Breakfast Club: The Miracles of Jesus

The miracles of Jesus cause many people to doubt Christianity. The also force us to make a decision about the person of Jesus.In the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel, we are confronted by one of those doubt raising – decision making miracles. Jesus sent his disciples across Lake Galilee while he has gone up on a mountainside to pray. Then we are told:

“When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he [Jesus] was alone on the land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night [anywhere from 3:00-6:00am] he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because the all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:47-52)

The Disciple’s response to Jesus is sympathetic to your doubts

Here are the disciples: sturdy fishermen, acquainted with the sea. On this lake they earn their livelihood; the lake, its waters and winds and waves were familiar to them. They have also been with Jesus, following him, watching him perform miracles. But when they are confronted by the sight of Christ “passing by” and walking on the Lake, they think he is a ghost and they cry out because they were terrified. The word for “ghost” (Gk. Phantasma) occurs in the NT only here and in the parallel in Matt 14:26. In classical Greek it means the appearance of a spirit or apparition. The disciple’s terror at the sight of what they felt to be a ghost indicates that this was not a usual, commonplace occurrence. What is happening is that the “empirical boundaries” of the disciples (as one commentator put it) have been broken (James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark). They had “no categories for understanding Jesus’ presence with them in the boat” (William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark). Another commentator puts it this way: “He comes to them as a figure of mystery and terror…the numinous appearance and ‘impossible behavior’ [of Jesus]” leaves the disciples “not so much impressed as bewildered and (metaphorically) out of their depth…corresponding to the increasing supernatural character of the portrait of Jesus is the increasing inability of his disciples to cope with it.” (R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark).

The point here is that you should not feel strange or “bad” when you struggle with doubts and believing that the supernatural miracles of Christ happened; so did his disciples!

But, even though the disciple’s reaction sympathizes with your doubts, Jesus’ miracles do, inevitably, force us to make a decision.

Jesus miracles force decision

When we read the gospel’s we are confronted by what appear to be historic, eye-witness accounts of the words and works of Jesus Christ. Throughout history, people have struggled to understand and accept (as true) these accounts. There is a great tendency for us to make force them to “fit” inside our grid of reality. Let me give a few examples of this.

The Modern Grid

In the modern age (post-Enlightenment), the supernatural miracles of Jesus have been “fit” into the modern grid, or perspective, of reality. This grid started from the premise that the “laws of nature” are inviolable and that all things in the universe must be capable of a rationalistic explanation. Consequently, scholars came up with bizarre theories to “fit” the miracle of Christ walking on water into the modern grid. For example, Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906) refers to scores of scholars who judged this story an optical illusion caused by Jesus walking on the water. But, at the end of the day, the story itself refused to be forced into the modern “box”; after all, why would fishermen be terrified by an optical illusion?

Post-Modern Grid

In the post-modern age, people are much more open to the supernatural, to the mystical and spiritual and miraculous. Post-modern people might say something like this: “I’m open to this really happening; and I see how it can really help you in your faith and spiritual journey.” They are much more able than modern people to affirm the Bible’s stories of the supernatural and miraculous. But they, too, fit Jesus into their post-modern grid in this way. They will not deal with the implications of Christ walking on the water, of Christ passing by. The Gospel of Mark is confronting us with One who is Lord of the Sea. He who walks on the water is sovereign over the Sea. The language of “passing by” is the same language that is used as a manifestation of the transcendent Lord who will “pass by” as God did at Sinai before Moses (Exodus 33:19, 22) or on Mount Horeb before Elijah (I Kings 19:11). It may also be a reference to Job 9:8, 11: “[God] alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.”  Post-modern people tend to accept Christ as a powerful miracle worker and spiritual force, but they refuse to bend their knees to him as LORD of the universe.

Faith in Jesus as Lord of the Waters

This brings us to the last possibility, the other path, not fitting Jesus into our "grids" but fitting our "grids" into Jesus. This is the life-changind decision of bowing to Jesus as LORD. We can accept him by faith.

All of us are forced to make a decision about Jesus. Christians are those who view themselves and all of their life and struggles and trials through the grid of Jesus Christ: The Sovereign Lord of the Universe entered into this world, entered into our time and space. They believe that He who walks on water has who will someday restore all things under his reign.

Pastor's BlogJonathan Norton