Pastors Report - 15 Jun 2018

Seeking After a Sign ...

"An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas ..." (Matthew 12:39)

An interesting question:

Some time ago I received an interesting question that I feel could well be of interest to many others. They asked .......

"I have a question about "Signs". I'm confused about it. In Matt. 16:4, it says A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.... Also in Luke 11:29. I don't understand if it's a bad thing or a good thing because Jonah spent 3 days and nights in the belly of a whale and that was a sign. But that was a sign from God. And then there was Hezekiah in II Kings 20:8 who asked for God to give him a sign if he'd be healed.

"I guess I'm wondering what that verse means about a wicked generation seeks a sign. But then [other] people in the Bible also sought after signs. Are signs bad or are the people bad? Just puzzled and perplexed and would like to understand this scripture better."

The Passages:

The passages they are asking about say virtually the same thing ...

  • But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: (Matthew 12:39)
  • A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed. (Matthew 16:4)
  • And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.(Luke 11:29)

As you can see, Jesus Christ very plainly said that the generation that seeks after a sign — in the way that they were attempting to do so at that time — is an evil and spiritually adulterous generation. In the same account from Mark, it is clear that He refused to even discuss with them the kind of sign they wanted. The only sign He gave was to come after His death — and be a sign for all mankind, down through the generations. And isn't it interesting that so-called Christianity today rejects even this sign, by attempting to condense His death and resurrection into possibly a day and a half!

  • And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.(Mark 8:12)
Signs Were Given:

But why were these people condemned for asking for a sign? Didn't the One who became Christ — the Eternal of the Old Testament — provide signs to His people in the past? God seems to realise that, human as we are, we sometimes need a physical, concrete example of His back-up, or the veracity of His promises. I think many of us can identify with Gideon, who was given quite a challenge as an inexperienced young man when God chose to use to him to save Israel from their enemies:

  • And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said,
  • Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.
  • And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.
  • And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.
  • And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:36-40)

And there is the classic example of Hezekiah in 2Kings 20:8, who was pleading with God for healing, and was provided with an awesome example of God's hold on reality!

  • In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.
  • Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying,
  • I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
  • And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying,
  • Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.
  • And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.
  • And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.
  • And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the LORD will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the LORD the third day?
  • And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?
  • And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.
  • And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz (2Kings 20:1-11).
The Context:

Undoubtedly the above example of Hezekiah — where the sun moved backwards as a sign within the heavens — was the kind of example being alluded to by the Pharisees who asked for "a sign from heaven" (Mark 8:11). Merely asking for a sign therefore is not the problem. In fact, Jesus Christ Himself used the fact they asked for a sign from heaven to point out that they should indeed be recognising and making use of the real "heavenly signs" — the miraculous works that had been taking place all around them. And not just by Him, but also by the disciples He sent out (Matthew 10:5-8). Even without the modern communication systems that are in use today, it is not feasible that the feeding of multiple thousands of fellow Jews with a handful of loaves and fishes — twice — would have gone unreported! (Matthew chapters 14 and 15)

  • The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.
  • He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.
  • And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
  • A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed. (Matthew 16:1-4)

So the context of the above verse shows clearly that the very point Christ was making was that they were not making use of the signs that they already had! This is why He called them a wicked and adulterous generation. The Pharisees and other religious leaders were guilty of spiritual adultery — a parallel with having a spouse but constantly looking elsewhere. In this case they were surrounded by signs but were wanting more. They were never satisfied with what they had — there, with them — in abundance!

The Problem Then:

So serious was their condition — of ignoring the clear proof of Jesus Christ's Messiahship —that they came very close indeed to committing the unpardonable sin; of knowingly, wilfully sinning and setting their mind against the evidence, refusing to repent. Notice how this is brought out in lesson 21 of the Ambassador College Correspondence Course — page 10:

3. Did Jesus speak of another sin that will not be forgiven by God? Mark 3:28-29; Matt. 12:31-32.

What grave accusation did the scribes and Pharisees hurl at Jesus? Mark 3:22; Matt. 12:22-24.

COMMENT: To intentionally speak abusively (the meaning of the Greek word translated "blasphemy") against the Holy Spirit and attribute works of God's Spirit to the devil is to deliberately reject the only power by which one can be converted and given salvation. It is a deliberate, premeditated, wilful rejection of God and His power!

These individuals knew that Jesus Christ was a righteous man, and it was the power of God that worked in Him. This was admitted by Nicodemus who "came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." (John 3:2) Yet although they knew this, and it appears admitted it in private, in public they labelled the power as being satanic. They saw the dead raised, the demons rebuked, the sick healed — from someone who preached righteousness — but they ignored such very clear signs, demanding yet more "proof" so they did not have to publicly admit what was staring them in the face. As was said to the rich man in the parable of Lazarus, "neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16:31) In fact, when Martha's brother Lazarus was indeed raised by Christ from the dead, the response from the chief priests was to plot to murder him! (John 12:10)

The Problem Today:

But the question is, does the passage saying that " a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign" still apply to us today? And the answer is, indeed it does — and on two levels:

First: As it says in Daniel, knowledge (scientific knowledge in particular) and communications have had unprecedented growth as we approach the end of this age (Daniel 12:4). From the honest analysis of that knowledge — especially the make-up of the genome — and the use of the communications available, the eternal power and godhead of the Almighty Creator God should have been proclaimed throughout all the earth from the signs made clearly evident today. But they are not, and instead the world as a whole and the scientific community in particular, "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). For this reason — because they refuse to receive the clear evidence and signs before them — the world is destined to believe the lying signs when the false prophets arise (Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11).

But God declares they will ultimately have the "signs from heaven" they appear to demand:

  • And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
  • And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.
  • And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
  • And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
  • And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
  • For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Revelation 6:12-17)

Second: In a similar way, within God's True Church there are also problems with believing the signs that are already here — with people looking for another end-time Elijah for example, to perform mighty miracles, calling down fire and other "signs from heaven" before they will believe. But the restored Gospel did indeed go out in power in a way that was totally unprecedented historically. And as I brought out in chapter 9 of Just What IS an Apostle? ... many other signs are already all around us. For example, just notice the range and depth of foundational Truth that has been restored to the Church of our day:

The point is, the above Truth we have been given has a clear Spiritual source. It did not come from Mr Armstrong, but it did come via him. To demand we see a "sign from heaven" before we recognise the true author of the above — the Living Jesus Christ — is to do what the Pharisees of old did. They had the evidence there before them — as a spouse who had the best of marriages — but cast their eyes looking for something else. When we truly grasp the profound list of Spiritual Truth above, should we reject it, then we too make ourselves " a wicked and adulterous generation seeking after a sign"!

Judges needed:

We might think that if we had been a close friend of Mr. Armstrong, and spent a lot of time with him, we'd most certainly recognise his role as our apostle. Or better still, if we'd been one of the 12 apostles, taught personally by Christ and walked and lived with Him for three and a half years, we'd certainly have no trouble in believing His Messiahship ... but would we? In John 14, Philip had a request of Christ: " Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" (John 14:8) Similarly with Thomas:

  • But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
  • The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
  • And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
  • Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
  • And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
  • Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20:24-29)

No, God is NOT looking for teachers who have to have a sign, or be backed into a corner before they have to admit His Way is right! He is looking for teachers who can accurately and honestly weigh up evidence that is right in front of them — as per the list of restored truth above and what we can read of His word — and with His spirit, make truly righteous judgements. This is undoubtedly part of the very reason God has allowed us all to experience the shattering today — allowing us to make OUR various judgements, as He makes His own righteous assessment of us.

Our Confidence:

We are reminded in I Corinthians 10, that what is recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures has been written for our learning — mainly how NOT to do things! Our forebears were given irrefutable signs of God's presence each and every day for 40 years — the cloud by day, the fire by night and manna provided six days out of seven. Yet, how often do we read of them tempting God, by in effect saying..."Is the Eternal with us or not?" (Exodus 17, Psalm 78)

Without the Holy Spirit, they could not "work up" the faith to know God would not leave them or forsake them, even though He had given His word that He'd take them into the Promised Land. Sometimes during trials, we too can waver in faith, wondering if God really knows what is going on, how much we or our loved ones are suffering — and does He even care? And how often we too would like some kind of "sign", big or small, to prove His concern.

Ancient Israel never seemed to look back and consider past miracles, interventions, blessings — all unmistakable proof of God's concern for them. But with God's Spirit, we shouldn't fall into the same trap of unbelief, as we can not only think back and bring to mind God's hand in our lives, but also we can have secure confidence in the plethora of promises, scattered throughout the Bible, just one of which is found in Romans 8 — with the "sign" of the death of His Son for us all:

  • What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
  • He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
  • Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
  • Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
  • As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
  • Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
  • For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
  • Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)