What’s the Point of all the Miracles in the Gospels?

Icon Jesus and Peter on the WaterI think this is an important question because we don’t see these sort of miracles taking place today. I know, some Christians would have you believe that we do, but let’s be honest – we don’t. Despite the best efforts of televangelists, sixth-hand stories in forwarded emails, and “you have to see this” posts on Facebook, we do not see people walking on water, rising from the dead, or having demons cast out of them as the Gospels (and the book of Acts) depict it.

There’s a longstanding tradition in Christianity, and this is reflected in the Gospel accounts themselves, that says the miracles that Jesus performed (and those performed in his name by the Apostles) were meant to prove Jesus’ Divine origin as the Son of God. That alone would be explanation enough for why these sorts of miracles no longer occur: having served their initial purpose in proving Jesus’ Divinity, they are no longer needed.

But we want them don’t we? When it’s our child who’s sick, when we are facing death, and when defeat seems to be overwhelming victory we long for God to step in with what Robert Capon has called “right-handed” power and prove to the whole world that he exists and that he is on our side. Instead, we see God acting with what Capon calls “left-handed” power. We see her working in littleness, lostness, and death.

Let me suggest another reason for the miracles of the gospels: what if – and this is just a “what if” – the miracle stories of the Gospels are meant to show us the general uselessness of miracles for the cause of growing the Kingdom.

Consider the arc of Jesus’ story for a moment: a miracle worker appears in Galilee, claiming a special relationship with God, and his miracles result in what? A mass conversion of the whole nation? A turn of the people away from darkness to light? Not exactly. Instead, he is rejected and crucified. The right-handed power of God is proven to have little to no effect in bringing people to trust God. Instead, it seems to be the opposite: the more God acts with power in Jesus the more people angrily reject him. Even Jesus makes this point in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man when he says “. . . neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)

There’s something in our nature that says “if only God would show up with power; if only God would work a miracle, then I would believe and so would others and then we would be convinced that God really loves us.” It is this wishful thinking that sends so many Christians chasing after the miraculous in Facebook videos. But the Gospels themselves reveal that our thinking is more wishful than factual. The Gospels tell us that God did show up with power and did work miracles and all it did was freak us out and cause us to try to kill him.

Perhaps one reason for the miracles in the Gospels is to help us understand where and how we should be looking for the work of the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit: not in the flashy, powerful, and supernatural, but in the pain of our crucifixion, in the darkness of the tomb, and in the places at the margins of society where no one cares except the one who is Love.

~ Jonathan Stepp

P.S. There’s no need to post your personal miracle stories in the comments section. I too have experienced the inexplicable and been encouraged that the Father loves me in Jesus because of it. This post is about the kind of public events that we see in the Gospels.

8 comments so far

  1. John Stonecypher on

    Wow, Jonathan, this is an angle on this that’s never occurred to me! Once again, you’ve given me something to think about, you magnificent bastard… Your idea here does shed some light on Jesus’ oft-expressed low opinion of his own miraculous-ness.

    • Jonathan Stepp on

      Cool! Can’t say that I’ve often had thoughts that you haven’t had already and have stated more clearly than me đŸ™‚

  2. Timothy J. Brassell on

    Totally agreeing with John Stonecypher here! Except “Brother” will be my magnificent “B” word! hahaha… Keep writing! đŸ™‚

    • Jonathan Stepp on

      I will answer to either “B” title – but only from you and John

  3. Tony Marra on

    Yea…after all these years we still seek after signs, wonders and miracles when we should be seeking Jesus.

    • Jonathan Stepp on

      Jesus did have some hard words for those seeking miracles, didn’t he?

  4. John Stonecypher on

    I wonder if this has something to do with Jesus’ statement that his disciples would “do greater things than these.” Miraculously healing a leper is pretty great, but humanity has moved on to practically eradicate leprosy from the planet. Greater, maybe? Greater partly because we did it with “left-handed” (not miraculous) power?

    • Jonathan Stepp on

      That makes a lot of sense to me and I think it points us away from the attempts we see sometimes within Christianity to have miracle revivals, etc., and points us towards an engagement with the larger world of medicine, science, etc. and a dialogue about who God is how God is at work in the world.

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