Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"The WOW Factor"

Matthew 9:27-31

Psalm 19:1-4

 

      The city has never been more abuzz.  Hotels and motor inns for miles around are booked solid.

Restaurants and retailers have doubled inventories for these three days of doubled tourist population.

Banners hang across city thoroughfares and flyers fill mail boxes announcing that for which the city

braces itself like a host site for the Olympics; waiting breathlessly for the front publicists and production

coordinators. 

      The arena seats better than fifteen thousand; expected to be filled and emptied four times over

seventy-two hours.  Security is beefed up as a matter of course with these predicted numbers. Parking

is already at a premium; some scalping space for up to twenty-five dollars within a twenty minute walk. 

Inside, the sound system is crystal.  The eight jumbotron screens will assure a good view for everyone;

even those in the 22nd row, upper level.  Lighting is as sophisticated as it should be for a top-bill show.

      By 5 o’clock p.m., the crowds are streaming in, two and a half hours ahead of curtain.  As it is

festival seating [except for the first twenty rows left, right, and center front], people are maneuvering

to get the choice spots; sometimes pushing, and squeezing.  I myself am privileged to be in reserved

section H, close enough to see the stage clearly; yet far enough away that the big screen just to my

upper left will be handy in bringing me in for all the close-up’s.  The excitement, even at this early hour,

courses through me like electricity.  My heart’s beating faster.  Even from this distance, the “platform”

as it’s called appears enormous as it would be for any big name rock-and-roll act.  Technicians with

matching tee shirts scurry across the platform, toting cable, microphones, cases of bottled water.

      Suddenly, a voice blares through the loudspeakers:  “Rehearsal, fifteen minutes.  Sound check.

Rehearsal, fifteen minutes….” “Rehearse?  What’s to rehearse?” I wonder to myself.  I’m snapped out

of thought by a touch on my shoulder.  “Sir, excuse me.  Are you H-23 or H-24?”  I pull my ticket out of

my shirt pocket.  “Ahhh….. I’m H-24.”  Before I slip the ticket safely away, I notice the prominent letter-

ing at the bottom of the stub:  Miracle Crusade Tour!  Claim your miracle from God today!”

 (Read Matthew 9:27-31)

      People seem to always be in search of the WOW factor; that which will amaze, astound, excite,

titillate, bewilder.  These days, there is such a need for stimulation of both the senses, and of the soul –

the spiritual core.  Even way back in Jesus’ day, people reacted much the same as we do, and needed

that WOW factor, especially in their spiritual and religious lives.

      Early in each of the gospels, we find folks following Jesus in droves, particularly in the first days of

His Galilean ministry.  Jesus certainly had a presence about Him – a Spirit emanating from within Him –

which made Him attractive and follow able.  We might call what Jesus had charisma, which in its Greek

root means gifted, favored, graced, shining.  His teaching was something entirely new, at once chal-

lenging and comforting; confrontational, yet to most non-threatening.  He stood up to personalities

from whom most would cower; like powerful religious and political leaders.  But what really built Jesus’

following in the early days were His acts of divine power, or what we refer to in the Biblical sense as

miracles: healing the lame; casting out demons; changing water into wine; granting hearing and speech

to the deaf and dumb; stopping a hemorrhage with just a touch to His robe, resurrections. 

      This morning, we find Jesus returning to “his own town” which at that time in His life was Caperna-

um on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Matthew tells us that “reports” of His activity –

mostly miraculous healings – had spread through the district like wildfire.  Everyone with an ailment,

or a curiosity, was trying to get at least a passing glimpse if not an encounter with this remarkable rabbi. 

He delivered the WOW factor to a people desperately in need of such spiritual stimulation;  people

 having long been burdened under the stifling laws and traditions of their religious community.

      Jesus has just left the house of a leader of the synagogue who asked Jesus to see his daughter who

had just died.  As the story goes, He entered the ruler’s house, but put the crowds of mourners and

onlookers outside.  In the privacy of that tiny chamber in which the girl lay, Matthew tells us that Jesus

“took her by the hand, and the girl got up.”  Needless to say, once word of this miraculous event got

out, Jesus was a bigger draw than ever.

      Now, He’s passing along the road where He’s being followed by two blind men.  Matthew often uses

the word “followed” in reference to those who had become disciples of Jesus.  It may or may not be

that these two men have been following Jesus for some time.  At any rate, they cry out of their despair:

“Have mercy on us, Son of David!”  When they reach a stopping point – an unidentified house into

which they enter – Jesus attends the pleas of the blind men by first asking, “Do you believe that I am

able to do this?”  They readily reply, “Yes, Lord.”  Having evoked their faith that He had within Him the

power to bring sight, Jesus touches their eyes, and they are opened.  But then Jesus says something

curious.  He “sternly ordered them, ‘See that no one knows of this.’  But they went away and spread

the news about him throughout that district.”

      Why does Jesus want no one to know it?  Why would Jesus want this wonderful restorative act of

God kept under wraps?  After all, was it not Jesus’ role to reveal the glory of God through mighty words

and mighty deeds?  Would not making the divine power public and highly visible help advance Jesus’

ministry, and bring more souls to a saving faith in Almighty God?  Could it be that Jesus knew human na-

ture; that we’re always in search of that WOW factor which will amaze, astound, excite, titillate, bewil-

der?  Perhaps this is not what the stuff of true faith is all about.  Because what often happens to one’s

faith when the amazement, astonishment, excitement, titillation and bewilderment give way and reality

returns?  It’s like the drug user who comes down from a high and crashes into the valley of despair.

What comes next?

      In this ninth chapter of Matthew, and throughout the entire Gospel of Mark, we find something

which Biblical scholars call “the Messianic secret.”  Jesus is often recorded as saying in effect:  “Keep this

quiet.  Don’t tell anyone.  For the time being, don’t reveal my identity.  What you’ve witnessed, keep to

yourself.”  Jesus must have had good reason for this.  Maybe Jesus didn’t want faith in God to be a mat-

ter of some WOW factor.  If faith is founded on that which astounds and amazes, and keeps the faith

seeker on some steady high, it is more akin to hype than faith; more emotional than spiritual.  Too often

we equate an emotional high – spiritually-stimulated as it may be – with faith.  I don’t think they are

necessarily synonymous.  Looking at this from the perspective of miracles – in which I happen to

strongly believe – are miracles meant to initialize faith in God through Jesus Christ, or are miracles

meant to be gifts of grace to people who already have faith in God through Jesus Christ?  How often do

we hear Jesus, after bearing God’s power in a miraculous healing, say to the one healed:  “Your faith has

made you well.”  In this morning’s story, before Jesus restores their sight, He asks the blind men, “Do

you believe that I am able to do this?”  Then afterward:  “See that no one knows of this.”

      This suggests that miracles of God are not for show.  The miraculous, in my opinion, is not something

to be paraded on a stage in view of hundreds and thousands.  Like big name rock concerts, with all the

lights, the speakers, the jumbotron screens, the sound checks and rehearsals, the miraculous in our day

has often become performance for the masses.  I do not believe that’s what Jesus intended when He

came to this earth to usher in the Kingdom of God, and to reveal God’s glory through mighty words and

deeds.  In fact, I think Jesus might be offended if He saw what we perform in His name; even to the

point that He might make a whip of cords and drive everyone out of the arena.  To me, there is some

thing deeply wrong with performing mighty miracles – and they are almost always of a healing variety –

as some kind of show which fills arenas, hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, and the coffers of big name

ministries.  Maybe the true power of God’s miracles is in the quiet; the gentle; the unassuming; the

unpublicized;  even in what we might call the ordinary or mundane. 

      “Show me a miracle,” one might say, “that I may believe.”  I think that popular slogan among seekers

today is backwards.  It should be: “May I believe, so that I can be shown the miraculous.”  I would pro-

pose that, by and large, the eyes of faith are not those which are opened by miracles, but those which

are opened to miracles.  And where are people of faith most likely to be shown the miraculous?  Not in

some arena, or at a well-produced and orchestrated miracle crusade, where it is promised that one can

claim one’s miracle from God today, as if it is some mere commodity.

     Instead, look at the brilliant purple flower in the spring, pushing its way up through snow to reveal its

glory, and the glory of its Creator.  Look at the tree which, in a matter of weeks, goes from a collection

of lifeless branches to a blaze of color which reaches out to welcome the birds of the air.  Look at the

vast expanse of the Grand Canyon; it’s sheer size; the formations of rock faces which seem chiseled and

painted by tools of heaven.  Mundane, some might say; common; ordinary; banal; to be expected.  But

the eyes of faith see in the wonder of creation nothing less than the miraculous.  “The heavens are

telling the glory of God.”

      Years ago, I laid on a table as surgeons threaded a tiny catheter through my femoral artery into the

vessels surrounding my heart.  I watched on a screen [not a jumbotron] as a balloon was sent along that

same catheter which cleared a clogged vessel, then a wire stent which would prop another vessel open.

In that same hospital, another man was having new blood vessels sewn to his beating heart in order to

restore severely-restricted blood flow which would otherwise have radically shortened his life. In ano-

ther medical center, surgeons opened the hip of an accident victim, removing the damaged hip joint

which would otherwise have left her permanently disabled, replacing it with a new titanium model that

will never wear out.  In the obstetrics unit, a father is reduced to tears as he witnesses his baby boy

coming into the world from the womb of his wife.  Mundane, some might say; just ordinary.  The

hospital does heart catheterizations routinely every day.  Open heart surgeries have been performed by

the hundreds of thousands.  Hip replacement surgery has become almost commonplace.  Babies have

been born from their mother’s wombs forever. So what?  No WOW to see here.  But the eyes of faith

see in the wonder of medical technology, and even in that which is as natural as childbirth, nothing less

than the miraculous.

      A criminal reformed.  A drug addict or alcoholic rehabilitated.  A mentally-ill person restored to clear

thinking and full function.  A cancer patient with disease sent into remission.  A cancer patient who

can’t be cured, but has accepted the fact of his impending death; not with resignation, but with joy and

hope of a continued life in a Kingdom wherein there is no pain, loss, or suffering.  Persons who did not

know each other, who even once rejected each other because of what group they belonged to or what

lifestyle they practiced, working together side-by-side to aid the victims of a tragedy like flood, tornado,

school shooting, or terrorism.  A person who once rejected God, Jesus, religion, even goodness, now

passionately proclaiming the gospel through serving those in need; extending compassion; showing

mercy.  Another person who was never able to forgive; now not only able to forgive, but doing good to

those who persecute him.  Mundane, some might say.  Garden variety.  Counseling. Therapy. Education.

Good fortune.  But the eyes of faith see in the wonder of persons restored, persons healed – physically

and spiritually; persons accepting and working with others for a common good cause; persons finally

coming to an acceptance of the one who created and sustains them.  In all this, the eyes of faith see

 nothing less than the miraculous.

      Undoubtedly the masses will continue demand and to respond to the WOW factor; to that which will

stimulate both the senses, and the soul.  People of faith, and people seeking faith, will flock to those

venues where there is promise of amazement, astonishment, excitement, titillation, bewilderment; 

where delivery of God’s miracles is on cue.  Folks will follow Jesus, less about who He is spiritually; more

about what He can do miraculously.  This was human nature in Jesus’ time, and remains human nature

in ours.  Yet how much richer and deeper the faith which does not need wonders and miracles per-

formed on a platform for all the crowd to see, but rather rejoices in the wonders and miracles to be

found in the common, the quiet, the unpublicized, even in the mundane.  This is the essence of true

faith.

Heavenly Father, it is our sin that we sometimes demand spectacles as proof of Your power,

rather than opening our eyes to the daily signs of Your power in the quieter acts of Your grace;

even that which we have come to consider ordinary and common.  May our eyes of faith not be opened by

the miraculous.  Rather, may our eyes of faith be opened to the miraculous.  This we humbly pray, in

Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102