Epiphany 2013 E100 The Miracles of Christ

Sermon Date: 
6 Jan 2013
Bible Base: 
Is 60: 1-6, Matt 2: 1-12

David Jeans

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In the Church’s year, today is the feast of the Epiphany. The event we remember is the visit of the Magi to worship the infant Jesus. The word Epiphany itself means ‘manifestation’ or ‘revelation’. It had been shown to the magi that something important was happening in Palestine by the appearance of a sign in the sky. (there are various possible candidates from the point of view of astronomy – a comet recorded by the Chinese; the coming together of some of the brightest planets in part of the sky the Magi would have associated with Palestine; or a nova or supernova. There are several possibilities that would have been visible in the last years of King Herod).
The significant thing about the Magi is that they are not Jewish – God gives this first publicity about his intervention in the world through Jesus not to religious people, not even to members of the people of God, but to those outside the people of God (and highly dodgy ones at that). With theologically suspect Magi and socially unacceptable shepherds as the first witnesses to Jesus God shows himself to be much less fussy than we are – his good news really is for all sorts of people.
We thought we would resume the E100 journey through the Bible today, because our next theme – that of the Miracles of Christ – connects with that idea of Jesus being revealed, being made manifest, through the miracles that he did.
John in his Gospel sets out a series of miracles of Jesus that he calls signs. Some identify 7 signs in the first half of John’s Gospel:-
·         Water into wine at the wedding at Cana
·         Healing of a royal official’s son
·         Healing of a lame man on the Sabbath
·         Feeding of the 5000
·         Walking on the water in the midst of a storm
·         Bringing sight to a blind man
·         The raising of Lazarus from the dead
What are these miracles signs of?
Well, they each come out of a situation where humans have come to the end of their own resources some comparatively trivial (running out of wine at a wedding; not having enough food for the crowd); some tragically serious (blindness; being crippled for nearly 40 years; a dying child; a dead brother). To all of these situations of varying desperateness Jesus comes with the resources of God to change the situation. As signs they invite people to bring their own situations of reaching the end of their own resources to receive the resources of the living God. And as signs they demonstrate the compassion of the living God for human beings (and particularly for those in a mess) and they demonstrate the power of the living God to change things.
These particular signs also act as visual aids for Jesus who brings new wine and springs of living water; who is the Bread of life and the light of the world; and who is the resurrection and the life.
At the end of his Gospel John says this :
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The Gospel writers recorded the miracles of Jesus because they wanted their hearers to come to faith in Jesus and so receive new life from him.
Yet Jesus himself was more sceptical about miracles. In his temptation he rejected the use of spectacular miracles for their own sake; often when he healed people he told them to keep quiet about it. He often criticises people who constantly want him to perform signs to prove who he is. We need to remember that ambivalence of Jesus towards miracles as we think about them.
Many of us will have been wrestling with God about miracles over the last few months. We know that they do happen; but we also know that they do not always happen. We know that they seem to be selective and therefore they seem to be unfair. The story of the Magi is followed by Joseph being warned by an angel to flee to Egypt so that Jesus escapes from the massacre of the Innocents. Why didn’t God stop Herod and his soldiers, or tell the other dads in the area so that they could flee with their sons as well?
Some students of John’s Gospel have seen something which suggests an area to explore in our wrestling with this. They suggest that the first half of John’s Gospel focuses on signs – but they are signs which are limited to those who see them or who benefit from them. And the signs don’t actually have much impact beyond the disciples – most of those attracted by the feeding of the 5000 leave Jesus when his teaching gets too difficult; the healing of the lame man on the Sabbath and of the blind man also on a Sabbath stir up opposition rather than faith; the raising of Lazarus immediately leads to the plot to kill him.
John’s Gospel moves on from signs and miracles to the central thing which demonstrates God’s glory. And that is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Miracles affect people in small numbers; Jesus says of his death ‘when I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself’. Thomas witnessed most of Jesus’ miracles – but it was Jesus’ death and resurrection which led to him worshipping Jesus as his Lord and his God. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus which bring victory over sin evil and death. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus which is decisive in bringing about God’s purposes to bless all people and not just those who experience miracles.
The miracles of Jesus demonstrate to us his compassion and his power; they demonstrate to us that God’s resources can bring us through situations where our resources fail us. It is not wrong to ask for God’s miraculous help. But don’t expect the world to respond to miracles. It is by his cross and resurrection that Jesus will draw all people to himself. More of that next week.