Is it Really So Wrong to be Miracle-Minded?
Weren't those people in the text horrible? Expecting Christ to perform some miracle among them! Getting so upset with Him that they tried to kill Him! But hold on there. Is it really so wrong to be looking for miracles? Don't you? I do. And I'll tell you something else. Not only am I miracle-minded, I also believe that Jesus must die!
The situation in the text was this. Jesus had left His hometown Nazareth for the bigger city of Capernaum the year before at the start of His public ministry. He was now back in his hometown and was invited to preach at the synagogue. Words of grace literally "were pouring out of the mouth of Him." Jesus took as His sermon text Isaiah 61: 1-2 announcing that He had come to bring good news of a victory for poor sinners. He had been sent by God to preach forgiveness for miserable sinners held captive by their sins. He had been commissioned to make the spiritually blind see again. He had been sent to put back together those broken to pieces by the hammer of life. And above all else Jesus said, He had come to herald the year of Jehovah's favor.
The Old Testament Church had the Year of Jubilee every 50 years. Then every debt was forgiven, every Jewish slave set free, every piece of property went back to it's original owner. That physical Year of Jubilee foreshadowed the real one Jesus announced in Nazareth. The Lord was freely canceling all debts of sin. Sinners were no longer held captive by sin, death, or the power of the devil. The Garden of Eden was given back to humanity.
The people at Nazareth felt the same way as you do about such words of grace. How amazing! Sins were forgiven unconditionally. How amazing! They they were accepted by Jehovah. How amazing! They were set free from their nagging guilts, their troubled consciences, their shameful sins. Can't you relate to that? We hear such words of sweet grace each Sunday too, and they are amazing to us as well, aren't they?
But they're not enough; we want miracles! We know what the people of Nazareth did. Christ can and has done much more than just speak words of grace. He has enriched poor people with boat loads of fish; He has released people held captive by death; He has restored the sight of the blind; He has physically restored those struck by leprosy. When is He going to do something like that for us?
The people of Nazareth had the same problem we do. They got gracious words but that was it. All they saw before them was Jesus, Joe's boy. You know the One born out of wedlock. All we see is Water, Bread and Wine. You know the same as you get from a tap or HEB. The words that come with these visible elements are tremendously gracious: What could be more gracious than to say whoever has been baptized has been forgiven, recreated, and saved for eternity? What could be more gracious then to say the Lord of heaven and earth gives you Himself in bread and wine?
But that's not enough. We want to see miracles. When babies are baptized we want to see the new creation. When we're absolved by the pastor we want to feel the load of sin lifted off our back. When we commune we want to see Christ there not ordinary bread and wine. O if only the Sacraments did things like they were said to do in the Middle Ages. If only we could see demons go screaming out at Baptism. If only that little white wafer would bleed when broken. If only the people with physical ailments were actually healed when they communed. Admit it; that's what you want. The gracious words are nice, but you want miracles, don't you?
I do, but miracles are matters of grace. This neither the people of Nazareth nor we understand. Both they and we think that God owes us miracles. We're God's people every bit as much as those in Capernaum where so many miracles were done. We have a right to look for, even demand, miracles. We have just as much faith, just as much need, just as much right as anyone else Jesus did a miracle for.
We couldn't be more wrong about this if we tried. That's why Jesus brings up the case of the widow of Zarephath. Why did the Lord have His prophet Elijah miraculously feed the widow of Zarephath? Was she the only starving widow in those days? Not hardly. Was she part of the people of God? Not at all. That's why Jesus highlights the fact that Zarephath was in the region of Sidon. She was a pagan widow, in a pagan land. There were Jewish widows in Jewish lands praying to Jehovah for food, and He had let them starve to death.
O then certainly this widow was an exceptional believer; she had mighty faith. Hah! Read what it says about this widow in the Old Testament. When she first met Elijah she said she was preparing the last meal for her son and herself before they die. She wasn't "believing God for a miracle;" she and her son didn't "agree together in the Name of the Lord" that they would be fed. When Elijah came to her in the name of the Lord, she rather pointedly said Jehovah is your God not mine; some faith, huh?
Jesus also brings up the case of Naaman the Syrian. Was he the only one whose skin and limbs were rotting away from leprosy? No loads of people were so afflicted. Was he perhaps a special believer? Far from being a believer, he was a belligerent unbeliever. When Elisha told him go wash in the Jordan to be healed, Naaman thought that was ridiculous nonsense. O than surely Naaman must have been special to the Lord. In a sense, he was. He was the pagan general who was responsible for the defeat of Israel's armies and the oppression of God's people. Make sure you have this straight. God had His prophet walk past suffering, dying, believing Israelites but miraculously healed this pagan.
I know some of you suffer with diseased bodies, infected marriages, troubled kids, or deficit financing. One little miracle of God and things would instantly be changed. But miracles are matters of grace. God doesn't look at the degree of misery involved. He couldn't. The widow of Zarephath had one more meal; I'm sure other widows with more kids hadn't eaten for days. Naaman the Syrian lived with leprosy in a general's palace; I'm sure many suffered with leprosy on the street. And God couldn't look at levels of faith when He distributes miracles since neither of these were believing God at all let alone for a miracle.
You don't, and you can't deserve a miracle. When the people of Nazareth heard that, they concluded Christ must die. They were furious that miracles were matters of grace not right. They were furious at the thought that God had in the past and would in the future walk right by His people suffering to heal unbelieving pagans. Actually it wasn't the people of Nazareth who were furious; it was the people in the synagogue. The churchgoers, the believers, the religious ones decided Christ must die for teaching that miracles are a matter of grace; that is, they don't happen based on the degree of suffering, levels of faith, or closeness to God.
The Nazareth church concluded that the solution to the disparity between the words of grace pouring out of Christ's mouth and the lack of miracles coming from His hands was that He must die. That's the conclusion of our Church too. Jesus must die to reconcile the river of grace we hear every Sunday with the desert of miracles we experience each week.
You understand that the only reason words of grace can pour out of my mouth each Sunday is because of the death of Christ. I can speak to you as if you were the Son of God Himself. I can tell you that there is no sin on your accounts. I can tell you that the devil is under your feet and the almighty God smiles on your heads. I can tell you all this not because you suffer so badly, or believe so much, or are God's special people. I can speak words of grace to you because Christ won them for you by being killed on a cross in your place.
As St. Paul explains it in 2 Corinthians: God made Christ who knew no sin to be sin itself so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. All of the sins of the world, that includes those of pagans like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, were put on Christ. All the holiness, all the sinlessness, all the righteousness of Christ has been placed on the world; that includes pagan widows and soldiers. The death of Christ as a sinner for sinners seals this great exchange. The resurrection of Jesus on Easter testifies to this fact: Christ has all sins; all the world has His holiness.
The Lord can feed a pagan widow who doesn't believe squat, and the Lord can heal a pagan general who has inflicted so much harm on His people because their sins too were on Christ. Their sins too were exchanged for the holiness of Christ. So what stands between us and the miracle that would heal our body, straighten up our kids, renew our marriage, or replenish our pocket book? Nothing but grace. This should be great news to you who have been beat down so hard by the Pentecostals and TV evangelists. The fact that all that stands between you and that miracle you need is grace means it's not your sins or your faith that is the problem..
What personal degree of holiness did Naaman the Syrian have? He had killed the people of God. He had even kidnaped one of their little girls and made her a slave in his house. But Namaan's sins didn't stop the Lord from graciously healing his leprosy. So don't you dare think your sins are stopping God from healing your body, your marriage, your kids, or your bank account. The Pentecostal types are wrong. God passes by no one with His miracles because of their sins. He doesn't look down at you and say, "If he would just take care of this or that sin, then I would do a miracle for him."
Likewise, it is the grace of God standing between you and a miracle not your meager faith. It is Satan who puts the burden of "believing enough" on people. Christ speaks of the littleness of faith; you know, the size of a mustard seed. No amount of faith causes God to do miracles. Christ didn't pass by an unbelieving widow woman; He won't pass you by either because you lack faith. He doesn't say, "If only he believed me a little bit more, then I would heal him." "If only she showed a little more faith, then I would help her."
Friends, it's absolutely demonic to picture your Lord in this way. If you don't think so, ask yourself, "What if a parent treated their child this way?" What would you think of a parent who said to you, "I could relieve the suffering of my child but I'm waiting till they believe in me enough before I do it." Or, "My child cried and cried for me last night, but I didn't go to her because she hasn't shown much faith lately."
Our God is a better parent than we are. The only thing standing between me and that miracle I desperately want is grace. There is no reason in heaven, on earth, or even in hell for my miracle not to happen right this very minute. God is not waiting till I think the right thing, believe the right thing, pray the right thing, or do the right thing. Christ has already done all that is necessary for my miracle to happen. It's only a matter of grace not time, not prayer, not faith, not love. That's what St. Paul found out after praying 3 times for a miracle. The answer didn't come back pray harder, believe more, love better, or even wait longer but, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
Do you get what that means? A lack of miracles is no indication of a lack of God's grace. In fact, you can rest assured that when you lack miracles, you certainly have an abundance of God's grace. And that grace will be sufficient for you. It will give you all that you need to support this body and life, and it will give you the salvation of your body and soul in the next life.
Is it really so wrong to be miracle-minded? No, provided you realize that the real miracle is that nothing stands between you and a miracle except the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing in you prevents God from doing your miracle. Only His grace does that, and who could be afraid, who could worry about grace? Certainly not those who hear words of grace every Sunday. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany IV (1-28-01) Luke 4: 21-30