April 19, 2015
Intro – A man and wife were in the grocery store discussing some expensive tomatoes when a 6.6 earthquake hit. Cans and bottles crashed to the floor and things were shaking for a few seconds. When the rolling stopped, they finished shopping and returned home. But while unpacking things, the man noticed no tomatoes and asked his wife why. She replied, “God said, NO!”
Everyone wants a message from God, don’t they? A sign. Something spectacular. A shortcut to spirituality. The desire for the spectacular takes amazing forms. In addition to the normal claims of faith healing, some have claimed chickens raised from the dead, dollar bills turned into 20’s, appliances “healed”, empty fuel tanks filled supernaturally, demons cast from vending machines, gold fillings appearing magically. No claim is too bizarre. And then there are those who claim to have been to heaven and back – or even hell and back. The desire for the spectacular takes amazing twists. And amazingly, everyone willing ignores Paul’s warning in II Thess 2:9, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.” Satan can do miracles, too, Beloved. He can’t keep up with God, but he is not powerless, and those seeking signs and worshiping the spectacular are opening themselves up to way more than they imagine.
No one did more amazing miracles than Jesus, of course. But they were not effective faith-producers. The Pharisees suggested He did miracles by Satan’s power. But the really amazing group are those in v. 16 who, despite what they had just witnessed with their own eyes, “kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.” Jesus begins to answer that request in v. 29, and He is not amused. He is not a freak show or a “miracle-on-demand” genie. He responds, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus considers this whole generation of sign-seekers wicked! This is not because God never gives signs but they are not the norm, nor are they expected to be. To seek them for our own gratification is idolatry. Jesus is teaching the trouble with seeking signs over the sign-giver?
I. One Sign is Never Enough – We saw last week this crowd shows this fact. Having just seen amazing, they immediately insist on another sign – a frequent pattern in Scripture. God knows, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word – not by miracles. One miracle always requires another.
II. The Ultimate Sign Has Already Been Given – We saw that the sign of Jonah is that his 3 days in the belly of the fish prefigured Jesus’s death and resurrection. Thus the ultimate sign has already been given. To reject that is to reject the most that God can ever do.
III. God’s Word Trumps Signs
Spiritual blindness was never more evident than in the contrast that Jesus draws in v. 31 between the Queen of Sheba and His own audience! I Kings 10 tells how the Queen heard of Solomon’s wisdom and came to visit. Sheba was in SW Arabia, modern Yemen – 1,000 miles distant from Jerusalem. Yet, she came and asked him many hard questions. Then I Kings 10:3, “And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her.” Solomon’s wisdom was from God, of course. I Kings 4:29-31: “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all other men.” It wasn’t Solomon’s opinion that this queen was hearing, but God’s Word as even she acknowledges in I Kings 10:9, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” She compliments Solomon, but blesses God. She got it. One visit and she was in; a believer by Jesus’ own testimony.
The contrast between her faith and Jesus’ audience is staggering. He pictures them standing together in judgment. She a pagan idolater; they the chosen people of God. She had hearsay; they had centuries of God’s written revelation. She had no invitation; they were invited by Jesus Himself. She came from the ends of the earth to hear the Word; they had it delivered to their front doorstep. She saw no miracles; they were inundated for 3 years. She heard the Word from Solomon, history’s wisest man; they heard the Word from something far greater. They heard the word from the Word. She believed; they rejected. No wonder she “will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them.” The point of all this is the Word trumps signs. If you reject the Word, signs will not help you. Two reasons:
A. Signs Can Deceive; the Word Can’t
The desire for the spectacular has led a lot of people down the road to destruction, Beloved. People assume that if they see a miracle it must be God. But hear me -- Not all miracles are God’s miracles. Signs can deceive; the Word never will. Jesus Himself warns in Mt 24:24, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” This is a dire warning, Beloved. Jesus is saying, “Get hung up on signs and look out. False prophets galore will do some amazing things and even deceive believers.” He’s not saying a true believer could lose their salvation. The elect can’t get un-elect – but they can live a wasted existence, chasing false prophets without discernment just because they do some miracle. It can happen. It will happen; it is happening!
In II Thess 2 Paul describes a coming Antichrist who will rule the world briefly. How does he get his power? II Thess 2:8, “And then the lawless one (Antichrist) will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.” When I was first learning Greek, this was the first passage I checked out. I wanted to see if the words used for signs and wonders here were the same as used for the miracles of Christ. They are. But His are true; these are false. His are from God; these are from Satan. Notice the state of those who follow these signs in v. 11: “They refused to love the truth and so be saved.” They loved the miracles instead of the truth. The put experience ahead of the Word and ran on emotion, not truth. This is what happens to people who get enamored with miracles, Beloved. Don’t go there. Notice in v. 12 that God even God gets involved, sending “them a strong delusion.”
Rev 13 gives some detail how this will all play out. Vv. 1-10 tell of an end-time Beast (Antichrist) who has a mortal wound that he survives either by resurrection or fake resurrection. He also has a side-kick, a PR expert who manipulates the populace to worship him. Rev 13:12, “It (the second beast, PR – spin doctor) exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed (by whom? By God. Satan is bounded) to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain.” Do you get the picture? Not all miracles are God’s miracles.
You say, “Well, this is all end-time stuff. When wheels coming off. It’s not happening now.” Really? In The Other Side, Bishop James A. Pike describes how he made contact with his son, who had committed suicide. Using a spirit medium, the boy supposedly told his father, "I failed the test, I can't face you, can't face life. I'm confused… Yet nobody blames me here." Jesus, the boy said, was an example but not a Savior. Of course, this violates Scripture. No blame? “It is appointed to man once to die and after that the judgment” (Heb 9:27). And Scripture presents Jesus as Savior, not merely a great example. You say, “What happened?” Pike either ran into a clever medium who impersonated his son, or, more likely, he ran into a familiar spirit – a demon who impersonates dead humans. God warns in Lev 20:6, “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers (literally familiar spirits), whoring after them, I will set my face against that person.” Not all miracles are God’s miracles.
False miracles abound. Holy laughter, purposeless and unscriptural. Being slain in the Spirit – purposeless and nowhere in the Bible. Are there miracles? Yes. And we can pray for them, but it is not God’s primary way of working today. Miracles were never primarily intended to produce faith. We think they were; they were not. That’s why one is never good enough. Rom 10:17: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ,” not by miracles. Do you see? And many, in search of the spectacular, have been led astray. Signs can deceive; the Word never can. It is far more spectacular than any sign.
B. Signs Are Subordinate to the Word
If you’re confused, listen to the Word. Deut 13: 1-3, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass (it’s actually a real miracle), and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” The Word rules over miracles. Moses might have said, prosperity preachers. Claiming to be prophets and dreamers of dreams. Producing some kind of signs, but urging the worship of riches. Don’t buy it. Stick with the Word.
Remember Luke 16? The beggar Lazarus sat outside the gate of the rich man hoping for crumbs off his table. All his life. But life ended. Lazarus joined Abraham in heaven and the rich man lifted up his eyes in torment in hell. First he begged for relief, but when he found that was not possible, he says in v. 27, “‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets (the Bible); let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” This was proven true when Jesus rose again a few months later. The Word trumps signs as a producer of faith. If you don’t believe because of the Word, signs will do no good.
IV. The Need is to See the Savior, Not to Seek a Sign
A final word to sign-seekers – a parable showing in seeking signs they were missing The Sign – Jesus. V. 33, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Two things must happen for us to see something. First, the thing must be lit up. Usually, you can see your hand just fine, including the hang-nail on the fourth finger. But there are nights when you “can’t see your hand in front of your face”, right? What’s the problem? No light. It’s not illuminated. Second, to see your hand you need a healthy eye. Your hand could be all lit up, but if your eye is bandaged or damaged it cannot see the hand.
Now in this parable the thing lit (revealed) is God’s truth, most perfectly illuminated by the person of Christ. He Himself is the light. Jesus says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He says in John 9:5, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 12:46, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” Jesus lit up the world as no one before or since. He was the ultimate in God’s revelation, the fulfillment of all that God had said previously in His Word. So the light is there; God’s truth is definitely lit up by Christ. Do you see?
The problem is with eyes that refuse to see. V. 34, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” The problem is not with the light. It is there for all to see in the person of Jesus and the miracles and signs He has already done. The problem is with the perception of the sign-seekers. They are refusing what is right in front of their face. Jesus says their eye must be “healthy” – simple, single. Ever have double-vision? That’s one time when two is not better than one, right? Why? Because reality is skewed. You try to pick up the vision on the right, and you get thin air. That’s what these people were doing. They were refusing to see – figuratively hiding the light under the bed and then asking for more signs. They were condemned by their refusal to see the reality that was illuminated right before their blind eyes.
John says of them in John 12:37, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.” Why? Because they couldn’t? No, bc they wouldn’t! The issue was they were closing their eyes to truth right in front of them. And Jesus gives the reason in John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” They didn’t need more signs. They were covering their own eyes and Jesus knew it. They were doing that because they did not want to be accountable. They did not want to repent. Seeking for another sign was just an excuse to go on living according to their own selfish desires instead of submitting to His Lordship. They were willfully blind. So they went on seeking signs instead of seeking a Savior.
No one will ever be able to say to God, “It’s your fault. I just needed one more sign.” No you didn’t. You refused what He already gave. God set His truth ablaze in the person of Christ. By His words and works, He gave overwhelming evidence of the truth of His message and the deity of His person. And He capped it off with the greatest sign of all – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. These people, like many today, were blind by choice, not for lack of evidence.
Conc – Sign-seekers are like the elderly nearsighted man who imagined himself an art critic. One day he visited the museum with some friends. He’d forgotten his glasses, but that didn’t stop him airing his strong opinions as they went along. He was particularly taken with one full-length portrait. He critiqued it mercilessly: "The frame is altogether out of keeping with picture. The man is too homely and shabbily dressed. In fact, it was a great mistake for the artist to select such a shoddy subject for his portrait." On and on he went until his wife managed to pull him aside and whisper to him, “My dear, you are standing in front of a mirror!”
You get the point, I trust. The search for signs says a lot more about the seeker than about the Lord. There is a willful blindness going on that must be clarified by absolute trust in the Savior who has already revealed Himself. The search for the spectacular can lead you down a lot of ratholes; trust in the written and living Word never will. Let’s pray.