I came across two stories from Jesus’ life in my reading this morning (in Mark 5). The first is the restoration of the demon possessed man, the one known as Legion, and the second is the raising of a little girl back to life – the daughter of Jairus the synagogue ruler. We recently thought about the second passage in one of our family services at our church.
Jesus is on the Gentile side of Lake Galilee when he encounters the man with the demons. They recognise Jesus as once and beg him for mercy. After the demons are expelled (into a local herd of pigs), the man who is restored is given the commission to “go home and tell them about how much the Lord has done for you, how he has had mercy on you” (5:18)
After a quick boat ride back across the lake, Jesus is teaching a crowd when Jairus comes and begs him for help. Jesus is now on the Jewish side of the lake and Jairus holds a respected position in the faith community. By the time Jesus gets to Jairus’ house the little girl has died, but Jesus encourages them to have faith and he goes into the house and raises her back to life. Then comes the instruction “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this” (5:43).
So - two miraculous events, but differing instructions on whether they are supposed to talk about it. Why would he say one thing to one person and another to the other group?
In a way, I can understand Jesus telling Jairus’ family not to say anything. Jesus was already having trouble moving around the area due to the large crowds that wanted him to heal. Gods new kingdom has come. Jesus is demonstrating how the world should, and will eventually, be. There are a number of things, including death, that are not as they were. The world is turned upside down as will be demonstrated ultimately through Jesus death and resurrection. His whole life (and death and resurrection) is a testament to that, not just the miracles. Jesus knows that a yearning for great and flashy miracles does not result in a secure faith. The result is people always wanting to be amazed instead of a more secure step-by-step everyday faith.
But I also wonder (and I’m just thinking aloud here) whether part of the difference had to do with the audience being Gentile on the one hand, and Jewish on the other. Religious on the one hand, and non-religious on the other. God often uses miracles to get people’s attention. Many people have had divine intervention to get them started turning their lives around. After that, once on the right path and walking securely with God, the miraculous become more infrequent. Perhaps Jesus expects the Jews to recognise signs of the new kingdom coming in, not just in the miracles he does, whereas the gentiles perhaps needed an added reason to start looking towards Jesus. (Interestingly, their first reaction to Jesus was “Please go home, we’re scared” – 5:17 ). Maybe I’m wrong here, but I wonder if new converts to the faith experience more miraculous signs in their early faith than those who have grown up in the church. (I have no evidence for this, it’s just a hunch based on hearing testimonies and anecdotes). Is this for the same reasons perhaps?
I remember hearing John Piper speak on suffering, and he noted that in the book of Acts the disciples and followers were given a command to spread the gospel “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” There were many miraculous signs given to the early church too. Yet by the beginning of chapter 8, pretty much all believers were still in Jerusalem. It took persecution and suffering to get them out into Judea, Samaria and further afield. Miraculous signs are great, and we are encouraged to pray for them, but a walk of faith through suffering is often a more powerful testimony than a miracle.