Does God Still Do Miracles?

Topical Scripture: Acts 9:36–43

You’ve made it to Spring. Not officially, of course—the first day of spring is March 20, which is when the sun crosses our equator (the Vernal Equinox) and the day contains twelve hours of sunlight and twelve hours of darkness.

But most of us think of March as the first month of Spring. You may not know that all is not goodness and light with this month. It is named for Mars, the Roman god of war. Wars in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen all started in March.

Not all March military events are planned. On March 1, 2007, a detachment of Swiss infantrymen got lost on a training mission and accidentally invaded neighboring Liechtenstein, a country approximately the size of McKinney, Texas. Its 37,000 residents were not aware that they had been invaded. Since they have no army, they chose not to retaliate.

Wars are just one symptom of our fallen planet. A zookeeper in Florida was training a rhinoceros named Archie when it struck her with its horn, sending her to the hospital. In worse news, a woman in South Carolina was wrestling with her dogs in her front yard when they attacked and killed her.

The world reminds us every day that we live in a fallen world. Where do you need God to intervene in your life? What miracle do you need from him? It could be physical, financial, emotional, or relational.

Does he still do miracles? If so, how do we pray for them? What should we do when he doesn’t do what we want him to do?

These are pressing, practical questions we’ll ask Peter this week.

A miraculous story

Our story begins in Joppa, which has been called the oldest seaport in the world. A suburb of Tel Aviv today, it is still a popular tourist attraction. Jonah sailed from here to Tarshish to avoid God’s call to Nineveh (Jonah 1:3). Logs for building the temple were sailed to this port before being transported to Solomon in Jerusalem.

A disciple named Tabitha lived there. Her name is Aramaic and means “gazelle”; Luke translates her name into the Greek Dorcas, a hint that his reader(s) did not understand Aramaic and thus may have been Gentiles and/or Romans (cf. the dedication to “Theophilus,” perhaps a Roman official, Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1).

Her mercy ministry was widely known and received, so that her untimely death was mourned by all. The disciples heard that Peter was nearby in Lydda and summoned him to come urgently (Jewish custom gave those living outside Jerusalem only three days to bury the corpse).

Peter found the deceased girl and her mourners “upstairs” (v. 39), the typical “upper room” used by families as a kind of den. The apostle had been present each time Jesus raised the dead (Matthew 9:25, Luke 7:11–17, John 11:1–44), so he knew that his Lord possessed such power. Unlike Jesus, he knelt and prayed, making clear the fact that this miracle would come from God or it would not come at all. “Prayed” translates the Greek aorist tense, indicating a one-time action.

He then called the girl by name, an indication that he believed God intended to raise her. And he did.

The result of this physical miracle was an even more important spiritual miracle: “many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42). As in Lydda earlier (v. 35), this is always God’s ultimate purpose in healing our bodies. They will die again, but souls which turn to him in response to such grace will live forever in his paradise.

If Jesus can raise the dead, what can’t he do? Think back to all the ways the Lord has revealed his powerful grace to you. He gave you physical life, then spiritual salvation. He has given you health, the freedoms we enjoy, and a wonderful church family. When we remember all he has done, we will more readily trust him for all he will do. When we see his power, we can trust his providence.

Are miracles plausible today?

As C. S. Lewis observed, the man who denies the sunrise does not harm the sun—he only proves himself foolish. What can we learn about our culture from its views of the miraculous? And about ourselves?

Mad at miracles

Most dictionaries consider a “miracle” to be an event or action which apparently contradicts scientific laws as we understand them. Sometimes we experience a miracle of coincidence, where highly improbable but not impossible events occur (a friend calls you unexpectedly, just when you most needed to hear from her). Other miracles are actual violation of physical laws (a friend calls you on a telephone which is disconnected).

Both kinds occurred often in the biblical record. Moses, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul all experienced and initiated them. And Jesus’ miracles were crucial to his ministry. They validated his Messiahship (Matthew 11:4–5), showed that he was from God (John 5:36; 14:11), and were intended to lead to saving faith (John 20:30–31).

Yet miracles themselves may not convince those who witness them (cf. John 15:24; Luke 16:31). At issue is our worldview. As J. S. Mill said in 1843, “If we do not already believe in supernatural agencies, no miracle can prove to us their existence.” Either we didn’t see what we thought we saw, or there’s another explanation than the miraculous. Many have taken such skeptical positions.

Benedict Spinoza (died 1677) argued that it is impossible for natural laws to be changed. If an event appears to be a miracle, this is only because we have not yet found the natural explanation. Isaac Newton agreed that time and space have an absolute fixed character, so that miracles by definition are impossible.

David Hume added that we cannot prove any cause and effect, much less the cause of so-called miracles. He believed that we should test all reported events in the light of our personal experience. If you have not experienced the miraculous, you cannot trust the testimony of another to its veracity.

Ernst Troelsch, the famous historian, took Hume’s position a step further: no writer of history should include a reported experience which does not occur today. If people no longer walk on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus didn’t, either. Karl Marx added the conviction that miracles are supernaturalistic wishes, nothing more.

You may be surprised to find that some Christians are likewise skeptical of the miraculous, though for different reasons. Some believe that miracles ended with the early church. Others maintain that miracles no longer occur, as the need for them in establishing revelation is now past.

The logic of the miraculous

Are there answers to the above skeptics? Absolutely. Most critics decide that the miraculous is by definition impossible, though they have no empirical or rational reasons to do so. Many point to their own lack of experience with miracles as reason to debunk the category itself. But could a man living in a warm climate believe in ice? Should we trust the experience of a person who denies that such experience is possible?

Science works with probability, not absolute logical proof. Those who seek incontrovertible evidence for the miraculous demand a standard they could not fulfill with their own truth claims. For instance, when experimenters measure light in one way, they determine that it travels as waves; measured in other ways, it appears to travel as particles. Both cannot be true, but neither can be disproved or proved. Niels Bohr called this phenomenon the “principle of complementarity.” Aristotle would call it a contradiction.

Newton saw the universe as a machine incapable of behavior outside the parameters of natural laws. After Einstein, this analytical era in science has come to an end. We now know that to observe or measure something is to alter it. Predictability is less possible, and antisupernaturalistic presuppositions are less defensible. Even Einstein stated, “I think of the comprehensibility of the world as a miracle.”

It all comes to worldview. If God created and designed the universe, he possesses the freedom to alter it as he wishes. He may act according to “laws” we discern within its operations, or he may not. What is a miracle to us is not to him. The laptop on which I am writing these words obeys none of the laws within which my father’s manual typewriter operated. But its “miraculous” abilities are nonetheless obvious.


When you need a miracle, what should you do?

One: Ask God.

In this case, Peter “knelt down and prayed” (v. 40). He did not assume that God could not or would not answer his prayer. He knelt, showing that the answer would come not from him, but from God.

Two: Expect God to answer your prayer.

Peter turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, arise.” He believed that God had heard him and would do what he asked God to do. In this case, the Lord did.

Three: Trust him to do what is best.

Here, it was best for him to raise Dorcas back to life, since “it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (v. 42). Since Joppa was such a significant seaport, this story could quickly travel all over the world.

However, this was not best for Dorcas. She had to come from heaven back to earth, from God’s perfect paradise to our fallen planet. Then she had to do her dying all over again. She was a missionary by the call and purpose of God.

At other times, God does not heal as we ask. When Paul pled three times with God to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” the Lord responded: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). Paul learned: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (v. 9b). His ability to live with his “thorn” was a greater miracle than if God had removed it.

A dear friend of mine in Midland was dying from breast cancer. Our entire congregation prayed fervently for God to heal her. I have witnessed other such miracles—people healed of cancer, heart disease, and other terminal illnesses. But God did not heal my friend physically.

Instead, he gave her the grace to withstand her suffering with such grace and joy that she marked every person who knew her. She glorified God far more by her faith than she would have by her healing. And then the Lord healed her eternally when he took her to paradise.

Pray for a miracle and trust your Father for what is best. This is the invitation of God.

Expect the Best from God

Topical Scripture: John 5:1-9

Dr. David Fite went to be with the Lord last August. He was a former missionary to Cuba and a colleague of mine when I served on the faculty of Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth.

Dr. Fite and his father-in-law were both imprisoned in Cuba for preaching the gospel there. They spent forty-two months in prison, where they were often put in solitary confinement or made to stand at attention all day. Dr. Fite’s father-in-law, advanced in years, often fell when standing in the hot Cuban sun. The guards would then hit him.

One day was especially hot. Dr. Fite and his father-in-law stood at attention all through the day; the elderly man never flinched but stood with amazing strength. That night, David asked him how he had done so. His answer: “David, I’m surprised at you. You forgot that my birthday is today! Southern Baptists all over the world were praying for our missionaries. God’s grace was my strength!”

All that God has ever done, he can still do. As we continue our series on Jesus’ healing miracles, we come today to one of the most surprising stories in Scripture. And we will hear Jesus ask us the strange but penetrating question, “Do you want to be healed?”

Listen to his voice

Our story begins: “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews” (John 5:1). He had to go “up,” because Jerusalem sits atop a plateau whose sides must be scaled by pilgrims coming to the Holy City.

He came for a “feast of the Jews,” but which one? The options are Purim in March, Passover in April, Pentecost in May, Tabernacles in October, and Dedication in December. This episode likely occurred during the springtime, as the lame were lying outside in the weather and Jesus referred to the time of harvest earlier (John 4:35). Thus Purim and Passover are the best guesses.

If this feast was Passover, Jesus attended it out of religious obligation. Every Jew within fifteen miles of Jerusalem was legally required to attend Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Our Lord knew the controversy which awaited him, but he came anyway. The healing of a paralyzed man was worth all the trouble it cost him.

Verse 2 continues the narrative: “Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.” John used the present tense, “there is in Jerusalem . . .”, even though he wrote these words long after the Roman destruction of the city in AD 70. He wanted us to experience the reality of this miracle as if it occurred in our time, for it still can.

The Sheep Gate was one of the entrances through the walls of the city of Jerusalem. It had been rebuilt by Eliashib the High Priest and his fellow priests during the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:1), more than four centuries earlier. It was likely the entrance through which sheep and lambs were brought from the neighboring fields to the Temple for sacrifice. Through this gate the Lamb of God came to heal a crippled man, as one day he would die for the spiritual healing of our crippled world.

Here lay a “pool” (this word is found only here in the New Testament). It was surrounded by “five covered colonnades.” These colonnades were covered porches called stoa where people gathered (the “Stoics” are named for the fact that they began by meeting on porches like these). The pool in question was trapezoidal in form, 165–220 feet wide by 315 feet long, divided by a central partition. There were colonnades on four sides of this partition, and one on it. Stairways in the corners permitted descent into the pools.

The Crusaders built a church over this pool, with a crypt framed like the five porches and an opening in the floor which descended to the water. This structure is known as the Church of St. Anne; its remains stand today on the northwest corner of Jerusalem near the gate by the sheep market. I’ve seen it, as do most tourists to Jerusalem. The pool was called Bethesda in Aramaic, a term meaning “House of Mercy.” Jesus fulfilled its name this day.

Beside this pool “a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed” (John 5:3). This was likely not a winter scene, given their exposure to the weather. They were “paralyzed,” withered, atrophied. Why were they there?

Verse 7 supplies the answer: “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.” There is a subterranean spring beneath the pool which bubbles up occasionally, stirring its waters. The popular belief was that the first person who entered the water after it was stirred would be healed.

And so later copies of the Greek New Testament supplied this explanation, continuing verse 3: “and they waited for the moving of the waters.” Then a fourth verse: “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.” The earliest and most reliable manuscripts of the New Testament do not contain these words, so biblical scholars are certain they should be omitted from the text. They appeared in the manuscripts used by the translators of the King James Version, which is why these words were included in that version. But no modern translation of the Bible includes them in its text.

Now we meet the suffering man Jesus came to heal: “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years” (John 5:5). The length of his incapacity proves the fact that it was medically incurable. Jesus did not provide him a medical solution but a miraculous healing.

So, “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (v. 6). Unlike the healing of the nobleman’s son, this miracle was initiated by Jesus himself. The crippled man could not come to Jesus physically, and did not know to ask Jesus to come to him. So Jesus met him at the point of his great need.

But first he asked what seems to us a strange question: “Do you want to get well?” What crippled person wouldn’t want to be healed?

However, Jesus “learned that he had been in this condition for a long time.” This man has spent his adult life and perhaps longer in this condition. He may have become accustomed to living on the donations of others. He may not want to return to the responsibility of an earned income and work to perform. Jesus will only work in our lives with our permission. He always limits himself to our free will.

Where do you need his healing, helping touch today? Jesus knows your pain. In fact, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Jesus is calling to us in our suffering, for he shares it with us. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, he is with us (Psalm 23:4). He promised that he would never leave or forsake us (Matthew 28:20). He hurts as we hurt, and calls to us in the pain of our lives.

But some of us feel that we are beyond his help, that our sins have exempted us from his grace. The world would have said the same of this invalid. In Jesus’ day, popular theology taught that physical illness was proof of spiritual judgment. A person with a physical birth defect, as may have been the case with this man, was under the justice and judgment of God (cf. the disciples’ question of Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:2). And those who experienced suffering for other reasons were judged to be sinners as well.

No self-respecting rabbi would have stopped for this man, but Jesus did. Perhaps you think no one cares about you or your pain today. If we knew your secrets we would reject you; if the world knew your problems, it would turn on you. But not Jesus. He initiated this miracle, as he will yours. He went to this man, as he will come to you. He stands ready to meet us where we need him most.

But we must listen. The Psalmist invites us to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). We must set aside our own furious activity, the crush of the calendar and the press of the day’s demands and listen to his voice.

One of the most life-transforming essays I have ever read is Mike Yaconelli’s Lost and Found: My Soul. This late, well-known Christian columnist related a time years ago when he retreated to be alone with God, with this result: “It only took a few hours of silence before I began to hear my soul speaking. It only took being alone for a short period of time for me to discover that I wasn’t alone. God had been trying to shout over the noisiness of my life, and I couldn’t hear Him. But in the stillness and solitude, His whispers shouted from my soul, ‘Michael, I am here. I have been calling you. I have been loving you, but you haven’t been listening. Can you hear me, Michael? I love you. I have always loved you. And I have been waiting for you to hear Me say that to you. But you have been so busy trying to prove to yourself that you are loved that you have not heard Me.”

Yaconelli then testifies: “I heard Him, and my slumbering soul was filled with the joy of the prodigal son. My soul was awakened by a loving Father who had been looking and waiting for me.” As he waits for us.

To feel the touch of Jesus, first listen to his voice.

Trust his heart

The invalid replied to Jesus’ question, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (v. 7). He wanted to be well but could not be on his own. He needed help and sought it from our Lord.

Notice how little he asked of Jesus. He believed that he would be healed if he could be the first one into the pool after the spring stirred its waters. And so he wanted the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, simply to carry him a few feet into the water. Jesus stood ready to heal his body, and the man instead asked him to help him get wet.

Are we so different? Do we ask for all God can do, or merely what we need for the present moment? Do we limit God’s power in our lives by our lack of faith in his power?

We might object that the crippled man didn’t know who Jesus really was. True, and this ignorance is his defense. But we have no such argument. When we give our need to Jesus, we must trust his heart and expect his best. For that is what he waits to give to us.

Our Lord said to the invalid, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (v. 8). He called the man to do something he had not done for thirty-eight years. He did not carry the man to the water—he healed him so he could walk there himself. He did not offer him a temporary cure or help for the symptoms of his disease—he worked a miracle which would banish this disease from his life forever. He told him to pick up his “mat,” the light pallet on which he had begged for so long.

And he told the invalid to “walk.” He has not moved the muscles of his legs for thirty-eight years. Even if a physician were to cure the cause of his paralysis, perhaps a rupture in the spine or nerves, his muscles would be so atrophied that years of physical rehabilitation would be required by him. But not by Jesus. He did for the man far more than the man asked of him.

Now the divine-human partnership emerges again. Jesus healed the man, but the invalid had to get up with the power given him by God. Jesus restored his body but told him to carry his own mat. Jesus cured his limbs but required the man to use them himself. And when he did, “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (v. 9a).

When we trust our problem into Jesus’ hands, we must always expect the best from him. He will always do as we ask, or something better. We often misunderstand his ways or timing and feel that he will not hear or help us. But he is giving us what is best for us, whether we know it at the moment or not.

Years ago, I was using a razor blade to scrape paint from a window one Saturday morning when one of our small boys happened by. Attracted by the shiny “toy” in my hand, he wanted to play with it and was not happy that I wouldn’t give him what he asked. But of course, no amount of begging or anger would have persuaded me to give him what he wanted.

When we stand with our Father in glory, we’ll see how many times he met our needs and answered our prayers with what we asked. And how often he gave us even more.

Where do you need his touch? Listen to his voice, and then trust his best. As the song says, when you can’t see his hand, trust his heart.


When we pray, God gives us what we ask or something better. Where do you need his touch? Where is a paralytic lying on a mat in your life? Get alone and still with the Father, so that you can hear him call to you by grace. Trust his heart, believing that he will give you what you are praying for unless he can give you even greater blessing. Seek spiritual health, not just temporal happiness. And join God at work, adding your hands to his, touching the spiritual, emotional, and physical paralytics who lie at your side. Believe that he can use you for great Kingdom work, and he will.

I have seen God do things in Cuba that we seldom see him do in America. Why is this?

I was discussing this question with a longtime missionary friend. She pointed out the obvious but often overlooked answer: the Cubans know they need Jesus. They know they need his power, his presence, his encouragement and joy. So they pray with passion and expectation, and God answers.

Mother Teresa was right: “You’ll never know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”

To Open Blind Eyes, First Open Yours

Topical Scripture: John 9:1-7

Last Monday, President Trump awarded our nation’s highest military honor to a Special Forces combat medic named Ronald J. Shurer. In April 2008, Shurer and his team of commandos were attacked in Afghanistan by an enemy force of more than two hundred.

Shurer treated five wounded soldiers, evacuated them down an almost vertical sixty-foot cliff under fire, loaded them onto a helicopter, then took command of his squad and returned to the battle. His actions saved the lives of his teammates.

Such bravery deserves our greatest commendation and deepest respect. For a person to risk his life to help others is the highest form of bravery.

All through his earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrated such courage. While his enemies mounted their opposition and eventually planned his execution, he continued to heal the sick and share God’s love.

This week’s healing miracle is a remarkable model for us. If you’ll follow our Lord’s example, your courage in helping a hurting soul may not win national recognition, but it will be rewarded for eternity in heaven.

See the need (v. 1)

Our story occurred on a Sabbath (John 9:14). Jesus has returned to Judea, where he has been teaching in the temple courts (John 8:2). Here he noticed a man who could not see him: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth” (John 9:1).

Jesus had not begun the day intending to heal this man. He was “passing along,” walking through the day before him. So much of his ministry was done by “walking around,” helping the people he chanced to meet, seeing their pain and offering his hope.

So it was that he “saw” this man. The Greek word translated “saw” here means to fix the gaze, to look earnestly. Jesus gave him more than a passing glance—he paid attention to his predicament.

When he saw the man, he saw his need: he was “blind from birth.” Simple observation could not have told him this. How would anyone know when the man’s blindness had begun? It’s possible that the man told him, or that his reputation preceded him (cf. v. 8). But the syntax suggests to me that the instant Jesus saw the man he knew that his blindness was congenital. If he could heal this man’s blindness, he could determine its source.

This insight gave the Great Physician enough information for a diagnosis: his illness has persisted for many years, caused by a physical abnormality which could not be treated by first-century medicine. There was no medical option for this man. He needed not a physician, but a miracle.

What Jesus knew of this man, he knows today of you:

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand (Psalm 139:15–18, NIV footnote).

The Physician who saw this man and his need sees yours. The blind man could not see Jesus, as we cannot see him today. But the one who cannot see is visible to the One who can.

Now Jesus calls us to see others as he sees us. We can tell how close we are to Jesus by the degree to which we love those he loves.

The first “fruit of the Spirit,” the first result of the Spirit at work in our lives, is love (Galatians 5:22). The first commandment is that we love God, and the second is that we fulfill the first by loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:37, 39). When was the last time you stepped out of your routine to see someone as Jesus does?

Be practical (vv. 2–3)

The disciples followed their Master’s gaze, but for a very different reason. He saw a man in personal pain; they saw a theological question. He stopped to heal this man; they stopped to use him as an example for their theological discussion: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

Before we listen to Jesus’ answer, first let’s explore their question, lest we ask it ourselves. The rabbis taught that suffering is the result of sin: “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity” (Rabbi Ammi, in Shab. 55a). First-century Judaism assumed that suffering was proof of divine wrath, and prosperity proof of his pleasure and reward. Such logic is not confined to ancient Judaism—every world religion holds an aspect of its claim.

Hindus believe in the law of karma, the idea that our present suffering is punishment for wrongs we committed in a previous lifetime. According to Gautama Buddha’s “First Sermon at Benares,” all suffering is due to wrong desire. Newspaper accounts following the Columbia tragedy quoted al-Qaeda sympathizers as attributing the disaster to America’s sins against Allah.

In Christian theology, the disciples’ question has been most fully formulated by St. Augustine. His “theodicy” (an account of evil in the light of God’s goodness and power) attributes suffering to the misuse of our free will. God created us to worship him; worship requires freedom; when we misuse this freedom, the consequences are not God’s fault but ours.

Often Augustine is right. I’ve seen marriages end because of adultery; I’ve buried alcoholics who died of cirrhosis of the liver; I’ve known drug users who contracted AIDS; I’ve watched students who didn’t study fail the test and then blame God or me. I know of suffering in my life which has come from my sins. You know of the same in yours.

The disciples didn’t doubt that the man’s congenital blindness was the result of sin. They only want to know who to blame: “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

Jesus cleared up their confusion: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). Some suffering is the result of sin, but such was not the case here. Much of the world’s grief and pain is not the result of anyone’s sin or failure. Remember Job’s plight; remember Jesus’ innocent crucifixion. To attribute all suffering to sin often increases the suffering of the innocent.

In this case, the man’s inherited blindness was no one’s fault. He had certainly not sinned, and neither had his parents’ sin caused his handicap. Rather, “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” The word translated “so that” can also be rendered “with the result that.” Jesus’ answer can therefore be translated, “this happened with the result that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

We can also change the punctuation (which was not in the Greek original) to read: “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents. But that the works of God should be made manifest in him, we must work the works of him that sent me.”

I do not understand Jesus’ statement to teach that God created this man’s blindness. He permitted it, as a consequence of the natural, fallen world in which we live. When mankind fell, all of creation was affected by the fall (cf. Romans 8:22). Blindness, birth defects, cancer, and other diseases are often the result of our fallen world, not our fallen actions. So it was here.

But the Lord would redeem this suffering for his glory and the man’s good: “The work of God might be displayed in his life.” Jesus came to do the “work of God” (cf. Matthew 12:28, Mark 2:7). The healing to come is a miracle to us, but it is merely the “work” of God, his normal activity and ability.

Jesus turned the disciples’ speculative question into practical truth. He did not tell them why the man was blind, but what God intended to do about his blindness. He did not explain the source of the pain, but its solution. In the hardest places of life, his answer is what we need.

Are you hurting along with the blind man? Are you or others asking why? Sometimes knowing the cause is important to the cure, especially if your suffering is the result of sin which must now be confessed to be cleansed (1 John 1:8–9). But often our speculative questions cannot give practical help.

So, we should focus on the practical. Now that we are in this place of suffering, what are we to do? How will God help us? How would he use us to help someone else? Jesus redeemed this man’s blindness by displaying his own miraculous glory, and then by leading the man to spiritual sight as well (v. 38: “the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him”). He will redeem our pain for his glory and our good. And he will use us to do the same for those we can help.

Become Jesus’ hands (vv. 4–7)

Now you and I join our story: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me” (John 9:4a). Note two words: “we must.” All of Jesus’ followers must “do the work of him who sent” our Lord. We are engaged in the same ministry which brought him to our planet. We are now the presence of Christ on earth, his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). How do we become Jesus’ hands?

With urgency: “Night is coming, when no man can work” (v. 4b). Night was coming for Jesus: “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me” (John 7:33). It is coming for us as well. None of us is promised tomorrow. We have only today to join Jesus at work.

When the night comes, “no man can work” (cf. John 11:9–10, 12:35–36). One day will be the last day. One hour will be the last hour. “Night is coming,” and all work is done. Love your Lord by loving your neighbor, with urgency.

In his power: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). The New Testament repeatedly testifies that Jesus is the spiritual light of a world darkened by sin (John 1:4–5, 9; 8:12). He is the light—we are his reflection: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

We cannot heal blind eyes, of course. But Jesus can. And so we share his power, his love, his hope. We pray for the one in pain. We share God’s word with the one who needs hope. We bring God’s love to the one in despair. We become Jesus’ hands, in his power.

At the level of need: “Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes” (John 9:6). We know why a first-century physician would do such a strange thing. Ancients like Pliny, the Roman scientist, believed that spit would cure snakes’ poison, epilepsy, lichens and leprosy, and neck pains. Saliva was highly esteemed as an ancient cure for illness.

Of course, Jesus did not need to use mud to heal the man. He healed other blind eyes without using spit and mud (cf. Mark 10:46–52; Matthew 9:27–31; 12.22; 15:30; 21:14). I think he used mud in this case because the blind man needed such assurance.

He probably knew Jesus’ action to be accepted medical practice. To our knowledge, he had no previous information regarding Jesus’ healing powers. Had the Divine Physician not acted as a human doctor, it is likely that his patient would not have accepted his cure.

The application to us is simple: meet need on its level. It’s hard to talk to a hungry man about his soul before we feed his body. Win the trust of the person you are called to help. Develop relationship—establish common ground—earn confidence. Connect with their suffering before you try to bring it to the Savior.

Call to faith: “‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (v. 7). Here we find the divine-human partnership at work once again. We do what we can do, and God does what we cannot.


Now it’s our turn to be the presence of Christ to our hurting world. Through this story, Jesus invites us to see the need and be his hands in meeting it.

Believe that God will use you, no matter how long takes. And he will.

John Patton was a missionary in the South Pacific in the early 1800s. After working for a year, not a single person had come to Christ. People attended his Bible studies and nodded approvingly but would not respond to his invitation to faith. He began to consider a move to another mission field, and prayed that the Lord would give him just one convert. If one man came to Christ, he reasoned, he could move on while knowing that the work would continue there.

For eight years he worked and prayed for that one convert. Then one morning, Patton awoke to see the entire population of the island, Twelve hundred people, assembled near his home. The chief said, “We are all ready to receive Christ.” Patton was stunned. He learned that tribal culture required that no one receive Christ until all were ready. He spent three days baptizing the twelve hundred converts. He had prayed for one to be saved, but God saved them all.

To open blind eyes, there is only one requirement: We must first open ours.

Touching the Face of God

Topical Scripture: Psalm 8

It’s been an interesting week for Mother Nature. The longest lunar eclipse of the century occurred nine days ago, though people in North America were unable to see it. Mars was closer to Earth last week than it has been since 2003. It won’t be closer to us for another 269 years.

The Moon and Venus were amazingly proximate to each other last month. And next Saturday, we’ll be treated to a partial solar eclipse, followed by the Perseid Meteor Shower next Sunday and Monday.

While the skies have been fascinating, the news from nature on the ground has been heartbreaking.

This week, there were sixteen active wildfires burning across California. One story was especially devastating: a man went to a doctor’s appointment, leaving his wife and their two great-grandchildren at home. A wildfire came up the hill to their back door. They called him for help, but he couldn’t get back in time. He was on the phone with them when the fire consumed their home and killed them.

From the floods on the East Coast to the extreme heat in the southwest and severe storms in the Midwest, the weather has been catastrophic. When the world God made turns deadly, it’s hard not to fault its Creator. If your new car breaks down, you’ll blame the manufacturer. Unfortunately, nature doesn’t come with a warranty.

We know that we live in a fallen world (Romans 8:22), that natural disasters didn’t happen in the Garden of Eden. But the Bible is filled with times God intervened in the world he made, from parting the Red Sea to parting the flooded Jordan River to stilling the Sea of Galilee. When he doesn’t intervene today, we ask why and wonder how we can trust him with the storms in our own lives.

The miracle of creation

Psalm 8 begins: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v. 1a). “Lord” translates YHWH, God’s personal name that he revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14). “Our Lord” translates Adonai, God’s collective name as ruler of all people and creation.

In other words, he is both our personal God and our universal King.

His “name” denotes his character. In this case, his character is “majestic” (the Hebrew means “magnificent, splendid, powerful”). It is so “in all the earth,” not just in Israel. In a time when people believed in territorial deities who ruled specific nations or areas, David knew that his God was the true Lord of the world.

Let’s think about the world God rules for a moment.

If we were standing at our planet’s equator, we would be spinning at a thousand miles an hour. (On the poles, we would be standing still but turning in a circle.) Wherever we are, we are on a planet that is traveling through space at 67,000 miles an hour.

Life on Earth ranges from bacteria so small that 13,000 of them would fit inside a single strand of human hair to redwoods that grow more than three hundred feet tall. And our God made all of that.

What’s more, he is Lord of the entire universe: “You have set your glory above the heavens” (v. 1b).

Imagine yourself outside on a clear night in the country. You may see a few hundred stars, but that’s out of several hundred billion in our galaxy.

And there are one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. As telescope technology in space improves, that number is likely to double to about two hundred billion. Not stars or planets, but galaxies.

Scientists estimate that there are one billion trillion stars in the observable universe. (That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.) And that number will increase as we can see further into God’s heavens.

Your Father made all of that.

The miracle of man

Now David turns his attention to us: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (vv. 3–4). It’s an excellent question.

Compared to the rest of his creation, we are amazingly fragile creatures. A human baby is completely defenseless, compared with ducks that can swim and horses that can walk shortly after birth. We are also the only species that sins against our Maker.

As Mark Twain observed, “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”

Nonetheless, as David continues, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (v. 5). Here he refers to angels who dwell above us in heaven.

God has crowned us “with glory and honor”—the phrase could be translated, “impressive splendor.” We are indeed impressive and splendid.

Your blood vessels, if connected in a straight line, would circle the globe four times. If your DNA were uncoiled, it would stretch from Earth to Pluto and back. There are more connections in your brain than stars in the Milky Way galaxy. There are 5,000 times more cells in your body than there are people on the planet.

In addition to making us, God made the world for us: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (vv. 6–8).

“Sheep and oxen” refers to domesticated animals, while “beasts of the field” points to wild animals. We are over the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and all that lives in the oceans. Animals, birds, fish—all are under our dominion.

According to a 2011 count, the natural world contains 8.7 million species of life. There are 18,000 species of birds, more than 5,000 species of mammals, and more than two million species of marine life. God placed us over all of this.

We have done nothing to deserve any of this.

Our place in God’s creative order is not the result of our merit, but his favor. He has given us the intellectual and physical abilities to fulfill his created purpose for us. We can no more take credit for our mastery over beasts, birds, and fish than we can take credit for our height or eye color. All is by his grace.

The miracle of grace

Then our Father demonstrated his grace even more miraculously. Not just by making our world or by making us, but by entering our world as one of us.

His Son left his throne in glory for our crown of thorns. He left the worship of angels for the ridicule of crowds. The One who made all of life chose to die.

The sinless Son of God became sin for us, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Now, because of his grace, we can have not just life but eternal life. We can live not just on this fallen planet but in his perfect paradise. We can know God not just as our Creator but as our Father.

All is by his grace.

What does the creative, miraculous, gracious love of our Father mean for us in a world filled with disease and disaster? It means this: we have a choice to make: we can choose to see our Creator through the prism of what we don’t understand about his creation, or through the prism of what we do understand about his creation.

We can lean into the disasters and diseases in our fallen world and hold God responsible for them. We can do this, even though the world is broken because of the Fall and human sin, not because of his providence (Romans 8:22). Since we don’t understand why he allows the storms of our world, we can decide not to trust him with the storms in our lives.

Or we can lean into the wonders and majesty of creation and glorify their Creator as a result. We can measure what we don’t understand by what we do understand. We can decide that a God who can make bacteria so tiny that 13,000 can fit into a human hair can care for us. We can decide that a God who can make a body with enough DNA to stretch to Pluto and back can design our lives. We can decide that a King who rules a universe with one billion trillion stars can rule us.

When we do, we’ll say with David: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”


John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was a young pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, killed in action during World War II. Among his effects was found this poem:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbled mirth

of sunsplit clouds—and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and

swung—high in the sunlit silence.

Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting winds along,

and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air,

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue, I’ve topped

the windswept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark or even eagle flew.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high

untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

So can we.

Touching the Garment of God

Topical Scripture: Mark 5:24–34

A woman finished shopping, went to her car, and found four men sitting inside. She dropped her bags, pulled her handgun, and yelled: “Get out of the car. I have a gun and know how to use it!” The men scrambled out of the car and ran off.

Relieved, she set her bags in the back seat, sat down behind the wheel, and pushed the button to start the car. But it wouldn’t start, no matter how many times she tried. She then looked around and realized this was not her car. It was the same color and model as hers, but four cars down the row.

Chagrined, she got in her car and drove straight to the police station to turn herself in. She explained to the sergeant what had happened. Laughing, he pointed to four men at another desk who were reporting that their car had been stolen by a lady with a handgun.

No charges were filed.

The woman thought the car was hers when it was not. This is a parable for creatures who think that the creation belongs to us when it does not.

Self-reliance is the path to success in our culture, or so we think. We are rewarded for initiative and self-sufficiency. The more we can do for ourselves, by ourselves, the more our culture applauds.

By contrast, the Bible commends the person who trusts God to be God, the sheep who follow their Shepherd, the sick who seek the Great Physician.

Why do you need to believe that “the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled” when you trust them to the Lord? Is there a problem you’ve been trying to solve yourself? Pain you’ve been trying to heal? A burden you’ve been trying to carry?

Today we’ll meet a woman who turned to everyone she could find before she turned to the one Person who could heal her.

Let’s learn how to make her faith our own.

“I will be made well” (vv. 24–28)

Our story begins: “A great crowd followed [Jesus] and thronged about him” (Mark 5:24). In their midst was “a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years” (v. 25). “Discharge of blood” translates rhysei, the typical word for menstrual flow. Hers had not stopped in more than a decade, however, leaving her anemic and severely weakened. Mark will later describe her condition as a mastix, which means “scourge, whip, lash, torment” (v. 29).

In addition, she “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” (v. 26). She “suffered much” (polys pascho, to experience much evil) and “spent” (dapanesasa, to waste, destroy, wear out) all her money, but her health continued to decline. The cures prescribed in the Jewish Talmud—carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a cloth, for instance—only made things worse.

In addition, her condition rendered her ritually unclean (Leviticus 15:19–27). She had not been to a house of worship in twelve years and likely had never been able to marry or have children. Imagine her feelings of isolation, helplessness, and hopelessness.

While she could not go to the temple of God, she could go to the God of the temple: “She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment” (v. 27). Some see this as a sign of humility, not wanting to stop or disturb the Master. More likely, it was the only way this “unclean” outcast thought she could approach a noted rabbi and healer.

She was confident in Jesus’ abilities: “For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well'” (v. 28). Her intention was to touch just the edge of his garment (Matthew 9:20; Luke 8:44), perhaps one of the four tassels at the corners of his prayer shawl (the tallit). She knew that by touching Jesus, she would defile him as well (Leviticus 15:26–27); perhaps she believed that she could brush the hem of his cloak in the crowd without detection.

The unnamed woman did the right thing—she brought her pain to Jesus. Like any physician, he can heal only those who submit to him. James warned us that “you do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2 NIV). What pain is he waiting to touch in your life today?

“Your faith has made you well” (vv. 29–34)

Mark’s narrative continues: “And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (v. 29). “Immediately” (euthys) is one of Mark’s favorite words, indicating the swift action for which his Gospel is known. The woman’s “bleeding” (pege, spring, menstrual flow) “stopped” (exeranthe, dried up, withered, analogous to a spring drying up) and she “felt” (ginosko, knew, comprehended, understood) that she was “freed” (iaomai, cured, healed) from her “suffering” (mastix, whip, torment). Mastix was used to describe the whip which Paul endured (Acts 22:24).

The woman probably wanted to fade into the crowd, but “Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?'” (v. 30).

Interpreters over the centuries have wondered about the meaning of this question. Some suggest that the Father healed this woman without the knowledge of the Son, whose knowledge of some issues (such as the timing of his return; cf. Matthew 24:36) was limited during his incarnation. More likely, he asked the question in order to engage the woman in further ministry. Just as God asked Adam and Eve questions to which he knew the answer (Genesis 3:9, 11, 13), Jesus asked for the woman to identify herself.

In a moment, we’ll see why.

His disciples did not understand his motives, however: “And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” (v. 31). Perhaps they were remarking at his sensitiveness in feeling a touch in such a crowded situation, but more likely they were objecting to the logic of his question. With so many pressing around him, why would he ask his question?

Jesus ignored their response, perhaps indicating that his question was not directed at them: “And he looked around to see who had done it” (v. 32). He “kept looking around” (periblepo, looking after, to hunt) for the person who had touched him and been healed.

As a result of his persistence, “the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth” (v. 33). She was “trembling with fear” (tremousa, to quiver with awe) as she fell at his feet and told him what she had done. Perhaps she was afraid that he would be angry with her for touching him and rendering him ritually unclean. Perhaps she was even more afraid that he would take back her healing.

Now our Lord came to the gift he had wanted to give the woman: “He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease'” (v. 34). “Daughter” translates thygater, found only here in the New Testament. Her faith had “healed” (sozo, to save) her; whenever this word is found in conjunction with “faith” (pistis), it conveys spiritual as well as physical healing (cf. Luke 17:19) and is the normal word for saving from sin.

Jesus had healed her body, but he wanted to heal her soul. When she came to him in honesty and humility, her faith positioned her to receive the eternal gift he wanted to bestow.

Note that the spoken Hebrew and Aramaic term translated by Mark into sozo was yashaw, a variant of Yeshua, Jesus. He had fulfilled his name, the One who would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He then told her to “go in peace,” a blessing which meant that she was right with God, others, and herself. After twelve long years, she had been restored to life in all its fullness.

The woman’s faith did not save her. Rather, it positioned her to receive what Jesus intended to give by grace. This pattern is repeated throughout Scripture: The priests’ faith in stepping into the flooded Jordan River (Joshua 3:15–17) did not cause the river to stop; it positioned them to receive the miraculous grace of God. The Jews’ marching around Jericho did not cause the fortified city to collapse; it positioned them to experience the power of God in its destruction (Joshua 6:20).

So it is with us: we are saved not by faith but by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). When we bring our pain and problems to God, believing that he can help us, we then receive all that he intends to give.

Is God waiting on a step of faith in your life today?

Five obstacles to God’s best

So long as the woman trusted in the doctors or in herself, she remained sick. When she turned to Jesus in faith and dependence, she received his best for her.

What is keeping you from bringing your pain to him today?

One answer is pride, our desire to do for ourselves what we need done. From the proverbial men who won’t ask for directions when we’re lost to the patient who trusts a self-diagnosis based on the internet rather than her physician, we all want to solve our problems ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we need what only God can supply.

Conversely, shame is a second answer. We’re not sure God would want to hear us or help us. Especially when our suffering results from our own sins and failures, we’re not sure that God wants to forgive us and heal us.

A third obstacle is a lack of faith. Perhaps God doesn’t work miracles anymore; perhaps he never really did. We live in a scientific day that dismisses the supernatural. It’s easy to wonder whether God will do what we cannot.

A fourth problem is a lack of persistence. Perhaps we’re different from the woman in that we’ve been touching the garment of God for days and perhaps even years, but he doesn’t seem to have helped us. Power has not gone out from him yet. He hasn’t turned and taken notice of us. Or so we think.

A fifth obstacle is insistence on our way. Perhaps God’s best for us is not what we wanted. Rather than healing our body, he seeks to heal our soul. Rather than give us what we want, he is giving us what we need.

When the Apostle Paul prayed three times for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” the Lord refused. Instead, he taught Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul testified: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Sometimes God calms the storm, and sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child.

The solution is to do what this unnamed woman did—bring our pain to our Lord and trust him for what is best. Keep praying, trusting, and depending. And know that he hears us and loves us and grieves with us and will always do what is for his glory and our good.

His timing is seldom ours, but his grace is amazing and his love is undefeated.


An anonymous Confederate soldier wrote:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn to serve. I asked for health, that I might do great things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for wealth, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might earn the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing I asked for, but all I hoped for. Despite myself, my prayers were answered. And I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

So can we be. This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.