Asking Jesus to “Prove It.”
July 9, 2006
How many here are fans of westerns? You like reading them and watching them on TV or movies? It’s okay to admit it!
One of the more exciting things in these westerns are the gunfights that happen when someone makes a comment about someone else and the other guy steps into the street and says, “Prove it.”
What he’s saying is, “Do you have something in lead to back that up?”
Growing up, we tended to make exaggerations about stuff, right? Surely I’m not the only one!
And we’d be all confident in our claims until one of the kids said, “Prove it.” And then we’d be in a corner. We’d either have to prove it or be shown that we were not being truthful.
One of the more frustrating things in ministry is when you’re trying to share the love of Jesus with someone, and they come back with something like this:
“Have Jesus prove Himself to me, and then I’ll think about it.” I come across that every so often, and maybe you have as well.
Well, Jesus had the same problem with some people in his time.
We find an example of this in our passage for today, in Matthew 12:38-42 (p. 690) –
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you."
39 He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 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. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.”
A “sign” was usually some miraculous token to be fulfilled quickly, or at once, to confirm a prophecy. The Jews were not asking for just another miracle, since they had already persuaded themselves that at least some of those Jesus had performed were of demonic agency (12:24); they were asking for a “sign” performed on command to remove what seemed to them to be the ambiguity of Jesus’ miracles. (Expositor’s Bible Commentary)
And Jesus says the only sign they’re going to get is the one where He dies and comes back to life. And if that’s not good enough, then that’s just too bad!
Today I want to address the whole issue of demanding signs from God. The context of our passage deals specifically with Jesus and His claims to be the Messiah, but I think this is a good opportunity to look at the whole idea of looking for signs – whether it’s for proof about Jesus or whether you’re looking for some sort of divine guidance through them.
And you can tell from the title of this section that I’m not too keen on the idea of coming to God looking for a sign, but I think you’ll be able to see why as we go through the message.
So let’s look at four reasons…
Why it’s inappropriate to demand signs from God:
1. God has already given many proofs.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on these, but I want to show you just three ways God has proven Himself over time.
> The Bible.
The Bible is filled with eyewitness testimony of people who have seen God prove Himself over and over and over.
Let’s take just a moment to look at one part:
During the exodus, when God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, He showed that He was so powerful that He could take any action necessary to free His people.
He sent plagues, warnings, and even parted the Red Sea so they could get through.
But to me, the fact that God was present among them in the pillar of smoke during the day and the pillar of fire at night is a big deal.
No one could say, “Yeah right – God exists. Prove it!” He was right there.
But the kicker was that even with God being present with them, going ahead of them to clear the way through their enemies, they still didn’t get it.
The people were still rebellious whiners. God had proven Himself, and it made no difference to them.
Isaiah 43:12 –
“I have revealed and saved and proclaimed--I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "that I am God.
A little girl was reading on an airplane when the man beside her noticed her storybook, entitled, "Jonah and the Whale." The man asked if the little girl believed the story. So, after saying hello, he asked her to tell him about her book. She said the book was about Jonah, and how he was swallowed by a whale. The man said, "You don’t really believe that do you?" The little girl replied, "Yes, I believe the story of Jonah is true." "You mean you really believe that a man can be swallowed by a whale, stay inside him for three days, & then come out of there alive?" The child said, "This story is in the Bible & we studied it in Sunday School today!" Then the man asked, "How can you prove that the story about Jonah is true?" She thought for a moment, and then said, "When I get to Heaven I’ll ask Jonah." The man smiled, proud of his superiority & asked, "What will you do if Jonah’s not in heaven?" The girl thought for a moment then replied, "Well, if he’s not in heaven, you ask him!" (SermonCentral.com. Contributed by: Tim Richards)
Today, we have all this eyewitness testimony that has been around for thousands of years.
But for many, eyewitness testimony isn’t enough. They want God to prove Himself again, to them, on their terms.
We could go on and on, just quoting examples from the Scriptures, but I’ll move on by saying, “Prove me wrong!”
A second way God has proven Himself is through…
Folks, no one disputes the fact that Jesus of Nazareth lived. He is the most important factual person in all of human history.
And what I have a hard time figuring out is why everyone is so quick to call Him a good, moral teacher, but then throw out so much of what He taught!
Jesus, during is 3 years of ministry, gave lots of evidence that He was who He said He was.
He healed people, he forgave people, He calmed storms, he performed miracles, and he did something moonshiners could only dream of by turning water into wine.
And once again, I point to eyewitness testimony – this time from one of those who knew Him best.
1 John 1:1-2 –
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
And here’s another way that God has proven Himself:
The fact that God has touched and transformed untold millions of people should be a good piece of evidence.
God has proven Himself and proven Himself faithful to His Word time and time again.
I’m sure most, if not all of us can think of people who at one time looked like they were beyond all hope, spiritually.
And then God gets hold of them, just like His Bible says He does, and they become a brand new creature in Christ.
And you see them, and all you can do is marvel at the work that God has done in their lives.
Other examples abound about how God used people to bring about the changes He wanted in a society.
Last week I mentioned how the Wesleyan Church was instrumental in helping runaway slaves get to freedom and in helping slavery be abolished here in America.
Godly men and women who wanted God to be honored in the lives of all people, regardless of their race, their background, or their economic status.
God has used people to prove Himself.
We could also go into the issue of how God is revealed in creation, or how God has moved in history, and so forth. But let’s move on, because “we’ve a got a long way to go, and a short time to get there…”
So let’s move on to the second reason why it’s inappropriate to ask God for signs.
2. Looking for signs can lead to error.
I’ve known people who, when facing major decisions, have looked to the skies for a sign.
They ask God to show them if they are to marry a certain person, and they look up. And what do they see? A falling star.
And for some reason, that’s God telling them to go ahead.
Instead of getting counsel from Scripture and other godly people, they look for falling stars.
Now folks, God can absolutely give a falling star as a sign for someone.
But God says that the Bible is all we need for life and godliness, and the fact of the matter is, there is absolutely nothing in Scripture that tells us to look to the stars for guidance.
In my opinion, that’s getting kinda close to astrology, if you ask me.
If you spend your time looking for signs, you might find yourself “seeing” signs that aren’t really there, and you’ll take that as a message from God.
“Look – that leaf is shaped like that Toyota Camry I was thinking about buying! I guess that’s a sign from God!”
And if it doesn’t work out, who do you blame? God. In spite of the fact that there really was no sign at all.
Another example of the dangers of this is how often people look to angels for help and guidance instead of God and the Scriptures.
I don’t know how much of a big deal it is, anymore, but for a while, angels were all the rage.
Man, all the bookshelves were filled with books about angels and how they were helping people become more spiritual. And people are just eating this up.
The problem is that many of these “angels” are leading people away from God and the Scriptures.
The Bible says that Satan himself disguises himself as an “angel of light” and will deceive many.
Folks – if you get a sign of any kind that leads you to contradict anything in Scripture, it’s not from God – it’s from the devil.
Here’s the third reason why it’s not a good idea to demand a sign from God:
3. Such demands can exhibit a sinful and rebellious heart.
This isn’t always the case, of course.
Some people are hurting, and they’re looking for a sign that God still cares and is listening.
But that wasn’t the case with the religious leaders here. They were showing that they did not care that the Messiah was right in front of them.
They were more concerned with their own hold on the people of Israel, and they weren’t about to let some upstart carpenter mess with that.
Today we have people who use the demand for a sign not out of a desire to really find God, but rather as an excuse to dismiss Jesus if He doesn’t perform for them they way they think He should.
Look back at Jesus’ words in verse 39 –
"A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!”
When we come to God with our demands for a sign out of an insincere heart, it is not good – it’s sinful, and that leads to the last reason we shouldn’t demand signs from God, and that is that…
4. God doesn’t bow to the demands of anybody.
Here’s a question I have for those who think God needs to step up and prove Himself: Who do you think you are?
Does God owe you anything? He gave you the very breath you breathe, and you’re making demands of Him?
I mentioned a while back that there are people who want God to prove Himself to them. But on their terms.
Well, God doesn’t work that way. We come to Him on His terms. He doesn’t come crawling to us like a whipped puppy hoping that you won’t beat Him up if He doesn’t do something just right.
You know what I’ve found? I’ve found that even if God would do something for them, people like this still won’t be satisfied.
They make up all these “tests” for God, and if He doesn’t pass them, then God’s not real.
“Hey God, if You’re real, then send my mother-in-law to Panama, okay? And leave her there!”
But folks, the last time I checked, God is God, and we’re not, and we have no authority whatsoever to tell our Creator to prove Himself to me. How arrogant to think anyone should make demands of Almighty God!
May it never be so for anybody in here.
But I do want to point something out here, and it’s very important that we understand this:
God does invite us to search Him out!
God invites honest questions, and those asked from the anguish of our hearts.
Jeremiah 29:13 –
"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
Listen to the words of David in Psalm 13:1 –
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
But even in the midst of his anguish, David says something, and it’s important for us to see this.
Psalm 13:5-6 –
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
The point here is that David was questioning God from his heart. He was truly dismayed at what he saw, and he wanted to know why God was allowing sinful people to succeed against him.
But even in the midst of that questioning, he speaks of trusting God and celebrating what God had done for him to that point.
So the question is this: in the midst of your questioning, can you still trust God to come through?
Only a close walk with God can bring you to that point, and you can’t get that by just living for signs. You get it by spending time with Christ in the Bible and prayer.
But the invitation to seek God out is there for anyone who wants it.
Now as we get ready to close this up, I want to make something very clear.
I am of the opinion that God CAN give signs, and has at times. Gideon laid down his fleece, and God granted his request, although I think it’s important to understand that the story is not an instruction to lay a fleece, but rather a story about God’s patience with someone who needed more assurance, even though God’s angel had already given a couple signs.
Maybe you’re somebody who has been asking God for a sign for some reason.
It could be that you’re looking for a reason to believe in Jesus.
Or you’re facing a decision and looking for something tangible you can see or hear to help you.
Let me just encourage you to look for answers in the Scriptures and in the counsel and prayers of God’s people, not in signs.
It’s here for you. God wants you to have a full and abundant life.
He doesn’t want you wandering around in the dark. He wants you to walk in the light. The light He gives us in His Word.
The Bible says that God’s word is a lamp for our feet and a light to our path.
So look there before you look for signs that may not be from God at all, but from the one who prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.