May 30th Mark 5b “Miracles vs. Magic”

Note: Parking lot worship tomorrow at 10 am.  There will be special music by Carl Mathwig.  We will be praying for the Twin Cities and the whole hurting world.  Trust God!

Sisters and Brothers,

As the Gospel of Mark is a book that points us to Jesus, the miracles of Jesus reveal his identity.  The word “miracle” is understood and used in many different ways.  The first dictionary definition of miracle is “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.”  But it can also mean “an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something.”  So, we hear of the miracles of Jesus, the “Miracle on Ice,” the miracle of antibiotics, or even in the names of grocery products.  In fact, the word “miracle” (like the word “love”) is used in so many ways that it seems vague in meaning.

 A better definition of “miracle” for us would be “something impossible for a human being, but possible for the creator and sustainer of reality.”

We live in a world that is ruled by natural and scientific laws.  If you throw a ball, strum a guitar, burn a match, or water a houseplant, you get predictable outcomes.  If you pick up a rock and let it go, it falls.  If you swim in a lake, you get wet. 

The rules of our reality, what you could call natural and scientific laws, apply to all of the things that are part of this reality.  To fly, I can’t suddenly break the laws of nature, but I can use some of the laws of nature and build a hot air balloon or an airplane.  All of the “miracles” of science just use lesser known laws of nature to get the job done.  So I can see people from far away using a telescope or television, but they aren’t miracle because they are something we can do within the rules of science and nature.

In the case of the miracles of Jesus, they demonstrate that he is not “of this world” or even “this reality.”  The miracles aren’t there as a publicity stunt, but evidence that Jesus has authority (literal author-ity because he is God “in the flesh” and is the author of reality).  So when Jesus performs a miracle, he shows that he comes from beyond all that we know with our senses.  In contemporary terms, he is like an author putting herself in her own story, or a computer game designer inhabiting her own game.  Jesus doesn’t break the rules of reality, because he is the source of reality.

The problem with miracles is that they can be faked.  Illusionists, street magicians, and others do magic tricks that seem to break natural and scientific laws, but they never do.   Even in the ancient world, people faked miracles to win people over, but the Bible says that miracles can only be done by God and with God’s intervention.

Mark 5:21-34

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.  Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet.  He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him.

This first part of today’s passage actually is the beginning of a story that is completed at the end of the chapter that we will look at tomorrow.  We are not sure of the town in question, but Jesus is asked to accompany a synagogue leader to come at once.  The man is desperate and Jesus is ready to go with him at once.  Today’s main story occurs as an event that briefly interrupts the story of the little girl.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

This story may seem as if Jesus is almost a magical object.  Something that heals you just by touching it, but the Bible makes it clear that there are two miracles involved here.  The first is the miracle of faith, which is given to people to draw them to God, and the second is the miracle that God took on human form.  In part of his identity, Jesus is the healing power of God.  So she is healed by her faith through the reality of Jesus.

This healing story is grounded in reality.  We are told that she has seen many physicians who failed to heal her.  We also are told that she has had an issue of blood for twelve years.  This is almost definitely a gynecological problem, but a devastating one for a Jew of the time.  To be considered “clean” enough to worship God or visit his temple, neither men nor women were allowed any contact with blood (even their own) for seven days.  With a daily flow of blood, she would be forever isolated from worship. Her suffering was physical, emotional and spiritual.

It is easy to guess that she approached Jesus from behind because she was terrified, ashamed, or both.  She touched his cloak and was healed.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.  He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

So, Jesus, on his way to heal a little girl is startled by the woman’s healing.  He asks, “Who touched me?” and the disciples seem to find it a humorous question since the whole crowd is reaching out and touching him.  Then the woman fell at his feet and confessed to everything.  Jesus is not angry, but is glad to address her directly.  By saying, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering,” he is saying that he affirms this healing and that the woman did what was right.  He sends her on her way with a profound blessing.  Her suffering is over.

There may not seem to be much difference between miracles of God and magic, but they are completely different.  The miracles of God are encounters with holy and eternal things, things “beyond” time and space.  Magic is just tricks, illusion, and falsehood:  It is fine as entertainment, but terrible if it is used to manipulate gullible people.

The study of scientific and natural law is incredibly important.  We don’t have to reject science or any of the remarkable things it does for us.  Nature, too, has many lessons to teach us.  But science is about this reality of soil, trees, microbes, laws of motion, and all the rest we experience with our five senses. 

There is a website for the science departments at the University of California at Berkeley that lists the three assumptions of science:

  1. “There are natural causes for the things that happen in the world around us.”
  2. “Evidence about the natural world can be used to learn about those causes.”
  3. “There is consistency in the causes that operate in the natural world.”

Most of the time, we are in complete agreement with those three assumptions.  We live by them, too, but we believe that something greater than this reality is “outside,” eternal, and is the reason why there is a world here to appreciate.  Occasionally the “author” of reality intervenes and invades his creation.

One Christian writer wrote, ““The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.”  Miracles always have a reasonable explanation; and that explanation is the eternal God who is not limited by the laws of our reality because he made them all.

Many false miracles may be reported, but all real miracles are encounters with God, and expressions of a more permanent reality.

Questions to Ponder:  Do you sometimes experience God’s presence in nature?  Have you ever been witness to a profound miracle?

Blessings, Pastor Rick