KENNER, La. (BP)–I was a human sign a few weeks ago when President Bush came to New Orleans. As a volunteer, I was “assigned” to stand in front of the venerable Fairmont Hotel and direct the guests as they arrived.
“The luncheon is on the second floor. If you are having your picture made with the president, that’s at the far end of the first floor.” I must have said that 200 times.
It turns out I was wrong.
After all 1,200 guests had entered, another volunteer came outside and told me the luncheon was on the mezzanine, not the second floor. “I was saying what they told me,” I protested. She laughed and said, “I know. But they came to us and straightened it out.” I was a sign, so to speak, in front of the hotel, but one giving out faulty information.
Jesus was a sign from heaven. God placed him here to give direction to a lost humanity. The information he gave out was exactly right, in contrast to mine. But some people just don’t read signs.
Centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the prophet Isaiah had said, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” The miraculous birth of Jesus was a sign from heaven that the wait was over and God was on the job (Isaiah 7).
When the newly born Jesus was dedicated in the temple, an elderly saint named Simeon approached the young family and took the child into his arms. He blessed Mary and Joseph and said, “This Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel and for a sign to be opposed.” Just as some people will argue with a signpost, Jesus would become a point of division for those opposed to God (Luke 2).
Midway through his ministry, the Lord Jesus was approached by a delegation of scribes and Pharisees. “Teacher,” they said, “we want to see a sign from you.” What they wanted was a miracle of such magnitude that Jesus’ credentials are established and his identity settled once and for all. Overpower us, they were saying; make yourself so plain that only a fool would deny you. Nothing doing.
Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign, and no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12).
Evil means no faith; adulterous means no faithfulness. Briefly, the Lord was saying that these people did not want to come to him by faith, the way of everyone else, but were looking for a bypass. The problem with giving them a miracle to overcome their doubts and to purchase their loyalty is that it wouldn’t last. In a few weeks, he would have to prop them up with another miracle. And he refused to play that game. Jesus knew that miracles do not produce faith. Faith produces miracles.
Only one miracle of overwhelming power would be given to the skeptics, however, Jesus said, and that was his death, burial and resurrection. This is “the sign from heaven” which should convince even the most skeptical of doubters. Except for one thing: Most doubters do not doubt because they lack information; they doubt because they do not choose to believe. A case in point follows.
Sometime later, a delegation of Pharisees with Sadducees found Jesus and repeated the request: “Show us a sign from heaven.” Jesus has just healed scores of crippled and blind and diseased and fed 4,000 people with a few pieces of bread and fish. After that, these men arrive asking for a miracle. What more could they have needed? When a fellow wants to doubt, nothing will convince him (Matthew 15-16).
Once again, Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” With that, he turned and walked away. He had no desire to repeat himself to people who were not listening anyway.
Through the centuries, God has been peppering us with signs. The virgin birth of Jesus was a sign. The Lord Jesus himself was, of course, the greatest sign. His death, burial and resurrection was a sign. Signs abound even today that the Lord Jesus, and only he, is the hope of mankind. Most of these miracles are so commonplace that the spiritually blind look right past them: a sunset, a starry night, springtime, the birth of a child, the death of a saint, the transformation of a life when someone turns to Jesus in simple faith.
“I won’t believe in Jesus unless he performs a miracle.” “I’ll not believe if he lets my mama die.” “If I get this job, I’ll believe and start going to church.” We’re just like the hypocrites of Jesus’ day, erecting hurdles for God to jump. Only those who see recognize God has done everything necessary to make believers of anyone open to evidence. “God, help us to read the signs.”
McKeever is pastor of First Baptist Church, Kenner, La., and a featured cartoonist on BP. Check out his cartoons at BP Life Lighter Side, www.bpnews.net/bpfun.asp?ID=JM.