Why does Jesus perform miracles for some, but not for others?

In Matthew 15 Jesus walks around the Sea of Galilee and then goes up a mountain to sit. But many people have been following him and they bring to Jesus those who were lame, blind, crippled, mute, and many more. Although it seems Jesus is looking for rest, he heals them. Then seeing that these people were hungry, having followed him for three days, Jesus performs another miracle feeding thousands with just a handful of bread and fish.

Surely these were miraculous signs. Yet in Matthew 16 the Pharisees and Sadducees go to Jesus and test him asking for Jesus to show them a sign from heaven. Jesus doesn’t seem to have problem performing great works among the people as he goes about his public ministry. But there is purpose behind his actions. Jesus isn’t in the habit of performing party tricks. He heals people who are sick and miraculously feed those who are hungry. Jesus’ power is displayed with purpose and when the religious rulers want to test him and have him do something for their own purposes, Jesus won’t go along with it. He instead tells them that they only sign that they will see is the sign of Jonah. They want a sign of power from heaven, but they will see a surprised when what they see is Jesus dying on the cross and then three days later showing true power over death itself.

In the gospels Jesus is not aimless. He doesn’t drift about seeing which way the wind will take him. He has a mission with clear objectives and appeasing the religious elites is not a part of it. Jesus cares more for those on the outside and actually warns his own about the damaging influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Obstacles to Belief

It seems that after every amazing wonder performed by Christ before the people, the crowds fall into two groups. Jesus reveals that he is true food, the bread of life, and many believe, but many disciples turned back after hearing such a difficult statement. Jesus heals a blind man and the people cannot understand how Jesus could do such a thing. They wonder how could a man who is not from God restore sight, but would a man from God heal on the Sabbath? Divisions arise whenever Jesus speaks boldly and reveals himself to the people.

You might think that believing today is difficult. To put faith in something we cannot see is hard, and maybe if only we could see Jesus and see what he is able to do, then our doubt would be definitively cast aside. But that wasn’t the case in Jesus’ time, so why would it be so today? It is more than seeing. It is more than our experience. We must trust in Christ, and follow him even when we do not see the way.

What greater miracle could people ask for and what more would–if anything could–convince the crowds and Jewish leaders than raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Jesus isn’t messing around here. Lazarus was dead for days. He was wrapped in linen and buried in a tomb, trapped behind a large stone. But Jesus calls him out. He calls Lazarus out of the tomb and back to life, and Lazarus listens. Jesus had already revealed his glory and power in multiple ways, but now he reveals his power over life itself.

And you’d think, of course everyone would believe, trust, and follow Christ now. But again Jesus divides. Many believe in him, and others do not. Seeing Christ overcome death was not enough. The chief priests and Pharisees do not believe and go even further the other way. They gather and decide they must put a stop to this man. If they do not “everyone will believe in him.”

Why is belief in Jesus so bad? John 11:48 says the consequence of that is Rome will come and and take away our place and our nation. They fear that as Jesus increases, they will decrease (which is exactly the goal of John the Baptist, John 3:30). Jesus will disrupt their world, he will challenge their power. It didn’t matter what signs they witness or miracles Jesus performs. They fear Jesus will change their lives and take away what they value. This is not only the fear and weakness of the leaders, but of the people at large. As it says in chapter twelve, “they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”

What do we value so much that we can’t risk losing it for the sake of Christ? What positions of power or items of comfort are greater than what we receive in Christ? Do we value the approval of our peers more than that of God? These are real obstacles to faith. Surely seeing Jesus stand before us and turn water to wine would impress. But miracles are not enough. We must in faith believe in him, trust him with our lives, and love him more than we love ourselves.

Fortunately for us, even though we are petty and sinful, Christ still came to save. Back in John 11, as the leaders plot to stop Jesus after they heard about Lazarus, one priest, Caiaphas says that Jesus must be killed. His words serve as an unintentional prophecy and give us the reason Christ came. Caiaphas acknowledges a truth greater than his lips realize, “It is better for one to die for the people, than for the whole nation to perish.”

Jesus came to do more than perform miracles. He was sent to this world to overcome sin and to suffer the death that we deserve. He knew that this was the only way, that the one should die so that we may live.

May this be enough for we who have not seen, but still believe.