Whether or not they were raised in the church, most young people have some familiarity with Jesus’ miracles. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus healed the sick, drove out demons, raised the dead, and even changed water into wine. But what do those long-ago miracles mean to our modern-day faith journey? More specifically, what do they tell us about Jesus? About what types of miracles is Jesus working in our lives today?
In his excellent book Jesus Mean and Wild, author Mark Galli describes what happened when a group of Laotian refugees asked if they could become members of the church he was pastoring. Since these Laotians had little knowledge of Jesus or the Bible, Galli offered to lead them through a study of Mark’s Gospel. When Galli got to the passage in Mark 4 where Jesus calms the storm, he asked the refugees to talk about the “storms” in their lives—their problems, worries, and struggles. The people looked confused and puzzled. Finally, one of the Laotian men asked,
Do you mean that Jesus actually calmed the wind and sea in the middle of a storm?”
Galli thought the man was struggling to accept this over-the-top story, so he said:
Yes, but we should not get hung up on the details of the miracle. We should remember that Jesus can calm the storms in our lives.”
After another uncomfortable silence, another man spoke up:
Well, if Jesus calmed the wind and the waves, he must be a very powerful man!”
The Laotians buzzed with excitement and worship. And while these newbie Christian refugees were having a transcendent experience with a Jesus they’d only just met, Galli realized he’d so taken Jesus for granted that he’d missed him altogether.
Although many of Jesus’ miracles seem pretty straightforward, they’re packed with details and meaning. Author Vladimir Nabokov said,
In reading, one should notice…details. There is nothing wrong about the moonshine of generalization when it comes after the sunny trifles of the book have been lovingly collected.”
In other words, details are important! As a professor, Nabokov taught students to approach books as “a kind of detective investigation” in order to discover the real meaning of a text.
Sherlock Holmes is famous for deduction—finding the meaning in details. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” Dr. Watson says, “You have evidently seen more in these rooms than was visible to me.” Holmes replies, “No, but I fancy that I may have deduced a little more. I imagine that you saw all that I did.” (For a deeper dive into the methods of Sherlock Holmes, and how they directly relate to effective youth ministry, read more here. And if you like that, you’ll like this, too, click here.)
Help young people ask probing, meaningful questions about all the miracle-related details the Gospel writers provide. Delve into the realm of interpretation by discussing the questions as a group. Sensitively guide the investigation by validating students’ willingness to explore and leading them to a sound understanding of the text. Remind them that the process will naturally include hypotheses and interpretations that may turn out to be “wrong,” but that’s okay—exploring them is part of the discovery process.
For example, consider Jesus’ first miracle, changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). Brainstorm a list of questions about the story’s details that may lead to interesting answers. For example, why was Jesus invited to this celebration? Why does John include the detail that the servants knew about the miracle while others didn’t?
Gather additional details, too, to help young people grasp the nuances of each miracle. For the water-into-wine miracle, this type of insight will be helpful: The Gospel of John was written in Ephesus, a major city in the Roman Empire. In that world, Dionysus was an extremely popular deity because he was associated with wine and celebration. John’s account of this miracle can be understood as a powerful argument against the “gods” of the culture, demonstrating that Jesus is the true author of celebration. After all, in the prelude (John 1:1-18) Jesus is the “one and only” son of God (1:14)—not the pagan gods. He is the source of life (and joy) in a dark world (1:4). Jesus’ creation of abundant wine at this Jewish wedding is significant because, according to Bible scholars, “In Jewish thought, wine is a symbol of joy and celebration” and “Wine was appreciated for bringing joy and banishing sorrow, and complete abstinence was associated with mourning and turning away from civilization.”
As a whole, Americans tend to be skeptics. Consider what percentage of Americans believe the following things:
- the earth goes around the sun? (Answer: 72%. That means 28% don’t!)
- the J.F.K. assassination was part of a government conspiracy? (Answer: 66%)
- it’s likely (or somewhat likely) that extra-terrestrial life exists on other planets? (Answer: 56%)
- in UFOs? (Answer: 34%)
- Elvis Presley is still alive? (Answer: 7%)
Of course, belief in something like UFOs is very different from belief in Jesus. In John 4:48, when a government official seeks healing for his sick son, Jesus says,
Will you never believe in me unless you see miraculous signs and wonders?”
The you is plural—rendered as “you people” in NIV. This means Jesus’ response was likely directed toward a crowd of bystanders in Cana. The Greek word for “believe” is pisteuo. It’s one of the most important themes in John, appearing almost 100 times! (For example, see John 1:7; 2:11; 3:16; 6:35-36; 11:25-27; 14:10-12; 17:8; 20:31.)
When Jesus tells the man his son will live, the man believes. Then he travels home and realizes the boy started to get better at the same time Jesus uttered those words.
Commentator R.V.G. Tasker writes,
Without obedience and trust there can be no real faith. The [official] now shows that he has both these essentials. When Jesus says to him, ‘Go; your son will live’ (RSV), he returns home at once, trusting that Jesus’ words are true.”
Many of Jesus’ miracles involve healing—but not just physical healing. By forgiving people’s sins and urging them to keep living out their faith, the Savior mends souls, as well.
In John 5:1-15, Jesus encounters an invalid who’s been lying by a pool for 38 years, waiting for an opportunity to be healed. The question Jesus asks seems like a no-brainer: “Would you like to get well?” (verse 6). After healing the man, Jesus says something that at first seems pretty harsh: “Stop sinning or something even worse may happen to you” (verse 14). This statement offers significant insight into what Jesus really meant earlier when he asked, “Would you like to get well?”
- When Jesus asked “Would you like to get well?” he was talking about physical healing, but he was also asking something much deeper: Do you want to be well in your soul?
- When Jesus said even worse could happen, he was likely talking about the suffering of hell—a life lived apart from God, the worst pain of all.
- And when Jesus said “stop sinning” it was a call to true repentance—a challenge to turn away from his old way of life and live God’s way.
A life lived God’s way is also a life of ongoing repentance in which we continually choose to turn from sin, selfishness, or pride and seek God’s help to turn toward him, to walk in his ways, to start afresh in forgiveness and grace. When we, like this man, intentionally turn from sin and turn toward Jesus, he truly works a miracle in our hearts. (For a deeper look at the miracle of the man who’d been lying by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years, check out Skin In the Game, by Rick Lawrence.)
Not only does Jesus want to heal our bodies and souls, but he wants to have a relationship with us. That’s evident in Mark 10:46-52, when Jesus heals a blind man named Bartimaeus.
When Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is nearby, he shouts for mercy. “Mercy” in the original Greek is the word eleos, which means pity. Bartimaeus was determined to see Jesus and would stop at nothing to get healed. In verse 51, Jesus asks another no-brainer question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Because Bartimaeus has faith, Jesus heals him instantly—and says he’s free to go, no strings attached. Yet the newly sighted man decides to follow Jesus instead.
Sometimes we think we have to earn Jesus’ favor to get his mercy, but instead he gives us undeserved kindness.
Charles Spurgeon, one of the all-time great preachers and a man whose whole life revolved around his love for Jesus, wrote:
No promise is of private interpretation. Whatever God has said to any one saint, he has said to all…. Scripture is a never-failing treasury filled with boundless stores of grace…. Come in faith and you are welcome to all covenant blessings. There is not a promise in the Word which shall be withheld.”
Jesus wants to heal our disabilities, but more than healing us, he wants a relationship with us. Yet he doesn’t require that we follow him in order for us to receive his goodness. Jesus’ question “What do you want me to do for you?” is for us, too. Each of us has “disabilities,” things that hamper us or challenge us—things we wish we could change about ourselves. Take time to reflect on Jesus’ question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Then consider any answer you receive.
A miracle Jesus performs in Luke 17:11-19 reveals a strong connection between thankfulness, faith, and wholeness. One sick man who receives healing from Jesus reacts quite differently from nine of his peers.
In Bible times, leprosy was seen as God’s punishment. This disease “begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal (Easton’s Bible Dictionary).”
In Christ’s day lepers couldn’t live in a walled town, though they sometimes were allowed to live in an open village. Wherever lepers traveled, they were required to tear their outer garments as a sign of deep grief, to go bareheaded, and to cover their beards—all symbols that communicated their virtual “death.” Also, they were supposed to warn passers-by to keep away from them by calling out, “Unclean! Unclean!” They couldn’t speak face to face with others or accept a greeting, because this typically involved an embrace.
Leprosy was, in short, a horrible disease in every way you can imagine—and it was incurable. But Jesus cured it anyway. His divine power illustrates his grace to us. He not only pays attention to our physical problems, but he can cure the “leprosy of our soul” as well.
What does it say about Jesus that he was willing to hang out with lepers? What does it say about Jesus that he healed them all even though he knew only one would return? Jesus praised the man who came back for his faith, but the man simply came back to thank him. All 10 lepers were physically healed, yet Jesus says, “Your faith has made healed you.” The King James Version of the Bible uses the word “whole” instead of “well.” The leper’s thankfulness had made him whole.
Consider these statements about gratitude:
- “Of all the attitudes we can acquire, surely the attitude of gratitude is the most important and by far the most life-changing.” —Zig Ziglar
- “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” —Meister Eckhart
- “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” —Charles Dickens
- “One of life’s gifts is that each of us, no matter how tired and downtrodden, finds reasons for thankfulness.” —J. Robert Maskin
- “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” —Cicero
Jesus still works miracles in our lives and hearts today. And there’s no better response than expressing and living out our thankfulness to him.