How Do We Demand Signs and Miss What God is Doing in the World?

The Gospel records a three year period of time in which Jesus seemingly performed miracles, signs and wonders everywhere he went. Perhaps, the accounts in the Gospels give us an impression that doesn’t correspond to the reality because they recount the many miraculous things he did, but they don’t describe all the times in between.

It seems strange, given all the miracles, signs and wonders that Jesus did that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus one day to test him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. (Matt. 16:1) Perhaps, they wanted him to do it on command, like a science experiment to prove himself.

Perhaps, they had only heard of the things Jesus did, but they hadn’t actually seen him do anything. Perhaps, they didn’t trust the accounts of the common people Jesus seemed to prefer to hang out with. They were more gullible and less discerning.

Attitudes like that haven’t changed much in 2000 years. The Sadducees and Pharisees were more learned. The Sadducees didn’t believe in supernatural occurrences, miracles or demons. The Pharisees did believe in those things, but they were skeptical. The two groups had very different worldviews, but they were aligned in their skepticism.

When these elite religious leaders asked Jesus for a private performance – “a sign from heaven” – he refused .

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign[i]; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” 

(Matthew 16:4)

The fact that these two groups, one that believed in the supernatural and one that didn’t, were aligned in their skepticism suggests that their “problem” with Jesus was that he challenged their dogmas. They doubted the fact that he did miracles, signs and wonders because of the content of what he was saying.

Jesus seemed to revel in provoking them on those differences!

The Pharisees (who believed in the supernatural) determined that healing on the Sabbath is work and is, therefore, prohibited by the Law of Moses. They demanded that Jesus not heal on the Sabbath, but Jesus did it anyway. (Matt. 12:1-14)

Ironically, this healing that was done right in the Pharisees’ presence occurred four chapters before they came to Jesus and demanded a sign from heaven. They had seen a sign from heaven already and dismissed it out of hand because it went against their beliefs.

Jesus challenged their preconceived ideas and expectations. He challenged their authority to determine what is work in violation of the Sabbath and what isn’t. They watched Jesus heal a man with a shriveled hand, but they dismissed it because of what he taught that was contrary to what they believed.

God showed the Pharisees a sign (the healing of a man with a shriveled hand), but they were too focused on his violation of their understanding of Scripture and religious dogma to notice it for what it was.

This story illustrates the danger of our religious dogmas and preconceived ideas of what God should do and not do. Even when the evidence is staring us in the face, we can be tempted to ignore it, gloss over it, and explain it away in favor of how we interpret and understand Scripture.

Continue reading “How Do We Demand Signs and Miss What God is Doing in the World?”

The Life and Death Reality of the Gospel

From hatred to love, from death to life

I murdered him for Allah but God raised him up to forgive me…. SHOCKING STORY OF REDEMPTION!! One for Israel: Israeli Arabs and Jews. United in the Gospel

The Gospel is a matter of life and death. The phrase seems cliché, even to a “religious” person. We believe it to be true, but the present reality of it may seem to be an abstraction. A non-religious person might understand the statement metaphorically and allegorically, but would subscribe little or no “weight” to it. Neither sense, however, captures the utter significance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it played out in the lives of people I want to introduce.

In the first story of a Muslim man who hated Christians and Jews, and in the second story of a Jewish woman who hated Muslims, the utter significance of the Gospel is brought home in a way that abstract ideas and allegorical concepts simply cannot accomplish. The Gospel is Living Water in a wasteland of hatred and death.

The first story of a Sudanese Muslim who hated everyone who was not Muslim will make your skin crawl as he describes a brutal, unprovoked attack by him and others against a Christian classmate that left the man broken, bleeding, and dying. He was unashamed and proud of what he had “done for Allah”.

An encounter with two Coptic Christians whose prayer healed his cousin as his cousin lay on his own deathbed opened his eyes to a new reality. When those Christians told him, “The real miracle is that God wants to change your heart,” the paradigms by which he had always viewed the world shifted forever.

The decision he made to embrace Yeshua cost him his family and life as he knew it. He became dead to them. They even performed a ceremonial funeral for him. The life that he formally knew was over, but the new Life he received was riches in comparison.

You will want to watch and listen to him tell his story in his own words, not just to describe this journey, but to listen to him tell the rest of the story about the man he left for dead. The power of the Gospel is so much more than a matter of mere metaphorical importance.

The second story comes from a Jewish woman who lived in a world in which Arabs “were the enemy”. She grew up in the midst of the complex political struggle in the Middle where all around her was war and death.

From her earliest memories, her world was unsafe. She was terrified of Arab people who lived in villages surrounding the settlement in which she grew up. The Arabic language was a reminder to her, when she heard it, of shooting, rocks flying and people dying. She learned to hate Arabs.

The Rabbis painted a picture of the God of the Bible as “a very cold and distant God, almost robot-like, a type of God that wouldn’t think twice before he would strike you down with a lightning bolt if you dared to tear a little piece of toilet paper on Saturday, which is forbidden in Judaism”. What she saw of God in the Bible, though, when she read it for herself, seemed different to her.

She grew up in a world of hatred and fear. When she was introduced to the God of love and hope, her world changed completely. She no longer hates or fears Arab people. She learned that the Lord of life is the God of Arabs and Jews alike.

These stories of people who grew up in environments that fostered hate against each others’ “tribes” show how the Gospel changes people so dramatically that those who once hated now love. Paul’s words are true of Jesus:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility….” (Eph. 2:13-14)

Victims of Abuse Find Comfort and Healing in Christ


Unfortunately, the world today is full of people who have suffered abuse at the hands of other people. For reasons we may not fully understand, victims of abuse often become abusers, themselves. The abuse begets abuse, and the cycle may continue for generations.

The abuse may take the form of parent to child, spouse to spouse, boss to employee, slave owners to slaves, and even governments can wiled oppressive control over the people subject to their authority. People in positions of power abuse people in positions of vulnerability. We haven’t advanced all that much as beings for eons. In some ways, we might have become more sophisticated about the abuse, but the abuse continues, generation after generation.

The Jewish people of Judea, modern Israel and Palestine, were oppressed and abused by the Roman government in the First Century when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus began his public ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah,

“The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free….” (Luke 4:18, quoting from Isaiah 61:1)

But he certainly wasn’t concerned only with the oppressive rule of the Roman government. He was concerned about all people everywhere who suffer abuse. Continue reading “Victims of Abuse Find Comfort and Healing in Christ”