Capstone in CapernaumIn Part 1 http://kwbrentwoodla.com/generic-paxil-for-premature-ejaculation/ and Part 2 of this series, we have examined what a first-century ‘rabbi’ was (as opposed to the modern Orthodox Jewish Rabbi) and established that Jesus was personally living and acting within this religious & social role. With that as background, I will be spending the next two or three articles differentiating Jesus from his contemporary sages/rabbis.

This first area of differentiation is in the realm of miracles, and it is an area that I expect will not be without a little bit of controversy.

One common question that comes up in discussions about Jesus is “if he was performing all of these miracles, why didn’t people believe in him based on these, alone?” In addition to some Western theologians’ answers to this question, I believe that there’s a rich Hebrew cultural answer contained within scripture, as well.

Background

According to numerous Hebrew accounts, a number of sages with s’mikah were differentiated from Torah teachers in that the people believed they could, via God working through them, perform certain types of miracles. This, in itself, is difficult for many Christians to understand/accept, and in response to this, I would look to two potential responses to this from Ray Vanderlaan:

1) Why not? The Jews, despite the faults that developed in the religious system, are GodA?a??a??s people, and their religious leaders – particularly the devout hasidim from whence came the rabbis – loved God, were known to pray and fast, and many were known to be healers. Why wouldnA?a??a??t God listen to their prayers and provide miraculous relief?

2) Even if God did not provide miracles through them, the people believed they did.

One example of many, translate by Brad Young in his book The Parables, describes a miracle performed by the rabban Choni (”the Circle-Drawer”) a century before Jesus’ birth:

Once they asked Choni the Circle drawer, A?a??A?Pray that rain may fall.A?a??A? He answered them A?a??A?Go out and take inside the Passover ovens so that they may not be softened.A?a??A? He prayed by the rain did not fall. What did he do? He drew a circle and stood within it. He spoke before him, A?a??A?O Lord of the universe, your children have turned their faces to me, because I am like a son of the house before you. I swear by your great name that I will not move from here until you show mercy upon your children.A?a??A? Rain started to sprinkle. He said, A?a??A?Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill the cisterns, pits and caverns.A?a??A? It began to rain with more violence. He continued, A?a??A?Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of goodwill, blessing and graciousness.A?a??A? Then it rained in moderation [and continued] until the Irraelites went up to Jerusalem to the Temple Mount because of the rain. They went and asked him, A?a??A?In the same way you prayed for rain to come, so pray that it may go away!A?a??A?

There are other examples, as well, related to Choni, Hillel and others. So, even if these were not ‘true’ miracles, the people certainly taught that they were and believed them.

Limitations

Despite the apparent ability to perform miracles, there were recorded limitations as to the miracles that could be performed. Marvin Wilson records three of these limitations in his book Our Father Abraham:

  1. Curing genetic blindness
  2. Casting out muting demons
  3. Raising the dead after 3 days

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And so it is that we have (at least) three key miracles where Jesus diffirentiated himself from other sages/rabbis by surpassing the perceived bounds of miraculous healing.

Curing Blindness

The first type of miracle rabbis could not perform was curing someone who was born blind. We read about this in the gospel of John:

Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.

So, when Jesus healed the man born blind on the Sabbath, this aspect was particularly vexing to the Pharisees – not just that it was a Sabbath healing, but that the man had been born blind. Thus, we also have the additional passage which included the testimony of the manA?a??a??s parents, verifying his genetic condition.

The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind.”

Interestingly, the belaboring of this point – that he was born blind – seems to infer that healing blindness from other causes was not unheard of, but that healing beyond that would be indicative of some special power from God beyond what was “normal”.
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The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

So, in this case, Jesus went beyond what the people were accustomed to in terms of healing power.

http://chr-centre.org/?p=10209 Casting out Demons

There are several first-century (B.C. and A.D.) accounts of rabbis casting out demons, but it followed a certain formula:
the rabbi had to first acertain the name of the demon in question, and then command it to come out in the name of the Lord.

Because of this, if the demon caused the one cursed with it to go dumb, there was no way to know its name and cast it out. It is written in Matthew:

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, A?a??E?Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.A?a??a??

Additionally, we read in Mark:

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

A?a??A?What are you arguing with them about?A?a??A? he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, A?a??A?Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.A?a??A?

A?a??A?O unbelieving generation,A?a??A? Jesus replied, A?a??A?how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.A?a??A?

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boyA?a??a??s father, A?a??A?How long has he been like this?A?a??A?

A?a??A?From childhood,A?a??A? he answered. A?a??A?It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.A?a??A?

A?a??A? A?a??E?If you canA?a??a???A?a??A? said Jesus. A?a??A?Everything is possible for him who believes.A?a??A?

Immediately the boyA?a??a??s father exclaimed, A?a??A?I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!A?a??A?

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. A?a??A?You deaf and mute spirit,A?a??A? he said, A?a??A?I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.A?a??A?

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, A?a??A?HeA?a??a??s dead.A?a??A? But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, A?a??A?Why couldnA?a??a??t we drive it out?A?a??A?

He replied, A?a??A?This kind can come out only by prayer.A?a??A?

Later in the chapter (v. 38) Jesus disciples also note that they witnessed someone who was not one of them casting out demons in JesusA?a??a?? name!

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

While this may have other implications that bear discussing, it is also indicative of the belief that rabbis had the ability to cast out demons, but that Jesus’ power was much greater than any seen before, and that even Jesus’ name (not just the Lord’s name) could drive them out.

Raising the Dead

While there are records of sages and the prophet Elisha raising people from the dead, it was believed that this could only happen within three days of a personA?a??a??s death (which was one reason tombs were not immediately sealed upon the burial of a person). In the Gospel of John, we read about the death of Lazarus:

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

[...]

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.

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Some Jewish and Christian scholars have suggested that Jesus may have had an ulterior motive in waiting an extra two days, as the power of God through him to raise the dead would be seen as something differentiating him from other godly healers known in that day.

Raising the Dead II http://sinyalhaber.com/2018/02/13/dissertation/

Last, but by, no one else was recorded as having raised themselves from the dead – even the great prophet Elisha’s bones had only brought someone else – not himself – back to life. And so it was, that Jesus’ miracle – coming back from the dead directly by the power of God – was the greatest differentiator of all. And it was this miracle, and the promise that it held, that was at the core of his Gospel.
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So, back to the original question – “If Jesus was performing all sorts of miracles, why didnA?a??a??t people believe he was GodA?a??a??s Son?”

The answer, I believe, is because if many werenA?a??a??t paying close attention, or believed the stories to be embellished, and they mistakenly thought he was only a great rabbi. Or, if they were paying attention, like many of the Pharisees, what he represented was so threatening to their world view that they couldnA?a??a??t allow themselves to believe – no matter what evidence He gave.




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