Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
March 3, 2019
Text: Luke 9: 43, O.T.: Exodus 34:29-35, N.T.: Luke 9:28-43
Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually by people around the world to see miracles. Despite secularism driving modern life away from religion, millions pay money to see miracles. We spend such money knowing that what appears miraculous is generated by computers, make up artists, film editors, and producers.
Movies present the illusion of miracles. Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, Transformers, Marvel Characters present creatures and people whose deeds are beyond natural ability.
We know these supernatural movie characters are created by human imagination. They’re fantasies. We know this when we go to a theater. We expect this. The modern mind separates fantasy from reality.
Yet women and men, boys and girls secretly want miracles in a world of scientific reality. We have a deep desire to transcend our reality.
Miracles are the ultimate form of transcendence.
Our fascination with miracles is a quest for power. We want power over reality. We want power to change our reality so we can transform what is unpleasant into something that is pleasant, wonderful, miraculous.
One of our experiences in aging is accepting our natural limits. We can’t fly through the air with our own abilities. We can’t vaporize enemies with a brilliant stare. We can’t lay our hands on wounds and heal them.
Eventually we realize the immortality we thought we possessed at a younger age is a fantasy. We realize we aren’t masters of our own destiny. We can’t will our imagination into reality. We can’t transcend our humanity.
Yet the modern mind believes we can achieve the miraculous. We don’t accept reality. We want to overcome reality. Science is the means to make possible what earlier generations thought was impossible.
Flight was once the product of the mythological imagination. Today, we fly. Atoms were once a hypothesis of ancient conjecture. Today, we see them with technology.
Knowledge has made routine what was once impossible. There’s little room for God’s miracles. Today great Christian theologians question the Transfiguration, let alone Jesus’ miracles.
The Presbyterian fundamentalist/modernist controversy from the early twentieth century was in part a dispute over Jesus’ miracles. The biblical presentation of Jesus having power to perform miracles was not just questioned, it was rejected by theologians who found it irrational, unbelievable, impossible.
The Enlightenment and its trust in human reason had stripped Jesus of His divinity – His ultimate power to transcend reality.
It has been 90 years since that controversy tore apart the Presbyterian Church. Today, we live in its shadow. We’re far more content seeing miracles on movie screens than believing that the earthly Jesus had the power to heal. It’s easier for us to doubt the Transfiguration and Jesus casting out demons than it is for us to believe an unexplained healing is from God’s own hand.
Friends, faith in a Jesus who is incapable of transforming our reality is faith in a human being who is not divine. Such a Jesus is not the Christ.
There’s no greater group of people who were and remain skeptical about a human being having miraculous powers than the Jews. They were surrounded by religions whose priests used magic to give the illusion of miracles. They rejected as superstitious Zoroastrian, Egyptian, and Roman soothsayers with their divinations and incantations.
They rejected Caesar’s divinity to fight two wars against the greatest military power of the world. They saw the gulf between humanity and God to be so great that no human being was capable of the eternal God’s majesty. Only the eternal author of the universe possessed the power to perform miracles.
Only God’s majesty could save a people from destruction. Only God’s majesty could free His people from the reality of bondage. Only God’s majesty possessed the power to feed the hungry when there’s no food to be found. They learned all this about God’s during the Exodus from Egypt.
So when Jesus performed miracles, He faced an audience that was as skeptical as any Presbyterian modernist from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Jesus’ own people did not have the benefit of Enlightenment reason. Jesus’ own people did not have the educational background of college and university training of the past three centuries.
What first century Jews did have was a clear and uncompromising sense that only the eternal God was capable of doing the miraculous. Only the one true God could change nature’s course. Only Almighty God could save His people when death and disaster loomed from opposing armies. Only the merciful and gracious God could miraculously feed the hungry in the desert reality of life.
The Jews could have explained these events as the results of gifted humans whose ingenuity made possible the impossible. But they knew better. They knew what had happened to Israel and the Jewish people could only have come from God.
These miracles proved God’s purpose and God’s presence. They were evidence of God’s majesty that could not be equaled by human effort.
When Jesus was Transfigured and when Jesus healed the epileptic lad, Peter, James, and John had been trained to not believe that humans could perform miracles. They were clear, only God could do such things.
Yet, here they were seeing a vision beyond their imagination, and watching a boy writhing on the ground, relieved of his suffering by Jesus.
The vision was extraordinary, transcending reality, like that of Moses before the burning bush, Constantine before the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Saint Francis of Assisi in his garden, or, Joan of Arc in war-torn France.
But the healing was evidence of power beyond human ability. It was the majesty of God.
Later, in the fourteenth century, Julian of Norwich came close to re-experiencing the combination of the Transfiguration and the healing of the epileptic boy. She was on her death bed when several visions of Christ came to her. Suddenly she recovered. Others saw her recovery. Her health was restored and she became the first woman to write a book in the English language, describing her 16 visions of Jesus that led to her healing.
You would think today, that our advanced knowledge has ended our passion for miracles. It hasn’t. You would think today, there is a scientific answer for every unexpected healing in hospitals. There isn’t. You would think today, there is a natural cause for every unpredicted change in nature that clears the way for the impossible. There can’t be.
George Patton didn’t count on the might of his Third Army to defeat the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. He needed God’s intervention amid that December blizzard. He sought a chaplain to pray for clear skies. Clear skies came the next day and God’s majesty shown in glory.
As a minister I have spoken to many hospital physicians through the years. They see things not in text books that contradict diagnosis and surpass treatment. Those who are humble admit they or their knowledge wasn’t responsible for a healing. They have no answers to explain the unexplainable. Those who recognize the limits of human healing skills give the glory where it belongs – to God.
Several years ago a healthy twenty-two year-old went to the hospital with the shut-down of his kidneys. A week of testing revealed he had no illness. Yet his kidneys had quit working and he was put on a transplant list. That night his mother prayed with me for Christ’s intervention. The next morning his kidneys were restored. His physicians were speechless. This is just one example of many that I have personally seen in 30 years of ministry.
God, O God, how majestic is your name through all the earth!