A Wicked Generation Seeks a Sign

Then He began reproaching the cities in which the most of his powerful deeds occurred because they did not repent:

‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to youBethsaida! For if the powerful deeds done in you had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sack-cloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.

And you, Capernaum, the one exalted to the heaven shall be brought down to hell; for if in Sodom had occurred the powerful deeds that occurred in you, they would still be here today! Moreover I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land ofSodom in the day of judgment than for you.” Matthew 11:20-24

Many unbelievers insist that they would believe God if He would only perform some mighty miracle on their behalf. Perhaps some of them would, but history is unsympathetic to their argument.

The nation of Israel witnessed many miracles: long after Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to replicate the signs performed at Moses’ hand, God continued to demonstrate His mighty power against the unrepentant Egyptians through eight more supernatural afflictions. When they feared their destruction by the pursuing Egyptian army, God caused the waters of the Red Sea to divide and cease flowing over a land bridge that immediately became dry – dry enough for approximately 2 million people plus livestock and carts to pass without incident – while the Egyptians muddled about in pursuit, vexed by the Lord causing their chariots to malfunction so that wheels fell off, having already hindered their advance with a column of cloud with darkness facing the side of Pharaoh’s army, while emanating light through the night on the side facing the Israelites. Only when Israel had safely crossed, did God command Moses to stretch his hand over the sea, and the water return to its normal flow, drowning the Egyptian army in its midst.[1]

When the wanders arrived, after three days without water, at Marah in the wilderness, the waters were bitter. God commanded Moses to throw a tree into the river, and the waters became sweet and safe to drink. As they travelled, God provided a miraculous source of bread which He called ‘manna’, that appeared in early morning and was gone by the heat of the day, and which appeared in double quantity every sixth day to permit the people to collect enough to enable them to both rest to the Lord on the Sabbath and still have food for that day. There was sufficient each morning for every person among them – hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children – and sufficient on day six for two full days of food. When some disobeyed God’s command to not keep any to the following day, what they kept was full of worms and rotted to a stench – except on that sixth day, when it remained as fresh the following day as when it was collected. And although the food appeared six days every week, it never appeared on the seventh day of any week throughout 40 years in which God provided it. Such precision of incident with such peculiarity of detail could have no natural explanation; Israel knew the hand of God had miraculously provided for their needs. He also provided quail one evening, enough to cover the entire camp of the people, and again some years later when they complained about having only manna, He provided quails all around their camp to a depth of two cubits (about 3 feet!)[2]

They saw Miriam suddenly stricken with leprosy for speaking against her brother, God’s chosen and anointed leader, and healed again in seven days when Moses interceded for her.[3] They saw miraculous provisions, healings, and judgments, they saw the water pour from a rock when Moses struck it with his staff as God commanded. They heard the voice of God at Sinai, and witnessed that their sandals did not wear out during their 40-year journey through the middle-eastern wilderness from Egypt to Canaan.[4]

Despite everything they saw and heard, over and over again those people – the same individuals who saw what God had done – refused to listen, refused to obey, and fell into wickedness and idolatry. They whined and complained, and blamed God for not performing on their behalf in the manner in which they felt He ought to. Being witnesses to the mighty power of a God they could not fathom, Who knew what no one could know about them and their future, Who did what no one can do, did nothing to change their behaviour. Seeing a miracle, having God ‘reveal Himself to them’, like so many demand today as their condition upon which they will only consider belief, had no effect on their lives, because regardless of what amazing facts they were exposed to, they did not place their faith in the God they knew was real. Despite knowing His abilities, and the fact of His exceptional provision for them, they did not trust Him. They did not revere Him as God, they did not respect His authority, nor His jurisdiction in His creation, and they did not trust Him to do what was right, and work what was best in all matters. They did not like His requirements or standards, didn’t appreciate the nature of His provision, and did not want to be submitted to a God Who required their unique allegiance.

Fast forward 2 millennia, to first-century Israel . Jesus Christ came into a society jaded by hard times. God’s promises to Israel included safety, health, and material prosperity if they remained faithful and obedient to Him.[5] Unfortunately, they were wooed by the things they admired among those nations around them who had early rejected the living God, and promptly fell away, bringing themselves out from under God’s protection and vulnerable to their enemies and the elements in a world increasingly scarred by the effects of man’s sin. A beleaguered Israel awaited her deliverer. Her neighbours wondered if there would ever be a mighty warrior to free her from their clutches, but after two thousand years, most probably doubted it would ever happen. Successive mighty empires had assaulted and oppressed the tiny nation, and at this time in history, they were overrun by the Roman Empire , struggling against a fading religious identity and the tarnished impression of national identity. The religious leaders epitomized hypocrisy, making and enforcing rules without regard to their effects on the people they obligated to observe them. The nation had almost completely lost its way; as Christ commented, they had become as sheep without shepherds. [6]

Enter into this situation a man who claimed to have existed when Abraham was alive, who had come down from heaven having seen the Father – His Father – and who supported His claim to oneness with God by performing miraculous healings.[7] People with every sort of infirmity were made whole by the touch of His hand or a word from His lips.[8] Those who had been tormented by demons for years were freed instantly when He commanded evil spirits to leave them. Two men were restored from the dead – Lazarus, who had been dead four days and already in his family tomb, was raised to life before the eyes of several witnesses, some of whom reported to the Pharisees. But the Pharisees saw Christ as a threat to their control over the lives of the people, which also made Him a threat to their income, and potentially their position and ultimately even their safety under Roman rule. They saw many of His mighty works – crippled legs could walk, withered hands made whole, crooked backs straightened, blind eyes could see, dead men were raised before their eyes.

But like Israel of old, and most men today, they did not want what God wanted. They did not want Someone above and beyond them, capable of seeing and knowing all their secrets, to Whom they owed both allegiance and respect, and to Whose authority they were obligated to submit. The birth, death, resurrection, and ministry of Jesus Christ fulfilled every prophecy associated with the first coming of the Messiah of God; prophecies the Pharisees knew off by heart. But as Jesus admonished them in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man, if men will not believe Moses and the prophets, they would certainly not believe though someone rose from the dead. Lazarus’ rising couldn’t change their hardened hearts, and neither did Christ when He rose from the dead.

They did not want God’s standards; they wanted to be the authorities unto themselves, and maintain their control over both their own lives and those whom they were able to subjugate. They did not lack knowledge of the almighty God; they simply did not want to acknowledge Him as God; they did not want to revere, they did not want to trust, they did not want to submit. Christ’s miracles could not change the hearts of men whose agenda for themselves was to be king over their corner of creation.

Some people in this generation may honestly believe that they would be able to be sure that God is and what God is like, “if only” God would do some amazing thing before their eyes, or speak to them with an audible voice. And perhaps, if God did perform some open spectacular act, a very few of those people would come to believe God is real, and what God is like. But if they already disregard the miracle of creation, the miracle of life, the miracle of the human personality, the supposedly more ‘flashy’ miracles are unlikely to persuade them. If they ever did hear a voice from the heavens, would they then believe in the living and true God, or would they believe in aliens, or ascended masters, or ghosts – or think they had lost their minds? Certainly more people are prepared to believe in these things than believe in a real, personal, living God.

Unless a man is purposed to know truth, he is potentially unlikely to find it. If he wants God to ‘prove’ himself, that man is in for a big surprise. God says God’s existence, nature, and power are proven in the very existence and essence of creation, that the heavens and earth fully shout the glory of God, proclaiming in their existence and operation the praises of the holy Creator, so that any man who refuses God does so ‘without excuse’.[9] It is not God Who has failed to give man sufficient evidence of God’s existence to enable man to make an intelligent response. Rather, it is man who chooses to reject God based on preferring to have his own way in matters where God has judged other than that man pleases. Until that man is prepared to acknowledge God as God, and bow his knee to God’s sovereign jurisdiction over all of creation including that man’s life, no amazing feats of supernatural power will draw that man to God because his attitude toward God is wrong.[10] He believes that God is somehow subject to the man, that God ‘owes’ him some consideration, and that God should be prepared to bargain with man to achieve a mutually-acceptable compromise over matters of divine jurisdiction. God has performed all the ‘mighty deeds’ anyone might require in order to confirm that He is, Who He is, and what manner of God He must be. Until Christ returns, there will be no more ‘proofs’ than the changed lives of men who have taken God at His word, believed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for men’s sins, repented of their sin, and received Christ as Saviour and Lord.

[1] Exodus 3:1 and onward.

[2] Numbers 11:31-2

[3] Numbers 12

[4] Deut 8:4; 29:5

[5] Leviticus 26; Deut. 28

[6] Mark 6:34; Jeremiah 50:6; Zechariah 10:2

[7] John 8:58; Jn 6:38; Jn 8:19

[8] Mat. 8:5-10; 9:22; 15:28; Mark 10:52; Luke 17:11-19; John 11

[9] Romans 1:18-32; Psalm 19:1-6; Isaiah 40:12-31

[10] Matt 12:38-42: “Then certain of the scirbes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Master, we want to see a sign from you.’ But [Jesus] answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah. For even as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea creature, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold greater than Jonah is here.  The Queen of the south shall rise in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, greater than Solomon is here.’”