John 5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 5:2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. 5:3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 5:4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. 5:5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. 5:6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? 5:7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. 5:8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. 5:9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
It is easy to ready the collection of scripture and find yourself witnessing the miraculous almost on every page (especially in the Gospels), yet, when we look around us today, it is often few and far between where we see miracles. Some have determined that miracles don’t happen today because they were for a different group. Others would suggest that when miracles do happen, it is the work of Satan to distract the believer from faith into walking by sight (I might recommend if you take this view to read Matthew 12:22-32 where the Pharisees made the same accusation and what Jesus said about it). Still, others see miracles in everything – even when there are bonus fries at the bottom of the bag. But, as it relates to us, I think there are two things to consider to help keep us from getting distracted by circumstance.
First, the Gospels are concerned with presenting how it is that Immanuel is reality – God is with us. When you watch Jesus’ life in the Gospels unfold, it is a demonstration of what the world looks like when God is indeed with us – there’s healing, peace, deliverance, forgiveness, acceptance. This is the thematic and narrative account of Jesus Christ. Even though a flip of the page can seem like you are bouncing scene to scene, it can give a false sense of the passage of time. John writes that if all that Jesus did was recorded, the world couldn’t contain the books that would need to be written. (John 21:25) What we have is a snapshot that takes us from God coming to earth, taking on flesh, bringing kingdom to the outcast and His ultimate conquest over sin and death through His death, burial and resurrection. Therefore, our mission with the Gospels isn’t to extract demands that the Gospels aren’t actually presenting. In other words, I can’t conclude – there are miracles on every page, so why don’t I see it today–or, why don’t I see it as frequently as I read them in the Gospels? A summary will by nature be a consolidation of time, and likewise, if the authors have certain themes they are more interested in highlighting, then it is possible that the author will group things together without respect to time (as Matthew does especially) – meaning, to the author, the when is not as important as the what or how. So, if you are approaching the record looking for timing expectations that you can extrapolate to our modern day, you could absolutely walk away with a false sense of what’s going on.
Secondly, how should we temper our expectations of the miraculous? We know it happens, but how should we expect it to happen? I don’t know that I have this all figured out (assuming God’s divine work is ever something for man to figure out – a la Psalm 8), however, what I notice about the passage in John 5 (posted above), is that MULTITUDES were brought to this pool in hopes of healing. Jesus sees ONE man who had been lame for 38 years. He heals this one man. (perhaps a call back to the additional 38 years Israel was wandering in the wilderness after they failed to go into Canaan the first time?) But, what of the multitudes? Have you ever noticed this? I think it would be dangerous to conclude that some are more important to Christ than others – that certainly isn’t the case. However, there was something about this particular healing that was part of Christ’s purpose, likewise in not healing the entire multitude. What this shows me is that there are instances where God’s work may not make immediate sense, but whether or not it makes sense isn’t the point. Indeed, when we consider the heavens and the works of His hands, what is man, that He is mindful of him? The heavens declare the glory of God and there is no language where their (the heavens’) voice is not heard. We have a constant testimony in the heavens, witnessing to the greatness, majesty and power of God. The presence or absence of a miracle should in no wise be our litmus test for God’s ability because the heavens declare His ability. Yet, at the same time, when it doesn’t make sense why healing or miracles don’t seem to happen, there is also an element of trust and recognition that must govern our expectations. In Romans 9, Paul asks, rhetorically, does the pot question the potter? Does that which is created question the motives of the creator?
Romans 9:20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
I would never suggest that God purposefully created folks to live in a state of suffering as His purpose has always been new creation – renewed and redeemed. However, God certainly allows suffering to exist for probably more reasons than we can fathom. What all of this teaches me is that He is bigger, much bigger, than my sphere of life and whether it is by witnessing the miraculous or not witnessing it, every morning His mercies are still new and His faithfulness is still great. The ability for me to understand His doings isn’t the issue – the determination to trust His doings is the point of it all. Paul saw that the judgments of God were unsearchable and His ways are past finding out, yet he praised Him for that fact. (Romans 11:33) Paul didn’t bemoan that he couldn’t figure it all out – he praised God because he couldn’t!–mediate on that notion! There’s more here on this topic that I think we could consider, but for the sake time and space, what I’m seeing is that our approach to the scriptures should have proper expectations and to not take the numerous accounts of the miraculous and draw conclusions about what we should be experiencing or even begin making demands of God–again, the pot doesn’t have power over the potter. Likewise, we should be grounded that despite if we are the one at the pool that gets healed or if we are in the multitude that doesn’t, either way, the heavens declare God’s glory – His faithfulness is great – and His doings are beyond our comprehension. Trust Him.