This past Sunday I preached (or exhorted) on the topic of the miracles of Jesus, what Matthew calls The Deeds of the Christ (Matt 11:2). This was a follow-up to a sermon I had preached in January encouraging our congregation to read the Gospels in 2010. However, reading the Gospels is not easy. There are many stumbling blocks and confusing things that make us shy away from them.
One of the things I have noticed in my own experience is that the miracle stories in the Gospels are one such stumbling block. I believe the primary reason is because we have wrong assumptions about the significance of the miracles. The most common assumption is that the miracles are recorded to provide proofs of the deity of Christ. This is true but incomplete. Then there is the charismatic view that the miracles of Jesus offer hope for similar healings and so on today. This is not true at all, since the miracles of Jesus were signs of the coming of the Kingdom in the person of Jesus the Messiah. If we are always worried about charismatic excess or if we are only looking for apologetic confirmation of the deity of Christ, then we are tempted to lose interest in large narrative portions of the Gospels.
The solution -- and this was the thesis of my sermon -- is to recognize that each miracle points to Christ's atoning death and resurrection. As Jesus himself said in response to the delegation from John the Baptist, his miracles are not merely proofs of his deity but proofs of his identity as "the Christ," that is, the one anointed by God to save sinners through his atoning death and resurrection. The miracles of Jesus were not thrilling "signs from heaven" (Mk 8:11) intended to wow us with his divine power, but pictures of salvation. Sin is pictured as blindness, paralysis, leprosy (defilement), and being hostage to the devil. Jesus comes to proclaim the good news (the gospel) that through faith in him sinners are freed from the power of sin, death, and the devil. Each healing is a sign of the ultimate "healing" (i.e., salvation) that he will accomplish on the cross. The miracles of Jesus are a "yellow brick road" that leads us to the fulfillment of salvation via the atoning death and resurrection of the Christ.
This connection between the miracles and the atonement is seen in the story of Jesus' healing the paralytic (Mk 2:1-12 and parallels). It is quite clear that the outer healing of the man's paralysis is a sign of the inner healing which is the forgiveness of sins. This is rooted in the OT (typological) conception of sickness as divine punishment for sin, and, accordingly, of healing as tantamount to forgiveness. "Bless the LORD, O my soul ... who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases" (Ps 103:3). When Jesus saw the paralyzed man, he did not first heal him of his paralysis but proclaimed, "My son, your sins are forgiven." The Pharisees began grumbling in their hearts, "He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" It was only then that Jesus healed the man. Why? In order to show that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.
The ultimate mighty work of the Christ was his offering himself as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. This is the pinnacle of his ministry to which everything else pointed. He came to give his life as a ransom for many.
So how can we derive spiritual benefit from the miracle stories? By seeing ourselves in the text. First, we see our own desperate and miserable condition when we see the sick, the lame, the mute, and those oppressed by demons. Second, we identify with the poor and needy as they come to Jesus in faith crying out, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And third, we receive afresh the assurance of the pardon of all our sins when we hear the words of Jesus, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." In this way, through the Gospels as a means of grace, our personal relationship with the living Lord Jesus is deepened.