Scripture Reading: Matthew 11:2-5, Isaiah 61:1-3, John 2:11, Matthew 12:28-42
Most of us have been there. It’s not just painful, but confusingly painful.
Didn’t God hear?
Doesn’t He love me?
Did I not have enough faith?
Why wasn’t it a yes?
These are the questions we ask when the miracle doesn’t come.
Perhaps it was the cancer that wasn’t cured, the chronic illness that never healed, the marriage that couldn’t be saved, or the money that didn’t come through. In the absence of a miracle, these stories about Jesus can be tough to swallow. They can even feel cruel. Why are they here, if not to tease us?
God knows we feel this tension, which is perhaps why He included Matthew 11:2-5 in His perfect Word. Here, John the Baptist asks Jesus if He is, in fact, the “one who is to come”—the Messiah. Jesus answers with a clear allusion to Isaiah 61: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up” (Matthew 11:4-5). He’s essentially saying, “Yes. All the things that were foretold, I am fulfilling them.”
Jesus’ answer to John tells us a lot about the purpose of His miracles: They are a sign of the prophecies fulfilled, a sign that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. They are a sign of His authority, His power, and His glory. And they are a sign of God’s love for us, a sign that we can trust Him.
But here’s what we shouldn’t miss about Jesus’ answer, because John certainly wouldn’t have. Isaiah 61 also says this of the coming Messiah: He will “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (v.1). It’s a message of hope for prisoners, which is exactly what John was; John received Jesus’ message while sitting in a prison cell. And yet, John the Baptist was never set free. Three chapters later, he’s beheaded. Scripture tells us that when Jesus got word of John the Baptist’s death, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13).
Our God is not indifferent to our pain.
Matthew 11:2-5 contains all the power and the glory and the complexity and confusion of Jesus’ miracles. It attests to Jesus’ divine identity, but it also attests to the reality that miracles don’t always come. In this tension, we learn more about what Jesus’ miracles mean.
Jesus’ miracles weren’t only about Him, but about the Kingdom to come. Tucked into every miracle we can almost hear God whisper, “This is what the Kingdom is like. It’s complete healing, total wholeness, freedom, awe, and joy.” Miracles provide a foretaste of this in-breaking Kingdom, but they were never meant to replace it.
We’ll never have the perfect peace and restoration we desire this side of eternity, but miracles point to the place where we will.
Whenever we read stories of miracles, and grapple with their surpassing mystery, we can do so knowing our God is not casual or removed from our pain. Jesus’ very presence on earth reminds us that He entered into it, experiencing the pain along with us. Jesus joined us in waiting for the Kingdom, longing for the day when the need for miracles will be no more.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom of two boys. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today and recently completed her Ph.D, which focused on cultivating the gifts of women in the church.