Sunday, May 28, 2017

mighty deeds

Faculty Notes on Jesus’ Mighty Deeds

It is time to consider one aspect of Jesus’ public ministry: the wonders & mighty deeds. This section in chapters 8-9 of Matthew comes immediately after the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7.  Traditionally, these acts have been called “miracles,” which potentially predisposes the reader toward a particular understanding that is not necessarily represented in the gospel.  Mark calls them “deeds of power.”  Luke calls them “deeds of power” and “paradoxes.”  John calls them “signs.”  Matthew calls them “wonders” and “mighty deeds.”  Each gospel differs in the number of stories they tell.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all have around 20, John only 7.  All have some which are unique to their gospel and some which appear in others.  As we learned this morning, each gospel is different.  Even in talking about the same event, the writers will emphasize different things.  By Matthew’s characteristic description of these actions as “wonders” or “mighty deeds,” one question to keep in mind is cui bono? or for whose benefit?  On one level, Jesus is serving and ministering to people.  On another level, throughout the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is constantly locked in a power struggle.  With whom is the conflict in these chapters?

Discussion: LOOK AT PAGE 9 at this link.

1.   What kind of mighty deed?

a.    Healing. Most are healings of physical disability (in all gospels around half of miracles are healings!)  The ailments are permanent and limiting; these are not healings of a common cold.

b.   Exorcisms.

c.    Resuscitations. (Explain not a resurrection, keep same body and will die again.)

d.    Other, misc., ‘nature’

2.   What is the context for the mighty deed?

A quick survey of settings should show there is no predictable place, person, or situation.

3.   How does Jesus perform the mighty deeds? (method)

Jesus’ method is difficult to categorize - sometimes touches, sometimes not, sometimes because asked, sometimes he seeks out, sometimes because of faith, (sometimes faith seems to result, but usually not in Matthew or other Synoptics). Jesus’ method is not formulaic. In thinking of healings and exorcisms today we often seem concerned over having the right formula, saying the right words. But there is no one formula or method that Jesus uses. At points it is hard to categorize or generalize about the mighty deeds, but Jesus has this enigmatic quality in general, so no real surprise.

4.   What is the response? (limit to recorded response in text)

a.    Varied

General reactions of the crowd are amazement, wonder, fear and glorifying God. Response of persons healed is to tell everyone they can find, even when Jesus has told them not to do so. After Jesus turns the water to wine John records “and his disciples believed in him.” What does this mean? Some of the mighty deeds involve demons, and upon their immediate recognition of Jesus as the Holy One of God Jesus silences them. The Pharisees, either when they see or hear about the mighty deeds, are incensed and counsel against him.

b.    Raise questions about who Jesus is (his identity)

What they reveal about his identity is that he has power from God—that is how he explains how he can do what he is doing, and that is why he is such a problem for the religious leaders (doing things only God or the power of God can do). Be careful, mighty deeds do NOT reveal Jesus’ divinity. Other people in the Bible do miracles and they are not divine (Moses, Elijah). And many would say mighty deeds and wonders happen today, but the person who God uses to make them happen is not thought divine, but is simply thought to have God’s power, being used by God.

5.   Why does Jesus perform this mighty deed? (Limit to purpose recorded in text, if any)

Jesus’ motivation is often left unassigned. We draw our own conclusions. Jesus responds to people who come to him and ask for healing, either verbally or by virtue of their being where he is. People are always bringing the sick and possessed to Jesus. It is NOT to draw crowds. Mighty deeds do bring the attention of the public, but this cannot be the primary reason, if it is a reason at all, because Jesus does some in private, silences some recipients, refuses to do them on command. The feeding of the 5000 happens because the crowd has gathered while listening to his teaching, not because he was doing mighty deeds. In general, Jesus does not seem overly concerned with PR. The relationship between faith and mighty deeds is complicated. That Jesus did these solely to generate faith is not an adequate answer when we look at these stories in Matthew—more often faith is a precondition rather than a result (in Synoptics).

6.  What does Matthew emphasize in the stories of Jesus’ “mighty deeds”?    

It is best to try to make sense of purpose in the broader context of each Gospel. Jesus’ mighty deeds are closely connected to the kingdom of heaven and to Jesus’ teaching/proclamation in Matthew. We mostly see Jesus teaching/preaching and doing mighty deeds together. They are presented as a manifestation of the kingdom. The kingdom is present in Jesus’ words and deeds. Faith is usually a precondition (vs. result) for miracles in the Synoptics. The connection between faith and struggle appears frequently in these stories. Faith is demonstrated when one who is seeking a mighty deed encounters a barrier and overcomes it.


Earlier in this course, the case was made that the miracles are connected with the first temptation that addresses whether the definition of wholeness in God’s kingdom is limited to physical well-being. The miracle narratives demonstrate clearly that Jesus responds to physical needs and that these are important. But it is also important to note that these accounts move beyond being limited to physical well-being to a fuller-orbed sense of wholeness (restored hand, can work; leper can be around people). Also, these reflect the limits of the Roman peace, the realities of malnutrition, difficult working settings which may lead to injury, no’ social services’ etc.

Why does Matthew tell us miracle stories about Jesus?

a. Jesus’ miracles are closely connected to Jesus’ teaching/proclamation in Matthew. We see Jesus teaching/preaching and doing miracles together mostly (summary statements that Jesus taught, preached, healed in 4.23-25, 9.35-38).

b. Faith is usually a precondition (vs. result) for miracles in Mt. 

c. Mt’s concern to show Jesus as fulfilling scripture is evident in the way he handles the miracle stories. Jesus’ healing ministry is underscored in Mt’s gospel (4.23; 9.35; 10.1, 7-8;  12.15-16; 14.14; 15.30; 10.2; 21.14-15), as healing is one of the most striking aspects of the prophcied messiah’s ministry.  Mt identifies specific prophecies as fulfilled via miracle in his gospel:  Mt 1:22-23 explains the virgin conception fulfills Is 7.14.  Mt 8.17 explains Jesus’ exorcisms and healings fulfill Is 53.4.  Jesus’ miracles in Mt 11.5 correspond to the miracles described in Is 29.18-19, 35.4-5, 61.1.

d. Miracles show God’s power and God’s kingdom

They show that Jesus is God’s anointed, that he has been anointed with God’s power/Spirit.

Jesus’ miracles are one mode of God's assertion of the power of the kingdom.  The kingdom in fullness still future, but has become reality in J's words and works. 

What is striking about Jesus as a miracle worker is its de-emphasis.  It is debatable that we ever see Jesus perform a mighty deed to demonstrate his power for his own sake.  Miracles are performed for the restoration of the person and to the glory of God, rather than as proof of anything.  Jesus miracles are in fact generally recognized as glorifying God not Jesus, just as Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God not of himself.  The deeds are signs of the in-breaking of the kingdom, it is true, but they are not the only or "best" sign.  Striking is the restraint of the gospel writers in recording the miracles.  There is little made of them (they simply describe them and go on), and so one must conclude that while these deeds were one aspect of Jesus' ministry they were not its essence or climax.  The miracles are done as a sign of the kingdom of God breaking in, the reality of God's kingly rule present.

Jesus' miracles show God's power and God's kingdom.  How, in relationship to the 4 kinds of miracles we've identified in the gospels? 

i. resurrections show God's power over life and death.             
            ii. healings and exorcisms show God's power as well, and beyond that are unquestionably tied to the coming of the kingdom.  Isaiah talks about coming age of healing when kingdom comes in fullness all will have full healing.  Jesus heals some but not all--genuine manifestation of kingdom, of power of God, but not fullness.  J's mighty works aimed at restoration and release: leper was unclean, unable to mingle. body is healed but person also restored to fellowship with people. (J's table fellowship restores those who are outcast) woman with flow of blood is ritually unclean, cut off from all that is important in Judaism.  Demoniac is unable to relate, uncontainable.  Exorcism restores him to a state of mind which allows him to relate to people, relate to the community.  The kinds of cures in J's healing miracles  are restorative.  They heal conditions which were debilitating, limiting, marginalizing.  People are often made whole in a way that allows them back into the community, so that they are no longer unclean or no longer have to beg but may work and contribute.  The healings and exorcisms reveal the kingdom as an whole, inclusive community.

iii. The last category, of "misc" miracles is where the teaching connection is the most clear I think.  There is symbolic meaning in Jesus' miracles too--they are signs which reveal something about who Jesus is (the one who brings the kingdom) and about the shape of the kingdom itself.  These misc miracles have an "object lesson" quality I think.  Feeding of 5000, J is bread of life.  There is this symbolic thing in the miracles too, the place where the teaching of the kingdom is most visibly a part of what the miracles are accomplishing--Jesus teaching in word and deed, sometimes in these mighty miraculous works.
-by Camp/Roberts


kenosis (Greek word for self-emptying):


In thinking about  living selflessly like Jesus did...

fill in this blank:
The Scripture suggests that Jesus was able to do miracles, and have 

supernatural knowledge, because he was ___________.

Here are some answers students have given:
If you answered "God" ...
and not 'human (trusting in God)" on:

Some theologians call this "Spirit Christology" or "kenosis",  whether or not  this proposed theology is consistently true. If it is, it would almost move this question into the realm of "essential" doctrines, because it then provides the very key to how we are to live in relation to daily Christian life, walking in the power and possibilities of the Spirit; doing the "greater works than Jesus" that Jesus flatly and unapologetically predicted we would do. Now, not every proponent of "Spirit Christology" or "kenosis theology" is biblical or orthodox, so hear me when I say that I know I don't agree with everyone using these categories. The basic argument would be this; to put it bluntly, as one preacher did for shock value:

"Jesus did nothing on earth as God! "

Wow, better unpack that! Now, that statement doesn't have to imply He was not God.. He was, is and always will be fully God in my Book! It's just that He didn't. during His earthly ministry, anything out of His innate, inherent and intrinsic Godhood. He voluntarily surrendered the rights to use and access His God hood's attributes... such as omniscience, or power to do mighty miracles. Several
Scriptures come into play: John 5:19 and 30 offer that Jesus did nothing in and of Himself, but only did what the Father and Spirit told/led/empowered Him to do. Philippians 2:6-11 asserts that Jesus didn't take advantage of, or even access of the rights and power of His Godhood, which would be "robbery," and a violation of the whole point of His incarnation; His coming to earth. Instead of functioning out of His eternal power and prerogative as Almighty God, He "emptied Himself". A by-product of this, is as Hebrews affirms "Jesus know every temptation we have endured by His own experience" (2:18 and 4:15). I also love to shock congregations by asking "When Jesus did miracles on earth, how was He able to do those miracles?" Well-trained evangelicals of course automatically answer, "Because He was God!" When actually, that may be the wrong answer all together. Of course He was God, no debate. But the only Scriptural answer to "How did He do those miracles?" is "in the power of the Spirit". And witness Matt. 12:28: He cast out demons; not because He was God and could do so, but as a human "by the power of the Spirit." Thus, that is the "key" key, crucial catch, and ancient but overlooked secret as to how we, mere humans, are to do the same works He did, even greater. (Jesus said that, not me. Blame Him: John 14:12) 

Answer: We do them through "checking in" with the same Father Jesus checked in with while on earth; and trusting,...radically; to the point where the supernatural almost becomes natural and norm... the same Spirit Jesus trusted. (Note Jesus, a few sentences later, suggests that is His secret, and ours. He simply passes the torch to us, but not without the sharing the same equipping Holy Spirit: verses 16-17).Such deep trust and dependency doesn't make us Jesus, of course, but they do position us to trust the timing and voice of the Father, and prompting and power of the Spirit, as radically as Jesus did...with similar and "even greater" results! If JESUS never did anything in and of Himself (John 5:19 and 30), who do we think WE are?

When Jesus asked, in Mark 5:30, "Who touched me?," did He mean it, or was this a test? If "Spirit Christology" is true, one could answer the former, without sacrificing an iota of essential, foundational evangelical theology. When Jesus said even He (Matthew 24:36) did not know the day or hour of His return, was that a lie?. No, and this "lack of knowledge" on the part of a member of the all-knowing Trinity poses no problem. I would propose that He knows now, but He chose not to know on earth. This was all part of His modeling a complete self-emptying. This, though, is core to my third question:" How consistent and complete is this theology.? Did Jesus ever do anything 'on earth as God', even though He was God? And Lord, is this profound truth so profound that to miss it allows us to miss the 'normal' life you have intended for us?"

Whatever the ultimate answer to this question the Lord would give me, the bottom line question I keep hearing in the meantime. and "real time" is haunting: "Have I yet trusted as completely and recklessly as I could in the leading of the Father and the power of the Sprit? I almost don't even care if I do a greater work or not, I just want to be found faithful, and be an answer to Jesus' wild and waiting prophecy of John 14:12. 

I love Dwight Edwards' penetrating, "must-be- wrestled- with" self-questions :

1. What have I done recently that could not be duplicated by an unbeliever, no matter how hard they tried?

2.What blatant evidence of the supernatural God has leaked out of my life?

Questions indeed!

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