Matthew 11:4-5 “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
What does Jesus’ list reveal about himself? In Christ, we have a God who does care about the earthly plight of his people. None of these rescues are the big rescue–the rescue from sin and death, Satan and hell. That was coming later. But they do reveal someone who rescues his people. These little rescues from the suffering imposed on our lives by sin reveal Christ’s heart of compassion. Think of the tears he would later shed when he saw the grief of Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus. Think of Jesus reaching out and touching the untouchable leper to heal him. Think of Jesus seeing the widow of Nain carrying her dead son out of the city to bury him. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry’” (Luke 7:13). Then he raises that young man from the dead. Doesn’t such compassion inspire our trust in him?
These miracles also reveal that Jesus is the powerful Son of God who has the ability to help. It’s nice to talk to a sympathetic friend about your problems. But it doesn’t change anything if he or she lacks the power to do something about it. Jesus lacked no power to help his people. Jesus referred John the Baptist to these powerful miracles to assure him his faith in Jesus was not misplaced.
Yet someone might object that miracles themselves don’t have the ability to convince the skeptic or create faith in the hearts of doubters. In the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus, Abraham told the rich man in hell that if his brothers wouldn’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they would not believe even if a man were raised from the dead. At most, mere acts of supernatural power will only entertain those who do not believe.
But Jesus’ works of mercy were not mere acts of power, nor was John the Baptist a hardened unbeliever. These were expressions of God’s love for his people, a little foretaste of the even greater deliverance to follow. They fulfilled prophecy, promises God had made about the times when he would come to save his people: “Be strong and do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a dear, and the mute tongue shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:4-6). The miracles preached a message. That message assures us that Jesus is the One God sent to save his people.
And don’t these same things apply to the great rescue? Peter Kreeft once noted that if you take miracles out of religions like Islam or Buddhism, you end up with basically the same religion. They remain the same lists of rules, the same guidelines for human behavior they have always been.
But take the miracles out of Christianity, and you lose all the essential elements of Christianity. Our faith is not primarily a list of rules or guide for human behavior. It is the supernatural, miracle-working love of God breaking into our world to save us. God entered our world in the miracle of the virgin birth, by which he became a man to live and die for us. He takes our sins away by his sacrificial death on the cross, where he supernaturally applied all our guilt to himself, and paid the full penalty of our sins, setting us free. Our confidence of heaven and eternal life springs from Jesus’ resurrection. You can hardly imagine a more miraculous event than a dead man taking his life back again and walking out of the grave. These are all more than mere acts of power. These miracles are God’s work of saving us. They deliver the message that Jesus is worthy of our trust. Just look at what he has done.
So Jesus ends this listing of miracles with “…the good news is preached to the poor.” When we consider just how good Jesus has been to us, it is very nearly understatement to describe his life and message as “good news.” For poor prisoners in a hard and hostile world, no news can be better. In his love and by his power, Jesus is the one who sets us free. “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”