Miracle Notes

According to my NIV study Bible, Jesus performed 35 miracles. You can read the list at pages 13-14 of this link. (He also told 32 parables, by the way — see page 12 of the same link.)

As I count them, 26 of those miracles involved healing of one sort or the other. That’s 74 percent! There were also 2 that involved feeding a large crowd (I think that the 1 miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding can be put into the same category); and four that involved helping Jesus’ fishermen apostles, 2 by helping them to catch fish and 2 with braving a storm, either calming one directly or walking on water during one.

That’s 33 of the 35: The common denominator is that all are unselfish and all show that God loves us and wants to help us to live — and that His love is all-powerful, able to overcome anything, including even death.

But there remain two more miracles, and they seem a little less straightforward to me.

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The first is recounted only in Matthew (17:24-27):

24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

I think we’re to assume that Peter finds the coin in the fish, otherwise there would be no miracle; also, I’ll note that if this fish native to the Sea of Galilee is what’s now sometimes called St. Peter’s fish and other times tilapia, then I’ve read that it does indeed have the habit of swallowing shiny objects.

But what are we to make of this incident? I think Jesus is saying that it’s ridiculous for the religious tax collectors to ask God to pay their tax, but that as a courtesy He and Peter will pay it — and, what’s more, He’ll help Peter find a way to pay the tax painlessly.

The point is that we should avoid needless arguments, and that God will help us find a way to do so smoothly. This seems to me to be somewhat akin to Jesus’ more famous injunction to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s, and maybe also (in not exactly the same way) to Paul’s advice to avoid creating needless stumbling blocks for those who may be less mature in their faiths. Note that we are not being told to go-along-to-get-along by actually committing a sin; rather, we are being told to be modest about our own (greater) spirituality if that’s what’s needed to help (less advanced) others along.

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The remaining miracle is recounted in both Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-14, 20-24. The latter is longer and leaves out nothing that is in the former, and it provides some important context, so I’ll quote the Mark version, along with the intervening verses that provide that context:

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

It seems unlikely that the temple cleansing in-between the two sets of fig-tree verses is irrelevant to their interpretation. The natural conclusion, then, is that Jesus views the religious establishment that has sanctioned the temple’s corruption as analogous to the barren fig tree: It promises to be good but isn’t, and so it will be punished by God. What’s more, the virtuous who struggle against the unvirtuous will receive any help that they ask for from God.

And I’ll note finally that Jesus must have thought this an important message to send to Peter and the rest of the disciples, because He performed a miracle to drive home the point. And indeed it was: At this time in His ministry, Jesus had made His final entrance into Jerusalem, His crucifixion at the behest of the religious establishment was imminent, and His disciples would soon be called upon to advance the Word of God on their own.

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So if you consider all the miracles together, the message is that God loves us, that He also wants us to love and help one another, and that He will use His awesome power to help us in our struggles to do His will.