A Powerful Story about Reading Gospel Miracle Stories Better
Over the past few weeks we have been in a series on “6 Ways to Transform Your Reading of the Gospels.” First I suggested that we Read Matthew, Mark, and Luke from ‘the Earth Up’ and John ‘from Heaven Down.’ Last week we looked at how to Read Each Gospel for Its Unique Perspective. Our third principle, the topic of this post, is As we Read the Miracle Stories Ask, “What Does this Tell Me about the Identity of Jesus?”
The miracle stories have a number of important roles in our gospels. They draw attention to God the Father (Matt. 9:8; John 9:3). They announce the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom, as God begins to put things right in the world (Mt 12:28). The miracles cause or deepen faith (Mk 4:35-41), and they demonstrate Jesus’s compassion for people as they are healed or raised from the dead (Mt 14:14; 20:30, 34; Jn 11). These are all vitally important reasons we are told of the miracles in Jesus’s ministry.
But I want to focus on one very special purpose of the gospels: to reveal the identity of Jesus. When we read the gospels, we should ask, “What does this story tell me about Jesus's identity?
Mark Galli, the current editor of Christianity Today magazine, recounts a story in his book Jesus Mean and Wild, which beautifully illustrates my point.
At the time the story happened, Galli pastored a church in Sacramento, CA. A group of Laotian refugees, who had been sponsored by the church and were attending services, asked Galli if they could become members. Since the refuges had just begun to learn the basics about Christianity, Galli invited the Laotians to study the Gospel of Mark with him so that they might learn more about the faith, particularly what was involved in a relationship with Christ and Christ’s church.
Galli remembers those weeks with the Laotians as wonderfully interesting. One week, after reading Mark 4:35-41, the passage in which Jesus calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee, Galli asked a question which he thought would drive home the relevance of the passage for his new friends—he asked them about the storms in their lives. The Laotians looked at him in puzzled silence. So he elaborated. “We all have storms—problems, worries, troubles, crises—and this story teaches that Jesus can give us peace in the midst of those storms. So what are your storms?" Again, the Laotians looked at him with blank stares. After a few moments, one of the men in the group asked in a hesitating voice, "Do you mean that Jesus actually calmed the wind and sea in the middle of a storm?"
Galli thought the man was struggling to believe such a story, stumbling over the problem of miracles. So he answered, "Yes, but we should not get hung up on the details of the miracle. We should remember that Jesus can calm the storms in our lives."
Again there was awkward silence. But then another of the men in the group spoke up: "Well, if Jesus calmed the wind and the waves, he must be a powerful man!" At this, Galli reports, all around the circle the Laotians nodded their heads excitedly and spoke rapid-fire to each other in the Lao language.
The story had done what it was intended to do—they were struck with wonder! Galli confesses, “I suddenly realized that they grasped the story better than I did.”
The miracle stories in the gospels are not meant to be feel-good tales about how Jesus can do all the things we want him to do to make our pain and problems go away. Rather, they reveal vitally important truths about who Jesus is and what he is up to in the world. So what does this story of the storm in Mark 4 really reveal to us about Jesus?
Ps. 107:23-29 provides an important backdrop for the story. Speaking of sailors being caught at sea in a storm, it reads,
24 They saw the LORD’s works, His wonderful works in the deep. 25 He spoke and raised a tempest that stirred up the waves of the sea. 26 Rising up to the sky, sinking down to the depths, their courage melting away in anguish, 27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men, and all their skill was useless. 28 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a murmur, and the waves of the sea were hushed. (Ps 107:23–29 HCSB)
Who is it who can still the storm with a word? Only God can. Jesus is the Lord of nature—its creator in fact—who can speak a word to the wind, bending it to his will.
Do you see now how the miracles speak to us about the identity of Jesus?