Lou: One more incident out of the Old Testament, the story of Elisha and the young men that came out and ridiculed him, after which they were attacked by two “she bears” (2 Kings 2:23-24). Once again, that looks like a pretty spectacular show.
Graham: The first thing we need to do is establish the irreverence of the day. You read back a little further, and the king of Israel was consulting Beelzebub, the god of flies (2 Kings 1:16). Moreover, these boys knew that Elijah had been translated to heaven. Yet they were so unimpressed that when Elisha came by, evidently a little short of hair, they said, “Hey baldy, why don’t you go up too?” The irreverence in Israel was so serious that God almost lost contact with His people there. But he didn’t send a flood this time, instead He sent two she-bears. Word of this went out among the Israelites, and reverence picked up—but so did fear. It is very difficult for God to relieve us of our fear and still maintain our reverence and respect. That’s a most delicate thing to accomplish.
Lou: All right, you’ve covered a number of God’s spectacular interventions in the Old Testament, but what about Jesus’ public ministry in the New Testament? When he turned water into wine at the wedding of Cana, didn’t that catch a lot of attention? Wasn’t that a use of miracles to establish authority?
Graham: Such methods do have some usefulness at the beginning. I wouldn’t deny Jesus the right to use whatever method He wishes to get attention. But what counts is the way the miracle is conducted and what follows after the miracle. After the miracle got their attention, they observed and tested Him. As a result, some rejected Him and some accepted Him.
Actually, turning water into wine is not that unusual in the Bible. Do you remember how Moses turned bitter water sweet in the wilderness (Exod 15:23-25)? And didn’t Elisha do something similar (2 Kings 2:19-22)? That’s not so remarkable. To me what’s more remarkable is that Jesus was attending a wedding, and He wanted it to be happy. He was very pleased to be there and to help them. He is the One who thought up marriage in the first place. I love it that His first miracle was at a wedding.
Lou: What about the feeding of the five thousand or the feeding of the four thousand a little bit later? Actually, the story about feeding the five thousand is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matt 14:21; Mark 6:44; Luke 9:14; John 6:10). So it certainly made a powerful impact on the gospel writers and on the people. On one occasion, at least, weren’t they ready to crown Him King afterward (John 6:15)?
Graham: That’s right! Now this illustrates the point superbly. Jesus realized that huge crowds were following Him for the miracles, and that’s all. So right after these miracles He told them something very serious, “Unless you really accept Me and My teachings you will not be saved” (based on John 6:50-63). And they all left Him. All they wanted was free food and free healing.
Then He turned to the twelve and said, “Do you also wish to go?” John 6:67, RSV. In the Greek there is a way of asking a question that includes the answer within the question, yes or no. So the way it’s worded in the Greek Jesus said, “You don’t want to go too, do you?” And they said, “No; to whom else should we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). They weren’t entirely convinced; there was so much they didn’t understand. But at least they chose to stay. Jesus must have wondered at that point whether it had been worth coming to earth. Only when He performed miracles did He get a crowd, and He did not wish to get a crowd that way. Doesn’t it say something though, that when He won a following by miracles, He turned them away. Miracles are no basis for authority.