In recent years ‘new atheists’ such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have dismissed the miracles of the New Testament as fabrications. And when we think about it, to discredit the New Testament miracles is to discredit, for example, the signs of John’s Gospel and their witness to the uniqueness of Jesus as the Son of God, God in the flesh.
Our approach to the miracles depends on our presupposition. If we believe – and it is a belief – that everything about us is here by chance, then it is unlikely we will accept the occurrence of miracles. If, on the other hand we believe that there is a creator God behind our vast, complex universe, then it is consistent that God, if he chooses, can suspend the natural order of observable laws momentarily for a particular purpose.
Read – John 11:17-27
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Reflect – Death is the ultimate irony, the absurd reality of life. Unless Jesus was deceiving Martha that day, he is only person who can do anything about it.
John has been telling us that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had attempted to stone Jesus for his apparent blasphemy (John 10:31). Leaving the city he travelled east of the Jordan. There he learned that his friend Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, was dying in the village of Bethany, near Jerusalem.
Hearing that Lazarus had died, and against the advice of his disciples who feared the Jewish leaders, Jesus returned to Bethany where he was met by Martha. Talking with her he made the amazing assertion: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
He didn’t say, ‘I promise resurrection and life;’ or ‘I procure’ or ‘I bring’, but ‘I am.’ Unless he is one with God his words are nothing but blasphemy. C.S. Lewis commented that Jesus was a liar, a lunatic or telling the truth. Jesus’ own resurrection was the event that changed the lives of the disciples and gave them a joy and a confidence that he is all that he claimed to be. It was their courageous witness, empowered by the Spirit of Jesus that changed the world.
The witness of the New Testament, the evidence of history, the existence of the Christian church all point to the conclusion that Jesus’ words are the truth. As he asked Martha that day, so he would ask you and me today, “Do you believe this?” And, if you do believe this, how will it affect your conversations with work colleagues, friends and family this Easter?
Prayer – Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen. (BCP, Easter Day)
Suggested reading – John 11:1-27
Our eyesight is something most of us simply take for granted. Yet, when we stop to think about it, sight really is quite remarkable. Our ability not only to touch and taste, hear and feel, but to see our surroundings is astonishing. To observe the changing colors of a sunset or the gradual dawning of a new day is a wonderful experience. To be able to perceive the detail of faces and the expression in the eyes of the person we are talking with is amazing. Sight is truly a remarkable gift.
Read – John 9:1-7
1 As Jesus (he) walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
A blind man begging on the side of the road was a familiar sight in ancient Israel. But this man wasn’t blind because of the dusty roads and disease-laden air. He had been born blind. In answer to the disciples’ question about who was to blame, Jesus responded by pointing to the purpose of the man’s blindness. It was so that God’s power might be revealed. Here and elsewhere Jesus implies that physical ailments are an outcome of living in a world out of step with God.
John describes Jesus’ stunning miracle simply. It is another occasion when Jesus didn’t look for any expression of faith. He just took the initiative and acted. When the man obeyed Jesus’ instructions, he returned seeing. Imagine how this would be reported today. ‘How did you feel?’ he would be asked. But John wants us to focus on Jesus’ action, not the man’s feelings.
As John 9 unfolds we observe the way that the man progressed in his understanding of Jesus. Towards the end of the chapter Jesus asked him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ and the man’s response is honest, even if somewhat vague, ‘I would believe if…’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him. With your own eyes you have visually seen me, the Son of Man. And now as I speak to you,’ Jesus was saying, ‘I am opening the eyes of your mind and heart. I am giving you a sight of the deeper things of life because of who I am. ‘Do you believe this?’ And the man’s response? ‘Lord I believe.’
Consider this man’s experience. He began by calling Jesus ‘a man’ in 9:11. He then said he is ‘a prophet’ in 9:17. In 9:33 he could say, ‘This man must be from God.’ At the end of the chapter, he worshipped him as ‘Lord’. It’s a picture of the road to faith many people travel.
The miracle is also a parable. We are born spiritually blind. We sense there is something more in life but in our natural state we cannot see. We are blind to God and to what life with him can be like. It is only when Jesus opens the eyes of our soul – our spiritual eyes – that we begin to see the wonders of God and his glory revealed in Jesus Christ. If you ‘see’, then thank the Lord. Pray also for others you know, not condescendingly, but asking that God in his mercy will open their spiritually blind eyes . And plan to invite them to church this Easter.
Prayer – Merciful Lord, let your glory shine upon your Church; so that, enlightened by the teaching of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John, we may walk in the light of your truth and come at last to the splendor of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, St. John the Evangelist)
Suggested reading – John 9:1-23
One of the interesting things that modern science has shown is that the universe fits into a single huge pattern. The same laws that control the fall of an apple, control the orbit of the moon. The same equation that describes the behaviour of an atom, can explain the inferno of the sun. This is why Stephen Hawking and others are looking for a theory of unification. We live in a universe, not a diverse.
Power. Jesus’s signs in John’s Gospel give us pause. The power at work in each event reflects the kind of power that lies behind the universe. Jesus’ creative ability to turn ordinary water into top quality wine in a moment, his healing from a distance of young boy at death’s door, his healing of a man paralysed for thirty-eight years, are all signs of a power far beyond the ordinary. It is supernatural. It all suggests that Jesus who walked in ancient Israel might be the logic, the intelligence, the wisdom who gives the universe its existence and rationality.
Read – John 6:1-15
1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Reflect – On the occasion we read about here, Jesus stunned everyone by producing sufficient food for a crowd of 5,000 from five loaves of bread and three fishes. It was Passover time, the time when everyone remembered the liberation from Egypt God had provided for his people.
We can only begin to feel the significance and impact of the crowd’s response: “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” They saw Jesus as a ‘Moses’. Could he liberate them from Roman rule? But, in his withdrawal from the crowd (6:15) we see he had another plan.
More than a prophet.
…You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, Jesus commented,
but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:26-27)
There are two kinds of bread, Jesus is saying – bread for our physical bodies and bread for our spiritual existence. One day our physical bodies will die. Jesus knew that because we are much more than the sum of our material parts, we need someone to provide food for our spiritual sustenance. Jesus doesn’t just see empty stomachs, but empty souls, empty lives.
Food. The miracle of turning the bread and the fish into more than sufficient food to feed the crowd was a sign of Jesus’ capacity to feed our deeper spiritual need and give us food for life.
Prayer – Raise up your great power, Lord, and come among us to save us; so that, although through our sins we are grievously hindered in running the race that is set before us, your plentiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through the sufficiency of your Son our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, Advent 4 – adapted)
Suggested reading – John 6:1-34
Have you ever found that someone has misinterpreted something you have said? You say one thing and they hear you say something different. Often we are misunderstood because others haven’t listened carefully or because they have come to the conversation with their own preconceptions. It can be disappointing, frustrating and sometimes hurtful.
JUST A GOOD MAN?
People’s estimate of Jesus Christ often falls into this category. Many agree he is a good man, even a great man. They may agree he is the most impressive teacher who has ever lived. Who would want to quarrel with his ethic, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself;’ ‘Turn the other cheek;’ or ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor…’? And, the quality of his life was consistent with his teaching. Here was a leader worth learning from, and following. The question we are asking this Lent is whether he is more than a good man.
Read – John 5:2-9
2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha,which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4/5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Reflect – Seeing emergency rooms full of sick people is heart wrenching. We want someone to do something. The opening scene in John 5 tells the sorry story of many invalids – blind, lame and paralyzed gathered around a pool in Jerusalem. Archaeological research suggests that it is a complex of pools with five porticos known as Bethzatha, located near St. Anne’s Church in the Arab quarter today in the Old City of Jerusalem. The pool was thought to have miraculous powers.
On the day Jesus was there, John tells us, there was a man who had been lame or paralyzed for thirty-eight years. Seeing the man and knowing his plight, Jesus asked him a simple question: “Do you want to be made well?” But the man’s response was circumlocutory: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up…” Perhaps he reckoned that if he was healed he would lose the support and companionship he enjoyed and on which he had come to depend. He’d have to make a new start in life…He’d have to get a job! Without discussing whether the pool had healing powers or not, Jesus took the initiative and, at a word, cured him. The bed that had carried the man could now be carried by the man.
The man’s hesitant response illustrates the way we sometimes respond to Jesus. He asks us, ‘Do you really want to be changed?’ So often we don’t want him to intrude on our lives and lifestyle. But, in a world that fears the future, men and women need hope, not platitudes; salvation, not sentimentality. Jesus is not offering us affirmation of human dignity in the face of an indifferent universe. He offers each one of us personal access into a new and better universe because he is divine.
So he invites us to make a decision. ‘Do you want to be made well?’ he asks. We may join the ranks of the skeptics and deny him, or we may place our faith in him and join the ranks of those believers who are proving the truth of his promise. Like Thomas, who doubted when he saw Jesus taken away and put to death, we come to worship him: “My Lord, and my God.”
Prayer – Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, so that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. (1662 BCP, Advent 2)
Suggested reading – John 5:1-18
The New York author, Madeleine L’Engle, once commented:
‘I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.’
As we continue to examine the portrait of Jesus in John’s Gospel, we read of the time when he was approached by a father whose young son was dangerously ill. The man who was an officer in Herod the Tetrarch’s service, lived in Capernaum. Hearing that Jesus was in Cana, he went to see him.
Read – John 4:46-54
Then Jesus (he) came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. 51 As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” 53 The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. 54 Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.
Reflect – Jesus regularly challenged people around him with the unexpected. Consider his response to the official’s question: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” With these words he was throwing out a challenge to everyone listening (you, is plural) to ask themselves whether he was someone they could really trust – not just in life’s good times, but also in the tough times. It is the question Jesus asks each of us. Is he worthy of our trust? Can I trust him at the deepest level?
Look at the official’s response: “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” And what did Jesus say? “Go; your son will live.” Apart from his words, Jesus gave the man no assurance. Yet the father believed him. What a test of the father’s faith! Would we have had such a faith?
As he went home the man learned that his son was completely healed at the hour Jesus had spoken – 1:00PM. Jesus had the extraordinary power to heal a sick boy, even at distance. The repetition of “Your son will live” in verses 50 and 53 emphasizes this. Consequently, the whole family believed. For them Jesus was more than a miracle worker.
This was a second sign pointing to Jesus’ unique power, a power we can only associate with God. John wants us to know that Jesus is God in the flesh – glory personified. God welcomes anyone whose faith in Jesus is real, small though that faith may be.
Prayer – Almighty God, you wonderfully created us in your own image and have now more wonderfully rescued and restored us. Grant us, we pray, that as your Son our Lord Jesus Christ was made in our likeness, so may we share his divine nature; we ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (1978 AAPB, Second Sunday after Christmas — adapted)
Suggested reading – John 4:27-54
The call by extremists within Islam for individual terrorist acts against the West gives us pause. ‘Is it safe to go anywhere these days – even shopping?’ we ask. Rightly, governments charged with the responsibility of ensuring the security of their citizens, will want to take steps to do so. But the rise of radical Islam also challenges us to consider better ways to help Muslims understand the core statements of Christianity. Sadly, for centuries contact between Christianity and the Muslim world has been unfortunate. Ancient churches that survived in the Middle East tended to be weak and ineffective; and with the Crusades of the Middle Ages the followers of Jesus Christ took up arms in a way that Jesus himself condemned. Further, in times when they did succeed in battle, their witness was little different from that of their foes.
As well as developing a lifestyle consistent with the New Testament ethic and praying for opportunities to ask people around us what they believe, we need to have a clearer understanding of our own faith so we can share it. Indeed, we need an ever-clearer understanding of Jesus and a confidence in him. This is one reason I am addressing the ‘signs’ of Jesus that we find in John’s Gospel.
1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Quality wine. The wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee had run out and Jesus’ mother approached him to do something about it. He protested, saying his ‘hour had not yet come’.
But he did go ahead with an astonishing miracle that day, providing the best quality wine from water. Just imagine how this event might be tweeted today.
A Sign. John the Apostle tells us that Jesus’ act of turning water into wine was the first sign he performed. Seeing God’s handiwork in this remarkable event (2:11), Jesus’ first followers began to understand that he was God’s Messiah. As they grew to know him better – it was for them, as it is for us, a process – they recognized the miracle that day pointed to his unique power as well as the glory and joy of the coming messianic age.
But they also began to learn that before the messianic age came in all its fullness, other things had to happen first. The wine at the wedding was only Scene One in God’s drama. Supremely, Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God needed to deal with our deepest need – the restoration of our broken relationship with God, something we cannot achieve ourselves.
We live on the other side of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As we wait for his return in all his glory, he expects us to take up opportunities to introduce others to him as more than a prophet, God’s true Messiah, who came and lived amongst us as one of us.
Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen. (1978 AAPB, A Prayer for the Gospel)
Suggested reading – John 2:1-25