Why did Christ decline to give “Signs on Demand”?
After Jesus cast out a demon from a mute person and the onlookers marveled, some demanded a greater sign:
Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
Matthew’s parallel account reveals that these “others” were the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 12:38). Apparently exorcising an evil spirit wasn’t good enough for them; they wanted a miraculous sign of cosmological scope, like the rearranging of the stars. They didn’t want the Sovereign LORD and truth; they wanted a subservient genie who would grant their whims on demand.
The Messiah responded:
“This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.”
In Matthew’s account Christ adds:
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
The Lord always refused to give miracles on demand because signs were not the means by which he appealed to unbelievers. Healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, exorcizing demons and raising the dead were not really signs, but rather the results of Jesus’ God-anointed service to people (Luke 4:18-19 & Acts 10:38).
The only sign that will be given in this age is the core message of the gospel—that the Messiah died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification so that those who believe will not perish but have eternal life (Romans 4:25 & John 3:16).
Recall Jesus’ punch line in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus wherein Abraham—a character in the story—is speaking:
‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’
“Moses and the Prophets” was a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, which were the only Divine revelation available in textual form at the time. In other words, hardhearted carnal people who refuse to heed God’s Word—God’s revelation—will not be convinced by some incredible miracle. The Old Testament constantly testifies to this; here are some glaring examples:
- The Israelites escaped bondage to Egypt via the LORD’s spectacular deliverance at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22, 26-28).
- They wandered in the desert wilderness led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).
- They were miraculously fed by manna and quail (Exodus 16:11-15).
- They received life-giving water from a rock (Exodus 17:3-6).
Despite these great signs they were crippled by unbelief and continued in their transgressions.
Christ’s punchline in the parable—‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’—speaks potently to the sufficiency of God’s revelation to overthrow unbelief. Keep in mind that God’s revelation in Scripture does not exist in a vacuum. It stands on the foundation of…
- God’s revelation in creation (Psalm 19:1-4 & Romans 1:18-20);
- God’s revelation through human conscience (Romans 2:14-15) and the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11).
This divine revelation to humankind is sufficient to spur people to repentance & faith, which explains why the Bible says people “are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-22). Any kind of miraculous evidence—like an amazing healing, great deliverance or awesome provision—is just icing on the cake.
But if a person is so hardhearted to reject God’s revelation in the above areas no incredible miracle is going to inspire repentance & faith, like the opening of the Red Sea or a pillar of fire. This is why Christ declined to give signs on demand. Not to mention, he’s the Sovereign LORD, not some subservient genie or magical cartoon character.
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