A Conspectus of Christ"s Miracles
My purpose is to show the congruity of Christ"s miracles; to point out with what beauty and precision they accommodate themselves to one another; to indicate the family likeness of the miracles; how much soever they may seem to differ from one another, yet there is a central and all-uniting line bringing them into perfect congruity, and showing how possible it is in the midst of great diversity to have real spiritual unity.
Observe what is in the chapter. Here is a servant cured who was ready to die; a dead man raised to life whilst he was being carried out to be buried; an hour crowded with wonders, such an hour as probably never occurred before even in the history of Jesus Christ; and, lastly, a sinner forgiven, in connection with which a human heart was revealed to itself. Let us suppose all these miracles occurring just as they are found in this chapter: our immediate purpose is not to find precise dates, or to rectify chronologies if needful, but to look at the chapter as it is written for us in our English Bibles; and looking at it so to find out the congruousness, the moral unity, the benevolent and beneficent solidarity of the whole work of Jesus Christ. Note how we come into this gallery of miracles: by what door did we enter? If we knew it, we should find that the door itself is greater than any miracle it opens upon. The door is indicated in the first verse of the chapter—"Now when he had ended all his sayings." The speech was the great miracle; how it welled up out of the heart; how it brought a taste of eternity with it; how it sounded unlike all other music, and put all mere philosophy, speculation, and intellectual adventure to shame! How simple the sayings, but how profound! A child thinks he can carry them all; yet an angel cannot see the depth of their Wisdom of Solomon, or measure all the scope of their meaning. When we come to judge by right standards, we shall find that words are the greatest miracles when they are employed to reveal infinite Wisdom of Solomon, when they are set up as sanctuaries in which God himself is enshrined, when they are used sacrificially for religious purposes; for all words must be slain by the very deity they would convey, if they attempt to represent God. Truly we drag our eloquence to the altar to slay it and burn it by the message which we would convey through its tones. We do not, however, judge spiritually; we are still victims of our senses: to see the brilliant sight, to hear the startling sound, to observe the new phenomenon,—to these base uses do we drag ourselves. The time will come when we shall rather say, Blessed is he who is revealed in these words which constitute our mother tongue; wonderful is the might of God, that in words so familiar to us he can show us all the surprises of his love.
Notice the motive or line of reason which runs through the whole of this narrative. Jesus marvelled at the faith of the centurion, saying, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." It was more than amazement, it was gratitude; there were tears in his voice as he expressed this astonishment. He loves faith; he will do anything for faith. Believest thou that I am able to do this? Yea, Lord. Then take it all! said he. Christ withholds nothing from faith. That is the miracle he looks for. We cannot surprise him by genius, by brilliance, by boldness of intellectual conjecture and speculation, but we can surprise him by trust, faith, confidence. He looks for spiritual miracles. We can amaze him by our love. If we kiss his feet, he thrills with an infinite sensation of delight. When he praises, what does he commend? If we read the history of Christ aright, we shall be struck with the fewness of the instances in which he uttered commendation; but when we bring them together we shall see that they are all of the same quality. He praised a prayer: what was it? The Pharisee"s pompous self-defence? No. The publican"s self-abasement—"God be merciful to me a sinner." That prayer pleased the Son of God: it sounded like prayer; it was all prayer; it startled him into the utterance of eulogium. He praised a donation: what was it? The widow"s two mites: he saw so much in them, a whole fortune, an absolute devotion, a miracle of wealth. He praised a servant: in what terms did he commend him? In moral terms—"Good and faithful." Christ"s commendations are all on the same line, all directed to the same point, all rich with the same quality; and his commendation runs upon a line on which all men may stand. This is not a tribute to gigantic stature, to phenomenal genius, to occasional brilliance, to eccentric gift; it is a benediction pronounced upon actions which children can commit, which the common people can execute. When he saw the widow following her dead, "he had compassion on her." He is easily touched with the feeling of our infirmities; he could have looked upon all the Pharisees in the universe, and passed by them with an infinite disdain; but when we need him most, and cannot see him for our tears, he will move all heaven to help us. He was condescending to the weakness of his forerunner. When John sent a doubt to him he sent back a gospel; he said, I will perform a thousand miracles to heal this heart of doubt. In that hour—such was the lustrous focal point of the omnipotence of Christ—"In that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight." What a day of festival! What an amnesty was proclaimed that day! Not only that the men may be healed who were ailing in body, but that a man might be healed who was sick at heart, saying, in his imprisonment and darkness, After all, I wonder if this is the Son of God?
Then, finally, came his response to love. When did he say no to true affection? He gave the woman all she wanted—a new girlhood, a new morning, a new heart, a new conception of God. Observe that all these feelings are of the same quality—wonder, compassion, condescension, and recognition of love. Jesus never worked a miracle for the sake of working it. They were but miracles to the observers; they were no miracles to him. If "miracle" means surprise, alteration, unexpectedness, incalculableness, it would be impossible for Christ to work a miracle to himself; all the ministry of Christ is but miraculous on its human side, on the aspects which it bears to observers. Christ was no specialist. Observe what he did:—"Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised." The whole circuit of miracles is swept. There are men who are strong at points; they are men who rejoice in the name of "specialists,"—that is to say, they have made particular studies of particular diseases, and in the treatment of those diseases they have earned a very just reputation; but Jesus Christ was not a specialist, so we have infinite variety in his miracles—"blind," "lame," "lepers," "deaf," "dead." Jesus Christ did not treat symptoms, nor did he ever merely lessen human suffering, saying, Now the burden is not quite so heavy as it was; you are considerably relieved after this mitigatory treatment to which I have subjected you; you will be able to return home with more ease than you came from it. Jesus Christ never performed half a miracle; all his wonders are associated with the most perfect ease of action. He commanded, and it was done; his word was the miracle. He said, Let there be! and there was, so quick the change of tense and reality, of time and space and fact of every kind. Why? Because he penetrated to the heart of things. He said, The disease is at the centre; other men are looking at symptomatic changes, and are inferring from those changes what they can of the nature of the disease: the deadly disease is here, in the very heart, at the very core. So he touched that, and in the cheek there flamed red health, and in the voice there sang new energy and consciousness of power.
We ourselves can supply the conditions of the miracle. What were those conditions in this chapter?—need, faith, sorrow, love. Observe, there is a line of co-operation in all this action. So in nature we do something. Why rip up the ground? why sow the seed? why close the furrows? what are you expecting? We have buried this seed, say you, in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection. That we can also do in the Church. We can be working as if we expected a miracle, Jesus will never disappoint that expectation. He will say to us, What do ye here, building an altar, filling the trench with water, laying the wood, supplying the offering—what mean ye by all these things? And the answer Isaiah, We are expecting the descent of God: we know we shall realise it; nothing shall be wanting on our part; if this fail, the blame be God"s. When the Church speaks Song of Solomon, the Church will not be disappointed—when we leave the onus with God, when we can truly stand up and say, Nothing has been wanting on our part; we have prepared for a miracle, we have prayed for a miracle, we have been expecting a miracle, we have pledged God to a miracle, and all the jibing crowd is come to see whether God will answer prayer. Could we conduct the process in that spirit, in that high tone of reverence, with that sublimity of expectation, God would not be wanting on his part.
There is another line running through the narrative which in the blaze of glory may be entirely concealed; so to say, there is a deity higher than we have yet seen in these gathering wonders. What if the compassion was greater than the healing? What if the moral was grander than the miracles? We are surprised at miracles, as we have said, and Christ is surprised at faith. Is it nothing that the first miracle was done at a distance? Jesus never saw the first man who was to be healed; Jesus Christ did not go near the Prayer of Manasseh, did not observe him with the eyes of his body; and yet the man was healed. Distance is nothing to Christ; with God there is no distance. We ourselves are beginning to talk of annihilating distance, annihilating time and space: thus we grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; thus science brings us to the altar; thus we are trained to know the meaning of words which once were but symbolic, algebraic, charged with spiritual possibilities which we could not compass,—slowly, gradually, we are being brought round by all manner of lower education to be able to grasp in some degree great spiritual significations. Is it nothing that the second miracle was not asked for? Did the widow pray Jesus to help her? Poor sufferer, she could not: her heart was full, her throat was choked, her eyes were dim with the waters of sorrow; she never spake a word to Christ about the matter, and yet the miracle was done. There is mute prayer—an awful, silent, looking supplication. Sometimes we get beyond the region of words, and Jesus Christ looks at our attitude, listens to our breathing, numbers our tears, and says, Poor soul I he would ask me to-day for seven miracles if he could, but not a word will come to his dry lips; I will go to him, for he cannot come to me. The greatest miracle of all was not asked for. We get greater things for not asking than we ever get by supplication. The Son of God came to earth, not in answer to prayer, but in realisation of divine purpose and divine love.
The coming of the Saviour is the supreme miracle of the universe, and that was brought about by no man"s prayer. How much we get that we do not ask for! Who asks for sunrise, who asks for summer, in the broadest significations of these terms? Who asks for all the great benisons that are sent down from heaven for the warmth and comfort and culture of this little cold earth? Is it nothing that by the healing of others we are healed ourselves? To heal John"s doubt, Christ cured other men"s bodies. He sent John a whole galaxy of miracles, a gathering-up, a summation of phases of almightiness; not one miracle only, for that might have been misconstrued, but miracles at every point of the circle—blind, deaf, dumb, lame, widowed, palsied, dead; they could not forget that message; they might have confused one incident, but when a whole encyclopædia of miracle was wrought it would be impossible wholly to miss the point and accent of that great gospel. The same evidence is open to us. When we ourselves doubt, in some prison of darkness, go abroad into the world, and see the miracles Christ is working every day, and let the miracles done for others be miracles of healing in our own heart—of fear, or hopelessness, or doubt. Thus the miracle is twice wrought: first, wrought upon those who need bodily release; and, secondly, wrought upon those who need spiritual light and comfort. Is it nothing that Christ notices the neglects of our life and worship—the simple omissions with which we are chargeable? Hear how Jesus speaks to Simon:—"Thou gavest me no water.... Thou gavest me no kiss.... My head with oil thou didst not anoint." He went to be the guest of the Pharisee: did he notice what the Pharisee did for him? Everything; he knew everything that was on the table; he recognised it if he did not eat it. He does not like to be treated as if he were no one of particular dignity or consequence. He does not consume the feast, but he notices every little device of love. Thus he noticed what the woman did: "She hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.... This woman... hath not ceased to kiss my feet.... This woman hath anointed my feet with ointment." Jesus knows all we do. When we go out on errands for him in the snowy night, in the cold winter, in calculated secrecy so that nobody may know what we are about,—when we open our hand to give as if we were not opening it, but looking at something beyond, he puts it all down in his register; and specially does he notice neglect on the part of those whose neglect is not due to poverty. We may not insult Christ; alas, we may neglect him. It is not enough not to have blasphemed: our silence may be blasphemy; we may have omitted to sing, to praise God with a loud voice, to laud and magnify him with fearlessness of worship. Christ thus notices the negative aspects of our character; and herein he works a miracle as great as any of the wonders which startled us in the earlier parts of the chapter. He read the Pharisee"s heart; the Pharisee thought he was reading Christ"s spirit, and detecting in him inability to penetrate the character of another, when in a moment he turned upon him all the lightnings of creation, and Simon was revealed to himself. Notice the tender delicacies of love, the little attentions. The Pharisee gave Christ meat, but he omitted the water, the kiss, the ointment—the little things that finish with grace what was begun with large hospitality. It is in the detail that we discover our characters. The cabinet maker cannot furnish a house; he may put down all his mahogany and walnut, and the house is quite cold and bare; we must have little touches of colour, artistic devices, not necessarily representing wealth and great affluence of resources, but the woman"s touch, the gentle, simple thing, the new turning which only a skilled hand can give to a common object or article;—all these things that give fascination to home are done not with great broad rough hands, but with genuinely delicate fingers—delicate because the heart is charged with the courtesy of love. It is not enough that now and then the son has done some great thing for his mother—plunged his hand into his pocket and produced a handful of gold, and said with some roughness, Take that, and never charge me again with being unkind to you. The son was never unkinder than when he made that speech. The mother wants a thousand other things beside, or perhaps instead of, that glaring gold: a little sympathy, a little attention, a little consideration; a hundred things done for her without her attention being called to them, so that when she comes she finds that some one has been there to anticipate the wish, to be before her, to have all things ready for her. O thou generous Giver of all good, dost thou not set thy sun in the heavens before we awake? and is not thy glory standing there when we open our eyes? Thou preventest me. Thou goest before me with thy goodness.
Here, then, we have healed suffering, healed heartache, healed sin, and the healed sin is the greatest miracle of all. My friend, is thy sin healed? If the answer Isaiah, "Yes, by the grace of God," then be not ashamed of him who forgave it, but publish that sweet gospel everywhere: through the miracle wrought in thee another miracle may be wrought in some listening observer. Thus all the miracles of Christ fall into beauteous rhythmic congruity. In reality there was but one miracle, and that one miracle was himself.
As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth our soul after thee, O God—living, good, and wise evermore, gentler than all motherhood, and more majestic than all kingliness. Verily thou hast all things in thyself; thou commandest, and it is done; thou utterest the word, and behold what thou callest for is there, present in all its reality, to do thy bidding. Thou dost turn water into wine, thou dost turn common bread into sacramental food, and thou dost make all things new, yea, even new heavens and a new earth. But there is one renewal above all others we long to know, and that is a renewal of our own spirit. If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a new creature: old things have passed away; all things have become new. This is the newness we want to experience; then we shall see it with our eyes that are within, and feel it in all the outgoing and purpose of life. Thus thou dost deliver us from the power of monotony; thou art making new heavens and a new earth every day, did we but see the mighty creation as we ought to see it; and thou art renewing the inward man day by day by subtle ministries of spiritual assistance, did we but yield ourselves to the working of thy compassion. Thou dost work in many ways: the chariots of God are twenty thousand in number—yea, thousands of thousands; and thou comest into the heart as thou wilt, by many a door we know not of; thou hast access to our life in ten thousand ways: come by any one of them, only come; even Song of Solomon, Lord Jesus, come quickly! through our imagination, or our judgment, or our pain, or our contrition, or our expectation,—choose thine own way, only hear the sighing of the heart as it says, Lord Jesus, come! When thou comest the heart-house will be made beautiful by thy presence, and there shall be great hospitality, for thou wilt spread the table as with thy blood, and minister unto us of the wine of thy grace. Lord Jesus, come; come by healing our diseases, by satisfying our mouth with good things, by renewing our youth as the eagle"s, by giving unto us assurance of pardon whilst we tarry at the Cross; in thine own way do thou hasten to us, only hear us when we say, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 7". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany