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Not all miracles are signs; signs are a special type of miracle. "Yet all miracles are not signs, for signs convey some distinct teaching in addition to their display of power," (Anderson, n.d.). As Morris (1989) puts it, a sign is that which "points beyond itself," (p. 2). Moreover, a sign is "not self-contained, not an end in itself," (p. 2). Whereas a miracle may stand alone as an example of Christ's glory, a sign is that which points toward something else -- it "has a meaning that is fulfilled elsewhere than in the miracle," (Morris, 1989, p. 2). Therefore, signs serve a special function in the Bible. They point not only to the power of Christ but also to underlying meanings in the events that give cause for deeper contemplation and analysis. The word in Greek for sign is semeion, which is used 17 times in the Gospel of John and is a completely distinct word from the ones used to describe other types of miraculous events. Sign miracles are unique in that they are meaningful on multiple levels, including the metaphorical level.
In his Gospel, John records at least eight signs of Christ. The first sign is described in Chapter 2, and is the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine. The second sign described by John is Jesus healing the nobleman's son in Chapter Four. In the third healing sign miracle, Jesus heals a man who could not walk. John recounts this event in Chapter Five. The fourth sign miracle described by John is that of the loaves and fishes, in John 6:1-13.
The fifth sign miracle is also in Chapter Six of the Gospel of John. Here, Jesus walks on water. The sixth sign miracle is Jesus healing the blind man in Chapter Nine. The resurrection of Lazarus is a remarkable sign miracle, described in John 11:1-45. Finally, Jesus shows his disciples how to find a multitude of fishes in the eighth sign in John 21:1-14.
John implies that he only selected eight of many other sign miracles that Jesus performed: "John does not intend to record every miracle that Jesus performed, but to select certain ones," (Willis, 1977). Moreover, there may be a distinct reason why the author chose to represent the power of Christ using eight, and only eight, sign miracles. The number eight itself may be significant as "marking a new beginning," or for symbolizing the divine purpose of Christ (Fitzgerald, 2003, p. 77).
Ultimately, John asserts the importance of the eight signs as being essential for belief in Jesus as the Son of God. John writes, "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name," (John 20:30). The signs had meaning directly within the contemporary framework of Christ's life and work; and the signs continue to bear out their miraculous meaning in the course of creation and Christian history.
Sign Miracle 1: Water into Wine (John 2:1-12)
Jesus, Jesus's mother, and Jesus's disciples all attend a wedding in Cana in Galilee. Jesus's mother Mary makes a comment to her son about the wedding wine being gone. At first, Jesus seems upset with his mother. He retorts, "Woman, why do you involve me?...My hour has not yet come," (John 2:4). However, Mary already knew what Jesus was capable of; her faith is not in question here. She tells the servants to listen to Jesus, who orders them to deliver six stone water jars to the banquet. The water jars are delivered, but when they are set down, the master of ceremonies finds that there is wine inside each. The servants knew what had happened; and now too did all the guests at the wedding banquet. "What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him," (John 2:11). This first sign encourages belief in Jesus as Son of God. Willis (1977) points out that the water into wine sign miracle also signifies Jesus's "power over quality" because the master of ceremonies makes a point to say that the wine brought by Jesus was superior to the wine they drank before.
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