The Purpose of Miracles
Text: Mark 1:29-39
5 Epiphany, B
As the sun is slowly rising over the horizon, Peter and the Disciples meet Jesus out in the lonely countryside. The disciples have been seeking high and low for him. "Every one is searching for you." Peter exclaims. He is only partly right. There are large crowds gathered back in the city once again. But the people in Capernaum are not so much looking for Jesus as for what Jesus can give them. Everyone, you see, is looking for SOMETHING in this life. Everyone is seeking a miracle. It may be that you are looking for meaning in life; or maybe you are looking to receive gifts of one kind or another (love, acceptance, material possessions); maybe you are just looking for your life to have some significance or importance. Whether grand or small, everyone is looking for a miracle.
But Jesus' answer to Peter and the others is somewhat perplexing isn't it? "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out." People are looking for me ... great! It's time to leave. What just happened there? So what is Jesus looking for when he performs miracles? What is He hoping to accomplish? Why does he seem to begin them only to turn and walk away, just when people are ready for more? Perhaps we would be better served if before we asked God for our miracle we stopped and first asked: What is the Purpose of Miracles?
First, as we see in our text, miracles are intended to show the whole world Jesus' power over disease and suffering. “Now Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her;” Our Lord is kind and compassionate. He cares for the individual, and he can and will help all who suffer in this life. There is not one soul so insignificant that he will not reach out and be there for them in their time of need.
But His compassion is so great that there is no end to it either. “That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick ... And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases,” There is no amount of illness or suffering that is too much for Jesus to help with. There is both mercy and strength enough for all. Even after a long day, even after missing out on any quiet time for rest, Jesus is ready to help those in need – a whole family, congregation, city, nation, and world.
Further, we see in our text that the miracles of our Lord also demonstrate Jesus' power over the devil. “That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were ... possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And he ... cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” Just as we saw last week in the Gospel reading, Jesus is the one with authority – all authority. Try as he might, the devil and his minions cannot face him. Jesus has power over all who seek to work against him.
And do not be fooled for even a moment dear friends. The devil is real and he does indeed, prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking those whom he may devour – you in fact. Wherever Christ is, there the devil is close by, trying to cast doubt and fear and confusion and disbelief. Wherever Christ is, there the devil is nearby, trying to keep people away. But try as he might, the devil and his minions cannot face him. They cannot win, they cannot even fight back. Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His miracles show that He is the Holy one of God, the victor.
So if Jesus is in the habit of miraculously healing disease and injury ... if Jesus is in the habit of miraculously defeating the powers that oppose him ... then why wouldn't we seek Him out for just such a gift to us? What would be wrong in trusting God to heal our broken bodies? What would be wrong in asking Jesus to relieve our pain? What harm could come from seeking his deliverance from the inner demons that possess and torment us. The fears, and doubts, and anxieties that haunt us when we are left to ourselves. Nothing ... unless, that's ALL you want from Him. You see, it is not about what we want from God (that kind of attitude is always dangerous), it is about what God wants for us. And that, often times, does not include what we think it should.
You see, even while curing disease and defeating the devil every single miracle of our Lord was first and foremost intended to point the people of this world to Jesus' message of salvation. Jesus' miracles are never meant to stand on their own. It was never really about the physical healings or wondrous happenings. The miracles Jesus granted, both then and now always serve to direct those who witness them back to what the Lord is proclaiming – the grace and mercy of God in His Son Jesus Christ. Miracles serve the proclamation of the Holy Gospel.
“And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, "Every one is searching for you." And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out." And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Jesus did not come to make our lives easy, but to give us eternal life in Him. He did not come to do miracles for mankind, but to preach the Gospel to a broken and hurting world.
But when you think about it, the salvation of souls through the preaching of the Gospel IS the greatest miracle of all. Where God's Word of promise is proclaimed, there we are forgiven our sin. Where the Word is applied in the sprinkling of Water, there we are lifted up from our death bed of sin and guilt and are given new life in Christ. Where Christ's Word is spoken over bread and wine, there is found the very Body and Blood of Him who has all power and authority to free us from our fear and the schemes of the devil. All the miracles Jesus performed back then, and still does today, found themselves nicely nestled between the Waters of His Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Every miracle came from and pointed back to the Kingdom of Heaven and our place in it by the workings of Jesus, the Son of God. Miracles serve the proclamation of the Gospel. It is just as we pray in the Lord's Prayer:
“But deliver us from evil. Amen.” In the Greek this petition reads, “Deliver or keep us from the Evil One, or the Wicked One.” ... this petition includes all the evil that may befall us under the devil’s kingdom: poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the tragic misery and heartache of which there is so incalculably much on earth. Since the devil is not only a liar but also a murderer, he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies ... Therefore there is nothing for us to do on earth but to pray constantly against this arch-enemy. For if God did not support us, we would not be safe from him for a single hour. Thus you see how God wants us to pray to him for everything that affects our bodily welfare and directs us to seek and expect help from no one but him. But this petition he has put last, for if we are to be protected and delivered from all evil, his name must first be hallowed in us, his kingdom come among us, and his will be done. Then he will preserve us from sin and shame and from everything else that harms or injures us.1
Is it wrong to seek a miracle from God? Not if we remember that the Word must come first then the miracles will follow. And the miracle we receive might just be a changed heart and a different perspective on our life. A relief from fear, a greater trust in God’s compassion, a stronger joy in the gifts of our loving Saviour, a deeper commitment to living as His own dear child! Now that would be some kind of miracle, wouldn't it?
1 Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (435). Philadelphia: Fortress Press. (The Large Catechism: 3, 112-118).