Day 24      Mark 3 ... Miracles and Magic

The gospels record some three dozen miracles performed by Jesus, and he stated plainly why he did them: "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves" (John 10:38). They served as convincing proofs that he was the Messiah, the Son of God.

As Mark shows, large crowds flocked from far away as word of Jesus' powers spread. Some people came for healing; others, just to witness the extraordinary phenomena. Who but a messenger from God could perform such works? Yet Jesus himself had an odd ambivalence toward miracles. He never did "tricks" on demand, like a magician. "A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign," he said to those who sought a display of magic (Matthew 12:39).

Jesus seemed not to trust miracles to produce the kind of faith he was interested in. Mark reports that on seven occasions he warned a person just healed, "Tell no one!" He was suspicious of the popular acclaim that his miracles stirred up, for he had a hard message of obedience and sacrifice, and miracles tended to attract gawkers and sensation-seekers.

Mainly, Jesus used his powers in compassionate response to human needs. Every time someone asked directly, he healed. When his disciples grew frightened on a stormy lake, he walked to them across the water or calmed the wind. When his audience got hungry he fed them, and when wedding guests grew thirsty he made wine. Often he instructed the onlookers not to spread the word.

Much like people today, Jesus' contemporaries looked for ways to explain away his powers, even when faced with irrefutable evidence. Here, the Pharisees seek to credit the miracles to Satan's power. On another occasion they arranged a formal tribunal, complete with judges and witnesses, to examine a man Jesus had healed. The man's parents confirmed his story ("One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"), but still the doubters hurled insults and threw him out of court (John 9).

This chapter mentions a murder plot hatched by people angry over one of Jesus' healings. Later, in perhaps the most remarkable cover-up of all, religious leaders similarly tried to counteract the effects of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead. The incident had caused quite a stir, occurring as it did before a crowd, four days after Lazarus' funeral. Hard evidence of an astonishing miracle was walking free around the town of Bethany. But the religious establishment simply made plans to destroy that evidence by putting both Jesus and Lazarus to death (John 11).

In short, the crowd's mixed responses bore out Jesus' suspicions about the limited value of miracles. They rarely created faith, but rather affirmed it in true seekers.

Point to Ponder: Would people be more likely to believe God if miracles were more common today?