Read Mark 8:11-13
If you grew up in a church you probably automatically associate the word ‘Pharisees’ with ‘bad guys’. When we read the gospels, it seems to be the Pharisees that Jesus has the most run ins with. They just don’t get him and they seem determined to get rid of him. By reading into this we get the picture that the Pharisees were this group of pretty bad guys that just wanted to control the Jewish people through religious law and fear. However, historically this doesn’t really appear to be the case.
History actually records the Pharisees most of the time as a pretty sincere and authentic bunch that genuinely wanted to serve God. The evidence doesn’t seem to suggest that they were trying to control others but rather believed in personal piety – that is they held themselves to high standards but didn’t insist on this for others. But they did care about the Spiritual state of the nation and they were deeply concerned about anyone that appeared to be turning people away from God’s law, thus the problem they had with Jesus. Jesus’ main issue with them seems to be that they had turned following the law of Moses into a religion by itself and forgotten that the purpose of the law was to draw people to God, not to bind people into rituals.
A major showdown is beginning to brew between Jesus and the Pharisees. As Jesus’ popularity grows the Pharisees fear a national problem may erupt causing the wrath of the Roman Empire to reign down on them. The Pharisees have already attempted to discredit Jesus by attacking the disciples flagrant disregard for ceremonial law, yet this does not seem to have had much of an impact, so they try again. This time they approach Jesus and challenge him, “If you are really from God, if you are who you claim to be, then prove it – show us a sign.”
The Pharisees knew their history and they knew that when a prophet spoke for God, then their words were accompanied by signs from God. So their request didn’t seem that unusual…except for the fact that they were completely ignoring Jesus’ public ministry up to this point. Jesus had healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, driven out demons, calmed a storm, walked on water, fed multitudes of people with very little food on two different occasions and yet the Pharisees still ask him for a sign.
Jesus responds, I presume with frustration, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And with that, Jesus leaves.
I’ve read this many times and wondered, “Why didn’t he just show them a sign?” Surely he could have. He had done amazing things up to this point, why not another? But it dawns on me, that many times in the book of Mark when Jesus performed miracles he did not do it so that people would believe, but he either did it privately and asked people not to share or else he did it after they had confessed their faith. It seems to me that Jesus didn’t perform miracles to prove who He was, he wanted people to listen to his message and discover for themselves who he was, not believe simply because he could do the miraculous. Jesus desired to develop people of genuine faith, who believed without seeing.
May we not base our faith on the demand of miracles, but rather may we be willing to have faith first, a strong faith in what cannot be seen.
- What stood out for you in today’s story? Do you have any questions?
- If you made a list yesterday of times that you have seen God in your own lives, take some time to revisit it today. Often when we feel the need for a sign we need to look back at what God has already done for us.
- Another positive practice is to spend some time each day taking time to think over the day and noticing how God turned up throughout your day. When was God present?
- In the letter written by John (1 John 4:12), he tells us that the sign that God has provided to reveal himself to the world is the way we love each other. How does the way you love people show the people around you Jesus?
- How has your life looked more like what everyone else does and less like what King Jesus says it should look like. Is there anything you can do to change this?