Have you ever wondered why Jesus often did strange things when He performed miracles? Why, for instance, did He put His fingers in that deaf man’s ears, spit, then touch the man’s tongue? Why would He raise a girl from the dead, but then order that no one should know? Is Thomas’ problem really that he doubts, or is there something better going on?
What if there was a way you could understand these odd details? And what if, in understanding them, you discovered things about Jesus that you had never noticed? What would that be like?
Find out by reading More Than His God Card: What Jesus Wants You to Know About Him as Revealed in His Miracles, a new book written by Brian Onken and published by Ambassador International. Onken believes that Christians typically misread Jesus’ miracles merely as a “God card” that He pulls out to prove His identity. Seen that way, all the miracle accounts only restate the same point. But Onken believes Jesus wants us to know much more about Himself, much that many of us have missed.
An Unusual View
More than His God Card (available here from Amazon), includes fresh studies of thirteen miracles representing the various kinds that Jesus did. Each chapter title is a tantalizing hint as to what the miracle is really about. For example,”Just a Moment, Please,” examines the raising of the synagogue official’s daughter and the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage (Mark 5). “What Does He Know?” explores the miraculous catch of fish and Peter’s response (Luke 5).
Often the Gospel writers briefly mention Jesus’ miracles in general ways. Onken directs our attention to the detailed accounts and invites us to ponder why the details are there. As he does, it becomes clear that the meaning of each miracle is not merely in what Jesus did, but in how He did it—how He interacted with those in need, how He met the need, how He went beyond the need. So it’s the delight that is in the details.
An Unusual Approach
Onken’s approach to Jesus’ miracles has been likened to the restoration of Old Master’s paintings, a very apt comparison. An art conservationist’s task is to remove the layers of yellowed varnish, grime and overpainting that get in the way of seeing the full beauty of the masterpiece. Similarly, Onken seeks to remove what he sees as mistaken ways of reading the miracle accounts, and one of those mistakes is the notion that the meaning of Jesus’ miracles is only to prove that He is God.
Jesus’ miracles do affirm His claim to deity. But Onken cautions, “if the only thing we conclude from watching Jesus heal, deliver, and control nature is, ‘Oh, He’s God, he can do those things,’ then there is a strong chance we’ve missed some life-altering messages from Jesus.”
To display those “life-altering messages,” Onken shifts roles from art restorer to art gallery guide. Chapter by chapter, he leads his readers from one masterpiece to another, inviting us to linger at each one, to see more of the kind of person Jesus is. The pictures seem familiar, but there are many details that have baffled us, so we have glossed over them. Onken shows how to account for those details, and persistently but gently drives us back to the text to do it. One by one, the pictures of Jesus come into clear focus.
An unusual way to teach Scripture
But More Than His God Card does even better than that, more than explaining thirteen of Jesus’ miracles. It equips readers to understand for themselves other Biblical narratives. Since about two-thirds of Scripture is narrative, that might be the most valuable part of the book. In a special appendix, Onken explains, simply and practically, how to read narratives about Jesus “to help us grasp what He is like and what it might mean for us to have life with Him.” One of the best ways, for example, is to mentally “enter the story.” Ask what we would be seeing, hearing and feeling if we were actually there.
Onken also identifies common habits of reading Scripture that get in the way of our understanding. One of those habits is to read narratives as sets of instructions. That is the nearly universal practice among Christians. It is right-hearted and might yield some help. “But,” Onken observes,
“when the focus drifts from Jesus—who He is and what He does for us—to ‘ten steps to this’ or ‘the secret of that,’ we move from doing life with Jesus to doing life for Jesus (perhaps in the hope of gaining a few blessings along the way). This is a costly shift, which redirects the focus of our lives away from Him and back onto us. But the Christian life really is all about Jesus. Growing to know Him better. Learning to love Him more. Seeking to follow Him closer. Noticing what He’s doing. Discovering what He’s like, and even what He likes.”`
So if finding an application means doing something, maybe the “doing” that we need the most is seeing the different views of Jesus in His miracles, and letting them sink in. “Above all else,” Onken urges, “come away impressed with Jesus.” And that is exactly what More Than His God Card can help us do.