Miracles of Jesus

The Gospels are full of miracle stories. We think that if Jesus can work wonders, can act against the known laws of nature, then he must be God. Right? Well, no. To a first century Jew, a wonder worker could be a sorcerer. Why, then, does Jesus do miracles?

It's not that He does miracles that makes him God. It's how He does miracles. Here are a few examples from Matthew.

And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Mt 8:2-3)

Sounds like Jesus did a nice thing, healing this leper. But to a first century Jew, He did something more. He did something supernaturally impossible, that no man could do. He violated the cleanliness law of Leviticus by touching the leper.

The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, 'Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. (Lv 13:45-46)

Leprosy made a person unclean, a category ordained by God. Anyone who touched an unclean thing became unclean himself, requiring a ceremony of ritual cleansing.

Whoever touches anything that is unclean through contact with the dead or a man who has had an emission of semen, and whoever touches a creeping thing by which he may be made unclean or a man from whom he may take uncleanness, whatever his uncleanness may be-- the person who touches any such shall be unclean until the evening and shall not eat of the holy things unless he has bathed his body in water. (Lv 22:4-6)

To the first century Jews, Jesus violated the cleanliness law by touching the leper. The uncleanliness of the leper should have made Jesus unclean. Instead, the leper became clean. As cleanliness and uncleanliness are fiats of God, then only God could violate His own cleanliness law and simultaneously make the leper clean. The conclusion is that Jesus must be God. Not because he was able to manipulate nature, but because He could manipulate the supernatural.

Behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live." And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples... And when Jesus came to the ruler's house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult, he said, "Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. (Mt 9:18-19, 23-25)

Again we have Jesus touching an unclean thing, a corpse. The previous quote from Leviticus specifies that touching a corpse lead to uncleanness. A first century Jew would draw the same conclusion as above; instead of Jesus becoming unclean, the corpse became a living girl, the unclean became clean.

In the middle of the above passage from Matthew, we have another miracle story.

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment; for she said to herself, "If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well. (Mt 9:20-22)

Jesus is touched by a menstruating woman, considered unclean.

The LORD said to Moses, "Say to the people of Israel, If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying; she shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. (Lv 12:1-5)

Same logic, same conclusion; the unclean become clean upon a prohibitory touch. In these three miracle stories, Matthew proved to any first century Jew that Jesus was not a wonder-worker; He was God Himself. He could do things that should be impossible for any wonder worker, magician or sorcerer. This is the method of all four evangelists; they tell miracle stories, but they are not stories of random healings - they refer back to Jewish knowledge of things that only God could do.

Another miracle story, most famous of all, is walking on water.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Caperna-um. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea rose because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened, but he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. (Jn 6:16-21)

This story is preceded by the miracle story of Jesus multiplying the loaves for the multitude. It is followed by Jesus' discourse on the Eucharist. This is an example of a simple chiastic parallelism, where a story is sandwiched between two common texts: A - B - A'. In this case A is a narrative where Jesus miraculously feeds a multitude with a few loaves of bread. A' is a discourse, where Jesus explains how He will feed us with His body, a supernatural bread. In between is B, a narrative how Jesus walks on water, again something only God can do (to be explained in a moment). In A', many stop believing in Jesus because he is describing something legally horrid, something terribly opposed to the law of God: eating human flesh and drinking blood. But the reader can accept it because of the B narrative. It makes sense that because Jesus is God, He can move from the "easy" miracle of the multiplying the loaves of bread to the Divine miracle of giving us His flesh and blood as bread. Now, on to the miracle of the water.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (Gn 1:1-2)

Water is the primal chaos. No one can walk on it or "move over the face of the waters," except God. Israel was located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, but unlike other coastal nations, Israel did not venture into the sea in ships. Israel believed the waters of large lakes and seas were the remnant of such primal waters, a place of primordial chaos and death. As such, they feared it. That Jesus could walk on the water could only mean that He was that same God who moved over the waters at creation, Who alone wielded power over death and chaos.

As if to make the point clear, Jesus says, as He walks on the water, "It is I, do not be afraid." In the Greek original, Jesus says, "I AM," not "It is I," as our English translation states. That "I AM" refers back to Moses and the burning bush, where God revealed His name as "I AM." In other words, Jesus is showing Himself as God as He states Himself to be God. In ancient Judaism, no one could merely make a claim; they had to prove it with witnesses. It would have been pointless for Jesus to tell people, "I am God." He needed witnesses, but who can bear witness on behalf of God? His specific works bore witness. It is tedious when people claim that Jesus never said He was God. In fact, that's almost all He did in all four Gospels. But, we need knowledge of the OT to understand almost anything in the NT.