The impact of Jesus of Nazareth on Western civilization is difficult to overstate. Our current calendar is divided into BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini—Latin for “in the year of our Lord”). Kenneth Scott Latourette’s carefully researched study,
A History of the Expansion of Christianity, chronicles the amazing influence of Christ’s life and teaching.
Down through history many religious leaders have made great claims for themselves. Why haven’t they had the same impact?
One answer is that Jesus’ claims were confirmed by His miracles. Supernatural signs accompanying His words placed Him in a category apart from all other religious leaders. It was the miraculous that confirmed a series of divine purposes.
To Fulfill Prophecy
Jesus’ miracles confirmed the appearance of the long-awaited, supernatural Messiah. For centuries the people of Israel had waited for the “anointed King” to deliver them from pain and oppression. Many prophecies recorded in the Old Testament anticipated the arrival of the Messiah who would deliver the people of God.
Careful examination of the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament) about Messiah reveals many correlations with Jesus of the New Testament. Here are just a few of the striking parallels:
• Born in Bethlehem (micah 5:2; cf. luke 2:1-7)
• Born of a virgin (isaiah 7:14; cf. matthew 1:18-23)
• Rejected (psalm 118:22; cf. matthew 21:42-43)
• Mocked (isaiah 50:6; cf. matthew 27:31, 39-44)
• Crucified (psalm 22:16-18 cf. matthew 27:35; john 20:25)
• Abandoned (psalm 22:1-7; cf. mark 15:34)
• Atoned for sin (isaiah 53:5-7; cf. acts 8:30-35)
• Resurrected (psalm 16:8-11; cf. acts 2:25-32)
• Ascended (psalm 110:1; cf. acts 1:9-11)
Countless people have come to faith in Jesus by considering the scriptural evidence. His miracles fulfilled the supernatural predictions of the life, death, and resurrection of the promised Messiah.
To Authenticate His Claims
Jesus’ claims to forgive sins and give everlasting life were bound to create questions. No confession was more important to an Israelite than the words of Moses, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (deuteronomy 6:4). Jesus’ claims implying His oneness with God convinced many religious leaders that He
His Divine Nature. Many who saw the miracles of Jesus were convinced that the long-anticipated Messiah of Israel had come. But when Jesus began talking about Himself in terms that belonged to God alone, many found they could no longer follow Him.
In John 10:30-39, we are told that some even took up stones to kill Him. Jesus’ reaction was interesting:
Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him (vv. 36-38).
Jesus acknowledged that the crowds would be justified in rejecting His claims if He couldn’t back up His words with the power of God. But because they were seeing miracles, He challenged them to believe their own eyes as a first step in coming to faith in Him.
His Ability To Rescue. If Jesus, the Creator of heaven and earth, came to earth to rescue us (john 1:1-14; colossians 1:13-17), we shouldn’t be surprised that His greatest miracle is related to that mission—a miracle that confirmed His success.
Shortly before He was arrested and put through a trial that would lead to His execution, Jesus said to His disciples, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also” (john 14:19).
Within hours, those same disciples abandoned the One they had known as a miracle worker. In the worst and darkest moment of their lives, they watched their Rabbi and Messiah die a terrible death on a Roman cross.
Then came the event that changed everything. Three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, He rose from the grave.
Only after Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to see that the prophets of Israel had anticipated His suffering and death to atone for sin (luke 24:25-27, 44-47) did the reality of what had happened settle in the minds of His disciples. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was proof-positive that He could rescue His followers too.
His Promise To Return. Before His death and resurrection, Jesus told His disciples that their relationship with Him was about to change. On the night before His betrayal, in a place described as the upper room, He explained that it was necessary for Him to go away to prepare a place for them. He assured them, however, that He would return to bring them to His Father’s house (john 14:1-3).
In a final meeting on the Mount of Olives, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit who would make them witnesses to all the world of what they had seen. Then, “While they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (acts 1:9).
The significance of Jesus’ last miracle is important. If He had just walked out of His disciples’ lives, they would have been confused about where He had gone. But by allowing them to witness His ascension into a cloud, He confirmed His promise to return in like manner. Luke wrote:
While they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (acts 1:10-11).
To Show Compassion
Jesus’ miracles also revealed His heart. They showed the compassion that was a mark of the long-awaited Messiah of Israel—the embodiment of God.
In the seventh century BC, the prophet Isaiah had written:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (isaiah 61:1-2).
Many centuries later, Jesus read these words at the beginning of His public teaching and added, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (luke 4:16-21).
Jesus was the Messiah that fulfilled Isaiah’s prediction. He would be the One to announce good news to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted.
Compassion for the Bereaved. In the city of Nain, Jesus and His disciples came upon a funeral procession. A brokenhearted widow had just lost her only son.
When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother (luke 7:13-15).
A cold corpse miraculously became a living, breathing person once again. Not only was a mother’s grief turned to joy but the miracle also shocked the crowds and became big news around the region.
The literal meaning of the word compassion indicates that Christ’s “heart was moved by” this grieving mother. He told her not to cry. Then He gave her back her son. The Messiah cared about the brokenhearted.
Compassion for Outcasts. In the days of Jesus, leprosy ravaged bodies and turned victims into social outcasts. By law, those with the disease had to shout out, “Unclean!” as they entered the presence of others.
In the region of Galilee and Samaria, Jesus encountered 10 lepers. Standing at a distance apart from the crowd, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus heard their desperate calls for help and gave them back their lives by healing them (luke 17:11-14).
Of the 10 leprous men who were healed, one had an additional stigma. He was a Samaritan. Samaritans were regarded by the Jewish people as racially and spiritually unclean.
Ironically, the Samaritan was the only one of the 10 lepers who returned to thank Jesus and glorify God. He had experienced a miracle of compassion that did more than heal his body. He had seen the heart of Jesus reach out to him across boundaries of racial and religious prejudice.
Compassion for Gentiles. As we read the New Testament, we see that Jesus spent most of His time with His Jewish countrymen. His mission, however, had global implications. From the days of Moses, the prophets of Israel made it clear that Messiah would fulfill God’s promise to bless the whole world (see genesis 12:1-3).
A Syro-Phoenician Woman (mark 7:24-30). This account tells us of a mother who asked Jesus to deliver her daughter from demon possession. At first look, Jesus’ response sounds heartless. To her desperate appeal, He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (v. 27).
In response to Jesus, the Syro-Phoenician woman replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs” (v. 28). Moved to compassion by her faith, He healed her daughter, and in the process He reached beyond the borders of Israel.
A Centurion (matthew 8:5-13). Because first-century Israel lived under the heavy heel of Roman authority, it’s interesting to see the way Jesus responded to a Roman military officer who came to Him on behalf of his ailing servant.
When Jesus offered to go to the man’s home, the centurion indicated that he was not worthy of such a visit. Instead, being a man who understood authority, he asked Jesus merely to say the word and his servant would be healed. The text indicates that Jesus marveled at the centurion’s faith and healed his servant. Once again Jesus bridged human boundaries and showed the love of God for all.