Jesus came healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and doing other miracles, but when the religious leaders asked for a sign, he refused.
The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” (Mark 8:11-12)
What Jesus said to the Pharisees when they asked him for a sign seems curious in light of the fact that Jesus performed signs and wonders everywhere he went! The incongruity of these things struck me recently as I was reading through portions of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.
I have often thought about the fact that Jesus healed people and performed miracles right in front of people. Some people believed on account of the miracles, but, others did not. The Pharisees didn’t necessarily deny that Jesus performed miracles. They didn’t have the benefit of modern skepticism to discount the miracles. Instead, they explained them away by saying he cast our demons by Satan (Matt. 12:24) and focused on perceived violations of the Mosaic law.
John Chapter 9 describes the healing of a man who was blind from birth and the subsequent investigation of the miracle by the Pharisees. The questioned him repeatedly and even questioned his parents to make sure that he really was born blind. They had already determined that Jesus was a sinner (John 9:24) and, therefore, could not have performed miracles by the power of God, presumably. They so accused the blind man of being a sinner for maintaining that Jesus healed him by the power of God. (John 9:34)
The interchange reveals that the Pharisees rejected the miracles Jesus performed on theological bases. Today, they might use science as their reason.
Interestingly, as I was combing the Internet for relevant commentary on these things, I found an article at studyjesus.com, His Miracles and Their Effects, in which the author notes a curious absence of gratitude and praise for the miracles Jesus performed. Some, like the Pharisees, responded with outright hostility. Bottom line, the miracles, in themselves, were unconvincing to many people.
This is true even though Jesus was “accredited by God … by [the] miracles, wonders and signs.” (Acts 2:22) When the disciples went out preaching the gospel after the death and resurrection, their words were also “confirmed” by the signs that they did. (Mark 16:20) But many people weren’t buying it.
This is a clue, in my opinion, for explaining why Jesus refused to perform miracles when doctors demanded a sign.
People who believed Jesus sought him out. They pushed through the crowd to meet him. They climbed roofs and climbed trees to catch a glimpse of him and ask him for healing. Some sought only to touch the hem of his garment. The Roman Centurion told Jesus just to say the word to heal his servant. These people demonstrated their faith by seeking Jesus out.
But when people demanded a sign, Jesus would not give them a sign. The Pharisees had already determined who they thought Jesus was. No miracles were going to change their mind.
Jesus performed lots of signs, but none of those signs made anyone believe who had already made up their own minds about who Jesus was.
I recently listened to a discussion on the Unbelievable podcast with Justin Brierley involving John Lennox, the famous Oxford professor of mathematics and philosophy, and Michael Ruse, the renowned philosopher of science. Ruse is an atheist who adopts a different posture than most atheists. He doesn’t insist on evidentiary and rational proof. He didn’t even seem interested in that kind of proof. He said he would become a Christian if he had the “revelation” that Christianity is true. But, he said, he didn’t “have” the revelation.
Early in my Christian walk, I remember a couple of people asking why God would reveal Himself to me when they were good and went to church and didn’t live recklessly like I did. They knew me, of course. They were “good” by comparison to me, and we both knew it. I didn’t have a good answer, but I knew that God had touched me and changed me.
In thinking about these things, some realizations come to mind. As for my story, I knew that I was a “sinner”. I had royally messed up things in my life, and I knew it. I had no illusions that I was “good”. I also knew that I was missing something, and I desperately wanted what I was missing.
Most of my sinfulness was driven by the reckless desire to fill a void, and it fell desperately short of filling that void. In fact, the void only got deeper and wider. As I realized that what I really wanted was meaning, purpose and truth, I began to search for those things in earnest. I became unrelenting in that pursuit, and I believed that a person could find meaning, purpose and truth if a person sincerely wanted to find those things.
I eventually “found God”. Or maybe He “found” me. I don’t really like that terminology, but the idea of searching is ultimate importance. We have to want to find truth and, ultimately, God. We have to be willing to search earnestly and honestly and to settle for nothing but the “real”thing”.
Some people ask why God doesn’t just reveal Himself to everyone and make Himself obvious. I think the reason is that God wants us to want Him. He loves us too much to force Himself upon us. He wants love in return from us, not some strained respect or forced obedience from beings that would rather not have to care.
God promises over and again, “If you seek me with all your heart and all your soul, you will find me” (Deuteronomy. 4:29); and “you will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah. 29:13) Jesus said exactly the same thing:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
But, we can’t come demanding a sign. We can’t come demanding proof.
Oh, the proof is there – if we are willing to see it. Jesus did miracles everywhere he went, but he refused to perform a sign when it was demanded of him.
We might say, “If only God would make it crystal clear to me, then I will believe”; or “If only God would just do this one thing, then I will change and follow Him.”
But, it doesn’t work like that.
“[W]hoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
If a person doesn’t “have” the revelation of God, maybe it’s because he doesn’t care to have it, or maybe he doesn’t care enough to have it.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and in his joy he went and sold all he had and bought the field.” (Matthew 13:44)
There is a difference between looking for a sign and seeking God.