John 5:1-15 – Miracles and Million Dollar Question

John 5:1-15 – Miracles and Million Dollar Question June 9, 2017

Christ at Pool of BethesdaI want my miracle.  The invalid man today had his miracle.  Yes, I know he had to wait 38 years, but he had his miracle.  I’ve had my chronic fatigue for 30 years now, and I’m sure many of you have had various ailments for a very long time, too.

We want our miracles, Jesus.

But if we don’t receive them, what then?  What shall we do?  Shall we complain to God, as if His daily grace were not enough?  Shall we manufacture themselves out of the slightly extraordinary things we exaggerate, in an attempt to violently bear away our own ?  Or maybe we should just turn away from Jesus since we believe He hasn’t delivered what He promised to us.

Maybe I could think my way out of this unfulfilled need for a miracle in my life.  I do believe it’s true that there seem to have been 3 main periods of miracles, related to special periods of revelation: the time Moses and the Exodus, the time of the prophets, and the time of Christ and the first-century church.  Once God’s written revelation is closed and the gospel has been proclaimed in a land, it does seem as if the need for miracles is reduced.

I think all of this is true, but somehow it still leaves a void in my soul.

What if I actually had my miracle – would it make a difference?  What if I were miraculously healed from my chronic fatigue, or had one of the other deep desires of my heart answered in a flash?  What then?  What would it accomplish for me, and for how long?

I used to challenge me Economics students (and more recently with my biblical ethics students) with what I like to call “The Million Dollar Question.”  The question is simple but powerful: “What would you do if you were given a million dollars?”

The answer to this question produced a moment of serious mirth recently when I asked it to my high school students.  At Good Shepherd School, the majority of the high school girls gave thoughtful, future-oriented, responsible answers.  The guys’ answers were almost all identical: they wanted a mansion, baubles to impress the chicks, and a Ferrari or Lamborghini.

Me?  I give a boring answer: pay off my house, get slightly more reliable used cars, find the best chronic fatigue specialist in the U.S., give my kids a few more opportunities, give a good chunk to the church, and maybe, just maybe take the family back to England for a vacation.  But otherwise there would be no change in my life.

So what if I actually had a miracle – would it make much of a difference?

Here’s what I think would actually happen, contrary to my immediate fantastical notion that if only I had a miracle in my life, my life would be great forever and my love for God would never grow cold.

First, I think my miracle would make me very happy for a while.  I would rejoice and give thanks and probably sing and dance, even when I’m not especially known for my singing and dancing.  I’d probably tell all kinds of people what God has done for me.  The small things in life wouldn’t bother me for a while, and even the big things would roll off my back.  My mind would keep going back to how great God was and how delicious His miracle in my life.

But slowly, my miracle would wear off.  Each day it would become a little less real and therefore a little less joyful.  There would be moments when it would suddenly hit me all over again, and I’d rejoice and dance again for a moment, but then I’d get on with my real life.  Over time I would realize that my miracle hadn’t fundamentally changed me or my life.  My old problems would still remain and might, in fact, seem worse since I wouldn’t have noticed them for a month or so.  They might even have gotten worse, since in my euphoria I might not have attended to them for a while.

At some point, I would begin dreaming of the next miracle.  I know my deal with God was only for one, but that one, you see, has begun to wear off.  Since God has no shortage of miracles in His pocket, what would one more be to Him?  If He remembered how happy and joyful it made me for a season, He would certainly give me a second one so that I might better glorify and praise Him again.

My miracle, in other words, would act a lot like infatuation or the process of falling in love with someone.  It would be great to help kick start the relationship and cement it and bring two people together in a special way, but at some point it would wear off.  As is true for romantic relationships today, sadly, after the miracle we would be looking for the next big thing.  We might become miracle-addicts, always looking for the next God-fix.  One miracle would never be enough, if it were the basis for my faith and faithfulness and love.  Like the Israelites, I would never be satisfied with my daily bread or my witnessing of the feeding of the 5000.

My miracle couldn’t replace the need for my faith and faithfulness, and it wouldn’t fill the 99.99% of my life where I didn’t see a miracle.  It might lead me to suffer from High School Football Star Syndrome, where I had that one great moment – remember? – and the rest of my life would never live up to it.  By itself, my miracle might give me worse spiritual eyesight: it might actually make it more difficult to see God in all of the other ways He comes to me each day because I would only be able to see God when He is a giant, and not when He is a spirit.

A miracle is fundamentally a sign of God’s power and presence.  It has other, unique characteristics, such as its immediate and dramatic nature, but fundamentally it’s a sign.  And I’ve had plenty of signs signifying God’s power and presence in my life, even if I have not yet had my miracle.  The real miracle is that God with us, that Jesus is united to me, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in His people, who are the Temple of God!

God’s constant sustaining presence is the real miracle, only the miracle has morphed from one big moment of glory into a decillion smaller moments of glory that are as numerous as the atoms in the universe (and sometimes as difficult to see!)  I, therefore, have all that I need every day, for the Lord is always with me, always offering Himself to me in myriad ways – if only I would see.

One thing is necessary, and that is whatever God gives me today. He comes through whatever He gives, which means that all must be received with humility and thanks.  And so I must continually tell myself and remind you that “When you can’t have what you want, learn to want what you have.”

And so today, I will continue to gather my manna from heaven.  Yes, I know we just had manna yesterday and that the labor to collect it hardly seemed worth the effort.  But did you ever stop to think that maybe God has given Himself to you in every flake of manna that is pressed between your lips?

God seems to have called me to investigate the ways in which His presence is mediated to us in non-miraculous ways.  And so I’ll continue looking for Him in every flake of manna I eat, every word I write, every breath I take, and every person I meet.

Prayer:  Lord, in the hurry of everyday life, and of service for men,

We would snatch, again and again,

A hundred times in a day,

The brief and golden leisure

To glance thus up to Thy face,

To catch once more the sound of Thy voice,

To feel anew the touch of Thy hand,

To know again that we live in Thee.  Amen.  (John S. Hoyland)


Points for Meditation:

  1. Remind yourself of the “big” things God has done for you in your life: rejoice and give thanks!
  2. What’s one “small” way that God might come to you today, if only you looked for it?
  3. How much have you been “miracle-mongering” and how much have you been content with what the Lord has actually given you?
  4. Consider beginning the following spiritual exercise in your life: to consciously turn to God 100 times each day.

Resolution:  I resolve to look for God today in whatever He brings me today, and to receive the gifts of the day with thanksgiving. 


Christ at the Pool of Bethesda – U.S. Public Domain

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