Jesus And Signs
When I was a freshman undergraduate student at Abilene Christian University, I remember one class extremely vividly dealing with the topic of signs. I was sitting in one of the Bible building classrooms with approximately 40 other Bible majors when our professor walked in and looked distressed. He said to us something along these lines: “I was at church last night, and at the end of the service, the minister asked if anyone had any prayer requests. A man spoke up and prayed for healing for his arm. When I looked over, I saw that he only had one arm. As the minister prayed, his arm began to grow back right there in front of us. It was the most astonishing thing I have ever seen. I don’t know what to think about it other than I was just able to see a miracle!”
The class immediately erupted into chaos, wanting to know more details, how something like this could happen, how people reacted, why wasn’t this all over the news, and when were we going to break it to the entire world.
One student simply just shouting, “What?” and would continue spluttering other incoherent words and phrases.
As all of these questions and responses were being shouted and offered, the professor simply sat there, watching us for our reactions.
Since he was a professor, perhaps you can guess that this was all meant to be an object lesson to the class. He wanted us to understand that when we come to stories about miracles and signs, they are amazing, they are life-changing, but they are not ultimately what Jesus is here to do. They do just what signs are meant to do, and no more. They point us to our destination. The healings, the exorcisms, none of them are the point. But they do lead us to the point: Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, we commonly identify seven signs that are meant to help us understand who Jesus is. (There is some debate on exactly what the seven signs are, but no matter how you count them, it always comes out as seven.) These signs tell us that Jesus has power of nature and creation. They tell us that Jesus has power of infirmities and ailings. They even tell us that Jesus has power over death. But even still, this is not the point. The point is that Jesus is Lord! The point is not the power that Jesus has, it is that Jesus is the Son of God who is here to rescue us from our sin. Jesus is here to announce the reign of God–not because God is going to rule through power and subjection. God will rule through mercy, grace, and love.
In the Gospel of Mark, there is just a short little exchange that I encourage you to take a moment to read, because I think that it illustrates the same point as what John is trying to do by including signs in his Gospel.
So, why won’t Jesus give a sign in this instance, and yet John includes seven signs when writing the story of Jesus? Why does Mark include other healing stories and miracles both before and after this but not here when asked?
Well, for one, the Pharisees are trying to test him. That much is obvious from the text. They aren’t interested in the truth about who Jesus is and what he is here to do. They only want to see what Jesus can do and how he will go about doing it. If he does it wrongly (from their perspective), then they will have means to question him further, to discredit his ministry, or even to arrest him.
But Jesus knows their hearts. And more importantly, Jesus knows that signs are not all that they are made out to be. The Pharisees, and, if we are honest, we too want to see the miraculous. We want a big sign that shows us something amazing, that leaves us breathless, or that causes us to react just as my classmate who exclaimed, “What?” But Jesus is after more than just putting on a good show. Jesus wants more than a moment on center stage.
Jesus wants us to know that he is Lord. And Jesus wants us to commit to a life of following him, even if we don’t get to see the big signs and the miracles. Jesus wants our hearts to daily and freely be surrendered to him. And while signs can point us in the right direction, they are not the final destination.
This week, my prayer is that we might choose to set our hearts and minds toward Jesus, trusting that with signs or without, we are heading in the right direction.