Whose Miracles?

14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. – Mark 9:14-20

The ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus casting out a demon. Earlier in this story, Jesus’ own disciples cannot perform this same miracle (verse 18). Why? At the very end of this story, Jesus tells His disciples that “this kind [of demon] cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (verse 29). What is the connection between prayer and Jesus’ disciples’ ability (or inability) to cast out this demon? These questions will be answered below following a brief definition of the word “miracle” and its comparison to the related word “marvel.”

Miracles, by definition, are supernatural events that cannot be explained by any natural causes. Marvels, by comparison, are natural events that can be explained by scientific investigation. For example, modern science produces technological marvels but not miracles, because they can be explained by scientific investigation. Jesus’ miracles, by contrast, cannot be explained by scientific investigation: that is, they cannot be scientifically proven or disproven. Thus, Jesus’ miracles appear to be a matter faith for His disciples. The author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Regarding the topic of miracles, this verse can mean that the people to whom Jesus performs miracles (and the others who may witness them) receive physical or spiritual healing (or both) from those miracles, if they believe that Jesus is actually performing them. For example, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (see John 11:1-44). While Jesus only physically heals one character in this story (Lazarus), He appears to spiritually heal many more. After Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary [and Martha], and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him” (John 11:45).

But, is this faith in Jesus and His miracles the cause of those miracles? In other words, does a person’s faith cause a specific miracle to happen to that person? Jesus, Himself, uses the phrase “your faith has made you well” after He performs three separate healing miracles [(1)“the healing of the Woman with Bleeding” (see Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-34 and Luke 8:40-48), (2) “the healing of the Blind Man” (see Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35-43), and (3) “the healing of the Ten Men with Leprosy” (see Luke 17:11-19)]. What does Jesus mean when He uses the phrase “your faith has made you well”? He cannot mean that the healed persons who are referred to in this paragraph perform their own healing miracle. Why? Because only God can perform miracles. When Jesus uses the phrase “your faith has made you well”, He appears to mean that the healed persons have faith in Him after He heals them. The healed persons referred to in this paragraph, based on Jesus’ own words (“your faith has made you well”), receive both physical and spiritual healing.

Why can’t Jesus’ own disciples cast out the demon in the story of “the Boy with a Demon” from the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel? Because only God can perform miracles. God does, however, give a select few individuals the ability to perform them. Both the Old and the New Testaments contain examples of this. In the Old Testament, God gives Moses the “power” to perform miracles in Egypt: “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power” (Exodus 4:21). The “miracles” mentioned in this verse are presumably “Aaron’s Staff Becoming a Snake” and the “Ten Plagues” found in chapters seven through twelve. In the New Testament, Jesus gives the “authority” to perform miracles to His “twelve” disciples and “seventy-two others” when he sends them on missionary journeys. When “Jesus Sends Out the Twelve” (see Mark 6:6b-13), He “gave them authority over evil spirits” (verse 7) and “they drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” (verse 13). When “Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-two” (see Luke 10:1-23), He gives them “authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy” (verse 19). Apparently this “authority…over all the power of the enemy” includes healing the sick. Earlier in this story Jesus tells them to “heal the sick” (verse 9) and later they “returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name’” (verse 17).

What is the connection between prayer and Jesus’ disciples’ ability (or inability) to cast out this demon from the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel? At the very end of this story, Jesus tells His disciples that “this kind [of demon] cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (verse 29). What is prayer? Prayer is simply communication and connection with God. Jesus’ disciples communicate and connect with Him and His (and their) Heavenly Father through prayer. Christian prayers are always made in (and to) at least one of the various names of the Christian God. Several disparate examples include: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (from The Lutheran Hymnal, page 48), “In Jesus’ name we pray” (from the “Prayer For Holy Week” in All God’s People Sing, page 31), and “through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (from “Martin Luther’s Christmas Prayer” in Luther’s Works, Volume 53, pages 131-132). The name (or names) of God is (or are) powerful. This is why there is a Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” The name (or names) of God possesses (or possess) the power to perform miracles.

So, when Jesus tells His disciples that “this kind [of demon] cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (verse 29), is He telling them that, if they pray to Him and ask Him for help, then they will be able to cast the demon out? Perhaps. Why? The New Testament provides many reasons why Jesus’ disciples could believe that they could perform miracles if Jesus lets them, but only five examples are given here: (1) Because Jesus does tell His disciples that they will be able to perform miracles (see Mark 16:17-18). (2) And because the Apostle Paul does perform miracles during one of his missionary journeys (see Acts 19:11-12). (3) And because, according to the Apostle Paul, God does give the “manifestation” and the “gifts” of the Holy Spirit to select individuals and this “manifestation” and these “gifts” include “healing” and “miracles” (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 27-30). (4) And because, also according to the Apostle Paul, God does work miracles among the members of the Galatian church (see Galatians 3:5). (5) And because, according to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, God does perform miracles among His believers as proof that salvation is found in Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 2:4).

However, what do these above five examples have in common? They all emphasize either the name of God or the power of God: (1) “in my name they will cast out demons” (Mark 16:17); (2) “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11); (3) “it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Corinthians 12:6); (4) “he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you” (Galatians 3:5); and (5) “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:4). So, even if Jesus’ disciples can cast out the demon from the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, it is still not their miracle. Only God can perform miracles. If Jesus’ disciples can and do cast out this demon and perform this miracle, it still remains Jesus’ miracle.

21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘if you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” – Mark 9:21-29