Advent 3 – “The Purpose Of Miracles” – Luke 7:18-22 – 12/16/18


“The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

For preaching politically incorrect sermons on what the bible has to say about marriage, John the Baptist received the ENCOURAGING response of being thrown into prison. I say that this is ‘ENCOURAGING’ because it meant that someone was actually LISTENING to his preaching.

John’s imprisonment is not ‘solitary confinement’ because his disciples are able to visit him and feed him word of what Jesus is doing. “The disciples of John reported all these things to him.” What things?

Luke has just told about that Jesus raised a widow’s son from the dead and healed a Centurion’s servant from a distance. Surely, these would have been at least some of the things that they reported to John.

Now, John has a question. Based on all the things John has heard Jesus is doing, he wants to know, “are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?”

That’s a question that a lot of people ask all the time and we hardly think much of it. But when John the Baptist asks it, we’re shocked. This is the same guy, that even from the confines of his mother’s womb, leaped for joy when his mother Elizabeth ‘smunched’ her pregnant belly against the pregnant belly of his aunt Mary.

This is the John who, from his soapbox in the desert had so confidently pointed to Jesus saying, “behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

So when John wants to know, “are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another,” we wonder if John is having some doubts about who Jesus is, just like we all do?

Or could it be something else? What was it about the disciple’s report about ‘the things that Jesus was doing’ that provoked John’s question?

I know that their report about “the things that Jesus was doing” could have included a lot more than just the ‘miracles’ he was doing. But as we’ll see in a few minutes, it’s the ‘miracles’ that He is doing that Jesus sends back to John as the answer to his question.

What we want to think about for just a few minutes together then is, ‘what is the purpose of miracles’ in the bible? What are we supposed to conclude from them?

Let’s take an aerial view of the bible to get a better idea of when miracles actually happen. (I’m always amazed at the space shots of earth and the unique perspective you get on this planet on which we live. I’m always surprised by how much of the earth’s surface is covered by water and the relatively small percentage reserved for ‘dry land’ where people can actually live.)

I don’t know how many miracles you think there are in the bible, but my guess is that you might be surprised at just how few there really are. In fact, what we see from a ‘birds eye view’ is that an incredibly large portion of the bible is all about the daily life of the people of God who either live by faith in Him or not, and how God exercises His ‘providential care’ over them.

That is, what we see in most of the bible is God, working to accomplish His will for His people through nations and politics and economics and weather and farming and the preaching and teaching of His Word. There’s nothing ‘miraculous’ about any of this. It’s all very NORMAL stuff. But the bible tells us that God is really behind all of this, and in and through all of this, He’s moving all things along according to His purpose.

From our aerial view, what we DO see is that there are two places in the bible where there is a HEAVY CONCENTRATION OF MIRACLES. The first is when Moses goes to Pharaoh with his message to “let my people go.”

In Exodus 3, we read about God’s call to Moses to be His servant, to bring His people out of the life of slavery and death in Egypt AND INTO the life of freedom and life in the Promised Land.

The key to making this divine plan work, is NOT WHAT WE MAY THINK, which is, to convince Pharaoh that Moses really is God’s messenger and spokesman and therefore he should do what Moses tells him. God knows that Pharaoh’s heart is hard and will not be softened. AND THIS IS NO PROBLEM FOR GOD.

The real key to making this divine plan work is to convince HIS OWN PEOPLE, the Israelites, to listen to believe that Moses is His servant and do what he says, which is basically to FOLLOW HIM when the time comes – no matter how strange or impossible the path might seem to be.

I know that some people say that if only they could see a miracle they’d believe that God exists. But the miracles in the Bible are never used for that purpose. The miracles in the bible are always for the sole purpose that people might believe that the one who does those miracles is truly God’s servant.

Moses’ faith is far from perfect, (although he puts us all to shame six ways from Sunday). “Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” (Ex.4:1)

And God agrees with Moses and equips him with MIRACULOUS POWERS that are designed to convince the Israelites that Moses is indeed the servant of the Lord. “The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “THAT THEY MAY BELIEVE (“they” are the Israelites, God’s own people) that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” (Ex. 4:2-5)

If that were not enough, God tells Moses to put his hand inside his cloak and when he brought it out it was leprous. Then He told him to put it back in again and this time when he brought it out it was clean. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Ex.4:6-9)

And what follows is a flurry of 10 MIRACLES that Moses does in Egypt, each one being a DISTRUCTIVE PLAGUE, the 10th and final plague being the Passover.

Even at this, neither Pharaoh nor Israel is CONVINCED that Moses is the true servant of the only true God. There is one more miracle – the grand finale. As Moses holds that staff over the Red Sea, a wind begins to blow and the Sea parts, and Israel follows the absurd and ridiculous path that Moses has opened for them, marching out of Egypt, through the Sea on dry ground. And then as Egypt’s army pursues Israel into the Sea, Moses lowers the staff, the wind stops, the water returns and “all of Pharaoh’s army” drowns IN THE SAME SEA THAT SAVED ISRAEL.

And now from the other side of the Sea, all of Israel is completely confident that Moses is indeed the man who speaks for God and through whom, God Himself speaks to them. And therefore, THEY LISTEN TO HIM.

There is another flurry of miracles that happen through Elijah and Elisha with the same purpose as happened through Moses. But after that, miracles in the Old Testament are few and far between. Through all of the major and minor prophets, from Isaiah through Malachi, there is hardly a miracle to be found. But what all of the prophets DO SAY is that there will come a day when there will be another outbreak of miracles.

The prophet Isaiah declares, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see…” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5-6)

When you hear about a flurry of miracles like these, “lift up your head” and pay attention TO THE ONE WHO IS DOING THEM! He will be the SERVANT OF THE LORD who will speak for God so that when you hear Him speaking, it is God Himself speaking to you. And when He says, “come, follow Me,” no matter how strange or impossible the way He leads you may seem, – FOLLOW HIM.

John the Baptist is fully versed in the Scriptures and he knows just what he’s looking for. So, as his disciples tell him “all that Jesus is doing,” all the right bells start going off in John’s head.

When John’s disciples arrive at where Jesus is, Jesus puts on this very impressive demonstration for them. If you try to picture the scene in your mind’s eye, it’s almost comedic. Luke writes, “In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.”

As Jesus is doing EXACTLY those MIRACULOUS THINGS that Isaiah and the prophets had foretold the Messiah would do when He came, they keep asking Him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’

Rather than answering their question directly, ‘yes, I’m the One,’ Jesus knows that just as with Moses, no one is going to believe Him based solely on His Word. He says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”

Still, even this is not enough to convince many. Some will say that it must be by the power of “Beelzubul” that He does these things. And so there is one more miracle that He will do, a grand finale, after which no more miracles will be needed. You will either believe that He is who He says He is and follow Him, or you will not believe at all.

He, who promised that He would lead those who would follow Him through death itself and into eternal life in heaven, will Himself die and then raise Himself from the dead in the grand miracle of Easter.

As Israel witnessed the miracles that Moses did, they were convinced that he was the servant of the Lord and they should follow Him. As John the Baptist heard about the things that Jesus was doing, he was convinced that this Jesus was indeed “the coming one.”

As for us, we hear the disciples of Jesus Himself tell us about “all the things did,” especially the miracle of Easter, and we too are convinced that He is the one who “was to come, has come, and will come again.” And with that, we follow Him wherever He may lead.

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