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Miracles, Part One

Part of a series in Matthew 8 & 9

Let's look at Matthew 7:28 together:

"When Jesus had finished saying these things the crowds were amazed at His teaching because He taught as one who had authority not as the teachers of the law."

 

Jesus had just finished teaching the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5, 6 and 7), and amazing teaching it was, unusual for the people of that day. Many times the scribes and teachers of the law would do a different kind of teaching, kind of like a verbal term paper. They would say, "Well, Rabbi Hellel said this, and Rabbi Charles Swindoll said that, quoting other people, which lent authority to what they said. Jesus came along and taught in a different fashion. He spoke the word. He had authority, and it amazed them because he quoted no one other than Old Testament scripture.

As I have thought about what will change a city, a neighborhood, a family structure, I’ve been attracted to this passage of scripture. I’ve been talking to you about evangelistic explanation and interpretation; now we're looking at application. What is it that will change the circles of relationships we have?

The number one thing that continues to be important is

uncompromisingly stating the truth.

This is so unusual in a world that does not have objective truth to relate to. Jesus is the source for truth that applies to each situation that comes along.

Chapter 8 begins by telling us, "When he came down from the mountainside large crowds followed him." Jesus is not that impressed with crowds. Certainly he wants people to follow him, but not for the miracles, sake, not just for the teaching. They need to understand what true discipleship is all about. "A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean ” (v. 2). It was unusual for a leper even to come in close proximity to people of that day. The disciples probably cowered trying to get away from him. Jesus, however, did an unusual thing: he reached out and touched the leper and, of course, he was healed.

Note the leper's attitude; he recognized his need, submitted (knelt), and had faith.

The second thing needed in changing a city, changing a neighborhood, changing an extended family and immediate family is

faith

We need faith for God to reach in and touch situations that seem impossible for Him or anyone else to change. The exercise of faith, therefore, is necessary for the miraculous to take place. We will see that all the way through this passage of Scripture.

"Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean.' Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, 'See that you don’t tell anyone but go show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded as a testimony to them.'" According to Leviticus 14, anyone cured of an infectious skin disease should go through a lengthy, elaborate process, necessary to verify that the person had been healed and—Jesus notes here—as a testimony to the priest. You can imagine what would happen to a priest who didn’t have a whole lot of people showing up with miraculous things happening in their lives, e.g. being cured from leprosy. What a shock it would have been.

I’ve thought about the testimony, what it is that will change people's lives. Certainly those kinds of miraculous events become a testimony to people. I walked a number of cities this last week. On Monday I walked for a couple of hours in downtown Seattle, which has been revitalized. In the last five years that city core has really become an uptown place to be. As I walked around the city and looked at the highrises and new buildings and the class of people that comprise downtown Seattle, I began to ask myself the question, “What could reach such a metropolitan area?”

I don't think erecting a church will do it. Certainly teaching that is authoritative and that works, and faith that intersects peoples lives and creates a miracle would bring healing, provide an answer. No matter what city or area you are in, that is needed again today.

I also walked in Ferndale this week. We have a ton of people that live in Ferndale, which has also been changing over the last five years. For a long time it was a city characterized by those who worked in the refineries, but now it has become a bedroom community of Bellingham. Many people have moved out there because the housing is more affordable, and new neighborhoods are growing up. I walked around the city with the pastor of the Alliance church, and we talked about his church and things that are going on there. I said, “Let's take a prayer walk and let me hear your heart as you pray for the people of your city and the people that you know.” It was a marvelous experience. As we went by the place where he had put a roof on that same week with a couple of guys from his church, we prayed for one of those young men.

I also went to Lynden and walked around. Lynden is characterized by lawns, churches, and schools. Certainly as you walk around that town you say, “Well, they don’t need the gospel; they have enough churches per capita—more than probably any place in the world!" But Lynden is still a city that needs the Lord.

It isn’t just the church building that’s going to do it, is it? It is teaching that intersects people's lives in a practical way, and faith that moves into impossible situations that look hopeless and shows the miraculous power of God.

I went out to Blaine and walked around. That's another city that is changing: new sidewalks, new streets. Most of us have a view of what that city is all about…"the borderites!" That city, however, is being revitalized, the downtown core and the neighborhoods being changed. It's another city that needs the Lord.

I went to Sudden Valley, another area of our city, and walked there. A lot of our people are living out there, and there are all kinds of opportunities to reach people there. It's a hard area to characterize because some people come there as a recreational spot, and others live there because the cost of housing is a little less expensive than in the city core here in Bellingham.

What is it going to take to reach those people? I suggest to you that what Jesus did in this context, in these verses is what is needed. It isn’t just gathering in buildings like this. It is taking the Gospel, the truth to the streets and intersecting people's lives by the

miraculous power of God

When Jesus entered Capernium, a centurion came to Him asking for help. People will ask for help. "'Lord,' he said, 'my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.'' Thisman had 100 soldiers under him. He was a Gentile, not (at least at this point) the focus of Jesus' ministry, and yet Jesus knew that eventually he would be. One of the disciples kind of forbid him from going, at least tried to keep him from moving to the centurion's house. Nevertheless, Jesus said, “I will go and heal him”.

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof but just say the word and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority with soldiers under me. I tell this one go and he goes, and that one come and he comes, and I say to my servant 'do this' and he does it. That is a wonderful description of faith. If God tells us to go, we go; if He tells us to come, we come; and if He tells us to do something, we do it. Jesus recognized that when He heard this; "He was astonished and said to those following, 'I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside.'"

That’s certainly not all, but the majority will be thrown outside into darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Pretty strong words. Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go and it will done just as you believed it would.”

"When Jesus came into Peter’s house [another location, now extended family], Peter’s mother-in-law was lying in the bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her. And she got up and began to wait on him." What will change people’s lives, affect immediate families? It certainly is going to be the faith touch: taking the words and power of Jesus into households and bringing the help and healing needed; extending the hand of touch.

"When evening came, many that were demon-possessed were brought to Him and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This is what was to fulfill what was spoken to the prophet Isaiah, 'He took up our infirmities and He carried our diseases.'" Certainly a reference to the cross applies not only to our sins being forgiven but to the healing of our bodies.

Interspersed in a section of scripture (Matt. 8 and 9) where 10 miracles are recorded is also some talk about

discipleship

Another thing that will change people and communities is an understanding of what it means to really follow the Lord. When Jesus saw the crowd around him he gave orders to cross over to the other side of the lake, then a teacher of the law came to him and said,“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” It looks good to follow Jesus when he is feeding the 5,000; when he is preaching a Sermon on the Mount. That looks great. But Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

The truth about discipleship is that there are some good times and also some stretching moments, and you need to understand the whole spectrum.

Another disciple came to him saying, “Lord first let me go and bury my father." Jesus' reply here seems a bit harsh: "Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead." The truth was that the father was not dead yet, and it was more likely an excuse. If his father was dead, he would have been right there burying him, because burial took place immediately. What he was really saying was, “Lord, I will follow you, but let me get one thing out of my system." It’s the kind of thing when you say, “Well, Lord, I will follow you; but you know I need to do a little more living and then I will submit my life to you." Jesus was not saying, “Don’t care for your immediate family." He was saying the priority should be to follow Him.

"Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning a furious storm came up on the lake so that the waves slipped over the boat." (But Jesus was sleeping. That is what Jesus feels about many of the problems that freak us out.) "The disciples went and woke him saying, 'Lord save us; we are going to drown.' He replied, 'You of little faith. Why are you so afraid?' Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm."

More often than not, when we are worried it is because we are not extending faith for the situation we are walking through. Jesus' men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?” Let's pause and think about this for a moment. What kind of storms come into our lives, and how can Jesus answer them?

Certainly there are storms in our lives as a result of our own disobedience. Jonah, for example, was asked to go to preach at Nineveh, yet decided to go the opposite direction. We know he got on a ship and was sailing away from where he was going, and then a furious storm took place. After awhile it was deduced that this man was responsible for the storm, ane he was thrown overboard after an extended period of time. You know what happened: the whale came by, had him for lunch and then got sick and the rest is obvious on the shoreline.

Certainly that represents some of the storms that go on in our own lives. Many times the things that we ask God to get us out of are really a result of our own disobedience. What’s the answer? Repentance. And the storm stops.

Sometimes the storms are because of someone else’s disobedience. In Acts 28 is a story of Paul being on a ship, being taken to Rome. He told the men, the captain, and the centurion what they were supposed to do, but they all ignored his advice and the ship was caught in a furious storm. Paul in a marvelous way extended words of wisdom and grace, and eventually the whole ship was saved (not the vessel but the people on board). Paul was bit by a snake and had to swim for his life to the shore, but he and everyone else made it. Going through a storm as a result of someone else’s disobedience isn’t fair, and sometimes we are hurt in the process. But God's strength can be there to forgive, help, lift and heal as he did for Paul.

Then there are other storms that are the result of our obedience. The disciples got in the ship that the Lord told them to get into, and in the middle of the night the storm came. “But, Lord, we are doing what you told us to do; how come it’s not working out? This isn’t fair!” Many times even in our obedience there are things lacking in our lives. In this instance the disciples exhibited a lack of faith. They needed to be bolstered in their faith and understanding of the way God could speak to a problem. When Jesus spoke the words and the storm was calmed, they were also rebuked.

As I walked around Blaine this week, I was impressed with the city and how it was being revitalized. On the way back to my new car, just before I got there I saw something in my mind: someone taking a key and scratching along the side of the door. Around the corner about three blocks away, one of our members just happened to be there. She stopped me, she prayed with me; she read me a poem about hard times. I thought, "Well that’s unusual, and that’s nice". Around the corner was my car.

About two hours earlier, before I started walking, a little guy about five years old had come up to me and asked me for some money, and I said no. I was nice about it, but I said no. This little guy apparently had been schooled by some people outside of the city, because his attitude was that he was going to get me for what I didn’t do. He had taken some instrument (probably a key) and scratched all the way down the side of my car, which for me is about the worst thing that could happen. I drive cars forever, and I also park away from everyone. I hate my doors being dinged up. I am a fanatic about this. Everyone who drives with me knows that I park way at the end of the parking lot away from everybody’s door.

So here I came around the corner and found this totally wiped-out side. I was so heartsick and discouraged, it took me a day or two to overcome it. (By the way, I got the car buffed out so it’s not as bad as it was.) But I think it was a good lesson for me that though we walk in the will of God, there will be moments when we feel the sting of someone else’s disobedience. Even when we are doing the right thing, there will still be lessons we need to learn in the process.

We live in cities. How are we going to reach these cities? We must walk the way that Jesus walked, take the truth of God and declare it uncompromisingly. We must extend faith to the impossible situations and expect God to come through in His way. Not only must we understand discipleship; not only must we pray and walk.

The gospel of Mark mentions one incident right in the middle of this account. After healing Peter's mother-in-law, he went in the morning to a solitary place and prayed. Peter and the other disciples found Him and said, “Lord, there are a whole lot of people who need to talk to you.” Jesus said, “No, we need to go to some other cities, some other places." We could let the clamors of the crowds and our own ministry and needs dominate us, but I think in the place of solitary prayer we can discern that a lot of people in our neighborhoods and our cities need the Lord.

I want to encourage you to walk your neighborhoods. Pray, observe, talk to people. If someone asks you for money, pay it! :) As you walk your city, pray and ask the Lord

  • for insight
  • for help
  • for teaching that might be appropriate
  • for faith and understanding of the Lord's heart as you pray and walk

We'll call it the Jesus walk.

For more specific suggestions, see "A Prayer Walk" here.