Thursday, May 7, 2009

Is God Playing Hard To Get? Part Two

Show Me A Sign!

I have lost track of how many times skeptics have told me the only way for them to trust in God or Jesus is if God gave them a specific sign or manifestation of His power or presence. It is God's responsibility to prove to them that He exists! Interestingly enough, Jesus had the same problem in His ministry. His Jewish audience demanded a sign or miracle from him on several occasions. They wanted proof of His Messiahship.

In his article, Jesus as Philosopher and Apologist, Dr. Douglas Groothuis of Denver Seminary carefully looked at the variety of approaches that were utilized by Jesus in talking to His audience. He notes that one passage that is quite helpful to this issue is Matthew 11:13. In this case Jesus showed no reluctance to affirm His identity to John the Baptist. John, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” In response to John, Jesus did not rebuke John’s question. He did not say, “You must have faith; suppress your doubts.” Nor did He scold, “If you don’t believe, you’ll go to hell and miss heaven.” Instead, Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry:Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me. (Matt. 11:4–6; see also Luke 7:22). Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.

2. I am doing those kinds of actions.

3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. For an excellent treatment of this topic, feel free to read Norman L. Geisler. Miracles And The Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992). Miracles have a distinctive purpose: to glorify the Creator and to provide evidence for people to believe by accrediting the message of God through the prophet of God.

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “ ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (John 3:1–2). In his great sermon on Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).

As Howard Kee, specialist in the study of Gospel miracles says, "The OT Judaism God is the one who heals all of Israel's diseases. Jesus in effect takes God's place as the healer of Israel." Jesus' authority is evident as his role as an exorcist. He said, "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, than the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20). This is significant for 3 reasons:(1) it shows that Jesus claimed divine authority over evil; (2) It shows Jesus believed the kingdom of God had arrived; in Judaism, the kingdom would come at the end of history; (3) Jesus was in effect saying that in himself, God had drawn near, therefore He was putting himself in God's place. (1)

A good study in the book of Matthew shows an interesting relationship between Jesus' miracles and His audience. He did the miracles for those who were Beatitude people. In other words, go study the Sermon on the Mount. Are you a Beatitude person? Are you poor in spirit? Do you recognize your poverty before God? Are you thirsting for righteousness? And are you truly interested in the Bread of Life ? (see John Ch 6). Or do you just want a sign so you can say, "Oh, I guess that God exists, but I have no intention of placing my faith in God." As I said, there is a tendency to forget God’s relationship with mankind is not to simply prove He exists to people. God is not simply after what is called justified true belief that He exists. It says in James 2:19, that the demons believe that God exists. Jesus began to see when his audience had no interest in following Him. He did not do miracles for entertainment. Rather, he did them to evoke a response. And that response is the willingness to not just praying a prayer to get into heaven, but a commitment to following Him (Luke 9:23). For many, that is asking too much.

1. Craig, W. L. Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaten, ILL : Crossway Books.1984, 233-54.


Doug Groothuis said...

The Craig book is now out in a 3rd ed.! Reasonable Faith (2008).

Anders said...

I recommend an extensive research of the origin of NT and Pauls doctrines; and a study of what the first followers of Ribi Yehoshua (ha-Mashiakh; the Messiah) – the Netzarim - said about Paul and NT (see the below website).

You will find a wealth of invaluable documented information at:

Anders Branderud

Eric Chabot said...

Dr. Groothuis,

I assume you are the same one I just mentioned in this post. Wow, what an honor to see you commented on it. I do have Craig's 3rd edition. I just have to fix that. Thanks for all your work. I appreciate you!


Eric Chabot said...

Yes, that is you. I should have clicked on that picture first. God bless you!