Please turn to John 2:1–12 and let’s read it together.
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.”
The First Sign Ripples Out
This is the very first “sign” of the seven miraculous signs of the Gospel of John. John calls them “signs” because they are not meant to stand alone, but to point to something greater. Like a road sign that points to a city or a store, the miracles of Jesus aren’t singular events for one person at one time but are meant to be a big arrow pointing us to something special about Jesus, His mission, His character, and His person.
When you’re reading the Gospel of John it’s quite helpful to use these miracles as sort of chapter divisions. As I’ve said before, there are more ways to divide up the book because it’s such an intricate tapestry of stories and themes, but using the signs is perhaps the most straightforward. Let me tell you what I mean:
This first sign, the first miracle Jesus ever performed, was Jesus turning water to wine at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. It’s rich with symbolism. It is an inaugural miracle not only displaying God’s mercy to the people who ran out of wine but as a way for Jesus to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth and tell us something special about Himself.
Two key phrases to look at here are when Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come” and at the end when it says Jesus “manifested his glory” and his “disciples believed”.
In the Gospel of John, the “hour” always refers to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and glorification when he would receive his true position and sit at God’s right hand. The hour where He accomplishes His greatest work in being an atoning death for all who believe, conquering death by resurrection, and then claiming victory in His ascension and giving of the Holy Spirit. But at this point in His ministry, especially since most people didn’t understand what the Messiah was really going to be like, it wasn’t the right time for Him to reveal Himself openly as Israel’s Messiah. He was telling His mother in no uncertain terms that her timeline was not His, that she didn’t have the right to demand things of Him, and that He was going about His heavenly Father’s business, not hers. Her response is to give control of the situation over to Him, “Do whatever He tells you.” and to step back.
After all, this was only the “third day” of His ministry. He’d gone about 10 Kilometers out of Nazareth, had just gotten the baton from John the Baptist, hadn’t gathered all the apostles yet, and had some things to do. But there He stands, His mother having requested help, the servants waiting for a command, the wedding party embarrassed… and He acts out of grace. But he takes that seemingly small miracle and makes it something huge. At that moment, by God’s appointment and His power, He uses that miracle to inaugurate His Kingdom in a very special way.
And that first sign ripples out all the way to chapter 4:42 – because in this first sign Jesus “manifested His glory” or “displayed” or “showed who He really is by demonstrating His sovereignty over the whole of the material universe and nature itself.” And that power, that demonstration, ripples out. Because Jesus didn’t just make wine – He showed people a “sign” of who He really is.
Wine is a powerful biblical symbol representing things like joy, happiness, conversion, and life itself. It was used in Jewish worship rituals and given as a sacrificial offering to God. It represented God’s covenant with Israel, which He would withhold for disobedience. It was served at times of celebration and to cheer hearts, and given to help the weak and sick as a source of healing and life.
Israel at the time of Jesus was, in a sense, all out of wine and only had dirty water left over. There was no celebration in the land because they were under great oppression from Rome and their religion had been almost thoroughly corrupted by the oppression of the Pharisees and the rest of the wicked Sanhedrin. For Israel, just like the wedding guests, the wine had run out, and all they were left with was dirty water. They needed a miracle.
And so, in this first miracle, Jesus inaugurates the His kingdom, declares his intention, and shows His power, by making wine. He is the wine-giver, the celebration maker, the life bringer, the healer of bodies and souls. But, in a way very typical of Jesus, this multidimensional, world-changing miracle was done in a very small place with very few people. He’s in the town of Cana, at a private party, and only a few disciples. It was a small inauguration but it rippled out.
Consider that Jesus’ next act was to cleanse the temple in Jerusalem. From little Cana to big Jerusalem. Jesus has just inaugurated His Kingdom, turned dirty water into choice wine, and comes into the temple as a warrior prince, defending His father’s castle, demanding they remove the corruption from His kingdom. Just as He had miraculously turned a bunch of dirty washbasins into the best wine anyone had ever tasted, He would also miraculously remove the corruption of sin from people’s hearts and flood it with His own presence and power, so everyone could see what real prayer, real worship, real faith looks like. Just as He purified the water, so He would purify His People and their worship.
Then in chapter 3, Jesus meets Nicodemus, a Pharisee and teacher of Israel, and says that the only way people can be part of His newly inaugurated Kingdom is to be miraculously born again. The Pharisee thought it had to do with obedience and strictness to the law – and Jesus says that’s impossible – and that the change must be far more dramatic. More than simply going through religious motions, a person’s whole being must be radically transformed. He says, “The only way to please God, the only way to enter His Kingdom is if you are completely renewed, reborn, changed from within, born of water and the spirit.”
Just as Jesus turned ordinary water into the best of wine, miraculously overcoming the laws of nature, so He would use His power to cause people to be reborn from worldly beings into spiritual beings. He would make the impossible possible. Just as it’s impossible to convince people that dirty water is amazing wine, so it is impossible for a dirty, corrupt soul to please God. No matter how much you stir or heat or cool or add to that dirty water – it’s going to taste like dirty water. No matter how many good deeds or religious actions you do, no matter how many donations you make or volunteer hours you work, no matter how bad you feel about your wrong or how much you try to ignore it, you’ll never make your soul palatable to God. You need a miracle of transformation.
And so, just like Jesus made dirty water into the best wine, so He takes dead spirits and corrupt souls, and makes them alive, and good, and holy, and acceptable to God. He takes sinners and makes them saints. How? It says at the end of the story with Nicodemus. Just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that any of the cursed people who looked upon it would be saved from the poisonous snakes, so anyone who would look upon the Christ who was lifted on the cross for their salvation would be saved. They would turn from water to wine the moment they looked to Christ for salvation.
Then, in 3:22-36 the miracle ripples from Cana to Jerusalem to all of Judea. Jesus is on the Judean countryside John the Baptist declares Jesus to be the source of eternal life. Just as the wine was used for ceremony and sacrifice, celebration and healing, and became a symbol of a good and blessed life – so Jesus would show Himself to be the perfected source of sacrifice, celebration, healing, and eternal life. Jesus was the life-giving wine-maker.
Then the ripples of the first miracle move out further, from the town of Cana in Galilee to the big city of Jerusalem, to the whole of the province of Judea, to world of unbelievers as represented by Samaria. And the similarities of the story of the woman at the well and the wedding in Cana are too obvious not to be a thematic echo of the first story.
Consider that both stories start with needing a drink and have water in jars. The first takes place at a wedding, the other is about a woman with many weddings and was currently living with someone out of wedlock. For those at the wedding Jesus provides wine, showing He is the life-giver, and for the Samaritan woman who came for water at the well, He says He is Living Water. At the wedding, He says, “My hour has not yet come” and then inaugurates His Kingdom but to the woman at the well He fully declares Himself to be the Messiah. At the wedding the disciples see the sign and believe, at the well, the Samaritans hear the gospel and believe.
The first four chapters of the Gospel of John all point back to that first sign, and use story after story, interaction after interaction to show Jesus declaring Himself to be the saviour, showing His power, inaugurating the coming of the kingdom of God, and then spreading that kingdom from a few people to the city, to the province, to the world. From insiders, like the few disciples and Jesus’ mother, to the outsiders like Pharisees and Samaritans.
So many people get caught up in arguments about what kind of wine Jesus made and how alcoholic it was (or wasn’t). They get caught up on Jesus calling his mother “woman” and wondering if Jesus was being rude to her or not – He wasn’t. They get caught up on these minor details that they completely miss what the “sign”, the “miracle” was pointing to! That Jesus is the King, Healer, Life-Giver, Reason for Celebration, and Lamb of God who’s precious blood will be poured out as a sacrifice for people who wouldn’t understand, consumed by people who don’t deserve it, just as that unique and amazing wine Jesus made was poured out to the unsuspecting wedding guests in an act of grace.
There are two points I would like to pull out of this story as an application today.
The first is that things like this are why you need to study your bible. Not just read it devotionally, not just pick out favourite verses, not stick in your favourite books, but to actually study your Bibles. Stories like this one are like onions where you see the first layer and think you understand what’s going on – but then as you connect the story to the Old Testament, the sacrificial system, the imagery of wine, the timing of the story, the locations within, the author’s intention and themes – then the story really comes to life and starts to teach you about Jesus.
It’s one thing to know that Jesus is gracious enough to provide wine to people who needed it, it’s another to understand that this whole section is about the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, the promise of Eternal Life, of the picture of Jesus as not only the wine-giver but the sacrificial wine itself. Of watching that miracle rippling out from town to city to province to the world, and thereby seeing that Jesus’ love isn’t merely for the individuals at the party, or the few disciples that saw and believed – but his love extends to those who do not understand what He did, who drank the best wine not knowing where it came from. It extends to the Jewish people who rejected Him, to the Pharisees who kept challenging Him and made themselves His enemies, and then that to every other person in the world.
He gave His new-wine, His blood, His gift of eternal life to ordinary tradesmen, to his neighbours and friends, to the self-righteous hypocrites, the social rejects, the ones who worship wrong and reject His laws, those steeped in sexual-immorality, the abused, the anguished, the ones who don’t even understand how God or love or sacrifice works. He gives that wine, that grace, that love, that living water, the fruits of His sacrifice, to everyone.
But you can’t see all that unless you study!
Second, I want you to notice that this story speaks to us today.
Consider how this story should inspire us to celebrate our connection to Jesus and His love for us. Dirty water to wine, Repentance to Faith, being confronted by our sin and then offered forgiveness and eternal life from the hands of Jesus, should cause us to celebrate. When life is dark or difficult, the knowledge being part of Jesus’ Kingdom because He chose you from the beginning of time, is something to be thankful for. Knowing He is victorious and has destroyed death is always and ever something to motivate worship. When you are down or sad or afraid, take a minute to consider this story from John.
Jesus loved the disciples enough to show them His glory. Has Jesus shown you His glory? In your life have you witnessed His power?
Jesus loved the wedding guests by providing that which they did not deserve at a quality that astounded them. Have you seen Jesus’ hand of provision giving you undeserved grace? Have you ever gotten something from Jesus that was of such quality, such a gift, that you know it was a miracle? During difficult times, it’s helpful to recall the list of things Jesus has done in the past – for His people and for you.
Jesus loved His mother by reminding her that everything happens by His will and on His timeline. Has Jesus ever set you straight and told you to be patient? Have you ever jumped the gun on His will and ended up regretting it? Sometimes the love of God is shown in making us wait, or sternly reminding us to trust His will.
Jesus loved the Pharisee who kept making excuses and arguments by telling Him the truth and refusing to compromise. Jesus is the way, truth, and life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. The Pharisee made excuses, and Jesus told him there was only one way. Have you been trying to argue with Jesus about how you should get into heaven, how He should operate in this world, how the church should go, how your future should be? Is He loving you right now by reminding you that He is Lord, He is the Way, He is the wine-maker, the life-giver, the living-water, and you are not? Is He showing you love by demanding you submit to Him and Him alone?
Jesus loved the woman at the well by – well, everything. He spoke to her when custom said not to. He indulged her arguments. He gently confronted her sin. He acknowledged her pain and fear. He worked with her wrong religious beliefs. He gave her forgiveness when, maybe, the whole community, and certainly a Jewish rabbi, wouldn’t. Then He used her, the social reject, as His vessel to carry his Living Water, His New Wine, to a whole bunch of people from her neighbourhood, changing their lives forever. All in the span of a few hours!
Has Jesus been confronting your sin, your wrong beliefs, your pain, and telling you to submit to Him as saviour and Lord, to forgive and be forgiven? Has He been gently reminding you of His love, entering into your pain, sitting through your arguments, telling you the truth, and then inviting you to give it all to Him? Has He shown you grace and is now offering to use you, one who went from dirty water to new wine, to help carry His gospel to your friends?
There’s a lot going on in this story – but it doesn’t just stay on the page. How is Jesus using this story in your life today? He’s still the wine-maker, the living-water, the grace-giver, for you today. My prayer is that you would discover Him in His word, in your prayers, and in your service to His Kingdom.
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Cana. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 405). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Part three answering listener questions from Tim about whether or not faithful Christians should expect to be healed by Jesus from all their diseases. This time we concentrate on the danger of filtering our faith through personal experience.
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.
Part two answering listener questions from Tim about whether or not faithful Christians should expect to be healed by Jesus from all their diseases. This time we concentrate on whether miracles should be a normal part of gospel preaching.
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
4. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.
We answer a listener question from Tim about the claims coming from the popular Bethel Redding church and whether or not faithful Christians should expect to be healed by Jesus from all their diseases.
How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?
1. Pray for us!
3. Send a donation to help us pay the bills.
Today we’re going to study Mark 7:31-8:33. At first these stories are going to seem disconnected, but as we read them, hopefully you will see a theme developing. I also want you to listen for similar phrases and events. It’s set up as a sort of sandwich where we see a couple of similar events, and then something different, and then a couple of similar events.
Top of the Sandwich: Ears to Hear
“Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” (Mark 7:31-37)
So there’s the first section. What did we see? Jesus goes somewhere, meets someone in need, Jesus looks to heaven to pray, heals that person with a sigh at the hard heartedness of the people and the effects of sin on humanity, and tells them to keep it quiet after performing the miracle. Let’s move on to the next event, which happens a few days later.
“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’ And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ And he asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.” (Mark 8:1-9)
Ok, so what do we see there? Another display of power. This time Jesus goes somewhere, sees the need (rather than having the need brought to him), deals with the unbelief and sin of the disciples (I wonder if he sighed here too), prays, and works the miracle. That’s section one. Two displays of power a similar and simple theme: Jesus can work amazing miracles.
The Middle of the Sandwich: Deaf Ears and Blind Eyes
Now we move to section two, the middle of the sandwich – the bacon of the sandwich, the reason for the existence of the sandwich!
“And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.” (Mark 8:10-13)
So here, Jesus goes somewhere and comes across a group with hard hearts and no faith. This group of Pharisees likely wasn’t around for the previous miracles, but they had heard of Jesus’ reputation and came to “argue” with, and request miracles from Jesus. “Show us! Let us see with our own eyes” they demand. Now, with that in our minds, let’s read the next section:
“Now they [that is, the disciples] had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ And he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’” (Mark 8:14-21)
Do you see similarities? Jesus goes somewhere, but this time the group that has hard hearts and low faith are his disciples. Unlike the Pharisees, they had witnessed the miracles, and yet still didn’t understand the truth about Jesus. Our Key Verse for this whole section is found in verses 17-18, and they shine light on the rest of the whole section: “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Do you not see? Do you not hear? Do you not understand? Hopefully you’re seeing the connection. If not, you will after we read the next section.
The Bottom of the Sandwich: Jesus Gives Sight
“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’” (Mark 8:22-26)
Jesus performs another miracle where he takes someone who has a blockage of perception – before it was hearing, now it’s sight – and performs a miracle so they can see. And He goes through a similar pattern as with the deaf/mute, though this time it takes two steps.
Now, from the context, we’re beginning to see that Jesus healing the deaf and the blind is about far deeper than merely restoring earing and eyesight. This blind man is a picture of what Jesus wants to do for His disciples, and for all of us. He wants His followers to see – but, like the man, though they have been touched by Jesus, at first, they are only seeing dimly… blurrily… a little bit of light, but not enough to understand what’s really going on.
And how do we know that? Because of the final section:
“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (Mark 8:27-33)
Peter is our great example here. Peter was like the blind man, unable to see. Then He met Jesus, and began to see something… that Jesus was the Christ… but Peter wasn’t seeing clearly yet. How do we know? Because of what Peter did next – he rebukes Jesus for talking about his crucifixion! “You’re the Christ, Jesus! You’ll never suffer! You’ll conquer!”
Like the blind man, Peter saw a little light about Jesus, but his spiritual vision was still blurry. He needed more from Jesus in order to understand the rest of the truth about Jesus. And that would come after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples and they finally understood all that Jesus said.
Two Blind Groups
Hopefully I’ve explained well enough the connections throughout this section. Deaf and Blind people meeting Jesus and needing healing. But it’s more than physical blindness and deafness that Jesus has come to heal – it’s spiritual blindness and deafness. Jesus shows He has the supernatural power to overcome any kind of perception problem, and goes even farther to show He can provide food out of thin air for thousands of people.
But then, in the middle of these stories of healing, we see two groups that are both presented with Jesus’ claims and evidence of His power — but who react very differently to them: The Disciples and the Pharisees.
The Disciples saw miracle after miracle, had heard message after message, and had seen bread come out of nowhere to feed thousands – and yet, as they sat in the boat, when Jesus began to teach them in a parable saying, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They completely missed it. They thought they were in trouble for forgetting to bring lunch. They thought Jesus was hungry and wanted food. They showed their complete lack of ability to perceive spiritual things – they were stuck in the physical realm.
Jesus rebukes them:
“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18)
“Guys! I just miraculously provided thousands of people with bread, and you were left with baskets and baskets of it! Do you really think that I’m mad at you for not bringing enough lunch? Do you really think I’m telling you to beware of the actual, physical bread that the Pharisees make?!?!”
They’d seen so much, but they’d forgotten and couldn’t see the truth about Jesus. Were they really unwilling to believe that Jesus would provide bread to them? Their shortsighted, small minded, easily forgetful ways, showed they were like the deaf man – unable to hear what Jesus was saying. They were just like the blind man – unable to see what was happening right before their eyes. At least the deaf man knew he was deaf and needed Jesus to help him hear.
Jesus kept His disciples around, showing them miracle after miracle, sharing teaching after teaching, giving them example after example, answering question after question… training them to have faith in Him. They wrestled with unbelief for years as they walked with Jesus… but eventually, after they had walked with Him for a while, witnessed His Resurrection, and were touched by His Holy Spirit, they became men of strong faith.
The other group, however, didn’t. The other group that we see in the bacon of these stories is the Pharisees. Like the Disciples, they are also deaf and blind – but they don’t know it. They’re bumbling around, unable to see spiritual truths, hurting themselves and others in their ignorance. Like a deaf person, they shout out unintelligible nonsense that sounds right to them, but is just noise. They are presented with the same evidences, the same Jesus, the same claims, and are given the same opportunity to follow.
The Pharisees had heard of Jesus’ reputation, and may have even witnessed some miracles – at the very least they knew of Jesus’ reputation from many witnesses – but they didn’t come to seek light and truth or to ask questions and listen to Jesus. Why did they come? 8:11 says, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.”
The difference is their attitude. No matter what Jesus would have said, they hadn’t come to listen, they came to talk. They were deaf. No matter what Jesus would have shown them, they wouldn’t have seen it, because they had their blinders on.
It reminds me of when the Deacon Stephen was martyred by this same group of people. These are the last words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and they are addressed to the Sanhedrin:
“‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.’”
[Now look at their reaction.]
“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.” (Acts 7:51-58)
They, like the Pharisees who had come to Jesus that day, weren’t there to listen, but to argue, make demands, condemn and test. They put themselves above Jesus, as His judges. He needed to prove Himself to them! They were the experts. They were the holy ones. They were the ones who knew God – and they expected Jesus to toe the line.
How to Deal with Unbelief
We all struggle with doubts and unbelief at times – some more than others. Even the most faithful Christian has moments when they wonder about what God is doing. We all ask questions like, “God, do you still love me? Are you in control of this? Will you help me? Do you hate me? Is this in your plan? Where are you? Can I trust you with this difficult thing? Are you worthy of putting my faith in, or will you let me down? ” We all have moments of doubt.
The question is how we respond. The difference between the Disciples and the Pharisees, though they both struggled with blindness and deafness, was that one group had a relationship with Jesus and the other didn’t. One had been chosen by Jesus and was willing to stick with Him. They kept walking with Him, paying attention to Him, seeking after Him, waiting for Him, asking Him questions, talking to Him. And their wiliness to do that meant they continued to see miracles, hear from Jesus, and were mightily used by God.
The Pharisees didn’t walk with Jesus. They came to argue with and test Jesus. They wanted Him to submit to them. They wanted God to bend to them – and therefore, even after meeting Jesus, they still walked away blind.
I guess the key word that describes that attitude is humility. Both groups were messed up. Both were blind. Both didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. But only one of the groups were willing to humbly walk with Jesus as their Lord. The disciples didn’t demand Jesus prove Himself, they just walked with Jesus wherever He went and saw Him in action. They got the proof, but not on their terms.
The Pharisees came at their own convenience, ordered Jesus to do things for them, and when He didn’t, they walked away. One group showed humble discipleship, the other arrogant presumption.
Sometimes we hear people say things like, “If God is real, why doesn’t He just show Himself! If God wants me to believe in Him, then He can just write it in the sky. Just one little miracle and I’ll believe Him. If God wants me to follow Him, then He’ll do this one thing for me. God, I’ll make a deal with you, I’ll start praying if you work this miracle.”
God wouldn’t be much of a god, if He performed like a trained seal and submitted to the whims of His creation, would He? God doesn’t operate like that. He shows Himself to people who come to Him in humble faith, in need, who desire truth, and who are willing to submit to Him as their God! God doesn’t submit to people who come demanding a performance.
We Experience Jesus in Different Ways
That being said, God is amazingly willing to meet us where we’re at and perform miracles for we who don’t deserve it. Like in the scriptures we’ve read today, different people meet Him in different ways, and God does some amazing things for them. But there’s a common theme behind all of these folks that met Jesus.
Jesus said as much in Matthew 13:44-46 where He said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
You see, we don’t create our own treasure, God does — and we all come across it a little differently. Some people are like the man who stumbles across it. The somehow come across Jesus – maybe through their parents, or a friend, or a vision, or another way they didn’t go looking for – and Jesus opens their eyes, their ears and frees their tongue to worship Him.
Other people are like the man searching for pearls – they look all their life for that one, great treasure, and when they meet Jesus they completely sell out to Him. They’ve searched and now they’ve found.
The deaf man and the blind man were brought to Jesus to be healed. They didn’t get there by themselves. The treasure was found by others. And all of the 4000 people that Jesus fed that day didn’t ask for it, Jesus just had compassion on them and fed them. We meet and experience Jesus in different ways.
Their healing was unique too. Many people had been brought to Jesus, but these are the only ones we read about where Jesus uses spit – and in the Gospel of John we read that he made mud from the spit – and used it to heal the person. No one seems to know why Jesus did that, but we can take away from it that – for whatever reason – Jesus uses different methods to meet different people’s needs.
Jesus healed the leper by laying on hands. The Centurion’s servant and the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter was healed form a distance. We don’t know why, but Jesus uses different methods on different people.
That’s part of the lesson of humility too, isn’t it? We come to Jesus, like the blind man, the deaf man, the disciples – humbly following and hoping for something – and then we allow Jesus to do it however He wants. Or, we try to come to Jesus like the Pharisees, demanding Jesus do it our way, in our time, using our methods. Jesus doesn’t respond to that. He responds to humility.
Sometimes Jesus chooses to heal immediately and fully. I just heard someone tell me this week about an addiction they had that God cured like that. Boom! One minute they couldn’t put it down, the next they couldn’t pick it up.
Sometimes God uses a little spit and mud to get it done. We need to take the medicine, go through training, work through the suffering, get dirty, face the temptation every day, exist in that situation for a while.
Sometimes, as we learned from the blind man, Jesus heals in stages. What we might call – progressive healing. We know that’s true spiritually. It’s something we call “progressive sanctification” the process of living our lives in such a way that we get closer to God and more like Jesus every day. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In this world we don’t really understand everything. Christians experience and understand many things we didn’t before we met Jesus, but we don’t know it all yet – which is why we struggle with doubt sometime. But we’re only in the first stage of healing.
Sometimes Jesus heals us in stages too. Sometimes we need to bear the burden for a little while, see dimly, and only get – what we see as – part of the miracle. The question is: Are you willing to humbly submit to following Jesus where He wants to go, do what He wants to do, in His timing, healing you as He sees fit, in the way He sees fit? Because that’s how we experience the presence of Jesus.
Let me conclude with these thoughts. We’re all deaf and blind sometimes, and we know people who are deaf and blind to the things of God – but Jesus has the power to break through that blindness and give us light. He can break through the deafness so we can hear His voice. He can unbridle our tongue so we can speak the truth.
Jesus is the only one who can break through spiritual blindness and deafness. We can’t demand it of Him, but we can ask. God’s hand of grace moves when we humble ourselves before Him. If we want God to prove Himself, trade miracles for faith, and submit Himself to our wills, we will be sorely disappointed. He doesn’t play that game. He’s God, we’re not. Satan does play that game, however. He’s happy to give you enough rope to let you hang yourself. God doesn’t want that. He wants the best for you, and He wants you to realize that He knows what is best – and He gives you the ability to choose whether you will trust Him.
If you want to experience the power of God, then come to Him in humility and faith, trusting He knows what is better, with confidence in His love, His sovereignty, His compassion and His power. Remember who you are talking to.
And Remember what He has said. He said to the disciples, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”
Let us be the ones who remember!
We ask, “God do you love me?”
He responds, “Of course! Don’t you remember that I sent my son to die for you?”
We ask “Are you in control?”
He responds, “Yes, I’ve shown my faithfulness to you already, and I’ve proven that my thoughts are higher than your thoughts, my ways are higher than your ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Remember that I know what I’m doing.”
We ask, “Will you help me?”
He responds, “Yes, and I already have. Remember that I’m with you. I’ve given you every breath you’ve ever taken, and the strength for every step you’ve ever made. I’ve promised never to leave you. I’ve promised to give you all you need to do everything you need to do. Just follow me and I’ll lead you where you need to be.”
And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:21-43)
Crisis After Crisis
This was a busy time in Jesus’ life! Consider what has just been happening to him. Jesus has been crossing the sea, back and forth from crisis to crisis. And no sooner had Jesus gotten off the boat than he was presented with another catastrophe – actually two!
Think back to what we’ve been reading. At the beginning of Mark 4 we see Jesus spending a bunch of time on one side of the sea teaching the people and his disciples. Then, at the end of Mark 4, he gets into the boat and is beset by a huge storm and crazed disciples who doubted Him, His power and His goodness. When He landed on the other side of the shore, the moment Jesus stepped from the boat – I mean, His feet were probably still wet – Jesus was immediately confronted with a legion of demons possessing a super-strong man. After delivering the man, everyone around there begged Him to leave.
And so, back into the boat He gets, probably with wet sandals, and heads back to the other side. On the other side, as the boat was landing, a huge crowd was gathering – waiting for more teaching and miracles. And again, as Jesus stepped out of the boat—another crisis!
So Jesus, feet still wet, is confronted by the ruler of the synagogue who is facing an emergency… and moments later a woman who is in desperate need. Crisis after crises after crisis. Relentless. And yet Jesus is never phased. Never overwhelmed. And gives comfort to all around Him. He is a rock, a cornerstone, a deliver, a strong tower. He is the one to whom we come when things are out of control and messy. He’s the one who can untangle things and deal with the billions of issues coming at us at once. He is Jesus, He is God, and we are not. And that’s never more clear than when we are in crisis.
Dealing with Crises
How we deal with emergencies, disasters, illness and difficult times tells us a lot about ourselves and our faith. It gives us insight into how much we really trust God. It opens our eyes to how patient we are. It reveals our idols and the places where we take comfort. It tests our prayer life. Difficult times open us up to a lot of divine diagnostics.
I’ve had my own crisis over the past couple weeks. It told you last week about the morning I was hit by lightning. That was crisis that came out of the blue and created a lot of havoc. It upset my time schedule, affected my health, wrecked my car and killed my computer.
I went to the hospital and got checked out, replaced some parts in the computer, and got my van boosted and running. I thought it was all done until my van started making some weird noises and I found out that the engine is now toast. More phone calls, more dealing with insurance, more frustration. All little stuff by comparison to what many people are going through.
And as I was dealing with this, I was talking to God, and He brought me to Proverbs 21:1 which says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; like the rivers of water he turns it wherever he wishes.” That reminded me that God’s in charge of what’s going on. He’s in charge of the mechanic, the insurance people, and everything else. He can turn things the way He wishes. Therefore the best person to talk to about it is Him. The question is whether I will have the faith and trust to let Jesus do whatever He wants with the situation.
Let’s talk a little about how we react to crisis, and how Jesus deals with our problems, through the lens of these two people that came to Jesus after He got off the boat.
First, let’s note how different these two characters, the leader of the synagogue and the woman, while at the same time noticing that they both end up at the feet of Jesus. And I want you to see yourself, your own story, or the story of your loved ones in this.
The man is a religious layman – like our elders or deacons – respected and well known in the community. We can presume the man was very well known because Mark very rarely gives names to the characters in his stories, so perhaps he did so because many reading might have known his name. The woman was his opposite. Because of her issue with constant bleeding, she would have been ceremonially unclean and therefore wasn’t allowed to be in the temple or permitted to be in public without making people aware of her uncleanness. The woman would have been ostracized, considered cursed, hurting and desperately lonely.
And they both end up at the feet of Jesus. There is no one kind of person that comes to Christ. Famous, rich, spiritual, religious people — and rejected, broken, outcasts – are welcome at the feet of Jesus Christ.
Let me tell you what was going on here with this poor woman. According to ceremonial law, if she touched anyone, they would also become defiled and unclean. It was a huge risk for her to touch this popular rabbi!
So see how gently Jesus seeks out this woman. Of course He knew who touched Him, but He didn’t want to call attention to her! For years and years, every time she went out in public, she had been forced to call attention to herself to tell everyone she was unclean. For years she hadn’t been allowed to touch anyone. And she had dared to reach out and touch a famous rabbi – one who is on an important mission for a leader of the synagogue! How terrifying for her. So Jesus allows her to be the one to announce herself, to show her courage, and to bring testimony about her healing. He called her to tell her story, but never considered forcing her or pointing her out.
Jesus called her “Daughter”. She was older, not a young woman, so what was this all about. It was about reminder her that God had never turned his back on her. God had never left her. She was rejected by people, removed from the temple, pushed away in her pain, suffering in fear and loneliness, but all along God still saw her as His daughter. And so Jesus addresses her as such.
That’s how Jesus operates with us to. What a picture of how we are all saved. We come, in faith, in fear, having no idea what is going to happen, but only knowing that getting a little bit of Jesus is going to do something! But the risk is great! Coming to Jesus has such huge consequences in our life… and Jesus knows this. So, when we show our faith in Him by repenting of our sins and making Him Lord of our life, He heals us, calls us His “sons and daughters” (1 John 3:1), and gives us a chance to tell our story. He doesn’t hold us up like a trophy, but gently calls to us, drawing us out of the crowd, and gives us the chance to courageously tell our story.
Their crises were very different when you contrast them too. The woman came for personal healing of her own problem, the man came on behalf of another. The woman had suffered for 12 years and had tried everything she could think of – spending all her money on doctors, medicines and methods – just to be well. Nothing worked, and the treatments themselves brought even more suffering.
The man had come, not because of a long-term problem, but because of an emergency. We don’t know what was wrong with the little girl, but we know from the account in Luke 8 that it was his only beloved daughter, and she was twelve years old. It could have been an accident or a sudden illness. Whatever it was, it was urgent. And when a dad sees his little girl on the edge of death, he doesn’t mess around with things that might help, he goes to the one he knows can help.
And they both end up at the feet of Jesus. We all have different types of crises. Some of them are long-term problems that we’ve dealt with our whole lives. Some come upon us suddenly and without warning. Some are of our own doing because we have been foolish. Some are the actions of others trying to harm us. Some are just because we live in a fallen world. No one is to blame, but the danger, fear and pain is very real.
All these problems are welcome at the feet of Jesus. If we mess up, we can bring it to Jesus. If we have the same problem for years and years, we can still bring it to Jesus. If we are in an emergency, our first stop needs to be Jesus. There is nothing beyond His reach or power.
How each person acted out their faith, and the miracles Jesus performs have contrasts too. The man came to get Jesus to bring Him to his daughter. The woman came to see Jesus and was hoping to get away unseen. The woman was suffering for a long time and was healed instantly. The little girl died and was resurrected. The woman who was unclean reached out to touch Jesus, and Jesus reached out to touch the dead girl who, because she had died, was now unclean.
The woman pressed through the crowd, doing all she could to get to Jesus – no one was going to stop her. The man had all but given up after receiving news of his daughter’s death.
And they both experience the miraculous power and healing of Jesus. They both had faith – perhaps the woman had more since the man had almost turned away – but it was present in both. But it wasn’t the measure of their faith that determined the miracle – just who they had faith in!
The woman didn’t need a faith boost, so Jesus said to her “Your faith has made you well…”. However, to the man who was losing faith in what Jesus could do about the situation, He said, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.”
How ironic. I wonder how many people this synagogue leader had said those very words to as people in his congregation came to him with problems. How many times did he tell them, “Don’t be afraid, have faith.” How many times had he reminded people about the power of God and the miracles in Israel’s past? How many people had he encouraged to pray for a miracle? How many people had heard him say, “Don’t be afraid, have faith”? And when it was time for him to have faith — it failed him. But that didn’t stop Jesus from helping him. Jesus didn’t walk away, did he?
It’s not unheard of to have a crisis of faith during a difficult time, is it? John the Baptist had a crisis of faith when he was unjustly locked up in prison. Peter had the same when Jesus told him that He would be crucified. We all do. Emergencies, illness and disaster really let us know where our faith is.
Granted, this was a pretty big ask of Jesus. His daughter was dead – that’s usually the end of the story. But Jesus looks at him and says, “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid, don’t fall apart, don’t quit on me. I’m still here. I still have power, this story isn’t over. When I’m involved, death isn’t ever the end of the story. It looks bad now, but I’ve got this under control. I’m not surprised, and since I’m here, you’re not helpless. Let’s go.”
And when Jesus and the father of this young girl got to the home, they were confronted with the mourners. Jesus told them not to worry because He was there to deal with the problem. In fact, this death was going to be so short that it was going to look like a little nap.
In the same way, as these two miracles were so different, the way Jesus deals with our problems is going to look very different. Sometimes the healing will be immediate and powerful. Sometimes we’ll see the physical, or financial, or emotional, or relational miracle happen before our eyes. The addiction will disappear. The cancer will go away. The money will just show up. There are times when we come to Jesus with a desperate issue and it’ll just happen.
Other times, it’s not going to happen the way we think. Sometimes the miracle comes after death when we, or our loved one, sees Jesus in heaven. Sometimes the miracle isn’t in the physical healing we want to see, but in the testimony this person is able to have as a result of their suffering. Sometimes the healing is spiritual, or emotional, and not physical. Instead of healing the body, Jesus does something better and heals the soul. Sometimes, God chooses to allow the suffering because it is the best way to help the person to grow stronger in their faith.
The father would never have wanted his daughter to die. But that’s how Jesus wanted it to happen. He could have healed her from a distance, but he had a different plan for her and her family. This man needed to see something different from Jesus so his faith would grow. The presenting issue of having a dying daughter wasn’t the real problem – the problem was the faith of the family, the faith of the community, the trust that they had in Jesus, and their need to see His power. And He would do it, not through healing a sick girl, but raising one from the dead.
The mourners were mocking and called Jesus foolish – and maybe even the father for bringing Jesus there at all. And we’re going to get mocked too, for having faith in Jesus, and bringing Him problems that seem impossible to solve. We are going to get mocked for having faith in Jesus, and for believing that even though He can heal us (or our loved one), He’s choosing not to and it’s for a good reason.
Sometimes people are going to stand in our way and tell us to “stop bothering God”, just as the people who came from the man’s house said, “Why trouble the teacher anymore?”. They’ll tell us to quit praying. It’s not working. Clearly God isn’t listening. He doesn’t care. But that’s not true! There is so much that is done as we pray and trust.
And just as I’m sure this woman with the bleeding received hundreds of pieces of advice, remedies and miracle cures, so will people tell us to try all manner of human means of fixing our problems. They’ll tell us to take it into our own hands, manipulate the situation, compromise our integrity, just fib a little. They will be like Job’s wife who, after seeing the suffering of her husband said, “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) Just quit! Give up!
Suffering Builds Us
But we believe as Christians that Jesus knows better. We do not quit praying and we trust that He knows best. If God choose to bless us with an immediate miracle – we will thank Him. If He chooses that we must suffer in this life, and that the miracle will only come when we see Him face to face, we will thank Him!
Why? Because he is faithful! He is worthy of our trust! He is wiser than us, and He knows us better that we know ourselves. And we believe Romans 5:1-5 which says,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
And we agree with James 1:2-4 which says,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be complete, not lacking anything.”