Entitlement vs. Gratitude: Luke 17


Today’s reading: Luke 17-18.

This world is the place of service; we are not to be expecting to have the festival here. The great supper comes at the end of the day. This is the time for us to serve, even as Jesus did when he was here; and we are to serve right on till the close of the day, even as Jesus did. – Charles Spurgeon

Pride is one of the three main temptations in life, along with pleasure and possessions. Jesus warned his disciples not to become swollen with pride as a result of their work with him. He knew they would be tempted because of the miraculous things they were doing, and would do, through the Holy Spirit. He wanted them to keep a servant’s heart instead of feeling super-spiritual.

“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ” Luke 17:7-10

The story of the servants points out several truths:

  • Jesus’ disciples remain servants or slaves. Before they were slaves to sin; now they are servants of God.
  • We shouldn’t expect God to thank us for serving him; instead we should be thankful for the grace he has shown us.
  • It is our duty to serve God. This gives some needed perspective to the argument about faith and works. Our faith saves us, but it is our duty to serve God after we are saved. A duty is a task that is required. It is an obligation.

To confirm the importance of gratitude, Luke immediately tells the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. Only one leper returned in gratitude after Jesus removed their disease. Jesus was shocked that the other nine did not express their thanks. In a sense they had a duty or obligation to show their gratitude. Instead they ran off with thoughts of themselves only.

Here are some characteristics of servants that we should model:

  • Servants live to please their master and do his will, not their own.
  • Servants don’t expect thanks for doing their job, but are grateful for the provision their master makes for them.
  • Servants can follow the example of Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8
  • Jesus said that whoever would be great must be a servant. The commendation we will receive in heaven is for being “a good and faithful servant.”

The institutional church’s idea of a servant of God is not at all like Jesus Christ’s idea. His idea is that we serve Him by being the servants of others. Jesus Christ actually “out-socialized” the socialists. He said that in His kingdom the greatest one would be the servant of all. The real test of a saint is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet— that is, being willing to do those things that seem unimportant in human estimation but count as everything to God. It was Paul’s delight to spend his life for God’s interests in other people, and he did not care what it cost. But before we will serve, we stop to ponder our personal and financial concerns— “What if God wants me to go over there? And what about my salary? What is the climate like there? Who will take care of me? A person must consider all these things.” All that is an indication that we have reservations about serving God. But the apostle Paul had no conditions or reservations. Paul focused his life on Jesus Christ’s idea of a New Testament saint; that is, not one who merely proclaims the gospel, but one who becomes broken bread and poured-out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for the sake of others. – Oswald Chambers

Image, “The Idle Servant,” by Nicolaes Maes

Lost and found: Luke 15


Today’s reading: Luke 14-16.

“How big is God’s heart for lost persons?”

“Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope.” – John Ciardi

“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

Jesus hammers home a lesson about saving the lost with three successive parables. The Pharisees are listening all the while, and are the ones who most need to learn the lesson. Pretend you are a Pharisee as you listen to these stories, especially the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.

The Lost Sheep. The lost sheep who is found is the sinner who repents. Though he is only one out of a hundred souls, heaven rejoices at his salvation.

The Lost  Coin. The lost coin is also the sinner who repents. God strives to regain the lost person as earnestly as the poor woman who searches for one of her few precious coins. God and the angels celebrate the salvation of the repentant sinner.

The Prodigal Son and the Loving Father. Traditionally the prodigal son gets all the attention in this parable. His redemption from depravity gives preachers a story to inspire all lost persons to hope in God’s grace. Next comes the loving father, God himself, who didn’t stop looking for his son from the moment the boy ran away. He shamelessly runs to the boy as soon as he appears, and proclaims a feast before his son can finish his confession. This is how big a heart God has for lost persons.

Then there is the older brother. Remember the Pharisees? The brother is their kind of man. He’s the legalist, the one who has always done what was expected of him.

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’  And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ” Luke 15:28-32

Jesus is telling the religious leaders that everything God has is theirs, but it’s time for them to celebrate the salvation of all who are entering the kingdom because of Christ. Instead they keep condemning the lost, even though God has shown his love for them by sending his own son to save them. At the moment that God swings open the doors to heaven, they foolishly try to shut them.

We should be like God, with just as big a heart for the lost, but we fall short in many ways.

  • We lack faith in Jesus’ story and don’t believe that God cares for the lost as much as we have been told.
  • We think God has taken care of it and doesn’t need our help.
  • We give up because it isn’t easy.
  • We look down on the lost because they don’t measure up to our standard.

I want you to think about someone who is very dear to you. Imagine that you were in danger of losing them. Wouldn’t you do everything to rescue them? That’s how much God wants to rescue sinners, and it’s how much he wants us to celebrate their salvation. There were two prodigals in Jesus’ parable. One was the son who was prodigal in his excessive debauchery, but the other was God who was prodigal in his exceeding love. We should all be God’s kind of prodigal.

Image by Matthew Kirkland on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

The Narrow Door to Heaven: Luke 13


Today’s reading: Luke 12-13.

“Isn’t everyone going to Heaven?”

The world says, “there are many ways to Heaven.” Jesus disagreed. When directly asked if few or many would find eternal life in Paradise, Jesus said many would not be able to enter.

Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ ” Luke 13:23-25

On another occasion Jesus answered the question more directly, saying that only a few would enter Heaven.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

If there was any doubt about the identity of the door or gate, Jesus also answered that question.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus uses the definite article “the.” He doesn’t say he is a way, or one of several or many ways. He is the way, the only way.

Few could mean few in absolute terms or few in relative numbers compared to all those who have lived or ever will live on Earth. I prefer to think it is few in number relative to the many who take the broad road to destruction. Either way you define few, it’s clear there are reasons only a few go through the door.

It isn’t easy to get through the door. The word narrow comes from a root meaning to stand. You have to stand straight upright in order to fit through the door. It’s a picture of a righteous person, but whose righteousness? The Bible makes it clear that it isn’t our own righteousness (which is nothing but filthy rags) but the righteousness of Jesus which allows us to fit through the door. It’s a Jesus-shaped doorway, and we have to be Christ-like (clothed in his righteousness) to fit through.

It takes an effort to get through. Jesus urges the questioner to make every effort to enter. He’s talking about the kind of effort it takes to win an athletic contest or a battle. In contrast, the path through the broad gate is almost effortless. It’s going with the flow, following the crowd. Does this mean that our salvation requires work? The whole counsel of God teaches that grace and faith are paramount in our salvation, but there are also passages that describe saving faith as faith that does works. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? … As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” The greatest work, however, is the work of faith. “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ “

There is a time limit on getting through. The door won’t remain open forever. The word for narrow carries the meaning of getting narrower to the point of closing up like a clogged artery. When the door closes, Jesus says it isn’t closed in a casual sort of way but is purposefully shut against those who haven’t entered (the door is shut fast; they are shut away). God controls when the door closes. It has already closed for each one who has died. It will close with extreme finality when God judges the Earth.

A day is coming when everyone will want to pass through. But on that day it will be too late. People will view the door with hindsight and see how foolish they were to pass it by. There will be no remedy for their sorrow. God’s grace will be complete and judgment will be the result.

Jesus not only said he was the way. He said he was the gate itself.

 “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

He’s the way – the doorway – and he’s the good shepherd at the doorway making sure that only his sheep enter the pen to find safety. Is everyone in the world one of his sheep? No, only those who enter the gate in the likeness of the lamb of God.

I wish I could speak now in words that would burn their way right into your inmost hearts. Alas, I cannot. I must, however, just repeat the text again, and leave it with you. “Many shall seek in that dread day to enter, but shall not be able.” Oh, enter then, enter! Enter now, while yet the gate stands wide open and mercy bids you come! Make haste to enter while yet the avenging angel lingers, and the angel of mercy stands with outstretched arms and cries, “Whoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” May God, the ever-blessed Spirit, without whom no warning can be effectual, and no invitation can be attractive, sweetly compel you to trust Christ tonight! Here is the Gospel in a few words – Jesus suffered the wrath and torment we justly merited. He doubtless bore the penalty of your transgressions if you penitently believe in His Sacrifice. When you trust in Him for pardon, ‘tis proof your sins were laid on Him for judgment! You are, therefore, a forgiven man! A pardoned woman! You are saved—saved forever!  – Charles Spurgeon

Image by William Murphy on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0

Legalism: Luke 11


Today’s reading: Luke 10-11.

A pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself, but a spiritual man is easy on others and hard on himself. – A. W. Tozer

The Pharisees probably began with the best intentions. They were the guardians of the Law. Israel had kept the Law so poorly and suffered tremendous losses for so many centuries. They took it upon themselves to set an example of devotion to the Law, in order to please God and set an example for the nation. At some point, however, their zeal gave way to pride and unbending legalism. They lost sight of God as they focused more on their own system of righteousness. The Law, with hundreds of rules they added, became their God. Jesus condemned their legalism repeatedly.

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces … And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” Luke 11:42, 43, 46

Legalism magnifies the outer appearance while ignoring the inner heart attitude. The Pharisees were famous for their zeal in hand washing. In one famous case a Pharisee in prison almost died of dehydration because he used his water ration for hand washing rather than drinking. Legalism focuses on what can be seen and measured. Today it may criticize the style of clothing or length of hair. It ignores the inner spiritual life which gives meaning and purpose to the outer behavior.

Legalism magnifies the rules while downplaying the relationship with God. The Pharisees were so attentive to the rules that they would give a tithe from their kitchen spices, but then they would bend the rules to suit their own purposes. The Sabbath rules were the most stifling and also the best example of how they could work around the rules. As Jesus discovered, they had no compassion for healing on the Sabbath, since it was work, but God had ordained the Sabbath for good. Today a Christian given to legalism might think that whether he goes to church on Sunday is all that matters; the rest of the week he does as he pleases.

Legalism magnifies self rather than God. The constant observing and measuring of outer appearances inevitably leads to pride. It becomes a contest. Who is best at keeping the rules? Who looks the best? People can put on a wonderful “game face” that hides a world of hurt inside. True faith begins with humility and a continuing recognition of personal sinfulness. It exalts the gracious God who forgives us.

Legalism magnifies what I do to earn righteousness while forgetting that only Jesus can pay the penalty for my sin. Legalism is, at heart, a works-based religion. I earn my salvation by what I do. I earn God’s favor by how well I keep the rules. Nothing could be further from the heart of Christianity. Jesus paid the price to redeem me from my sin. Any good thing I do is a thankful response to his gift of salvation. My obedience maintains a healthy relationship with God, but by itself it cannot save me.

So long as the externals of religion were carried out that was all that mattered. Their hearts might be as black as hell; they might be utterly lacking in charity and even in justice; but so long as they went through the correct motions at the correct time they considered themselves good in the eyes of God. A man may be regular in his church attendance; he may be a diligent student of his Bible; he may be a generous giver to the church; but if in his heart there are thoughts of pride and of contempt, if he has no charity in his dealings with his fellow men in the life of the everyday, if he is unjust to his subordinates or dishonest to his employer, he is not a Christian man. No man is a Christian when he meticulously observes the conventions of religion and forgets the realities. – Barclay, Daily Study Bible

Image by Jimmie on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Little is much: Luke 9


Today’s reading: Luke 8-9.

Along with the sermon on the mount, the feeding of the 5,000 ranks as one of the best known events of Jesus’ life. So much has already been said about this miracle. I decided to choose some of the best writings on this topic and let them speak for themselves.

Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish–unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. Luke 9:12-17

John MacArthur on God’s use of small things

Begin with your own, available resources. Even though it is little, trust God to make it much. As the song says, little becomes much when it is placed in the Master’s hand. It’s amazing when you think you have nothing and you wind up feeding thousands. God can use small things; He used the tear of a baby to move the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter. He used a shepherd’s stick to work mighty miracles in Egypt. He used a sling and a stone to conquer a nation. He used the little girl to lead Naaman to Elisha. He used a widow with a little meal to sustain a prophet. He used a little child to teach His disciples the meaning of humility and salvation. He used Balaam’s donkey to preach His truth, and the jawbone of another donkey to slay 1,000 men. He can use a small thing for a great end. Jesus likes to have the weak; that way, when things happen, we know it’s His power. – John MacArthur

John Piper on the point of making bread

So what is Jesus doing in this miracle of taking five loaves and a few fish and feeding over 5,000 people? He is opening a window on who he is. He is manifesting his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father (John 1:14). And he is opening this window on his glory not that we might get excited about how useful he might be in getting what we already wanted, but that we might see that he himself is better than anything we ever wanted. The point of making bread, as it were, out of nothing—like God making manna—is that the Son of God has come into the world not to give you bread, but to be your bread. And, since we are all sinners and do not deserve this bread, how will he give it to us? “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). When he gives his flesh on the cross, he becomes bread—all-nourishing, all-satisfying bread—for sinners who believe.  – John Piper

Matthew Henry on God’s provision

It is the only miracle of our Saviour’s that is recorded by all the four evangelists. Let us only observe out of it, 1. Those who diligently attend upon Christ in the way of duty, and therein deny or expose themselves, or are made to forget themselves and their outward conveniences by their zeal for God’s house, are taken under his particular care, and may depend upon Jehovah-jireh—The Lord will provide. He will not see those that fear him, and serve him faithfully, want any good thing. 2. Our Lord Jesus was of a free and generous spirit. His disciples said, Send them away, that they may get victuals; but Christ said, “No, give ye them to eat; let what we have go as far as it will reach, and they are welcome to it.’’ Thus he has taught both ministers and Christians to use hospitality without grudging, 1 Pt. 4:9 . Those that have but a little, let them do what they can with that little, and that is the way to make it more. There is that scatters, and yet increases. 6. The blessing of Christ will make a little go a great way. The little that the righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked, a dinner of herbs better than a stalled ox. 7. Those whom Christ feeds he fills; to whom he gives, he gives enough; as there is in him enough for all, so there is enough for each. He replenishes every hungry soul, abundantly satisfies it with the goodness of his house. Here were fragments taken up, to assure us that in our Father’s house there is bread enough, and to spare. We are not straitened, or stinted, in him.  – Matthew Henry

Charles Spurgeon on how Jesus handles our emergencies

If the disciples had considered the miracle of the loaves they would have observed that Christ is grand at emergencies. When there were five thousand people to be fed and no towns and villages near enough to supply them with bread, so that the people must faint by the way ere they could reach the markets, then Christ was ready, full-handed in time of scarcity, prompt to dispense his liberality, able to meet the emergency so perfectly, that the people must have been very thankful that such an emergency had arisen, and no doubt often wished that they could have been in such a strait again if they could have had the Lord near to bring them out of it. Had they considered the miracle of the loaves the disciples would have known that Christ only is grand at emergencies, but that he displays his power spontaneously, without need of pressing or even prompting. Before anybody else had cared for the multitude he began enquiring about the state of the stores from which the famishing must be fed. He it was who thought of the way of feeding them, it was a design invented and originated by himself. His followers had looked at their little store of bread and fish and given up the task as hopeless; but Jesus, altogether unembarrassed, and in no perplexity, had already considered how he would banquet the thousands and make the fainting sing for joy. The Lord of Hosts needed no entreaty to become the host of hosts of hungry men. Remembering this, the disciples in their new distress should have said within themselves, “Now will he display his power. We have scarcely need to cry to him, for before we call he will answer; and while the emergency is yet pressing upon our minds he will hear.” But they forgot what he had done on that occasion, and therefore they fell into distrust as to their new trial. Beloved, is not this a very common fault with us? Do we not too oft forget what the Lord has done for us in times past?  – Charles Spurgeon

Martin Luther on the faith lesson in the feeding of the 5,000

In today’s Gospel Christ gives us another lesson in faith, that we should not be overanxious about our daily bread and our temporal existence, and stirs us up by means of a miracle; as though to say by his act what he says by his words in Matthew 6,33: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” For here we see, since the people followed Christ for the sake of God’s Word and the signs, and thus sought the Kingdom of God, he did not forsake them but richly fed them. He hereby also shows that, rather than those who seek the Kingdom of God should suffer need, the grass in the desert would become wheat, or a crumb of bread would be turned into a thousand loaves; or a morsel of bread would feed as many people and just as satisfactorily as a thousand loaves; in order that the words in Matthew 4,4 might stand firm, that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” And to confirm these words Christ is the first to be concerned about the people, as to what they should eat, and asks Philip, before they complain or ask him; so that we may indeed let him care for us, remembering that he cares more and sooner for us than we do for ourselves. – Martin Luther

The reward for mercy: Luke 6


Today’s reading: Luke 6-7.

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God’s
When mercy seasons justice.   – William Shakespeare

When it comes to his words about showing mercy to one’s enemies, Jesus often gets called a radical. We mean he’s being extreme or departing drastically from the norm. That’s an inaccurate assessment. In the other sense of radical, going to the root of a matter, Jesus was never more accurately described. Mercy lies at the foundation of God’s nature.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

The Risk. There’s a reason people don’t always love their enemies: it’s risky business. They can ignore your kindness, or take advantage of it. You can get hurt emotionally. You can lose financially. It’s hard and often there is no visible payback. Why would anyone do it? Yet Jesus commands us to do it.

The Reward. Jesus says it’s no credit to you if you do good to those who are good to you. That’s what everyone does. It’s motivated by self-interest and it’s easy to do. The word for credit is charis, or grace, or favor. Grace is often described as unmerited favor. Jesus is telling us that we aren’t showing grace when we do good to those who have been good to us, and we earn no favor with God for it. On the other hand, when we love our enemy, or do good to those who aren’t good to us, or lend with the knowledge that we won’t get it back, we earn an eternal reward. Jesus calls it a “great” reward, which can mean a reward that is numerous, a multitude of rewards. There may be no visible payback now, but there is a multitudinous payback coming in the long arrow of eternity.

The Result. Rewards are nice, but they pale in comparison to the result of showing mercy to those who don’t deserve it. When we show mercy we become children of God. Children can’t help but share some characteristics of their parents. It’s in their DNA. Are you your heavenly Father’s child? Then you’ll share his mercy DNA. Don’t have that quality of  mercy? Maybe you need to evaluate whether you are actually a child of God. Jesus said the merciful will receive mercy, and we require mercy in order to be made right with God.

Are you turned off by the thought of doing something for a reward? God seems to have wired us that way, for he repeatedly offers us rewards for doing what he commands. Think about this: it takes faith to believe that God will keep his word and give us the promised reward. Responding to God’s offer is a test of your faith. Next time your faith is tested by someone who mistreats you, remember the eternal reward God has offered you and be God-like. Show your enemy some unmerited favor.

What is the reason for this Christian conduct? The reason is that it makes us like God, for that is the way he acts. God sends his rain on the just and the unjust. He is kind to the man who brings him joy and equally kind to the man who grieves his heart. God’s love embraces saint and sinner alike. It is that love we must copy; if we, too, seek even our enemy’s highest good we will in truth be the children of God. – Barclay, Daily Study Bible

Image by The UpTake on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Miracles: Luke 4-5

22.4.2010: Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Today’s reading: Luke 4-5.

“A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A miracle is when one plus one equals a thousand.” ― Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace

How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. Hebrews 2:3-4

What are miracles? Let’s start by describing what they aren’t. They aren’t naturally occurring events that happen only rarely. They aren’t events that happen by chance. They aren’t the result of human effort or skill. They aren’t magic or trickery.

But what are they, then? Some talk about a direct intervention of God in the world, but isn’t God continually intervening? Others talk about events unexplained by natural causes, but as Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology) says, this can leave God out of the miracle or falsely assume that he doesn’t work through natural laws. The Holman Bible Dictionary defines miracles as “events which unmistakably involve an immediate and powerful action of God designed to reveal His character or purposes.” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology says miracles are “wondrous events … not explainable solely by natural processes but which require the direct causal agency of a supernatural being, usually God.” Grudem defines a miracle as “a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” To put it a little differently, it’s God acting in a surprising way to make people take notice and give him honor and glory. This definition emphasizes the “sign” aspect of miracles. The miracle is a sign that God is at work. It’s a sign pointing to God. One of God’s purposes in doing miracles is to cause us to pay attention to him and praise him. Let’s look at some of Jesus’ miracles in light of these definitions.

Healing Simon’s mother from a fever. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him (Jesus) on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.” The immediate end of the fever and restoration of normal health in response to Jesus’ command caused his disciples to wonder at his power. 

A great catch of fish. “He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.” The disciples, Peter in particular, were overwhelmed by the timing and the amount of the catch, causing them to magnify Jesus’ divinity and their own sinfulness. The miracle also gave authority to Jesus’ claim that he would make the disciples fishers of men.

Healing a leper. While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him.” In reaction to this immediate healing crowds of people came to hear Jesus or find help for their own sickness.

Healing a paralyzed man. “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” The healing of the paralyzed man caused amazement and led the people to glorify God. It also confirmed Jesus’ authority to forgive sins.

Each of these miracles was (1) unexpected, (2) caused wonder and amazement, and (3) led to acknowledgment of Jesus’ or God’s glory. I can’t read these accounts without also considering how compassion played a part in Jesus’ actions. He was willing to heal the leper because of compassion. He fed the multitudes because of compassion for them. He raised Lazarus from the dead in part because of his compassion for the grieving family members.

Do miracles still happen today? Do surprising things that cause wonder and awe and lead you to glorify God still happen? With this new definition in mind, look for the miracles in your life. When there is a need for God to be recognized and glorified, expect miracles to happen.

How quickly we forget God’s great deliverances in our lives. How easily we take for granted the miracles he performed in our past. – David Wilkerson

Miracles are signs, and like all signs, they are never about themselves; they’re about whatever they are pointing toward. Miracles point to something beyond themselves. But to what? To God himself. That’s the point of miracles – to point us beyond our world to another world. – Eric Metaxas

Image by Nick Thompson on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0