Archive for February 19th, 2016

Asking for Signs

February 19th, 2016

And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” (Mark 8:12)

Christ sighed again at the unbelief of the Pharisees who sought from him a sign from heaven. They already had signs from earth in the form of miracles, now they demanded a sign from heaven. It was all pretense, they would not believe, no matter how many signs were given. Belief in Christ is a moral decision, not a scientific one, though there are scientific and forensic factors that encourage faith.

Christ’s authority: It is remarkable to see how the authority and power of Christ was demonstrated by his miracles. The wind and the waves obeyed him (Mark 4:41). He had authority to heal all diseases (Mark 1:41). He did not treat diseases as physicians do, rather he exercised authority over them as Creator and commanded them by his will to be gone. He had authority with heaven to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). Even the demons obeyed him (Mark 1:27). He multiplied food and fed thousands (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-9). He had raised the dead (Mark 5:42). He walked on the water (Mark 6:45-52). At his baptism a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).

The evidences and signs were everywhere, but the doubters refused to believe. Their hearts were hard.

Christ reasoned in tenderness: Yet he reasoned still with them. He commanded the wind, the waves, the diseases, and the demons, but with human life he reasoned. He still does today. He has ultimate authority over all things, yet he takes his time to seek to win us, to persuade us to believe. He asked the question, “Why does this generation seek a sign?” not because he did not know, but to engage the minds and hearts of unbelievers.

Why do people seek signs from God? Why can’t they simply accept that God is speaking to them on his terms in his way? The answer is that human pride has blinded hearts until we think so highly of ourselves that we imagine we have the right to decide the ground rules of God’s revelation of himself. God, you must show yourself to me in this way, and not in any other way. How in the world could anyone be so blind as to think that, in regard to the subject of God and his revelation of himself, that we are the ones who have the right to decide how he will do it?

But we today, who live so far in history after the coming of Christ, look on that generation more critically, for we wish that our eyes would have seen what theirs saw. Why should any of that generation that witnessed his miracles and saw him in the flesh dishonor his presence among them and show themselves unworthy of the gospel? Today among people, who are millennia removed from those scenes in Galilee, who only hear his name and the gospel story, there is often great faith, great weeping for sin, deep repentance from impure thoughts and actions, and courageous professions of faith in Christ. People today, who are so far removed in space and time from Jesus of Nazareth that it seems impossible to trace any connection at all, still receive him as Lord and honor him with their lives. So why should any of that generation have rejected him?

These are questions we have no answer to, except the blindness of pride. And we dare not suppose that had we been there we would have done any differently than they. We may hope we would have been different, and in our hearts today we can be different, but God did not entrust to us their experiences. So we must leave those things in the hand of God who judges justly.  We know that some of these later did believe in him. We know that the work of Christ was not yet complete at that time. His teaching and miracles were not complete. He had not yet been to the cross. The resurrection had not yet occurred. The Spirit had not yet come upon the world in conviction or upon the Church in power.

But we still see the tender heart of Christ, the patience he had with them he still has today – he still reasons in tenderness. He loves us and shares the gospel in love, convicts us in love, calls us to him in patience. There comes the time when we must believe or be lost forever, but we still note the graciousness of Christ in dealing with us. We surely have no basis to complain against God, that he has not dealt with us kindly or properly.

No sign was given. Faith is necessary and it is always necessary. If we have heard the gospel in a fair setting, if we have been told that Jesus Christ had died and rose again and is Savior and Lord, if we have heard this news then God holds us accountable. In the cross and the resurrection is the perfect picture of the love of God, the power of God, and the holiness of God – he has not left sin unpunished or love unexpressed nor power unleashed. All was done properly. All that is left to do is to respond in faith.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Many have been distracted from Christ by the mundane or small and slightly charming things of life. They have missed the sun by being blinded by the light of the moon, or so it seems – spending time and attention with the lesser things, puzzlingly so. And, inexplicably, these lesser things seeming more important, alluring, and rewarding than bowing the knee and heart before Christ Jesus.

There is some debate over the word “generation” – genea in Greek. It had some flexibility in meaning, just like our word does, and could refer to people living at a certain time, or to those who were alike in mind and spirit, such as Mark 9:19, “O faithless generation.” But whether Christ meant it as members of a period in time or people who were lumped together because of the single trait of unbelief, we admit that both phenomena occur on earth. Unbelievers seem to gather together, but unbelief also spans time and the entire globe in some form or another.

We are sure that there are some here today who still act in this same spirit, who shrug off every evidence of the authority and resurrection of Christ, who reject every expression of his mercy and love, and who turn viciously upon the church and persecute her.

What this means to us today: If we cry out today for a sign from God that he exists, that Christ is real, that the gospel is true, none will be given other than the sign of the cross. The evidence of its truth and of the authenticity of Christ is in the witness in our hearts by his Spirit. This is how people come into the Christian family, and there is no other way.

This calls us to make sure that we are not following the Lord out of some mistaken sense of entertainment, because Christian songs are more impressive than others, or that their programs are more exciting, or the way looks more profitable, or any other outward sign we may think we see. Our response to Christ always carries with it the reality of his call and us responding to him in faith. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). This is always the reality of the gospel. We believe in Christ as a person, as Savior and Lord.

The Lord calls us today as his followers to bear in our hearts the same burden toward the unbelieving, and plead and reason with them as he did. He encourages us not to be discouraged when we face rejection, for there will always be those who refuse to believe. Rather let us love patiently, wisely, graciously, but firmly take our stance upon the gospel and the spiritual presence of Christ by his Spirit to call people to believe.

Let us also not be deceived, imagining that another miracle will change hearts, or another display of Christ’s power and authority. It will not. If they have heard the gospel, that is all that is required to bring someone to faith. No doubt, reasoning and pleading will win some that bland presentations will not, but still it is of the same stuff – proclamation of the truth and the presentation of the Living Christ.

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