This Week's Focus Passage

‘Why doth this generation seek a sign?’

Focus Passage: Mark 8:12

‘Why doth this generation seek a sign?’

We have not come very far from the Pharisees, who ‘came forth, and began to question with him [Jesus], seeking of him a sign from heaven, trying him.’ In the grace of God, the Messiah gave many signs, that is, miracles, while He abode with man on earth, attesting to His divinity; declaring, as it were, that what He was teaching and preaching was indeed the very word of the living God. Miracles were performed by the Christ in great and wonderful mercy toward sinners because of the inherent tendency in man to demand some visible representation of truth. ‘Seeing is believing,’ they would likely be thinking to themselves. This is something even of a historical trademark for those of our state of Missouri, the ‘show me’ state. ‘Show me and I’ll believe,’ is the attitude of the heart of anyone seriously making such a demand. But is this statement a true one? Do such controversialists honestly anticipate that they will come to believe something that they manifestly do not believe simply on the basis of a miraculous demonstration of knowledge or power? We have been informed by individuals, in the way of complaint, even complaint directed at God that they consider it to be extremely unfair that they are being required to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ without receiving any such miraculous sign which, they imply, would certainly convince them. They boldly assert, with reference to ‘doubting Thomas,’ that if, like Thomas, they were permitted to touch the scars on Christ’s hands and thrust their hand into the wound in His side, they would assuredly believe, and with Thomas, proclaim, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Such persons do not know themselves, but deceive themselves with such impotent excuses for their unbelief.

Not only do they not know what is in themselves, neither do they know the Scriptures. If they were to search the Scriptures, they would swiftly discover that therein are contained numerable accounts of miracles done by our Lord, miracles which not only failed to convince the witnesses that Jesus Christ was God manifested in the flesh; that He was just who He claimed Himself to be, the very Son of the living God, their promised Messiah, but rather, had the contrary effect of increasing their hostility and determination to be rid of this ‘troubler of Israel.’ Consider the response of these persons to only a few of the ‘mighty works’ works done by our Lord while with us upon earth. That which is accepted by all as the first miracle of our Lord was the changing of the water into wine when He was at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. The lack of an adverse response to the first ‘sign’ is likely due to the fact that it was done ‘in a corner.’ It was not really witnessed by a great number. We gather this with good reason for we are told that even the ruler of the feast ‘knew not whence it was (but the servants that had drawn the water knew).’ We would not expect that any of the guests would particularly care anyway, since they had already ‘drunk freely.’ It was, we might say, an esoteric ‘sign’ to His disciples who, ‘believed in him,’ as He had manifested His glory.

However, for those who had not been given eyes to see, and hearts to understand, all the signs and wonders done by our Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry availed nothing. Indeed, the more frequent response was that of an increased enmity to the Savior. On a number of occasions when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, instead of rejoicing with those that rejoiced over one that was healed, they took umbrage that ‘work’ had been done on a holy day. Perhaps the most conspicuous illustration of the truth that the ‘signs’ supposedly sought for availed nothing apart from the attending grace of God, is seen in the narrative of the death and resurrection of Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel. Any that would contend that if only they were able to witness a miracle, they would certainly believe, should give attention to the behavior of many who actually saw a man come forth from his grave whom they knew had been dead four days. Yet, what is the response that is recorded for our instruction? In verses 47 and 53, ‘The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many signs.’ ‘So from that day forth they took counsel that they might put him to death.’ Their consternation and willful unbelief are further revealed as we find it subsequently related that these ‘took counsel that they might put Lazarus also to death: because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.’ John 12:10-11. They were not convinced by the ‘sign’ given when this man was raised from the dead, but they would even seek to destroy the ‘sign’ himself. Confirmed here is the statement in Luke’s account of the rich man and another Lazarus. It came from the lips of faithful Abraham in response to the assertion of the rich man that, ‘if one go to [his brethren] from the dead, they will repent.’ Abraham ‘said unto him. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.’

The ‘sign’ is to give attestation to the Word and must be accompanied by that Word. Yet, even then, the Word must be accompanied by faith, and faith is the gift of God. Paul has taught us, in what could almost be thought of as an exposition of Christ’s words in Matthew 11:25, that it is God’s design to ‘hide these things from the wise and understanding, and to reveal them unto babes.’ The apostle lays down for us the methodology ordained of God in bringing sinners to His Son, saying in response to his own rhetorical question, ‘How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? faith, or belief, cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.’ There is a vast difference between hearing about Christ, and hearing Christ. The hearing ear, that is faith, is the gift of God. This must be echoed in our hearts and minds again and again until we understand that it is only as we have been made to differ through the gifts of faith and repentance, that we have been enabled to hear the voice of the Son of God when He said, ‘come forth,’ and we came forth from the tomb of spiritual death.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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