Indeed. The miracles of Jesus Christ are an essential part of His story and an essential part of the Christian faith.
Everyone in the ancient world at all familiar with Jesus regarded Him as a miracle worker. Even His critics, including the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders, conceded His miracles — even as they denied that God was the source of His power.
As scholar Graham Stanton puts it: “The question was not, ‘Did Jesus perform miracles?’ for that was taken for granted. What was in dispute was on whose authority and with what power Jesus performed unusual deeds.”
Each of the Bible’s four Gospels repeatedly attest to Jesus performing both healings and exorcisms. So pervasive are miracle accounts in all of the different parts of the Gospels that it is clear that all of the sources on which the Gospels drew included such accounts. Not only are miracle accounts found in every layer of the gospel narratives, but references to miracles are found in an impressive variety of contexts: biographical sayings, parables, a dispute story, sayings of instructions, as well as the stories of exorcism, healing, and raising the dead.
Does it matter that Jesus performed miracles? You might not have considered this question before. Or maybe you’ve thought it only important that Jesus died and resurrected. In reality, Jesus’ miracles do matter. A lot. Let’s see why.
Establishing His credentials
The Bible — the ultimate guide on all things Jesus — tells us repeatedly that Jesus was a miracle worker. Actually, it shows us, by providing details on many of Jesus’ healings. Contemporary scholarship has swung in the direction of acknowledging that Jesus performed miracles. Why? Overwhelming evidence. The wealth of data about Jesus’ miraculous deeds erodes the suggestion that His miraculous deeds originated as legend or myth. Jesus’ contemporaries viewed Him as a miracle worker.
As scholars have applied their critical methodologies to the Gospels, even in a rather skeptical fashion of accepting as factual only what those methods can show most likely must have happened, they have found that there is no escaping that Jesus performed marvelous feats of healing. Jesus’ healings astonished His contemporaries, which they attributed to a supernatural source.
The Jewish historian Josephus, toward the end of the first century, described Jesus as “a worker of amazing deeds” — yet did so in carefully neutral language that stopped short of endorsing Jesus’ miracles as divine in origin. Too, various Jewish sources over the next several centuries also referred to Jesus’ miracles. The best known of these sources is the Babylonian Talmud, which was compiled from about the third to fifth centuries. It states that Jesus was found guilty of “sorcery.”
Obviously, the Talmud’s statement did not originate from Christians. Rather, these writers were reporting how the Jewish rabbis who rejected Jesus as the Messiah viewed His miraculous works. This makes their statement an independent testimony to the fact that Jesus was well known in Jewish history as a miracle worker. Says scholar Graham Twelftree, “Though the rabbinic material is late, it is valuable in that it does not appear to be dependent upon Christian traditions.”
Why His miracles matter
Our proof that Jesus’ contemporaries considered Him to be a miracle worker: they sought Him out whenever they heard He was near. So many people needed healings and exorcism! Jesus could have spent His entire 3-year ministry just focusing on the physical needs of the people. But His purpose was much deeper.
If we are to understand who Jesus is, we must understand the significance of His miracles. One thing they were not: a means for Jesus to show off or gain anything for Himself. Not once does the Bible — or any other source — suggest that Jesus used His miracles to advance Himself or His followers. Rather, Jesus doggedly stuck to the role of humble servant.
Historian and New Testament scholar Paul Barnett sets our thinking on the right track with this:
“The miracles of Jesus were always within the bounds of nature and not ‘contrary’ to nature’s patterns, that is, freakish or bizarre like the ‘signs’ and ‘portents’ that the Jews sought. His miracles were restrained, done for the good of those in need and not as spectacles in the manner of magicians. They served to point to Jesus as at one with the Creator in achieving His beneficent, end-time purposes on earth. In the miracles of Jesus the kingdom of God was present among them as the Son of Man went about doing good.”
Jesus’ miracles were intimately bound with His message that the kingdom of God was at hand, and had arrived in His own person. His “good news” was that God was exercising His kingly rule in the fallen, sinful world in a new way.
Miracles were an essential part of this message. Exorcisms were an integral sign of the kingdom of God. Jesus understood His work of casting out demons as the first campaign in His offensive against Satan. Yet the Jewish authorities asserted that Jesus’ power came from the Devil! We’re told in Mark 3:22 that: “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons He casts out the demons.'”
In His response, Jesus linked His powers directly to God: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12).
“In the casting out of demons, the mission of Jesus itself was taking place, being actualized or fulfilled. In short, in themselves the exorcisms of Jesus are the kingdom of God in operation. It is this conclusion and this dimension to Jesus’ exorcisms, more than anything else, which sets Him out over against His background and environment. Even if every other aspect of Jesus’ technique may have had at least a faint echo in other material, it is this indivisibility of miracle and message which reveals the exorcisms of Jesus to be especially unique. Jesus’ exorcisms were not simply ‘healings’ but were the coming of the kingdom of God.”
Adds authors Robert Bowman and Ed Komoszewski:
“The Gospels rarely record Jesus uttering any sort of prayer before performing a miracle, and the exceptions are prayers of thanks or blessing, not prayers asking God to effect a miracle. . . . By way of contrast, the book of Acts reports both Peter and Paul praying prior to performing miracles of healing. . . . Jesus also never invokes anyone else’s name when performing a miracle. . . . The apostles, on the other hand, healed in Jesus’ name.”
The Crucifixion: Christ’s Greatest Miracle
Jesus could have escaped the crucifixion, had He chosen to do so. But He refused to allow anything to redirect Him from His mission to die and resurrect on our behalf:
>> “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)
>> “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Matthew 26:53, 54)
>> “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my father” (John 10: 17, 18)
But, oh, how deep was the disillusionment of Jesus’ disciples as He hung on that Roman cross! The Bible records that two of them on the road to Emmaus spoke of their faith in Jesus in the past tense: “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). The disciples didn’t yet get it. But then Jesus resurrected — and brought their dread and disappointment to a screeching halt. He lives!
In allowing Himself to be captured, tried, and executed, Jesus’ actions spoke volumes about how He viewed Himself and His mission. Finally His disciples began to grasp who Jesus is. What He’s not: a myth or copycat savior. The early church accepted Jesus’ claims to deity because of the evidence they saw that supported it. The miracle of His resurrection drove this point home: we can trust that Jesus is God — and that He deeply cares for us.
As Christian philosopher Kenneth Samples notes, “Jesus’ credentials as the divine Messiah are indeed formidable — matchless personal character, incalculable influence upon history, fulfillment of prophesy, power to perform miracles, extraordinary wisdom, bodily resurrection, and so forth. Alternatives that deny His true deity offer no adequate explanation for these credentials.”
Do Jesus’ miracles matter? Yes. Every single one of them.
Because through them we view the loving nature of God. Through them, we gain confidence for our “after” with Jesus. And through them we can know, in our “here and now,” that we can tap into His power to thwart Satan’s attempts to derail us.
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.