What Makes You Marvel?
The word marvel isn’t used much in regular, day-in and day-out speech. In my experience, most of the instances in which this word occurs are related to comic book characters on the TV or movie screen. But what does it mean to marvel at something? The word comes from a Middle English form of the Latin word mirabilia which means “wonderful things.” To marvel means to become filled with wonderment or to be amazed at something. What makes you marvel?
I have been privileged enough to see some marvelous sights. I’ve been in Red Square while the snow falls at night. I’ve seen the sunset over the peaks of the Alps. I’ve watched the sun rise on a mountain lake in the Rockies. I’ve heard a baby cry after his first breath. I’ve walked through a German Christmas Village while the aroma of sausage and roasted nuts filled the air. I’ve followed a sea turtle through a Caribbean coral reef. All of these have filled me with wonderment or caused me to be amazed. I have marveled at these things.
What makes these things marvelous? They are rare and uncommon to most people. I don’t often experience these wonders of nature. But, when I do, it causes a sense of wonderment to well up within me. This is a good and right reaction. God has created all these things and they are meant to declare his goodness and power. God looked at his creation and declared that it was very good (Gen 1:31). The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19:1). God’s invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made (Rom 1:20). Marveling at God’s creation is a good and right response. We can also marvel at God’s providence. When Stephen stood before the High Priest, he recalls that Moses “marveled at the sight” of the burning bush (Acts 7:31 NASB). To see an exhibition of God’s glory in creation or a manifestation of God’s glory, like the burning bush, is reason for us to marvel.
Calvin notes that God cannot marvel because wonderment arises out of what is new and unexpected. But he adds that Jesus could marvel because he had clothed himself with our flesh and with human affections.1 The tension between Christ’s divine and human natures in the one person is worked out by theologians under the headings of the hypostatic union and the communcatio idiomata. If in his human nature, Jesus could marvel, what made Jesus marvel? The Gospel of Matthew records just such an situation:
When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith (Matt 8:5-10, see also Luke 7:1-9).
Jesus marveled at the centurion because of his faith. It was not because Jesus was unaware or surprised by the centurion’s faith, because Jesus was the one who had given the centurion his faith. Rather, Jesus marveled because this faith was so rare and uncommon. It was an excellent and beautiful faith. As we might marvel at some majestic vista, Jesus marveled at the presence of such beautiful and glorious faith. It is as if Jesus stepped back and just admired the work of God in the life of the centurion. Matthew Henry comments, “Christ spoke of it as wonderful, to teach us what to admire; not worldly pomp and decorations, but the beauty of holiness, and the ornaments which are in the sight of God of great price.”2
Seeing Jesus marvel at the faith of this Centurion teaches us to rightly admire and be amazed by the right things. It is not wrong to marvel at the beauty of creation, but it is more proper to marvel at God’s gift of faith in the believer. To see God change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26) and to make the dead alive in Christ (Ezek 37, Eph 2:1-10) ought to make us marvel. Henry continues, “The wonders of grace should affect us more than the wonders of nature or providence, and spiritual attainments more than any achievements in this world”3 We ought to marvel at the beauty of this world and handiwork that reflects God’s beauty. But we ought to marvel more at the beauty of God’s grace and handiwork of his grace to us in Christ.
1. John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (vol. 1; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 382.
2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1649.