What enabled Jesus to minister in supernatural ways? The answer might be very different than you think. And it has far-reaching implications for how we follow Him.
The Standard Answer
Most Christians believe that Jesus performed miracles by using His power as God. That is the usual interpretation of the accounts of Jesus’ miracles when He healed, multiplied fishes and loaves, and raised the dead, walked on water, and so forth. He was proving that He is God in the flesh. I have believed that most of my life–until recently.
That Jesus is fully God is clearly taught in Scripture. But the assumption that Jesus’ miracles were fundamentally the display of His divine nature seems shaky when we look at what Scripture actually says. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus does not appear to be anxious to prove His identity as God. We don’t hear Him say anything like, “You bone-headed Pharisees! You don’t believe I’m God? Watch this! Furthermore, onlookers generally did not walk away from a miracle concluding, “Wow, He must be God after all!”
Most importantly, the proof-of-deity explanation is hard to reconcile with Jesus’ own statement in John 14:12: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” For this statement to make sense, we who are Jesus’ followers must have the same source of power that Jesus had. Since godhood is not open to us, then following Jesus, doing greater works than He did, must involve being like Him in a very different way.
Doctor Luke’s Answer
Dr. Luke has a lot to say on this subject. He writes that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2). After His temptation “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (4:14). Upon His return, He stood in the Nazareth synagogue and read from Isaiah 61, which begins, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” and then goes on to describe the miraculous ministry of Messiah. Jesus then closed the scroll and boldly claimed to the hometown crowd that He is the fulfillment of that Scripture. A few verses later, He begins doing miracles.
Jesus ministered in supernatural ways in His human nature, empowered entirely by the Holy Spirit. He intends for us to do the same. This conclusion is the only way I have found that makes sense of Jesus’ promise in John 14:12. It is a truth known to conservative theologians. For example, Charles Ryrie, in his book Basic Theology, acknowledges it at least in part. But it has not entered popular Christian consciousness.
Accepting this requires us to rethink what it means to be like Jesus. “What would Jesus do?” might be a good starting point, but stops far short of where Scripture leads us. Following Jesus is not done merely by imitating the ethical lifestyle of a long-dead historical figure.
We know that much. Even so, much of our disciple life appears to be drained of the supernatural. A prime example is the way we routinely treat spiritual gifts. The obviously supernatural ones are widely dismissed as having ceased. Others are redefined as natural skill sets that mostly make church programs run smoothly.
What does supernatural living look like?
Yet, all true spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:7), and therefore supernatural. So when they are exercised, there ought to be something about them that we really cannot explain. If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to acknowledge that is relatively rare. I am not referring to “expect-a-miracle-every- minute” nonsense. Neither do I want to discourage anyone from showing mercy, helping, teaching, etc., just because she or he doesn’t sense a supernatural moving. Keep doing those things as obedient living for all Christians.
I am saying that we should begin to look for the Spirit to empower what Jesus promised: “the works I do . . . and greater works.” George Mueller, a man known for his answered prayers, denied that he had the gift of faith. He said that what he did was what Jesus wanted everyone to do. That’s raising the bar isn’t it? Yet the Spirit’s gifting invites us to a higher level.
Here are a few suggestions to start moving in that direction.
- Be filled with the Spirit. Jesus explained how to do this in John 7:37: Be thirsty, come to Me, drink, and out of you will flow rivers of living water. He was speaking of receiving the Holy Spirit.
- Consider the possibility that gifts such as miracles and healing are still given by the Spirit to believers.
- Expect all the Spirit’s gifts to show up in supernatural ways.
Jesus ministered in miraculous ways as a man full of the Spirit. He desires the same for us. Let’s embrace that with anticipation.