Offensive Miracles

When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matthew 13:53-58

When there is a lack of faith, people are easily offended. We see this in our own culture. People seem to be offended by everything. People in our culture wear their offense like a badge of honor. So many people, even Christians, live their lives perpetually offended.

The people of Nazareth were offended that Jesus, someone they knew, had incredible wisdom and operated in the miraculous. They couldn’t understand how someone from such a common family could be a prophet. They couldn’t understand how a carpenter’s son could become such a wise Rabbi. It didn’t make sense to them that God would do miracles through such a lowly man. They saw Jesus grow up, after all. How could God use Him? And because it didn’t line up with their understanding and expectations, they took offense. People today do the same thing.

In particular, people get offended by healing for a variety of reasons. They get offended that some people get miraculously healed and others don’t. They especially get offended at the mention of the need for healing. To say a person needs healing means that something is broken. But there is so much fear and insecurity around admitting that something is broken.

We live in a culture where everyone wants to be told that nothing in them is broken. No one wants to admit that their spirit is broken and they need a Savior. No one wants to admit that their heart is broken and they need inner healing and deliverance. No one wants to admit that their body or brain or sexuality is not functioning the way God intended, and that it needs healing. We’re afraid that if we say this about our loved ones they won’t feel “normal.”

But instead of admitting that none of us is “normal,” we’ve decided to call everything normal. We wrongly assume that if we call everything normative then everyone will feel included and loved. But the people who live with brokenness know deep down that something is wrong. I know because we all have brokenness.

So we walk around knowing deep down that something is wrong, and yet we have everyone telling us that everything is fine. We’re told that the disfunction in our body, mind, or spirit is “normal.” Sometimes we’re even told the it’s good! But the deepest parts of us knows better. This creates a cognitive dissonance that is damaging.

We’d do better to communicate the biblical message that we’re all broken, we all need healing, and we all need a savior. The admission of the need for spiritual, emotional, and physical healing should be what is “normative.” For a person to assume that they don’t need healing should not be a mark of superiority but a sign of prideful ignorance. What should be offensive is the person who says they don’t need healing, not the person who suggests the need for healing.

Yes, we love everyone just as they are. We communicate that God loves them unconditionally even if their situation never changes. We help them encounter the absolutely overwhelming love of the Father for them. But His unending love for us–just as we are–does not change our need for healing. God is the one who wants us healed more than anyone else!

Jesus healed every person who came to Him for healing. He never turned anyone away. He never decided that someone should just stay in their condition so that they can know they are loved just the way they are. He healed every single person that came to Him.

Does that means Jesus didn’t love them until after they were healed? Absolutely not! Jesus loved them unconditionally before they were healed. Then, as a demonstration of His unconditional love, Jesus healed them. And He loved them unconditionally after they were healed. Their need for healing didn’t impact Jesus’s love for them in any way. Healing was simply a tangible demonstration of His love.

As followers of Jesus, we can decide to be offended by healing and miracles (like the people of Jesus’s hometown) or we can decide to embrace healing. We all need healing. And as Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, we’ve been sent as His ambassadors to release physical healing to people. We’ve been sent to release inner healing and freedom to people. We’ve been sent to proclaim the gospel, the only thing that brings our dead spirit to life.

Are you offended by healing? Are you offended by the need for healing?

Bringing Justice through to Victory

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”[Isaiah 42:1-4]

Matthew 12:15-21

The reason Jesus withdrew from that place is because the Pharisees were plotting to kill Him. Jesus’s response to their plan to kill Him is to move to a different region and heal every single person who came to Him. It doesn’t say that He healed some. It doesn’t say that He healed those with enough faith. It doesn’t say that He healed the righteous. No, He healed “all who were ill.”

When we pray for the sick, we have to own the fact that Jesus healed every person who came to Him. In other words, we have to own the fact that if Jesus were standing there with the person we’re praying for, they’d be healed. But it’s not Jesus standing there, it’s us. It’s Christ in us the hope of glory. The problem is never on God’s end of the equation.

And notice that Jesus healing everyone was a fulfillment of prophecy about the Messiah from Isaiah 42:1-4. When Jesus healed, it was Him bringing the justice of God into that situation. He wouldn’t turn people away who needed healing. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out. Instead, He would bring justice through to victory.

Bringing justice through to victory is language that is often used to describe a military battle. An invading army has come into the Promised Land. An evil foreign king has invaded the Temple. And the job of the Messiah, not unlike King David, was to bring the justice of God into the battle and see it through to victory. This is the imagery scripture gives us for when Jesus heals the sick.

In other words, God sees sickness and disease as an injustice. Sin, the brokenness of the world, and the enemy all can cause the body to malfunction in ways that it was never intended. To bring justice is to make things right that have gone wrong. When Jesus heals, He makes right whatever has gone wrong in the body. He ushers in the Kingdom of God into the body. And in the Kingdom of God, there is no sickness. Your Kingdom come (into this body), Your will be done, on earth (in this body) as it is in heaven (where there is no sickness).

When Jesus brings the justice of God to invade the injustice of sickness, He brings it through to victory. He doesn’t allow the invading armies of illness and disease to stay in the body. He releases the Kingdom of God in its fullness into the body until victory has been won.

This is the example that we are to follow. Jesus is the standard of what the Christian life should look like. The Holy Spirit moves us from glory to glory so that we look ever more like Christ. Part of that means seeing more and more healing as our lives look more and more like Jesus. We learn how to cooperate with the Father and the Spirit, releasing the Kingdom into every body we pray for. We learn how to cooperate with bringing God’s justice to invade the injustice of sickness, until we can bring it through to victory.

We do all of this so that the nations will put their hope and trust in the name of Jesus!

Consequences of a Miracle

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus expected people who had experienced or witnessed miracles performed by Him to respond in repentance and faith. Every time Jesus would heal a broken body, cast out a demon, cleanse a leper, or raise the dead it was a sign of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God on earth. Repentance and faith are the natural responses to the invasion of the Kingdom.

Yet, instead of repentance and faith, many people responded only with curiosity and amazement. Unfortunately, many people still do. While curiosity and amazement are normal reactions to the miraculous, if it stops there–if it never gives birth to repentance and faith–then the condition of the heart is not where it needs to be.

If a skeptical, unbelieving heart is confronted with a legitimate miracle, that person stands at a crossroads. They can continue in unbelief or they can repent for their unbelief and choose faith. Jesus expects the latter.

We live in a culture that thinks it’s okay to justify our unbelief by continuing to ask for more evidence. We get piles and piles of evidence and still ask for more. We give our unbelief names like “caution” and “wisdom.” But we don’t admit to what it really is: a hardness of heart, a lack of faith.

Miracles, signs and wonders are dangerous in this way. They put everyone involved at a spiritual fork in the road. It’s one thing to waver in doubt having never been exposed to healings, miracles or deliverance. But once you are confronted with a miracle, there’s no more wiggle room. You either believe or you reject. You either repent for your unbelief or you walk away shackled to your unbelief. There’s no more in-between. And there are severe consequences for staying in your unbelief.

Are you still wavering in doubt and unbelief?

Have you embraced the miraculous or would you feel right at home in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum?

Least in the Kingdom

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 

Matthew 11:11

Let this sink in!

Jesus was saying that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of the old covenant. John alone had the unique privilege of preparing the way for the Messiah. The great prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel could only prophesy about the coming Messiah. John the Baptist actually got to usher in the Messiah. And like the rest of the prophets (and some of the kings) of the old covenant, the Holy Spirit rested upon him.

Yet, Jesus declares, even the least in the new covenant is greater than John the Baptist. Those of us who have entered this new covenant by putting our faith in Jesus have the unbelievable privilege of having the Spirit dwell within us and rest upon us. We have the breath of God within us and the wind of God blowing through us. As temples of the Holy Spirit, we are indwelled with the Presence of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). As the Body of Christ on earth, we are clothed with the power of God (Luke 24:49). We have the unique privilege of being so empowered by the Spirit of God that we actually get to do the ministry of Jesus on the earth (1 John 4:17).

After Jesus sent out the 72, they came back talking about the miracles they had witnessed. “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name‘”(Luke 10:17). And after some instruction, Jesus turns to His disciples and says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it“(Luke 10:23-24).

All the great men and women of the Old Testament longed to see what we see, hear what we hear, know what we know, and experience what we experience. They would have loved to have access to the indwelling Holy Spirit. They would have loved to walk in the delegated authority of the Messiah as we do. They would have loved to be named the “ambassadors of Christ” on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). They would have loved to be conduits of God’s miracles as we are.

Every single believer in Jesus now has access to the authority necessary to cast out demons. Every single believer now has access to the power, through the Holy Spirit, to see healings and miracles (John 14:12). Every single believer now has access to prophetic gifting (1 Corinthians 14:1) and the other miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Every single believer now has access to the unlimited grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

With access to all of this authority, all of this power, all of this gifting, all of this grace, what are we doing with it? What would the great men and women of the Old Testament say about our lives as Christians today? We have been given everything they longed for! What are we doing with it?

As a follower of Jesus, what you have access to in Christ and through the Holy Spirit is greater than the greatest prophet of the Old Testament!

Are you experiencing all that you have access to in the new covenant?

Resurrection Life

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Matthew 9:18-19

What kind of faith does it take to believe Jesus can raise the dead?

I am amazed by the faith of this synagogue leader. By asking for Jesus’s help, he put his position in the synagogue at risk. If the Pharisees get wind of his request for Jesus to come to his house, they could not only remove him from his position but prevent him from even participating in synagogue life.

Equally risky for the father and for Jesus is that they are dealing with a dead body. In Jewish law, touching a dead body made a person unclean for seven days and required ritual purification as a result (Numbers 19:11). Likewise, anyone in the room near the dead body would be unclean for seven days and required ritual purification (Numbers 19:14).

After healing the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years on their way to the synagogue ruler’s house, they arrive to a large funeral gathering.

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

Matthew 9:23-26

Jesus knew He would raise this girl back to life. He declared it before He even walked into the bedroom. Jesus is the resurrection and the life! But people laughed at the very idea of it. They had seen many dead bodies before this one. They knew the look of a dead body. They knew the cold, stiff feel of a dead body. They knew the smell of a dead body. Most people there had buried friends and family members. This girl was not just sleeping. She was gone.

Imagine if we actually believed Jesus can raise the dead. Imagine the laughing and mocking that would happen at our expense as we prayed for dead people. We’d not only get laughed at, like Jesus did, but we’d likely get kicked out of most hospitals.

I believe Jesus put the crowd outside because they had created an atmosphere filled with unbelief and doubt. The only people Jesus wanted in the room were those crazy enough to believe that Jesus can raise the dead. The Gospel of Mark records that only the girl’s father and mother as well as Peter, James and John–Jesus’s inner circle–were allowed in the room to witness the miracle.

At this point everyone in the room is ritually unclean because of their proximity to this dead body. Jesus compounds His “uncleanness” by then touching the hand of the dead girl. Except, instead of her uncleanness contaminating Him, His life contaminates her death. His cleanness contaminates her uncleanness.

Things flow in reverse in the Kingdom of God (light conquers darkness, clean conquers unclean, life defeats death, healing overwhelms sickness, wholeness overwhelms brokenness, grace covers sin). Life returns to the girl, and she gets up! Suddenly everyone in the room goes from unclean to clean, from death to life!

Incredible faith connects with an incredible miracle! Jesus is still doing these kinds of miracles all over the world today. He’s looking for a handful of people who are willing to believe enough to stay in the room with Him. He’s looking for people who are willing not to laugh but instead be laughed at.

What do you believe is possible with Jesus?

Powerful and Effective Prayer

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:13-16

Seeing people miraculously healed was not a “charismatic” thing for the early church. It was simply a part of what it meant to be a normal Christian. It was one of the fundamental basics of what it meant to follow Jesus. It’s strange that today it is seen as something “extreme” or “strange.” Praying with faith to see the sick person get well is Christianity 101. We should expect to see people get healed in our churches, and we should expect to see it regularly. If it’s not happening, it is an indication that something is wrong with our theology, our faith, or our church culture.

James also indicates the importance of the confession and forgiveness of sin. James helps us understand that unrepented sin can be a hindrance to physical healing. It becomes an area of our lives that is unyielded to the Spirit which can dam up the flow of the Spirit and the gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9).

We also learn from this passage of scripture that living a righteous life is important in becoming a conduit of healing. James says that the prayer of a “righteous person” is powerful and effective. Yet, while many of us long to have prayers that are powerful and effective, many of us don’t want to examine whether we are living a righteous life.

The righteousness that James is talking about here is not the imputed righteousness that we received from Jesus at salvation. In one sense, all Christians have been made perfectly righteous because of Jesus. Our own good works could not save us. Only the righteousness of Jesus that was given to us could save us. We are clothed in His righteousness. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “…you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Romans 5:19 says, “…through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

But this isn’t the righteousness that James is talking about in this passage. It wouldn’t make any sense if it was. If James was talking about the imputed righteousness of Jesus, then all prayers from all Christians would be equally powerful and effective. If that was true, there would be no point in saying “the prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective.”

No, what James is talking about is our response to being made righteous. He’s talking about the person who is actually living out righteousness in their lives. James is talking about the person who actually lives out their new identity as new creations in Christ. We must put on the new self and leave the old self behind. Ephesians 4:24 says, “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

When we live the righteous life, when we choose holiness over sin, when we live out what Jesus made true about us, our prayers gain power and effectiveness. We become a conduit of the Spirit’s power and grace. Just as some conduits have less blockages, less rust, less things in the way that dampen the flow of water or electricity, so too a righteous life clears away things that would otherwise block the flow of the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Righteous living comes from ongoing and increasing intimacy with the Lord. That intimacy creates and establishes a trust between us and the Lord. He’s able to trust us with more (more power, more gifts, more healings, more miracles, more revelation, etc.), and we’re able to better hear His voice and yield to His direction. This is another reason the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. There is a closeness between that person and the Lord, a trust that’s been built over time.

If we want to see more healings in our churches, we need to become the kind of people who can be trusted with more. We need to become the kind of conduits that allow the increasing flow of the Spirit without the dampening effect of sin. We need to become the righteous people who have powerful and effective prayers.

Reasoning Faith

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[Genesis 21:12] Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19

This passage is found in the famous “hall of faith” section of Hebrews chapter 11. This is where the writer of Hebrews recounts all the many acts of faith done by those in the old covenant. The phrase “by faith” is used 22 times in this chapter. And it all points to the reality that they acted by faith even though they didn’t see the completion or fullness of the promise given to them. How much more should we, who now know the fullness of the promise in the new covenant through Jesus, act in faith? Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Yet, what I find so striking about this passage is the combination of faith and reasoning that we see from Abraham in his decision to do something that seems crazy. Sometimes people of faith, and faith itself, get pitted against reasoning…as if you can either choose faith or reason but not both.

But what we find in Abraham is a different kind of reasoning that is empowered by faith. Abraham was asked by God to do something that seems crazy. But context is everything. First of all, the crazy thing he was asked to do wasn’t to sacrifice his son. In the pagan world, it was very common to offer children as sacrifices to the gods. This was sort of standard practice for pagans. This was culturally “normal” for Abraham’s day. And before we get too judgmental, we need to remember that even in all of our modern advancements we live in a society that has legalized the murder of babies in the womb by their own mother.

The crazy part was that all the promises that God had given Abraham all rested on Isaac. Not only was God asking Abraham to do something that felt more like a pagan practice, but he was asking Abraham to give up all the promises that God made in favor of obedience to God. God was asking Abraham to choose the Promise Maker over the actual promises themselves. God continues to ask this of us today.

But notice Abraham’s reasoning. This wasn’t haphazard fideism or irrationally blind faith. Just as Abraham’s faith was grounded in the nature of God, so was his reasoning. He reasoned that God can raise the dead. In other words, his reasoning factored in the miraculous power of God and the goodness of God. So his obedience was both an act of faith and an act of reasoning.

Is it irrational to give your life in order to spread the gospel in closed countries knowing that you might be killed? It might seem that way to some. But if your reasoning factors in a God who is good, a God who sacrificed everything for you, a God who is powerful and loving, a God who longs to see others come to know the truth of Jesus, then it’s reasonable to give your life for such a God.

When God is factored into our reasoning, suddenly the impossible looks possible, the irrational becomes rational. As we see from Abraham, a life of faith is not just having God factored into our beliefs but having God factored into our reasoning. This is the God who can raise the dead to life, give sight to the blind, and heal impossibly broken hearts.