The Miracles Jesus Did Not Do
Note: This is a chapter in an upcoming book by David Eastman and John Oakes
on Miracles, to be published by Illumination Publishers, International in late
2007 or early 2008.
It is a truism that you learn almost as much about a person by what they do
not do as you learn from what they do. Similarly, we can learn almost as much
about a person from what they do not say as we learn from what they say. Like
the proverb says, ?Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning
if he holds his tongue.? (Proverbs 17:28) We have already learned a great deal
about Jesus from the miracles he worked. In this chapter we will turn the tables.
We will look at the miracles Jesus did not do. We will ask what we can learn about
Jesus from the miracles which we know he had to power to perform, yet chose
not to do. In many cases we will find ourselves saying, ?If I had been Jesus,
I know what I would have done?.? Yet Jesus did not do what we would have done. A
wise man uses power with restraint. In Jesus we have the wisest man who ever
lived possessing in himself more power than any other human being who has ever
lived. Yet, we see amazing self control and restraint beyond human understanding. In
looking at the miracles Jesus did not do, we will gain insight into theology?
the nature of God, and we will come to a deeper understanding of the mission
of Jesus Christ on earth.
Philosophers and just plain regular folks have at times enjoyed speculating
about the kinds of things God cannot do. God cannot create a rock which is too
heavy for him to lift. God is unable to do evil. God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19).
God cannot disown himself (2 Timothy 2:13). He cannot cause himself to cease
to exist. This chapter is not about what Jesus could not do. It is about what
we can only assume he could do, yet chose not to.
Meeting His Own Needs
Jesus is God. Before coming to earth in human form, he was at the right hand
of God. He did not consider equality with God something to be clung on to, but
instead he willingly came and took the form of a servant, taking on a human
form (paraphrasing Philippians 2:6-7). In marvelous humility, Jesus accepted his
human condition fully and without reservation. Given miracles such as those
he did at the wedding in Cana or for the 5000 in Galilee, we must assume that
Jesus had the ability to take care of his own physical needs by working a miracle.
When he was hungry, he could have made a fish right there on the spot for a
tasty little treat, yet he never did. When he was cold, surely he could have sup
ernaturally heated up his surroundings. When he was tired, he must have been
tempted to violate normal biochemistry?pumping up the ATP in his cells. Hol
lywoodhas produced a number of cute movies based on the premise of a human or an angel
having miraculous powers (O God, Bruce Almighty and many others). The characters
in these movies invariably give in to the temptation to use their powers for
trivial things or to indulge on of their own selfish desires. Like the Hebrew
writer said, Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are?yet was without
sin.? (Hebrews 4:15)
As far as we know, Jesus never did anything like this. Given his nature, we
can assume he did not. We can only assume that he was sorely tempted to use
his miraculous powers to take care of his needs. After forty days in the wilderness,
Jesus was very hungry. Satan tried to use the dichotomy of Jesus? humanity and
his deity against him (and to tempt him with his pride as well). ?If you are
the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.? Jesus did not bite on this
lure. He replied, ?It is written: ?Man does not live on bread alone?? (Luke 4:3-4)
It may be true that man may not live on bread alone, but neither can we cannot
without bread. Jesus was famished. The restraint of Jesus in not using his supernatural
powers is striking indeed. He was tempted, yet he did not work a miracle in order
to mitigate his humanity.
It is hard to miss the fact that Jesus regularly denied his physical desires
in order to serve people. Jesus was tired to the bone at the well in Sychar
(John 4:6). In Galileehe was totally exhausted after giving to so many people;
he did not even have a chance to eat. When he escaped the crowd to rest, huge
numbers followed him anyway. Jesus met the needs of the people (Mark 6:30-44).
Jesus was dangerously dehydrated on the cross (?I am thirsty.? John 19:28). He
was hungry (Mark 11:12). Often, Jesus was cold and wet. He never used his power
to meet his own needs. Jesus was not the first person to make physical sacrifices
to serve other people. What makes his personal sacrifice most impressive is that he
could have done all these things without having to suffer personally. After
all, he was God. He could have taken care of his needs, yet he did not.
Working Miracles in Order to Convert the Hard-Hearted
Let us consider a second kind of situation in which Jesus consistently chose
not to work a miracle. Jesus did not perform miraculous signs in order to convert
those who were hardened of heart. The working of a miracle has a tremendous
power to gain the attention, even of those most strongly inclined against belief.
Experience teaches us, however, that attention gained through dramatic events
is attention fairly easily lost. Conversion under extreme emotional pressure,
or ?repentance? caused by a dramatic religious experience is fickle. Charlatans, religious
and otherwise, are aware of the power of the dramatic to sway people?s minds
and hearts. Such rip-off artists are not interested in long term commitment.
They only want a response of sufficient duration to take the money of the unsuspecting.
Emotional manipulation is their game.
Clearly, manipulation was the farthest thing from what Jesus had in mind when
he worked public or private miracles. He had no interest whatever in creating
a short-term emotional response through impressing people with his power. Jesus
loved the crowds, but he was skeptical of their motivation. ?Now while he was
in Jerusalemat the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was
doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them,
for he knew all men. He did not need man?s testimony about man, for he knew
what was in a man.? (John 2:23-25) Jesus? skepticism of those won to belief principally
through the working of wonders was proven wise. When he entered Jerusalemdu
ring Holy Week, ?the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in
loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.? (Luke 19:37) Many in this crowd
shouted ?Crucify him!? just a few days later.
For modern-day supposed miracle workers, it is all about the crowd. They are
interested in wowing people into becoming followers. Such followers are not
reliable. We should be very skeptical of the motives of those who claim to work
such public spectacles. Jesus had many opportunities to create a spectacle in order to
win the crowd. He was in an especially good position compared to modern miracle-workers
because he had true miracle-working power! However, when the seed of faith did
not already exist, Jesus was unwilling to give a sign of his deity. Because of the lack
of open hearts, Jesus worked
very few miracles in Bethsaida; the city where
he lived. He said, ?Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed
in you had been performed in Tyreand Sidon, they would have repented long ago,
sitting in sackcloth and ashes.? (Luke 10:13). Tyreand Sidonwere Gentile cities.
When the seventy-two returned, rejoicing in all the miracles they had been able
to work, Jesus cautioned them. ?However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit
to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.? (Luke 10:20)
In his home town of Nazareth, people doubted Jesus. ?Isn?t this the carpenter?s
son?? Jesus said to them, ?Only in his home town and in his own house is a prophet
without honor.? Like Matthew said, ?And he did not do many miracles there because
of their lack of faith.? (Matthew 13:55,57-58)
Jesus told a parable of a rich man who had shown little respect to God while
he lived. When he was in Hades, he pleaded with Abraham to work a miraculous
sign so that his five brothers would repent and not end up with him in torment.
?Abraham replied, ?They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.?? (Luke
We can learn a lot from the miracles Jesus did not do. From these examples we
learn that miracles can deepen the faith of those whose hearts are inclined
toward God, but by themselves, apart from a seed of faith, they form a poor
basis for saving faith in Jesus. Our goal should not be to create an emotional
response or to win people through religious experience. Such things are of some
value, but they will have little long term affect on those whose heart is not
inclined toward God.
Doing a Miracle as a Response to a Challenge
In the previous section we saw that Jesus was unwilling to work a miraculous
sign in order to manipulate the emotions of people. Similarly, he could not
be manipulated into working a miracle in order to satisfy the pride of those
who challenged his authority. Greeks looked for wisdom, but, as Paul said about his
own people, ?Jews demand miraculous signs.? Jesus faced this demand on a regular
basis. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees were jealous of the crowds
who were hanging on every word of this new teacher. Who is this uneducated carpenter
from Nazareth? Where does he get the authority to proclaim unorthodox ideas
to his fellow Jews? They demanded that Jesus work a sign in order to demonstrate
his authority to teach.
From what we have seen, Jesus clearly had the ability to meet this challenge
to prove his authority. In fact, under different circumstances, when he was
not pressured to put on a performance, Jesus used his public miracles as testimony
to his authority. ?Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if
I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may
understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.? (John 10:37-38) However,
God does not respond well to people?especially arrogant and hard hearted people?
demanding that he work a sign. Jesus worked miracles in order to meet needs
or in response to the faith of humble folks, but he could not be goaded into
a public performance to satisfy the demands of the unfaithful.
The scene in Matthew chapter twelve is ironic. The Pharisees begin a plot to
kill Jesus. Why? Because of the miracles he has worked. He has just miraculously
healed a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath. He has healed all their sick,
and given sight and voice to a blind and mute man. The Pharisees are fearful
all the people will follow Jesus. In order to show him up publicly they make
a foolish demand of Jesus.
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ?Teacher, we
want to see a miraculous sign from you.?
Will Jesus take the bait?
He answered, ?A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sig!
But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah
was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man
will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nine
vehwill stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented
at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.?
The answer is no; Jesus does not take the bait. He will not put on a performance
to please those who are not inclined to humble themselves before God. Jesus
will show them a sign, all right. The type: Jonah coming forth from the huge
fish on the third day will become the antitype: Jesus rising from the dead on the
third day. However, Jesus is not at their beck and call. One wonders how many
of those rebuked by Jesus this day recalled his words when Jesus rose from the
grave after three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The mentioning
of the men of Ninevehis a rebuke to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Just
as Jonah did not rejoice at God?s offer of repentance to the Gentiles to the
hated Assyrians (Jonah 4:1-3), these men are resisting God?s plan to offer salvation
to the people. They demand a sign where more than enough has already been given.
No sign will be given this day. A heart ready and willing to repent is required
to see the miraculous working of God.
This was not the only time the Jews demanded that Jesus prove his authority
by working a miraculous sign. After Jesus made a public spectacle by overturning
the tables of the money changers and driving out the animals from the temple
grounds he was asked to explain himself.
Then the Jews demanded of him, ?What miraculous sign can you show to prove your
authority to do all this??
Jesus answered them, ?Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three
The Jews replied, ?It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you
are going to raise it in three days?? But the temple he had spoken of was his
body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had
said. Then they believed the Scriptures and the words that Jesus had spoken.
Again we see the Jews? assumption that there is a connection between spiritual
authority and the working of miraculous signs. We also see that Jesus could
not be pressured into working a miraculous sign at the whim of non-believers.
Although he could not be manipulated into performing a sign in this setting, Jesus
definitely did perform miracles on other occasions which more than satisfied
the Jewish need to see new revelation from God proved by wonders. In this case,
as with the incident in Matthew 12, Jesus pinned his authority to the ultimate
miracle: his resurrection from the dead. Jesus did not deny the connection between
signs from God and authority, neither did he cede spiritual authority to hypocritical
It is ironic that those who taunted Jesus while he was on the cross reminded
him of his statement about raising the temple on the third day. They taunted
him, ?So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days,
come down from the cross and save yourself.? (Mark 15:30) Little did these men
know that Jesus was about to fulfill his prophecy of raising the templeof G
three days. Here we have a third example of the Jews demanding that Jesus
work a miraculous sign?this time to save his own life. Jesus must have been
greatly tempted to prove these arrogant men wrong. Yet, as before, his humility
won out and he was not distracted from his obedience to God. The Jews demanded
miraculous signs. Instead, Jesus gave them the message of the cross.
What is the point of all this for us? First, we should marvel at the humility
of Jesus. Second, we can learn from this that it is not appropriate to demand
of God a miraculous sign. Many of us have at one time or another put God to
the test. ?God, if you want me to have this job, give me a sign? or ?God I really
will put my faith in you if you do? (fill in the blank). Jesus set the example
here. ?The devil led him to Jerusalemand had him stand on the highest point
of the temple. ?If you are the Son of God,? he said, ?throw yourself down from
here?.? Jesus answered, ?Do not put the Lord your God to the test.?? (Luke 4:9,12)
Jesus? refusal to work a miracle under pressure shows us that we cannot manipulate
God by demanding a sign of him.
Bringing Judgment on the Unrighteous
We have to assume that if Jesus could calm a massive storm by simply commanding
it to stop, then he also he had the power to harm or to destroy those who stood
opposed to God. The miraculous ability to create implies the ability to destroy
as well. While in human form, Jesus often witnessed the grossest kinds of sin.
On a personal level, he was repeatedly disrespected, reviled, threatened and
physically abused. Surely he had the power to strike back. Unquestionably, he
was tempted to judge and to take revenge in the name of his Father in heaven. Yet,
Jesus did no such thing. Not once did he strike out, either with words or with
vengeance-inspired miracle. Truly he fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah
(Isaiah 42:2) ?He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.?
By comparison, his apostles were more than willing that Jesus blitz those who
opposed him. They expected Jesus to bring in a physical, political kingdom in
Israel. They assumed that he would eventually turn his God-given power to destroy
the Roman political power; ushering in a new kingdom of Israel. The scene in
Luke 9:52-56 serves as a good example of the attitude of the apostles.
They went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him, but the people
there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples
James and John saw this, they asked, ?Lord, do you want us to call fire down
from heaven to destroy this village?? But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and
they went to another village.
This scene led to James and John becoming known as the Sons of Thunder. The
disciples were having a really loving attitude here! They were upset because
the Samaritans were prejudiced against the Jews. Fortunately, the disciples
were not hypocrites, because they had never had problems with prejudice against the
Samaritans! By the way, we can see that they did not doubt at all that Jesus
could have performed a Sodomand Gomorrah-like miracle here. But Jesus would
not, nor did he ever use his miraculous power to harm anyone.
Why did he not do such a miracle? Because he could not? No. Jesus explained
his ministry to the disciples in John 12:47-48. ?As for the person who hears
my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge
the world, but to save it.? Jesus did not come to the earth in physical form in
order to exact judgment. However, we should not mistake his compassion, his
patience and his ministry of salvation to imply that judgment will not come.
Surely it will, and Jesus will be an instrument of this judgment.
The Apostle Peter makes this clear to us in his second letter:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand
years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his
promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to
perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:8-9
We can learn much from Jesus? forbearance; from the fact that he did not work
miracles in order to judge the wicked who rejected his message. God will judge
his people. ?It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.? (Hebrews
13:31) But God is patient. God is wholly just. Sin will not go unpunished. Although God
is just, he is also loving. He wants a relationship with us so badly that Jesus
came as a human being and willingly offered himself. He was willing to offer
his life to satisfy the justice of God. We learn from the forbearance of Jesus
that God?s love comes before his justice. God is not quick to judge. He is patient,
and wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3-4).
Forcing People to Obey (taking away free will)
Jesus knew the hearts and minds of all men. Because he is the creator of all
things, we have to assume that Jesus had the power to force his will on people.
Imagine having the power to manipulate the will of those around us. For a moment,
try to conceive of having the ability to make others love you or serve you.
What a concept! Then consider how tempting it would be to use this power indiscriminately!
It is said ? and mankind?s history confirms this time and again – that power
corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Jesus had this incredible power.
Yet, as far as we can tell from the eye-witness accounts of those who knew him,
Jesus never succumbed to this temptation. From what we know of his life and
from what we know of the character of Jesus, we can infer that he always allowed
people freedom to decide for themselves if they would obey his will.
What must have been particularly aggravating to Jesus is that Satan has no such
qualms. ?As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.? (John 13:27)
Satan attempted to control Judas? will. Incredibly, Jesus said to Judas, ?What
you are about to do, do quickly.? (v. 38) The term ?free will? may not be found
in the Bible, but the concept definitely is there. In Deuteronomy 30:15-20 God
tells his people through Moses that they are being given a choice between life
and death, blessings and curses. At the end of this emotional appeal, God pleads
with his people, ?Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and
that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.?
Similarly, Jesus gave those he met free choice whether they would serve God or not.
He did not try to force people to follow him. Instead he appealed to their hearts,
their minds and their consciences. ?If anyone chooses to do God?s will, he will
find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.? (John
7:17) Because of his love for us, God gives us freedom to choose to do good or evil.
Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he did not give in to the
temptation to use his power as God to force his will on his friends or his enemies.
The existence of free will is one of the basic ideas of biblica
l theology. The
fact that Jesus did not use his power to miraculously force the hand of people
gives us a living example of the truth of this teaching.
Ending the Crucifixion
Let us consider what may be the most instructive category of miracle that Jesus
did not perform. It is perhaps also the miraculous sign Jesus was most strongly
tempted to give. Jesus chose not to do a miracle in order to end his tortuous
death on the cross. Add to that the fact that he did not use his power to prevent
the taunts of those who arrested and killed him or the barbaric scourging with
thirty-nine lashes. In fact, this miracle Jesus did not do embodies all five
of the categories listed above.
It boggles the mind that Jesus was able to hold back when those who passed by
hurled insults, saying, ?So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build
it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself.? (Mark 15:30)
What must have made this taunt particularly irksome is that Jesus definitely
did have the power to come down from the cross. When Peter tried to defend Jesus
with his sword, Jesus stopped him, saying, ?Put your sword back in its place?.
Do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal
more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled
that say it must happen in this way?? (Matt 26:52-53)
There is no doubt that Jesus had the miraculous power at his disposal to bring
to an end his torture and death, yet he refrained. What a man! What a God! The
miraculous signs which occurred at the time Jesus died give us some idea of
the power at his disposal. In Matthew twenty-seven we read that at the time of his
death, the sky turned dark at mid-day, the curtain in the temple was torn in
two from top to bottom, the earth shook, the tombs broke open and those who
had died were raised to life and appeared to many people. No wonder the soldiers in
the execution detail were terrified, exclaiming, ?Surely he was the Son of God.? (Matthew
27:54) There was no power shortage here. Jesus did not lack the ability to bring
the crucifixion to an end. What was lacking was anger, pride and selfishness.
What do we learn from this miracle that Jesus did not do? The answer is that
we learn everything we need to know. We learn the entire gospel message. We
learn that God is love. We learn that ?the wages of sin is death, but the gift
of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.? (Romans 6:23) We learn that God
is just but that his love wins over his justice for those who accept the gospel
message. Jesus could do anything except deny his love for us.
John Oakes, PhD