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In previous posts, Paul’s words about a ministry that came with evidence of God’s presence and power shaped the discussion (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Paul knew that the proclamation of the breaking in of the kingdom of God into this world must be accompanied by demonstrative evidence of the reality of that proclamation–a “demonstration of the Spirit and power”–so that hearers’ confidence and faith would rest on God and not merely on persuasive words.

Wrestling with those thoughts in a post is not the first time I’ve been confronted by such ideas. I’ve been journeying for some time now seeking to grasp the connection between Word and Spirit–the relationship between telling the truth about the good news of Jesus and living as if the truth about Jesus’ ongoing life and ministry still impacts our lives the way it did in the days of his incarnation.

At times, in conversation about these things, people will cite Jesus’ words about the “wicked generation” that was seeking signs in his day.

The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. Sighing deeply in his spirit, he said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Leaving them, he again embarked and went away to the other side. (Mark 8:11-13; see also Matthew 12:39; Luke 11:29)

The argument is that our longing for the kind of demonstrative evidence in Spirit and power as mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is the same wrong-headed and inappropriate seeking after signs that Jesus dismissed. It’s insisted that to even seek signs and demonstrations of the Spirit’s presence and power is wrong.

First, it must be noted that in the Mark passage, those who were seeking a sign had a particular kind of sign in mind; they wanted a “sign from heaven.” That suggests they had already settled on what sign, if any, would be sufficient to lead them to trust in Jesus. Second, we can’t overlook Mark’s words that this seeking was “to test him.” There was no apparent inclination toward trust or confidence or dependence in Jesus; it was more like a showdown. The seekers wanted Jesus to jump through their hoop so that they could validate him. That, Jesus refused to do.

But even after insisting that no sign would be given to “this generation” (a reference to that particular group of people who had raised the issue), Jesus continued to heal and deliver and to “do signs” in their presence.

What are we to make of this?

Those who Jesus dismissed were seeking a pre-determined particular sign for the sole purpose of “testing” him and assessing whether they would or would not affirm him. I’d suggest Jesus is saying that if that is what someone is after, they’re not going to get anything from him.

But the truth is that everyone who approached Jesus with a need was seeking something, seeking a “sign,” longing for a miraculous touch, a demonstration of kindness and supernatural power! And Jesus did not dismiss all those. He healed them! He delivered them!

Blind who came, went away seeing. Those who were brought lame, walked away healed. The deaf who had to be dragged, left explaining and understanding what had happened. All those who came to Jesus came seeking . . . but they came the right way.

What this means for the discussion of our participation in a life and ministry that carries with it a demonstration of the Spirit and power, is that there is likely a right way for us to seek such things . . . and a wrong way.

We can’t come with the expectation that Jesus has to “prove” himself to us. We can’t come with insistence that he do things our way if he’s going to do anything at all. We can’t come thinking that we are in the place of assessing whether he is the “real deal” or not. Jesus will not respond to that approach.

But we must come with the longing, the expectation, and the desire for a life that is shaped by the reality of the Spirit’s presence and power, because of Jesus, and for the glory of the Father. Because that is what Jesus wants for his followers.

Jesus said that “signs” like healing, and deliverance from demonic spirits, and tongues, will follow in the wake of his followers (Mark 16:15-19). He willingly backed up the proclamation of the Gospel with such “signs” (Mark 16:20). The church in Acts, when facing persecution after Peter and John had spoken boldly of Jesus and healed a man in Jesus’ name, prayed with expectation that God would empower them to continue to speak boldly and that through their lives “signs and wonders [would] take place through the name of your hold servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30)

Paul’s explanation in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 about his own ministry that included demonstrative power is the reasonable trajectory from Jesus’ words about signs following believers and is wholly in line with prayer of the church in Acts 4. He was expecting, seeking, anticipating miraculous signs to follow in his wake . . . in the right way.

Sadly, because some in Jesus’ day sought such things the wrong way, some in our day have no expectation for anything like “signs and wonders” to have a place in the life of the church today. And I tend to think that is just as wrong-headed as the attitude of those who insisted that Jesus do all and only the “sign from heaven” they wanted him to do. In both cases, the expectation about what Jesus can and will and wants to do is wrong.

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One Comment

  1. I totally agree with you!


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