The Miracles of Jesusby Vern S. Poythress
Length: To read (272 pages).
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What do the miracles of Christ have to do with our every day life and our understanding of the Gospel? For many believers it seems that the answer to that question is relatively unimportant. We live, after all, in a world that feels increasingly cynical of miraculous claims. In response to that common cynicism, some believers no doubt feel that time spent discussing the reality of miracles could be better spent discussing the more practical matters of our faith. In Vern S. Poythress’ “The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior’s Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption,” however, we find that our tendency to skip over this subject misses a significant theme of the Gospels and, in so doing, ignores a subject both deeply biblical and ultimately foundational to our daily lives as believers.
Who should read this?
This look at Christ’s miracles is primarily aimed at helping those who are serving in pastoral ministry and counseling. This aim is seen in both the author’s consistently concise and straightforward breakdown of each miracle examined as well as in his use of tools such as Edmund Clowney’s diagrams (more on that later). As such, I believe anyone serving in ministry can benefit greatly from this work. Still, though, the subject of miracles is one of tremendous relevance today as we face a world that is cynical of all things divine. Furthermore, the manner in which Poythress explores this subject is not only helpful in better understanding the ministry of Jesus but in understanding the Gospel. As such, it would seem that any believer who is seeking to find a deeper appreciation for the Word would benefit from considering the observations of Poythress.
“The Miracles of Jesus” begins with a brief introduction to the subject of miracles and a discussion of why this subject is so important to understand as believers.
After making that fairly brief introduction, the author spends Part II introducing miracles as signs of redemption and lays out the approach he will then use throughout the rest of the book to both understand the biblical importance of each miracle and ultimately the ways in which each miracle is rightly applied today.
To help the reader visualize that pattern, Poythress introduces “Clowney’s Triangle,” taken from Edmund Clowney, in which a miracle of Christ is connected to a spiritual offer of Christ that is ultimately shown to point to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Although this pattern and its accompanying graph feels redundant at times, it is a helpful tool in helping the reader see every miracle through an appropriately biblical lens.
With that pattern explained, the author moves into the bulk of the book found in Part III. There he walks the reader through every miracle account of Matthew. Beginning with the Virgin Birth and ending with Jesus cursing the Fig Tree, it is in this lengthy section that the reader is able to fully see Matthew’s use of the miracles as both signs of the kingdom of God as well as events that he used to continually point the reader forward to the cross.
Using the Clowney Triangle of Part II, Poythress details each miraculous account, speaks to the narrow and broad implications of that miracle in Scripture, and then describe specific points of application for modern readers. Although each miracle is in some way unique, Poythress succeeds in demonstrating the common themes found throughout Matthew’s accounts.
In so doing, the author, following the example of Matthew, looks to each miracle as a sort of road marker leading the traveler closer and closer to the miracle that fulfills all miracles: the resurrection of Christ.
That greatest of miracles and its implications take up the final part of “Miracles.” In this final discussion we are given one final look at how every other miracle of Christ is ultimately bound up with this one final miraculous display. As believers, it is in this final miracle that we are given a completed vision of the Gospel and the conclusion of Poythress’ work.
Strengths and Weaknesses
As a pastor I found Poythress’ work to be a valuable resource that I will undoubtedly return to any time I am teaching on a miracle of Christ. Throughout his work, Poythress succeeds both in presenting each miracle as a unique work worthy of its own study as well as a piece of a much larger story.
On a more personal level, I found Poythress’ exhaustive treatment of Christ’s miracles as both refreshing and surprising in its ability to re-awaken my sense of wonder and awe of Christ’s earthly ministry. Prior to reading this work I must confess that I would have assumed Christ’s miracles to be of a relatively minor importance to his overall earthly ministry.
Yet in this work I was proven to be wrong time and time again. Far from being a side- note to his ministry, these miracles were presented in Matthew far more frequently than I had previously assumed and each of those miracles stands as a colorful and awe-inspiring reminder of Christ’s offer of eternal life. While most of this book was far from devotional, then, it is clear that it can serve as a helpful devotional tool (assuming you don’t get too bogged down by a lot of triangle graphs).
Poythress’ work is by no means short and it may have perhaps been unwise to add too much to its content. Having said that, however, I do think it would have helped to offer a bit lengthier of a discussion in its introduction regarding the nature and definition of miracles. Perhaps it is assumed that anyone picking up this book would come with that understanding in tow, but in a culture that is increasingly skeptical of the miraculous, I feel that this discussion would be very helpful to the reader.
Even without that initial discussion, however, I feel the author succeeded in presenting a thorough and clear discussion of this very important subject.
It should be no surprise to any believer to hear that the miracles of Christ were by no means an accidental addition to our Savior’s earthly ministry in which Christ provided a few physical needs. They were one of Christ’s strategic means of demonstrating his divinity, fulfilling his role as Messiah, and introducing the Kingdom inaugurated at his resurrection.
The miracles of Christ, then, do not simply chronicle various acts of Christ in his earthly ministry. They introduce us to the Kingdom in which all believers live and the ongoing ability of Christ to sustain his people now and for all eternity. In “Miracles,” Poythress’ treatment is able to help us both understand the biblical significance of Christ’s miracles and, as a result, to see the ongoing ramifications of the Gospel in a new light for our lives today.
“The Same Jesus who acted with power and compassion on earth still acts with power and compassion now.”
“No human being has the power to change the heart. Only God does. He has demonstrated that power in the miracles of Jesus.” (page 244)
“The stories of miracles are pertinent to people in all circumstances, whether they are elated or struggling or distressed.” (page 240)