Jesus is known for working miracles. Why did he do this? Do miracles still happen?
Today if we hear the word “miracle,” we imagine something once believed to be impossible—any sort of thing—happening.
“It’s a miracle I passed that test! I hardly studied!” an incredulous student might exclaim. Or an astounded couple might declare, “It’s a miracle we’re expecting. We’ve been trying for a baby for ten years!”
Those involved in these situations may consider such outcomes to be miraculous. But everyone knows that students—even unprepared ones—pass tests with some regularity. And pregnancy is a natural biological occurrence that might occur if one has intercourse, even if it is has failed to occur in the past. So, while these two incidents might be unexpected, they are at least humanly possible.
A miracle, by contrast, is something for which no natural explanation exists. While some have said that a miracle occurs when the supernatural supersedes or breaks in upon the natural world, theologian C. S. Lewis disagreed. He saw miracles as personal or particular applications of God’s general power—instances in which “the incarnate God suddenly and locally does something that God has done or will do in general.”1
Why Did Jesus Do Miracles?
Perhaps no one is better known for performing miracles than Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. “He is the first of his kind,” Lewis said.
The gospels record a number of miracles done by Jesus. Some miracles appear in all four of these books; others appear in only one.
For three years in the region of Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth traveled, teaching and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God. People came to him because they believed he had the power to help them when no one and nothing else could. Stories of the miracles he worked caused people to flock to him. Some were curious, some were hopeful, and some were intent on silencing him.
Jesus did not heal everyone, feed everyone, or bring back to life every dead loved one. But his miracles were a foreshadowing of the day when he would reign in a kingdom with no sickness, no hunger, and no death.2 By performing these miracles, Jesus made a statement about how God intended to deal with the epidemic of sin and brokenness in the human race.3
What Kind of Miracles Did Jesus Do?
Jesus did not have a “stock” miracle. There was no single “trick” he perfected and repeated to impress people as they gathered around him. Instead, he did extraordinary things in the course of his ordinary days.
He represented his family at a wedding, and when the wine ran out, he caused casks full of water to become wine.4 Few people at the gathering knew where the good “new” wine had come from. But Jesus’ mother and the wine steward knew they had witnessed a miracle of transformation.
He met a woman at a well; soon he told her things about herself that she had been keeping secret from almost everyone—things he had no cause to know.5 In moments he cut through her defenses and exposed her heart. Then he offered her the things she most longed for: forgiveness and a new life. She experienced a miracle of revelation and rescue.
Many of Jesus’ acts are miracles of healing. He healed a Roman official’s dying son with just a word.6 Jesus never saw the boy, never touched him. When the official begged Jesus to go to his child’s sickbed, Jesus told him that the boy was already well. When the father returned home, he saw that this was true.
He told a man who had been crippled for decades to get up and walk—and when the man tried, he could.7 He restored the sight of a man who was born blind by rubbing his eyes with spit and dust from the ground.8 As Matthew reports, “Great crowds came to [Jesus], bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.”9
Sometimes Jesus physically touched those whom he healed; sometimes he did not. But those he helped always went away with more good than they had asked or hoped for.
Jesus also performed miracles of provision, both large and small. He multiplied five loaves of bread and two small fish to feed a crowd in excess of five thousand.10 He paid the temple tax in Capernaum by telling his disciple Peter (a fisherman) that if he went fishing, he would find a shekel in the mouth of the first fish he caught. He did.11
Some of the most dramatic miracles performed by Jesus were miracles of power and dominion over the created order. His disciples saw him walking on water during a storm at sea.12 His friends Mary and Martha witnessed Jesus call their brother Lazarus out from the grave after he had been dead and buried for four days.13
What Did the Miracles of Jesus Mean?
“With all the miracles Jesus does,” says author Eric Metaxas, “there’s more than meets the eye, and it is meant to point us to something besides the miracle itself.”14 Miracles are more than just supernatural solutions to temporal problems. They are expressions of the character of God, a foretelling of the kingdom of God, and evidence of the power of God.
Pastor and theologian Timothy Keller says:
[Miracles] lead not simply to cognitive belief, but to worship, to awe and wonder. Jesus’ miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce. . . . Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’ miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts that the world we all want is coming.15
What Is Jesus' Greatest Miracle?
Some, like C. S. Lewis, argue that Jesus Christ’s greatest miracle was the incarnation—his birth into this world by the womb of a virgin named Mary. It’s easy to see why. No other young boy before or since could claim God as his father, nor point to the Holy Spirit as the agent of his conception. God being born in human flesh is miraculous.
Others claim that the resurrection—Jesus’ return to life on the third day after his death—is an even greater miracle. Again, it’s easy to see why. The story was so unprecedented that many disbelieved it then, and many disbelieve it still.
But perhaps greatest of all is the miracle made possible by these two: the miracle that occurs when a man or woman whose heart is closed to God comes to believe in God, to rely on him, and to be changed.
“The greatest evidence of a miracle,” writes Metaxas, “is the changed life that results when someone goes from nonbelief to belief.”16 Signs and wonders like those that Jesus did may be less frequent or demonstrable than they were in the past, but men and women from around the world testify that the miracle of belief continues around us every day.
Have Miracles Ceased?
Some who believe in the miracles of God say that miracles have ceased to happen—that miracles occurred in Jesus’ day and in Old Testament times, but they no longer do. Others believe that God still works miracles in the world today.
No matter their view of contemporary miracles, Christians believe that while Jesus no longer walks the earth, his death and miraculous resurrection paved the way for the release of the Holy Spirit into the world. As a result, God’s power is available and at work against the forces of darkness and evil, of death and suffering.
Pastor John Piper writes, “As long as we are submitted to the freedom and sovereign goodness of God to do as he pleases, I think we should regularly pray for the miraculous intervention of God. We don’t dictate when or what kind or how many miracles God may do among us. But not to ask for them seems to me to be more secularistic and naturalistic than biblical.”17