What do you need to see? (Mark 8:8-12)

Yesterday we saw Jesus willingness to repeat a sign to help his disciples get the point.  Today, we find him refusing to play the Pharisee’s game and meet their demands for a sign.  Are those two things in tension? Do they contradict each other?

On the one hand, we’ve just said that Christ is more than willing to keep doing things and we’ve seen that he’s done some pretty spectacular miracles.  He’s healed the sick, cast out demons, walked on water and fed hungry crowds.  Those latter two miracles echo the experience of Israel during the Exodus of being brought safely through the sea and then fed in the wilderness.

All of this astonished the crowds and seems to us to be incontrovertible evidence of Christ’s power.  Yet, it wasn’t enough for his critics.  It seems that despite the spectacular echoes of past wonders, that the Pharisees didn’t seem them as comparable.  Jesus may have fed the crowds but that involved him taking existing bread and multiplying it.  John the Baptist had promised that Jesus would baptise with fire but where was that fire? The prophets of old had commanded fire from heaven to destroy their enemies.  Jesus hadn’t even jumped off of the temple and been caught when tempted.

Incidentally, I think we are meant to remember that temptation of Jesus when we see the demands of his opponents. Just as Satan had tried to get Jesus to put his Father to the test, so exactly were the Pharisees seeking to test God.  In effect they get the same answer.

So, Jesus will not get involved in some kind of bidding war with the Pharisees in order to meet their expectations.  He’s not going to keep trying to do more spectacular things to meet their approval.  However, he is more than willing to keep doing incredible things that encourage faith in his followers.

You see, it didn’t matter what Jesus did. The Pharisees’ minds were made up and like Pharoah, their hearts were hardened. Nothing he would do would convince them. They were able to look but not see, to hear but understand.  So, Jesus said that they wouldn’t get a sign out of him. 

There’s a couple of lessons for us there isn’t there? First of all, we can be so desperate to impress that we go to great lengths in order to prove our case and make our faith popular.  That can come out in a few different ways. Sometimes, it leads to an obsessive intellectualism as we attempt to appeal to reason but we can also rely on emotionalism through music, entertainment or even by hoping that if there are enough miracles that will convince people.

I believe that God answers prayer and heals today but I don’t think that this is going to make people become Christians, anymore than quoting CS Lewis, pointing out that Cliff Richard is a believer or getting Matt Redman to lead worship at your church.  In fact, it seems to me that when healing happens, it serves more to encourage those who have faith or are hungry than it does to convince the sceptics.  We shouldn’t worry about trying to persuade those who do not even wish to believe. Instead we should focus on what pleases God and on what helps, encourages and feeds those who are genuinely hungry.

The second challenge is this. What is our posture towards Jesus. Are we believing and following. Do signs encourage us and move us on in faith. Or have we adopted the posture of sceptical pharisees, demanding that God does something incredible to persuade us?

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