The Continual Demand for Proof
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 6:30; Matthew 12:39; Judges 6:17, 36-40; 1st Corinthians 1:22, 23; John 20:29
As we read God’s Word, one of the things we really enjoy seeing, is all the miracles: the wonderful things God has done, either to save his people, or to sustain them, or, in some cases, just to reassure them. Once in a while, we see someone in scripture asking for a sign. And when God gives it to them, we think, “Well, I’d like one of those, please!”
That is a common feeling among believers, and, when we read of people whose plea for such a thing was granted, we tend to think that must be the “normal way to relate to God:” That, perhaps, in fact, He just loves to “whip out a miracle” anytime we want one! I want to caution believers against that kind of thinking. Let’s see what God’s Word says about the subject, beginning right where we left off, in John 6:30, where the Jews asked Jesus for a sign.
“What sign showest thou, then, that we should see and believe thee?”
Remember, the people who said that, here in John 6, were not looking for a “path to faith:” They had already been filled with the loaves and the fishes, and, in fact, they had wanted to take Jesus by force and make him their king. (That’s wrong thinking, too, by the way! Jesus was God in the flesh! You do not tell God what to do, nor try to force His hand!)
But the point is that they had just seen a fairly major miracle! And all Jesus had done, in verse 29 was to assure them that faith in Him was what God required. So, in that case, does their demand look like faith, or unbelief? It was definitely unbelief! In fact, as Jesus elaborated on the theme of Himself being the Bread of life, here in John 6, we see that many of his so-called “disciples” abandoned Him completely. They did not believe Him!
What about Gideon and his “Laying out a fleece?” (Twice!)
We often hear people say, “Put out a fleece! Ask God to direct you!” That sounds quite spiritual, and sometimes God actually honors it, especially for new believers or in circumstances where we really don’t have enough information to make a decision, and we are just asking for directions.
But, open your Bible to Judges chapter six, and read the story of Gideon: God had appeared to Gideon personally, in the form of the “Angel of the LORD.” And God had given him a direct command, as well as full assurance that He would back him in his obedience.
What did Gideon do? Look at verse 17: “Show me a sign that is really You, telling me all this!” So, God gave him the sign he asked for, and he thought he was going to die, because he had seen God! (Verses 21-23) But God reassured him saying, “Peace be unto you: you will not die!”
So, Gideon began to obey. But, by verses 36-40, he was back to asking for signs again. And God honored the request again! But we need to see that his request was an act of unbelief: God had already told him what to do! There was already more than sufficient information for him to make a good decision. He was acting in unbelief, trying to get out of the job God gave him!
What does Jesus say about people demanding a sign?
In Matthew 12:38, the Scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for yet another sign. Bear in mind that these were the same people who had just accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan. These were definitely not “believers, looking for additional direction:” These were Jesus’s enemies, putting Him to the test (again!) And His response is very instructive: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the Prophet Jonah:” This is how Jesus feels about that sort of attitude and request.
But, what makes it “faith” one time and “unbelief” another time?
In John 4:48, Jesus made a similar admonition. He was speaking to a man who asked Jesus to heal his dying son. Notice that Jesus used the plural “you” (KJV, “ye”) when He reproached the unbelief: He said “Except ye (plural) see signs and wonders, ye will not believe!” As a group, this seemed to be true of the Jews…they continually doubted Jesus and wanted another sign. (Paul confirms this in 1st Corinthians 1:22, 23, and says to preach the Gospel, instead!)
But this man begged Jesus to come anyway: And Jesus said, “Go thy way, thy son liveth!” And the man believed Jesus, and he turned around and went home! Do you see the difference? As a group, they were not believing God…they constantly yammered for another sign! But this man believed Jesus when Jesus said the miracle had happened and he turned and headed home, in faith. He had not been looking for a sign, like everyone else: He already believed Jesus, enough to make the 24-mile hike, each way, from Capernaum to Cana, to ask Him to heal his son.
The Actions of Faith:
It was a long walk back to Capernaum. He was probably struggling, every step of the way, to keep believing. He had left “Jesus the healer” back at Cana, and he was getting further and further away from Him. But he was obeying by faith, and doing what he was told to do!
You see, Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth! Faith is not about “feeling.” God speaks, and we put our faith in His Word: not in our feelings about His Word. So, that man kept walking, being obedient, regardless of what he felt…and his servants met him on the way home saying, “Your son got well!” So he asked what time the change had occurred, and they told him: and then he knew that the healing had happened at the very time Jesus said the son was healed! In the following verses God says that the end result was saving faith for that whole household.
But, what about Thomas?
For the last 2000 years, History has condemned Thomas as a doubter, just because he asked to see for himself. Remember that all the other disciples had already seen the resurrected Jesus, face to face. All Thomas asked was that he be given that same privilege. And Jesus gave it to him! But there was a small admonition given along with the answered prayer.
Jesus said to Thomas, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” But then Jesus gave the whole group even more signs, so that at least these eleven started off with plenty of proof. (And yet: in John 21, most of them took off to become commercial fishermen again, because Peter suggested it. And Peter received the rebuke that time.)
Compare Thomas to Peter:
Let’s keep in mind, too, that Jesus invited Thomas to shove his hand into His side; the gaping hole left by the Roman Spear! Whatever it took, Jesus wanted Thomas to believe. Tradition tells us that Thomas served faithfully his whole life and died a martyr. (Can I prove it? Nope. I have no scriptural evidence.) My point is that Thomas was not “refusing to believe.” He just wanted his faith to be built on something stronger than the testimony of his fellow disciples: He wanted to see Jesus just as they all had done. I don’t see that as being worthy of our condemnation.
Peter, on the other hand, had seen the resurrected Christ, and had been called away from the fishing boat at least twice already…Jesus’s rebuke to him came after he had all the above experiences and all the “proofs” from Jesus, because he decided to go back to his old job. Had he intended to permanently go back, or was it just intended to be a “short cruise to get some operating funds?” We don’t know: but he led the other disciples with him, and Jesus called him out on it, asking whether he loved Jesus more than the fish. Asking whether he was more committed to Jesus, as his Lord, than he was to commercial fishing.
What should we do instead of looking for signs? Preach the Gospel!
1st Corinthians 1:17-25
Paul made it clear in this passage (especially verses 17 and 23) that the “preaching of the Cross” was the central message of everything his ministry had to offer. Believing that Gospel resulted in the believer being placed into the Body of Christ, as a permanent member, or part, of the Body of Christ…the Church. This is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit…the true baptism that identifies us permanently with Jesus, in His Death, and Burial and resurrection. (See 1st Corinthians 12:13)
He goes on to say that the typical Jewish response of that time was to ask for a miraculous sign, as a confirmation. The typical Gentile response was to require that it all “Made Sense” to them. It had to “sound like wisdom.”
Human “wisdom” or God’s Wisdom?
The core issues of the Gospel may offend what “makes sense” to me, as a Gentile:
- That someone else could be punished for my sins and satisfy the justice of God.
- That Jesus would die for those he knew would reject him anyway (and most people do!)
- That a Holy, all-powerful God, would even take notice of such an insignificant race, let alone deliberately subjecting himself to physical, spiritual, verbal, and emotional abuse for them, seems beyond comprehension.
So, if it all had to ‘make sense’ to me,” I would still be lost, along with those in verse 18: (“The preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness:”)But since I confess from my heart that “The foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (verse 25,) I now fall into the group of people the World calls “fools.” And that is just fine!
It is OK for the World to be offended by the Gospel, and to call us “Fools!”
“We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and to the Greeks foolishness.”
- It is OK for people to disparage us for believing Jesus! They disparaged Him as well!
- It is OK for the world to hate what we teach: they hated what Jesus taught as well!
- It is OK for us not to have all the answers: Jesus HAS all the answers, and He did not always give them to people. Sometimes He instead posed a more appropriate question, and left them to “stew in their own juice,” so to speak.
Is it OK for us to “ask for a sign?” And if so, When?
I don’t see the apostles “asking for signs,” at all, but God gave them anyway, on a number of occasions, in the book of Acts. What were the common factors, when He did so?
- Usually (if not always) it happened when there were unbelieving Jews present,
- Usually (not always) it happened when the Gospel first went into an area.
- Without exception it happened to confirm the message that was being preached. It was not just for the comfort or entertainment of the believers.
People died, and were not raised from the dead. People got sick and were not miraculously healed. Bad things kept right on happening to good people. By this I mean: “becoming a believer” did not provide a “get well soon” card from Jesus. Paul had an ailment of some sort (I believe it had to do with his eyes, because of Galatians 4:13-16, and 6:11) and He asked God three times to take away this ailment: And what happened? God told him to stop asking!
Miracles do Happen!
But, when the Gospel was becoming established in the Mediterranean area, there were a number of miraculous interventions by God, which served to confirm the message of the Apostles. I have known a few missionaries, too, who have told me of strange things God did, when the Gospel first went into some remote places. These seemed to be genuine Divine intervention. Sone undoubtedly saved the lives of the missionaries. Others were just very peculiar, and unexpected.
Were they “miracles?” I can’t say, for sure: But the timing was certainly “exquisite” in some of the accounts! And they always served to confirm the Authority of the Gospel.
So, When is it appropriate to ask?
When we have exhausted our Biblical sources of information and we still have a difficult choice to make, I think it is just fine to ask God for special direction of some sort. But if we already know what He says, and we are just hoping He will “change His mind,” then it is completely inappropriate to ask for miraculous direction. (That is unbelief and rebellion!) Finally, please remember that it is entirely possible that there will be two choices that are equally pleasing to God, and within which we are perfectly free to just choose the one we want.
Does God answer with miraculous signs today? Yes, I believe He does: but I think it happens most often among brand new believers. My observation is that the “old soldiers” are to press on and set a good example in spite of hardship. I am aware of counterexamples, but they usually happened on mission fields where the servants of God were already “way out on a limb,” from human perspective, and God just brought all the circumstances together for His Glory.
Lord Jesus, build our faith through obedience to Your Word. Teach us to follow you faithfully, not demanding that You prove Yourself. Help us to step forward in faith and Obey Your Word.