The Purpose of Christ’s Miracles in His Epiphany
“These [miracles] are written that ye might believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that
believing ye might have life through His Name.”
— John 20:31
The word Epiphany means “appearing” or “manifestation;” and the holy Epiphany season on our church calendar marks the Lord Jesus’ manifestation of Himself to men here in this world as the Son of God, the long-promised Messiah and the Redeemer of mankind. The Epiphany of Our Lord or Epiphany Day is a “fixed” festival in the church year, occurring on January 6th and commemorating specifically Jesus’ manifestation to the Wise Men from the East. “We have seen His star in the east and are come to worship Him,” they reported upon their arrival in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:2). This particular manifestation to the Gentiles by means of a special star and the identification of that star in a prophecy of Holy Scripture (Numbers 24:17), a prophecy to which the Wise Men quite evidently gave heed for their information, is sometimes referred to as “the Gentiles’ Christmas.” — a manifestation of special significance to us who are non-Jews.
The remainder of the Epiphany season is devoted to other “manifestations” of our Savior in His office as our Divine Prophet, manifestations in which “He revealed Himself by word and deed” (Catechism Q/A 132a), that is, by His preaching and by His miracles, to be the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world. And so, in the standard Gospel lessons during the Epiphany season (one to six Sundays after the Epiphany of our Lord, depending upon the date of Easter), Jesus is manifested to us especially in narratives that, for the most part, center upon His miracles — culminating in the account of His glorious transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36) witnessed by Peter and James and John “in the holy mount” (II Peter 1:16-18). There the Father Himself manifested His Son to the disciples in a voice from heaven, “which [they] heard” (as earwitnesses), saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him.” That transfiguration, as well as Jesus’ other miracles of which the apostles testified during the course of His public ministry among men, were not “cunningly devised fables,” but were the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! The disciples saw what they saw as “eyewitnesses of His majesty,” and they heard what they heard as clear and certain manifestations of the Savior’s honor and glory as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world (Luke 9:31).
We commonly define a miracle as a phenomenon which defies scientific explanation on the basis of natural law, a feat of which man is incapable without divine assistance or empowerment, or a work that only God Himself can do. [Because of his avowed enmity against God and his efforts to destroy God’s works, we do not regard as true miracles supernatural works done by Satan and at his wicked behest, such as those performed by false prophets (Matthew 7:22-23) and those claimed particularly by the Papacy (II Thessalonians 2:9).] Indeed, for the “fool” who denies the existence of God (Psalm 14:1), for the skeptic who questions the validity of anything that cannot be empirically verified, and for the rationalist who subjects everything to the test of reason, there is no such thing as a miracle, only an occasional “unexplained” and “unsolved mystery.” In this “scientific” and “enlightened” age characterized by the worship of “self,” the arrogance of human intellect, the philosophy of “secular humanism,” and the denial of a personal God, every miracle from the creation of the world to the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either rejected out of hand or is reduced to the status of mere myth or legend.
And for the sectarian, who, contrary to his profession of Christian faith, truly accepts and believes John Calvin’s axiom that “the finite is not capable of the infinite” [finitum non capax infiniti], there is no real miracle either. The Reformed, therefore, categorically deny, for example, the real presence of Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, claiming that His body is locally enclosed in heaven and that His truly human, finite body is incapable of being really present “at once in many places” to be partaken of by countless communicants over twenty centuries. At the very same time, however, they show themselves to be grossly inconsistent by accepting as fact Jesus’ feeding of five thousand people out of a child’s lunch box containing a finite number of rolls and fishes and by acknowledging Jesus’ “beginning of miracles,” namely, the changing of over a hundred gallons of common wash water into high quality premium wine. “What difference does it make anyway whether Jesus really did such things?” some may ask. “Does the acknowledgment or denial of miracles constitute a ‘fundamental’ difference between Christians??”
The question itself reduces to the absurd the public ministry and prophetic office of Jesus Christ, as if His innumerable miracles (John 21:25) were meaningless, not only as to their effect upon those for whose immediate benefit they were performed, but also as to their salutary purpose for US, for whose benefit they were recorded (John 20:31). Was Jesus, in their view, the transparent side-show artist that King Herod Antipas regarded Him to be, who merely entertained people from time to time with “some miracle” (Luke 23:8)? Surely no one who holds such an opinion can be considered a Christian!
Moreover, those who either deny or minimize the importance of Jesus’ miracles seem to forget that Isaiah, over seven hundred years in advance, prophesied by inspiration of the Holy Ghost that the long-promised Messiah would be able to be positively identified by His preaching and by the very specific miracles which He would perform. Concerning the latter, Isaiah wrote: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Isaiah 35:5-6). Jesus pointed the disciples of John the Baptist to this positive identification of Himself as the very Messiah of God, the Savior of the world, when He told them: “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me” (Matthew 11:4-6). On another occasion, shortly after His temptation by the devil, in a Sabbath-day sermon in a synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus read Isaiah 61:1 and 2, in which the Messiah Himself speaks of His God-anointed prophetic office and says: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord….” And, in His exposition of this text, Jesus stated for all to hear, to “bear witness,” and to “wonder at,” this identification of Himself: “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:16ff.).
The Jews of Jesus’ day could not refute this prophetic evidence of His Messianic office, for Nicodemus, “a man of the Pharisees…a ruler of the Jews” admitted on behalf of his colleagues: “Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:1-2). Yet, in spite of this evidence, the Jews generally and especially their leaders rejected Him as the Messiah, rejecting also the word of the Gospel of which Peter reminded them in Acts 10:36ff, “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ –He is Lord of all; that word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him … to Him give all the prophets witness, that through His Name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” In fact, when the Jews challenged Jesus (John 10:24), “How long dost Thou make us to doubt? If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly,” Jesus Himself answered them: “I told you, and ye believed not. The works that I do in My Father’s Name, they bear witness of Me. …If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not. But if I do, though ye believe not Me, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in Me and I in Him” (v’s 25, 37-38).
This challenge of the Lord Jesus in His Epiphany to men, in His manifestation of Himself as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world, is before us still today: “Believe the works! They bear witness of Me!” For in His miracles the Savior not only demonstrated His merciful kindness toward those for whose immediate benefit they were performed; He also “manifested forth His glory,” as He did at the wedding in Cana (John 2:11), for His disciples to behold, “the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b). And those miracles had the desired, God-ordained effect, for “His disciples believed on Him.” The miracles are also recorded in the Scriptures for US, “upon whom the ends of the world are come” (I Corinthians 10:11). Jesus, of course, in His going about and doing good (Acts 10:38) during His public ministry, as a function of His prophetic office, did “many other [miraculous] things” than those written down in the Gospels, “which,” says John, “if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). That fact, in and of itself, is truly amazing! [Of bogus “saints,” whom the Roman Antichrist “canonizes” as mediators between God and men in direct competition with and contradiction of Christ’s High Priestly office, only two “documented” miracles– only two “signs and lying wonders”– are required by the “Holy Father” to take advantage of the “strong delusion,” created by God Himself in those who reject justification by grace alone, for Christ’s sake alone, through faith alone, “that they should believe a lie”! (II Thessalonians 2:9-12).]
But the purpose of CHRIST’S miracles recorded in Holy Writ is clear and indisputable: “These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31), the most salutary purpose of all. For His miracles have, for our sakes, validated Jesus of Nazareth not only as “the Mighty God” but as “the Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9:6), “the Holy One of Israel, [our] Savior” (Isaiah 43:3). The record of His miracles has thus been made a functional part of the Gospel message, “the power of God unto salvation,” through which the Holy Spirit operates in our hearts to “make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15). May we therefore treasure the holy record of our Savior’s miracles, value the manifestation of His glory to us, cling to the validation of His office as our anointed Redeemer, and ever confide in the forgiveness of all our sins by virtue of His perfect vicarious atonement!
Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest, and King supreme,
and at Cana Wedding-Guest
in Thy Godhead manifest;
manifest in power divine,
changing water into wine,
anthems be to Thee addressed:
God in man made manifest!
(TLH 134, 2)
— D. T. M.