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7. The Teaching Ministry of Jesus (Part Two)

In Lesson Six we saw how Jesus presented His message of the kingdom through precepts and parables. But it was also indicated that four methods of presentation would be discussed. This lesson deals with the two remaining methods used by Jesus. Already (in Lesson Six) we have before us the general heading: "Jesus' Methods of Teaching," with the two subdivisions as mentioned above: (A) "Teaching by Precepts," and (B) "Teaching by Parables." Now we come to the third subdivision:

(C) Teaching through Miracles:

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John 8:12-18; John 9:1-41

The Gospels record some thirty-five miracles performed by Jesus, and many of these are quite well known. (New Testament references for all of Jesus' miracles will be included in this lesson.) In all probability, Jesus performed other miracles which are not recorded, and there is a hint of this toward the close of John's Gospel (see John 20:30); but there are enough recorded in the Gospels to give us a good working basis for a thorough study of the miracles.

Sometimes people ask: "Why did Jesus perform miracles? Why are the miracles given such a prominent place in the Gospels?" The answer usually given is that the purpose of the miracles was to prove, or bear witness to, the divinity of Jesus Christ. Jesus must have been divine (so it was argued), otherwise He could not have accomplished such marvellous works! In point of fact, Jesus Himself suggested something of this sort, when He said, "Believe me for the very works' sake" (John 14:11). There are also indications that some of the miracles were regarded as practical expressions of Jesus' great compassion. We read: "He had compassion on them, and healed their sick" (Matt. 14:14).

However, we should recognize a further purpose in Jesus' miracles. There are many indications in the Gospels that Jesus performed His miracles to explain and emphasize His teaching. Sometimes the precepts and parables were not fully understood. Even Jesus' disciples at times failed to comprehend His deeper teachings. Jesus saw that the truth He was seeking to impart must be taught in some other way. Thus, many of Jesus' miracles may be regarded as truth-teaching presented in practical form. In other words, the miracles were what we sometimes term "object lessons"; and their purpose was to make some of the deeper teachings of Jesus self-evident to all persons concerned.

The writer of John's Gospel clearly saw this connection between the teachings and the miracles of Jesus. Thus, in the first Scripture passage given at the beginning of this section we read that Jesus declared, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). To us, of course, this is a familiar piece of teaching; but to Jesus' hearers it must have sounded strange and difficult to understand. We find this statement closely followed by the account of Jesus' miracle of healing the man born blind (John 9:1-41). Surely, no better illustration or explanation of the teaching could be given! In the miracle Jesus was pointing out that His statement about being "the light of the world" was not a mere figure of speech; for truly He was indeed the light-bringer to all those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

That the above-mentioned connection is not a mere coincidence is shown by the fact that several similar pairings are given in John's Gospel. For example: Jesus' teaching, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35), is closely associated with the miracle of feeding the five thousand (John 6:1-14); Jesus' statement, "I am the resurrection, and the life" (John 11:25), is immediately followed by the miracle of raising Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:38-44). There are also a number of other instances where Jesus clearly used His miracles to illustrate or provide what may be termed practical examples for His teaching.

At this point we may find ourself inquiring: "What is a miracle? How should we think of the miracles recorded in the Gospels?" A helpful definition may, therefore, be in order.

In times past, miracles were regarded as happenings brought about by some super-natural agency and having no connection with the laws of cause and effect. But nowadays most persons are coming to recognize that "miracles are events that take place as the result of the application of a higher law to certain conditions" (Keep a True Lent 178). However, if we are to understand and profit by the miracles recorded in the Gospels, something should be added to the above definition. We should recognize not only the underlying cause of miracles but also their purpose. Jesus' miracles may be defined as extraordinary happenings brought about by the operation of higher laws, performed both to help those persons immediately concerned and to present, emphasize, or make clear certain important teachings helpful to all persons.

We are now in a position to undertake a careful study of the miracles themselves.

At the outset it will be noted that Jesus' miracles fall into four main groups: (1) miracles of healing; (2) miracles of supply; (3) miracles overcoming death; and (4) nature miracles. Let us consider the miracles in this order:

First: Jesus' Miracles of Healing.

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Section 1, "Healing Miracles of Jesus" (see Appendix)

Jesus' miracles of healing form by far the largest of the four groups mentioned above, with some twenty-three healings recorded in the Gospels. For purposes of study, these healing miracles have been divided into four sections (see Appendix); and a good study plan would be as follows:

(1) Read carefully the miracles listed in Section One as suggested above. It will be noticed that all these miracles are recorded in Matthew's Gospel. However, take a few extra minutes to check the corresponding accounts as given in the other Gospels. (For Scripture references see Appendix.) Do not be in a hurry when reading these miracle stories. In some instances, details of the miracles will vary in the different Gospels; and these variations should be noted.

(2) Follow the same procedure with Sections Two, Three, and Four. Some of the miracles are recorded in only one Gospel; but where there are duplicate accounts, the differences should be carefully considered. However, in each case, try to get a good grasp of the story as a whole.

(3) When reading these accounts of the miracles we should always keep in mind what was mentioned earlier, regarding the purpose of the miracles. This is very important. Jesus' miracles were performed, not only to help the persons immediately concerned, but also to present and emphasize some very important lessons. It is to be hoped that these lessons were recognized by the persons helped; but the miracles of Jesus go far beyond this, and provide lessons for all persons and for all times. Some of these important lessons may now be indicated:

a. The healing miracles present and emphasize the teaching that God's kingdom is a kingdom of wholeness and peace, and that health is the inheritance of all God's children. During His ministry Jesus said, "I am come ... not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me" (John 6:38). All Jesus' healing work must, therefore, be recognized as an outpicturing of the will of God. Through His healing miracles Jesus was saying, in effect, "God's will is not sickness or inharmony of any sort, but health and wholeness." Jesus said, further, "It is not the will of your Father ... that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:14).

b. The healing miracles also place great emphasis upon faith. Faith is the great essential, if there is to be a healing. Many statements to this effect are to be found in the accounts of the healing miracles "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" (Matt. 9:28) "Thy faith hath made thee whole" (Luke 8:48) "All things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23); "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Matt. 8:10). On the other hand, the Gospels clearly indicate that lack of faith holds off healing. Indeed, we are told that "He [Jesus] did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief" (Matt. 13:58).

c. In some accounts of healing miracles there are suggestions regarding the cause of physical inharmony, and emphasis is placed on the necessity for forgiveness. To the man sick of the palsy, Jesus said, "Son, thy sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5); and to the helpless man at the pool, Jesus said, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee" (John 5:14).

d. We usually think of the healing miracles as being instantaneous, with the sufferer making immediate recovery. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule; and in such cases the healing came by degrees. (See Mark 8:22-26; John 9:1-7.) These exceptions should be carefully studied for causes of this seeming delay. Possibly there is a twofold lesson here: (1) Healing may be proportionate to our capacity to receive; and (2) We must persevere, even in such matters as healing.

e. Some healing miracles emphasize the importance of thanksgiving in connection with healing. The story of the ten lepers is the classic example of giving thanks, and also of forgetting to give thanks (Luke 17:11-19). This lesson of thanksgiving may also be recognized in several other healing miracles, if we take time to "read between the lines." By a similar process we may see the work of denial and affirmation in these miracles.

Metaphysical Interpretation of Miracles

The student should carefully reread the notes given in Lesson Six regarding metaphysical interpretation of the parables. Most of the principles there given also apply to the interpretation of miracles. However, when studying the miracles it will be well to recognize several additional features, which may be summarized as follows:

(1) THE NEED: In healing miracles it is easy to see that the need is for healing of some sort. There is something missing, and the supply of that "something" constitutes the miracle. Of course, the nature of the supply varies according to circumstances; but with the supply forthcoming, the result is wholeness or health.

In the healing miracles, as recorded in the Gospels, the need is mostly of physical character, and the references are easy to understand. We must, however, recognize these physical ailments as symbols of mental or spiritual conditions prevailing in our consciousness. For example: Several miracles deal with physical blindness. But in our experience we are often called upon to deal with a different sort of blindness. Jesus, speaking to His disciples, once asked, "Having eyes, see ye not?" (Mark 8:18). And are there not many important things in life which we fail to see, even though we have good physical sight? Sometimes we fail to see splendid opportunities or other good awaiting us, and we do not recognize our spiritual possibilities. Whenever we find ourself exclaiming, "I can't see this!" or "I can't see that!" we are like the blind men mentioned in the miracles. Other physical infirmities may also be recognized as symbols of mental or spiritual conditions where there is "something missing." Not only are there sick bodies, but there are sick souls which cry out for healing!

(2) THE HEALER: When reading the Gospel stories of the healings, our first impression is that two or more persons are involved. First, there is the person in need of healing, and then there is Jesus Christ the Healer. Historically, this is a correct summary of the situation; and reading of this sort is always interesting and inspiring. However, we should now realize that just as the person in need resides within our consciousness, so does the healing power also abide within us. Certainly, Scripture tells of the healing work of Jesus in the long ago; but Scripture also points clearly to "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). In a physical way we may find ourself thinking in terms of outer activities; from the metaphysical viewpoint, we must now recognize that our true healer is the indwelling Christ. Charles Fillmore states: "Christ is declaring, 'I am the light of the world.' When our blind, stumbling thoughts awaken to the reality of the Christ, darkness falls away and we see clearly" (Mysteries of John 96).

Second: Jesus' Miracles of Supply.

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John 6:1-15. (Compare with: Matt. 14: 13-23; Mark 6:30-46; Luke 9:10-17.)

Having considered Jesus' miracles of healing, we now turn our attention to His miracles of supply. Six miracles of this type are recorded in the Gospels. Scripture references for one of these miracles of supply are given above; and references for the other five can be found at the end of this lesson.

Jesus' miracle of feeding the five thousand makes a good start for a brief study of the miracles of supply. The Gospel writer, in giving the account of this miracle, first calls attention to the seriousness of the situation. Something was urgently needed; and the supply of that "something" constituted the miracle. A similar pattern is followed in the accounts of the other miracles of supply.

Bearing in mind what was suggested earlier regarding the purpose of the miracles, we shall find in the story of feeding the five thousand some very important, practical, present-day lessons. Jesus shows us here how to meet emergencies, and how to demonstrate abundant supply, even in the face of seeming lack. Thus this miracle may be termed "a pattern for supply." Note the following clearly defined steps:

(1) Preparation: The Gospels indicate how Jesus, long before this miracle, had built into His consciousness the thought of God as omnipresent supply. In connection with His first temptation Jesus emphasized the idea of feeding from "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Then, speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, "I have meat [food] to eat that ye know not" (John 4:32). Furthermore, Jesus so identified Himself with this omnipresent supply, that He was able to say, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35).

(2) Demonstrating supply: At this point the story of the miracle should be reread (John 6:1-15), and a careful check made of the on-the-spot steps taken by Jesus. Note the following: Jesus recognized what may be termed a "nucleus" of supply in the five barley loaves and two fishes. With us, when facing lack, there is a tendency to say that nothing is available; but this miracle indicates that there is always something—even though that "something" may be small! Jesus established order and aroused expectancy when He bade the people sit down. Note further how Jesus gave thanks, even before the actual appearance of supply. Jesus also encouraged His disciples to exercise their faith by attempting what appeared to be an impossibility. Note, finally, that this was no mere "token meal," but that all present were abundantly supplied. Can we not take similar steps when supply is needed?

(3) An important afterthought: Many persons wonder why Jesus instructed His disciples to "gather up the broken fragments." Evidently this was more than a matter of "tidying up"; and certainly there was no thought of saving these "leftovers" for later use. It would seem that Jesus was here placing emphasis upon what had taken place. He knew that it was easy for people to forget, and He took this step in order that the miracle would be well-remembered by the disciples. In modern times this type of action is often referred to as a process of "impressing the subconscious." The effectiveness of this action is indicated by the fact that this is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. Other miracles were referred to in the Early Church; but this miracle must have been discussed so often that all four Gospel writers felt that it was "required reading," and must be included in their records!

The remaining miracles of supply should now be read, and all important points carefully noted. (Scripture references are given in the Appendix.) It should be recognized that in these miracles there is the oft-repeated teaching that God's kingdom is a kingdom of abundance; and when we call upon Him in faith, our needs are met in a manner "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Eph. 3:20).

Third: Jesus' Miracles Overcoming Death.

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John 10:7-18; John 11:1-46; Matt. 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56; Luke 7:11-17

Before attempting to study the miracles wherein Jesus overcame death, it will be well to read John 10:7-18, as suggested above. Note especially verses 10, 17, and 18. In the first instance, Jesus clearly states His purpose: "I came that they may have life ... abundantly"; while the second statement indicates that Jesus is preparing to implement these miracles with a personal demonstration.

The basic idea in these three miracles is that of life. God's kingdom is a kingdom of life, and the experience that we refer to as death has no place therein. It should be noted how Jesus carefully avoids the use of the word death, and how He recognizes that this is only a temporary condition, to be followed by an awakening into life. We may regard all this as an amplification of an earlier statement by the Gospel writer: "In him was life; and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4).

Metaphysically, these miracles of overcoming death are very important. In our experience, there are times when something seems to die within us. Our youthful energies, hopes, ambitions, or imaginations lose their freshness and vigor and tend to become dormant or "lifeless." In this connection, it should be noted that two of the miracles in this group deal with young people. However, maturity also has similar problems; and this is made clear in the miracle of raising Lazarus. The name Lazarus means "One whom God helps" or "help of God." But this reliance upon God's help and guidance, and all similar spiritual ideas and activities may become dormant or "die" within us. However, even in such a situation, the indwelling Christ is able to speak the restoring word, so that our "Lazarus" does indeed "come forth." The Apostle Paul was referring to something similar to this, when he exclaimed: "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee" (Eph. 5:14).

The miracle of raising Jairus' daughter (Matt. 9:18-26 and other references as given above) should be carefully studied, since it contains much helpful information for all persons who would continue this restoring work. We should recall that Jesus instructed us not only to "heal the sick" but also to "raise the dead" (Matt. 10:8). When we also recognize that all such work must begin within our own consciousness, the words and actions of Jesus, as recorded in connection with this miracle, will take on new significance. Note the following:

(1) What Jesus did: (a) Jesus took with Him Peter, John, and James. This indicates that faith, love, and wisdom (or discriminating judgment) have an important part in the work of restoration, (b) Jesus also shut the door of the house, ostensibly to keep out the unbelieving neighbors and professional mourners. We also need to shut the door of our consciousness to keep out all negative thoughts and such discouraging words as "It can't be done!"

(2) What Jesus said: (a) Speaking to Jairus, Jesus said, "Fear not, only believe." We too must learn to replace fear with faith, even when the situation seems hopeless, (b) Jesus said further, "She is not dead, but sleepeth." Here is use of denial and affirmation, overcoming the seeming and establishing the real.

(3) Two later actions by Jesus: (a) The account tells how Jesus took the little girl by the hand and said to her, "Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise." This action shows that Jesus expected something to happen as the result of His statement. He did not sit back and await possible developments, but acted in accord with His spoken word, (b) Note the further suggestion that something to eat be given to the girl. Physically and spiritually it is not enough just to arouse the slumbering spirit; some further action must be taken to insure increasing strength and continuing activity.

Fourth: Jesus' Nature Miracles.

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Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25; Matt. 14:24-36; Mark 6:47-56; John 6:16-21; Matt. 21:18-22; Mark 11:20-25

The miracles which compose this small group are usually referred to as "nature miracles," for two reasons: (1) The other miracles of Jesus deal with human beings or situations involving human beings; but these miracles deal with things belonging to the realm of nature;—the Lake of Galilee, a growing tree. (2) The higher laws invoked in these miracles appear to cut through or transcend the laws that govern the activities of the natural elements.

Fortunately, the important lessons contained in these nature miracles are not difficult to grasp. When we read of Jesus stilling the storm, we realize that storms also arise within our own consciousness and in our relationships, causing us to become anxious and fearful. However, the indwelling Christ ever journeys with us, and when we call upon Him, He calms the storm with His "Peace, be still!" We recognize that the story of Jesus walking on the water is really a lesson concerning faith. Note especially the near failure of Peter (faith), and how the outstretched hand of Jesus saved him from sinking. Perhaps it was an experience of this sort which caused the hymn writer to exclaim: "Hold Thou my hand; for then, O loving Saviour, No dread of ill shall make my soul afraid."

The miracle of withering the fig tree is just a little more complicated, and the reader may find himself asking: "Why did Jesus do this?" Actually, at first reading the miracle does appear somewhat in the nature of a petulant action brought about by reason of disappointment and frustration. However, we do not associate this sort of thing with the ministry of Jesus! What, then, shall we think of this miracle?

As a first step, we should refer back to the parable of the barren fig tree, as given in Luke 13:6-9. In this instance the lesson is quite clear. The fig tree in this parable represents the nation of Israel, and the barren condition of the tree indicates Israel's failure to accomplish its God-ordained purpose. However, it would appear that the teaching given in this parable had not sunk very deeply into the minds of the disciples. Hence, Jesus now repeated the parable in objective form and in such a dramatic way that it could not fail to register with the disciples. A story about a tree could be heard and forgotten; but a tree stricken down in this startling way could never be forgotten! In other words, the miracle of withering the fig tree is to be regarded as an emphatic restatement of the important lesson given earlier in the parable. Historically, the fulfillment of this prediction regarding the unfruitful tree is seen in the complete overthrow of Jerusalem a few years later, A.D. 70.

The lesson for us in all this is quite clear: We readily recognize that the purpose of the fig tree is to bear fruit, and unless this purpose is accomplished the tree is useless and is cut down. Similarly, the follower of Jesus Christ is expected to "bear fruit"— that is, to show forth the Christ Spirit in his life and activities. Jesus said, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be my disciples" (John 15:8). Without such "fruit," life loses its purpose. A similar teaching appears in the well-known parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30).

(D) Teaching through Actions:

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John 13:1-20

Thus far, in considering Jesus' teaching methods, we have seen that He taught through precepts, parables, and miracles. A fourth teaching method should now be recognized. We should recognize that Jesus taught through His day-by-day activities, and that His teaching was not by words only, but also by His deeds. Unless we are on the lookout for this action type of teaching, we may miss some very important lessons in Jesus' ministry. Note how, in the suggested reading given above, Jesus Himself called attention to this type of teaching, when He said: "Know ye what I have done to you? ... I have given you an example" (John 13:12-15).

Perhaps at this point we should make clear what is indicated by the term "Teaching through Actions." Certain actions are recorded in connection with some of the miracles—such as putting clay on the eyes of the blind man, breaking the bread when feeding the five thousand, and so on. Such actions form part of the miracle, and they should be so considered. But, during His ministry, Jesus performed a number of actions which, when rightly understood, have within them some very important teaching. Indeed, careful reading of the Gospels indicates that Jesus' main purpose in performing these actions was to present the teaching in such a way that actions spoke louder than words! Several instances of this action-teaching have already been given in these lessons—but it will be well to reread the following:

  1. Jesus' Baptism. (Matt. 3:13-17)
  2. The Temptations. (Matt. 4:1-11)
  3. Cleansing the Temple. (John 2:13-22)
  4. Leaving Judea and going to Galilee. (John 4:1-4)

It would be well also to note Jesus' actions in dealing with some of the "lost sheep," as recorded in the Gospels, and try to understand the lessons contained in such actions. The following are good instances:

  1. Jesus' association with publicans and sinners. (Matt. 9:10-13)
  2. The woman taken in adultery. (John 8:1-11)
  3. The Samaritan woman. (John 4:5-26)

Other important instances of Jesus' teaching through His actions will be given in subsequent lessons.

Questions for Lesson 7

Historical Questions:
  1. Explain briefly the purpose of Jesus' miracles. Why are these miracles given such a prominent place in the Gospels?
  2. How would you define a miracle? Mention some differences between earlier ideas of miracles and our present understanding.
  3. Explain briefly how in John's Gospel miracles are used to illustrate some important teachings of Jesus. Give instances, with Scripture references.
  4. In your own words tell the story of Jesus changing the water into wine. (John 2:1-11) Do not attempt to interpret the miracle, but simply tell what happened at Cana.
  5. Which miracle is recorded in all four Gospels? Can you suggest any reason for this fourfold recording?
Metaphysical Questions:
  1. Several important teachings are presented and emphasized in Jesus' miracles of healing. Mention and briefly explain three of these teachings, giving Scripture references in each instance.
  2. The Gospels record several miracles of Jesus healing blindness. What does blindness symbolize in our experience? When and how does healing take place?
  3. List and briefly explain several important steps for demonstrating supply as indicated in Jesus' miracle of feeding the five thousand.
  4. Using your own words, tell briefly the story of Jesus stilling the storm. (Mark 4:35-41) What does this miracle represent in our experience?
  5. How would you explain the story of Jesus withering the fig tree? (See Matt. 21:18-22.) What is the important lesson in this miracle? How does this apply to us?

Appendix: The Healing Miracles of Jesus

Section 1, Gospel of Matthew
1. Simon's Mother-in-law Matt. 8:14-15 (Mark 1:30-31 Luke 4:38-39)
2. A Leper Matt. 8:2-4 (Mark 1:40-45 Luke 5:12-14)
3. The Centurion's Servant Matt. 8:5-13 (Luke 7:1-10)
4. The Afflicted Woman Matt. 9:20-22 (Mark 5:25-34 Luke 8:43-48)
5. Two Blind Men Matt. 9:27-34
6. Man with Withered Hand Matt. 12:9-14 (Mark 3:1-6 Luke 6:6-11)
7. The Syrophoenician Woman's Daughter Matt. 15:21-28 (Mark 7:24-30)
Section 2, Gospel of Mark
1. Man with Unclean Spirit Mark 1:23-26 (Luke 4:33-35)
2. A Paralytic Mark 2:1-12 (Matt. 9:2-8 Luke 5:17-26)
3. Man: Dumb, Blind Mark 3:22 (Matt. 12:22-24)
4. The Gadarene Demoniac Mark 5:1-20 (Matt. 8:28-34 Luke 8:26-39)
5. Man: Deaf, Dumb Mark 7:31-37 (Matt. 15:29-31)
6. Blind Man, Bethsaida Mark 8:22-26
7. Epileptic Boy Mark 9:14-29 (Matt. 17:14-20 Luke 9:37-43)
Section 3, Gospel of Luke
1. The Dumb Demoniac Luke 11:14
2. The Crippled Woman Luke 13:10-21
3. Man with Dropsy Luke 14:1-6
4. The Ten Lepers Luke 17:11-19
5. Blind Man, Jericho Luke 18:35-43 (Matt. 20:29-34 Mark 10:46-52)
6. Malchus' Ear Luke 22:49-51 (Matt. 26:50-51 Mark 14:47)
Section 4, Gospel of John
1. The Nobleman's Son John 4:46-54
2. The Impotent Man John 5:1-16
3. The Man Born Blind John 9:1-41
Jesus' Miracles of Supply
1. Water Made Wine John 2:1-11
2. Draught of Fishes Luke 5:1-11
3. Feeding Five Thousand Matt. 14:13-23
John 6:1-15
(Mark 6:30-46 Luke 9:10-17)
4. Feeding Four Thousand Matt. 15:32-38 (Mark 8:1-9)
5. Tax Money Matt. 17:24-27
6. Draught of Fishes John 21:6-11
Jesus' Miracles Overcoming Death
1. Widow's Son, Nain Luke 7:11-17
2. Jairus' Daughter Matt. 9:18-26 (Mark 5:21-43 Luke 8:40-56)
3. Raising of Lazarus John 11:1-46
Jesus' "Nature" Miracles
1. Stilling the Storm Matt. 8:23-27 (Mark 4:35-41 Luke 8:22-25)
2. Walking on Water Matt. 14:24-26 (Mark 6:47-56 John 6:16-21)
3. Withered Fig Tree Matt. 21:18-22 (Mark 11:20-25)