In a drawer of my jewellery box, tucked right up the back, is a little stack of armbands. There used to be a lot more, but these days there are just three. They all have the same four letters stamped across them: WWJD. I grew up in the church in the 90’s, and boy were those bracelets huge in those days. They were about as popular as the ‘Footprints’ poem! They were a really nice idea, a way for youth especially to be reminded, in every situation, to stop and think before they acted: ‘What Would Jesus Do?’
For all their popularity, those little armbands had a huge assumption behind them. They assumed that we knew what Jesus would do. If I was completely honest with myself, my young self had no idea what Jesus would do in peculiarly modern situations, especially because I didn’t understand what Jesus really did in ancient situations. I just guessed that he would be nice to people. Which is not entirely true, and makes a caricature out of the Son of God. So, what I propose to do now is take a few sessions to look at who Jesus actually was: what he did during his time on earth, what his purpose was in that time, and what he means to us today. The first thing I will look at, is his miracles.
The Gospel of Mark makes a point of highlighting Jesus’ miracles; Mark spends far less time than the other Gospels on Jesus’ teaching, focussing in the first eight chapters on Jesus’ powerful, active ministry. The miracles show Jesus’ power over evil spirits (e.g. 1:21-28), lifelong disability (e.g. 2:1-12) and other sicknesses (e.g. 1:40-45), nature itself (e.g. 4:35-41), and life and death (e.g. 5:35-43). His miracles show us three things about him: that he is the Son of God, with God’s divine power and nature, that he is compassionate, and that he is focussed on the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus needed to confirm his identity for a doubting John the Baptist, he appealed, in Luke 7:22, to his miracles: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached.” John’s Gospel testifies that the miracles were signs of who Jesus is, and that many believed in his name because of them (John 2:23). Mark likes to sprinkle the miracles in his Gospel with little hints of Jesus’ full divinity. My favourite example is 6:45-56, when Jesus walks on the water. He “was about to pass by them” – strange to us, but reminiscent for the original readers of another time, when God “passed by” Moses in all His glory (Exodus 33:21-23). The miracles were not isolated incidents, but rather served as signs of just how amazing and divine Jesus was.
Another purpose they served was part of Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom of God. It is very easy to treat Jesus’ words and deeds as separate, but both his teaching and his miracles gave the same message: that the Kingdom of God, the ultimate rule and reign of God over all of the earth, was breaking into history. How can we say this? Well, look at what the miracles did for people. They weren’t just about physical healing, though that was obviously part of it. But they were also about social restoration. The woman subject to bleeding (Mark 8:25-34), for example, lived not only with the physical malady but also uncleanness, which barred her from participating in a great deal of the social and religious life of Jews at that time. The same is true for people with physical deformities, leprosy, demonic possessions; they were all suffering physically, socially, and spiritually. And Jesus redeemed them from all of those problems. His miracles gave people the wholeness that was intended for them from the beginning of creation, a wholeness that comes with being part of the full, final reign of God. And while we are yet to experience that in its fullest, Jesus showed that we can taste the Kingdom of God now, can live within its in-breaking right now.
The third point of the miracles was simply because of Jesus’ compassion. It can seem a little callous to only see the miracles with their grander purpose in mind, that is, to demonstrate Jesus’ divinity and the arrival of the Kingdom of God. But Jesus also performed miracles because he was responding with compassion to the suffering around him. Jesus’ healing of the man with leprosy is in three of the Gospels, but we focus here on Mark because of one little statement not found in Matthew or Luke. In Mark 1:40-45, Jesus healed a man with leprosy because he was “filled with compassion” (v. 41).
This is such an amazing taste of who Jesus is. Jesus is the divine Son of God, and therefore we can be confident that when we get to know Jesus, we get to know his Father as well. He is Kingdom focussed, wanting to enact restoration and bring about God’s final reign over all of heaven and earth. And finally, Jesus is compassionate, deeply affected by our pain and willing to share in our suffering.
PRAYER: Listen to the song and then spend some time praising Jesus
SONG: Jesus, What a Beautiful Name by Hillsong – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVgW8h_BhwM