of words, not words for the miracles. Jesus performs mighty acts to underline, highlight, and bold the font of his monologues. The inbreaking of the kingdom of God through mighty deeds cast divine light on his sermons. They proclaimed, “Here is the heaven’s King; listen to him.”

We find the Good Shepherd seating the crowds and feeding them multiplied bread and fish to prepare them for the sermon entitled “I am the bread of life.” He tells the paralytic to rise and walk to prove the other, more scandalous claim, “Here stands one who can forgive sins.” He raises Lazarus from the dead as the exclamation point to the sentences, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

At his voice, the water blushes to wine, the storm stills, demons beg to depart and enter swine — all to provoke the question, “Who then is this?” (Mark 4:41). But the doctor-in-training prayed for miracles he doubted while refusing to ask that question or reckon with the teaching of Christ. He, along with many (including myself for years), simply wanted the wand-wave of a fairy godmother giving him his desires while singing,

Sala-gadoola mechicka-boo-la
Bibbidi bobbidi boo.

But God loved us too much to play fairy godmother, leaving us to die in our sins.

Miracle-Working Preacher

In the middle of the most vivid prophesy of the Savior’s atonement and subsequent resurrection, Isaiah pens these words: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). This suffering servant of God would choose to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. How?

“Jesus’s primary mission was to preach good news and then bear our iniquities upon the cross.”

Matthew indicates the fulfillment of this verse happened when Jesus went to Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law who lay sick with a fever (along with many others who they brought to him later that evening, Matthew 8:14–17). The point? Jesus is a compassionate Savior toward the ills that plague us in this life. He gladly took detours, inconveniencing himself on his way to redeem humanity, to heal the likes of Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. He doesn’t only heal to tell about eternal life; he genuinely desires and delights to carry what afflicts us. He cares about our bodies and souls, our now and eternity.

But Jesus’s primary mission was to preach good news and then bear our iniquities upon the cross. At the beginning of his ministry, he confounds his disciples by leaving the town in which many were seeking him for more miracles, saying, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38). He withdrew from the town — and came out of heaven — for this purpose: not to entertain or even heal all suffering in Galilee, but to preach good news to lost souls.

His wonders, signs, and mighty works bid his hearers to sit eagerly and take notes. Nicodemus realized this when he said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). The miracles confirmed him to be a teacher sent from God, not just a traveling miracle-worker.

Better Than We Wanted

In this, Jesus is a better Savior than we would have wanted. Although his miracles come with teaching that makes thousands say, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” and turn away (John 6:60), a few remain with him because the Father has revealed to them that he has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Fairy godmothers ready us for the ball and require nothing else of us; Jesus readies us for heaven and conforms us to his glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3). The Father sent the Son to perform mighty works, not because we were victims of evil stepsisters but because we stood condemned in Adam. He forswore bibbidi bobbidi boo for speaking “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16) and gave us safe instruction to obey (Matthew 28:20) so we would abide forever in his love (John 15:10).

“His wonders, signs, and mighty works bid his hearers to sit eagerly and take notes.”

Although Israel too loved the idea of a king who fed them, healed them, and amazed them with wonders, they — and we — made him a different crown when he called us to repent of our sins, pick up our crosses, love him above all, and come to him as the only Way, the only Truth, the only Life. We liked the prophet who brought some of heaven’s comforts to earth; we hated the God who exposed our nakedness and offered his righteousness instead. When the wine ran out, the meal was over, the entertainment done, when we decided he had said enough, we chose Barabbas.

When Miracles Return

Why does this matter? One reason is that a day of public, undeniable miracles will come again. The false god of naturalism (to which much unbelief prostrates itself in the name of science) will fall. A day is coming when God will allow wonders to be captured on YouTube, and displayed across the Internet, that will amaze even we children of the Enlightenment who don’t believe in “that sort of thing.” The premed student I knew will see what he disbelieves. Supernaturalism will become normal again. Miracles, undeniable. Bellies will be filled by means that natural reason cannot explain.

And this, to the harm of many.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9–10)

False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24)

“Great signs” will come, such as “making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people” to deceive many (Revelation 13:13–14). False prophets will continue to do real signs and real wonders until the coming of the lawless one himself. He will be the savior the world always wanted. He will amaze, heal, prophesy, feed — all without those sermons our flesh hates. So persuasive, so winsome, so awe-inspiring and charming will the lawless one be that if possible, even the elect would be deceived.

“Jesus cares about our bodies and souls, our now and eternity.”

What will be our safety from the evil one on that dangerous day? Loving the truth now. Those who are swept away and deceived “refused to love the truth and so be saved.” We must be lovers of what Christ taught as he performed gracious and powerful miracles, signs, and wonders. And what the risen Christ continued to teach through his apostles. This will protect us from the false miracles that God will allow to fill our Facebook pages and evening news segments to test us, to know whether we love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our souls (Deuteronomy 13:2–3).

Let the miracles lead you, like the star of Bethlehem, to the Son of God, to hear what he says about himself and, in hearing and believing, have life in his name: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).