John’s gospel was written with a very specific purpose in mind: “… so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” [John 20:31].
So, the selection of material that John reports seems to me to be an odd choice in achieving that purpose. We know from John’s own words – and from the other gospels – that Jesus was a miracle-worker without peer.
John himself wrote in the very last verse “… there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
So why would he choose to report only seven miracles? And why would the first two miracles that he reports be ones performed out of sight of all but a tiny handful of people?
I ask these questions because I’m disturbed by trends I see in the modern church. There appears to be a growing hunger for signs and wonders – although this is not really a new phenomenon (see for example Acts 8:9-19].
It seems that too many Christians are seeking the spectacular at the expense of the word of God. Sadly, this includes many people I consider good friends.
Jesus Himself – miracle worker par excellence – was critical of these curiosity seekers in the passage we studied yesterday [John 4:43-54].
Jesus arrived in Galilee from Samaria, and experienced a very different reception there than He had enjoyed amongst the Samaritans.
The Samaritans were eager to hear what He had to say; “Many more believed because of what He said. And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world” [John 4:41-42].
Contrast this to how the Galileans came to Him, hoping to see Him perform miracles. Jesus rebuked them; “Unless you (plural) see signs and wonders you will not believe” [John 4:48].
This was not the only time Jesus was challenged to perform a miracle before people would believe in Him. Remember when Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the Temple? … “the Jews said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” [John 2:16-18].
Or later, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? [John 6:29-30].
Thomas – poor old “doubting Thomas” – needed a sign too. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” [John 20:25].
Eight days later, Jesus appears to Thomas, and tells him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” [John 20:29].
There is a warning in all this for us today. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, John tells us, “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him…” [John 11:45]. But where were all these “believing” Jews when Jesus was on trial? Shouting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Right through John’s gospel, there is an emphasis on believing based on the word Jesus spoke and on the Scriptures. Why is that not enough for us today? Why is it so difficult for us to believe God’s word without needing to see something spectacular?
The problems is, signs and wonders rarely bring about saving faith; they are not designed to do that. At best, they stir interest and open doors. At worst, they distract from truth.
The gospels show us that miracles don’t have the power to save. How many disciples did Jesus have left at His arrest and execution? “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him” [John 13:37].
Friends, if we are truly concerned about the salvation of our family and friends, we need to bring the word of God to them. For “… faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” [Rom 10:17].
The history of the Church is that of growth and strength through the proclamation of the Scriptures, which point unerringly to Jesus Christ.
For it is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation. If we miss this, we miss the point of the whole Bible, and we do our friends a disservice.
Which, terrifyingly, we will one day have to answer for…