Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Do you have a problem with miracles?

This is a big question – and I’m going to keep a tight focus. At this point, I will not deal with those who deny miracles can happen, or those who think they can get God to perform them ‘on demand’. 

Here’s my focus: You’re a person who believes that miracles happened in the ‘then and there’ of biblical times, but you don’t understand how these ‘stories’ relate to your ‘here and now’. They just don’t seem practical or relevant to your life. 

First, let's ask, "what is a miracle?" 

Miracles defined

This is not as easy as you think – and let’s keep it simple. 

C. S. Lewis begins his book Miracles with this:

I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power.

He acknowledges this is a “crude and popular” definition.

In addition, there are at least three purposes of miracles

  • to glorify God;
  • to reveal God; and/or,
  • to meet human need.

There is much more to miracles, but this will do for now.

Let’s look at a unit or pericope of Matthew to explore our understanding of miracles

Feeding the 5,000 +

This incident is recorded in all four Gospels. Take a moment to read Matthew 14:13-21

Now let’s apply the J.P.E.G. analysis. You can download a template for the analysis here

For a free copy of Listening Well to Matthew as an introduction to this ‘thicker’ understanding of Matthew for making disciples click here. Existing subscribers received a link to claim their copy in today’s newsletter.

'J' is for Jesus

As you read Matthew 14:13-21, keep your focus on Jesus. What is he doing and saying?

Also, observe the people, the setting, and the activities. 

Some argue that the contribution of the five loaves and two fish prompted others to donate their food for the benefit of all. Is there any basis for this? It may be helpful to read “At the fourth sign of Jesus.”

In the analysis template, record your findings for ‘J’ under “Learning from Matthew” and “Conclusions.” Don’t be concerned that you may not be getting everything – put down what you observe. 

'P' is for purpose

In this dimension, the focus is on the disciples. What are they hearing, seeing, doing, and feeling?

Their recommendation (14:15) seems to be reasonable in the circumstances. Yet, Jesus brings the focus back to the disciples with the imperative that they feed the people with the limited resources available (14:16). 

  • What are they told?
  • How do they respond?
  • What are the results?
  • Apart from the disciples, would anyone else have been aware of the miracle? 

Identify the “panel of the tapestry” in which this unit is located. I’ve helped by inserting “Community” in the left, or dimension, column.

Now determine whether it is inner development of the disciples’ community, or the outward expression of that community. Refer to page 13 of Listening Well to Matthew.

Fill in the blank in the dimension column for ‘P’ in your template. 

'E' is for explicit quotation

In our case, we are only looking for explicit quotations of Old Testament (OT) texts. Do you find such a text in this pericope?

Unless I’m missing something, there is no explicit quotation. If you agree, just draw a line through the columns for ‘E’ as it is not applicable in this pericope.

'G' is for genealogy 

In this dimension, we seek to locate a parallel between the OT history of Israel, and the life of Jesus. 

Subscribers to living theology received a link to a helpful article by Peter J. Leithart called “Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew’s Gospel.” Although it is a bit challenging, it will help you locate his proposal as to the parallel between the history of Israel and the life of Jesus anywhere through Matthew.

This pericope lines up with 2 Kings 4:42-44. When we compare the two texts we find a remarkable correspondence. Observe similarities between:

2 Kings 4:43 and Matthew 14:16a  (language of inadequacy of resources)

            4:43 and              14:16b  (                                   )

            4:44 and              14:20    (                                   )

You will need to read more of 2 Kings to see the environment in which Elisha and his companions lived. What kind of parallel is there with Jesus and his disciples? 

Fill in your observations and conclusions in the analysis template

Synthesis

How do these dimensions intersect to identify biblically-valid boundaries for transforming initiatives? This is best done in a community of other followers of Jesus.

Here is my opening suggestion – you will want to expand it.

A community of people faithful to God in Elisha’s time probably wondered where God was during those dark and oppressive days. The community of disciples had seen Jesus rejected in his hometown (Matthew 13:53-58) and John the Baptist beheaded (14:1-12). Those were dark and oppressive days for them as well. Both communities may have wondered: “Where is God?” 

Miracles provide evidence to a disciples’ community that God is still present and powerful, despite His apparent absence.

Living

This is the final – and crucial – step of the J.P.E.G. approach. It is not just about information, it is about transformation. Again, this is best done in community with other followers of Jesus. 

  • What practical transforming initiatives can you identify from your synthesis that are valid expressions of this ‘thick’ understanding of Matthew?
  • How does this change your perspective of miracles?
  • If you are in a dark and oppressive environment, do you have an expectation that God will reveal Himself as present and powerful?
  • How can you live what you are learning?

I want to hear more of your conclusions, initiatives, and stories. Connect with me at [email protected] or by clicking here.

Get introduced to J.P.E.G. and receive your own free copy of Listening Well to Matthew.

 

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Photo credit: “Loaves and Fishes” by Graham Braddock. Mr. Braddock’s wonderful website states: “Gallery – Free Art Downloads! … You are welcome to browse and download any of the images for personal, powerpoint, or non-profit use.” This is a non-profit use.

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