SIGNS AND HOW WE SEE THEM
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Jesus and Beelzebub
14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
21 "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22 But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.
23 "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.
24 "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.' 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first."
27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."
28 He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."
The Sign of Jonah
29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. 32 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.
The Lamp of the Body
33 "No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you."
I hope that many of us took the opportunity to go to the movie signs this last week. If you did, and you were able to get past the crop circles, the aliens and the scenes designed to get your adrenalin running, you probably enjoyed it.
I know that some of us did not have the opportunity to see it - so let me spend just a few minutes outlining the plot.
The story focuses on a pastor who has lost his faith because 6 months earlier, he lost his wife in a highly unusual car accident while she was walking alongside a country road. She dies with a few motherly instructions on her breath for her children, and then with instructions for him and his brother - the instruction to "See" and the instruction to his brother (who used to be a baseball player) to "Swing Away." In his grief and loss, he cannot comprehend the meaning of those last words, and over time, in a crisis of faith, he cannot comprehend that God is taking care of him and his family, therefore he must take care of himself.
Crop circles are discovered on his property. They turn out to be signs to aliens who obviously in all their space travel have not yet discovered satellite location devices, and through a series of evidences of increasing intensity, it becomes clear that the aliens are invading.
In the process of the intensifying fear gripping this pastor and his family, a discussion arrises between the pastor and his brother who is seeking something to settle his anxiety. After all, comforting people is what pastors do. At the very centre of the movie in this conversation, we hear the theme of the movie.
The pastor played by Mel Gibson says (paraphrased) "There are two groups of people in this world. One of them sees what is happening, and they call it a miracle but they do no know the outcome of what is happening. But whatever happens, they know that there is someone OUT THERE who is watching out for them, taking care of them, after all there is no such thing as chance or coincidence. The second group also sees the signs, agrees that it is a miracle and they don't know the outcome, there is a 50 - 50 chance that this might be good or bad, but whatever the outcome, they know that there is one thing certain: they must watch out for themselves because nobody is out there looking out for them."
The pastors brother places his lot with those who hope that there is someone out there looking out for them, the pastor himself in his grief has become firmly convinced that he must look out for his own family.
But what happens through the rest of the movie determines to be a series of undeniable signs. The person whose vehicle took his wife's life confesses that it could only have been destiny. The aliens attack and in the main confrontational scene, the pastor discovers that he must "SEE" his brother's trophy bat hanging on the wall, and that his brother must "SWING AWAY" at the alien. As his brother swings away, they discover that water is like acid to the aliens and his daughter, who has a thing about water, who left water all around the house has left the weapon of water all around the room,. In the battle his son, who has asthma, at just the right time can't breath in an alien toxic gas designed to kill him - all because of his asthma.
Now as I listen to myself, I am truly making this movie boring. But the upshot of the movie is that the pastor sees these signs and is once again convinced that God is looking out for him. The movie is basically about signs and faith.
As I saw this movie with its theme in our summer holidays, I was struck by the parallel between it and this passage.
This passage, which I believe we tend to misinterpret, is also about signs. Remember - Jesus gave all kinds of signs to the people of Israel, in fact the gospel of John is written around the theme of 7 signs that Christ gave to demonstrate that he was from God, the Son of God sent from the Father. In this passage, Jesus has just given another sign and all sides of this crowd were amazed at the miraculous work that Jesus did. Obviously many were convinced that this Jesus, with his compassion, must be from God. But there was another group of people who came with a variety of excuses to not believe in Jesus. Let me list them for you.
The first group said "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." This is not a sign that he is God, this is a sign that he is evil, he is doing the work of the devil. This group clearly had no intention of seeing God at work through Jesus. To them, Jesus, with piercing logic demonstrated the fallacy of their argument, if Satan is fighting against himself through me, his kingdom will not stand. But if the Father, who is Lord over all, who is watching over everything and much stronger than Satan, is doing this through me, then truly the Kingdom of God, the very finger of God is working here.
The first group insisted on taking the evidence, and attributing to it evil intentions. The ones speaking were the enemies of God, we know from parallel passages that they were those who would eventually lead the crowds in crying out crucify him, crucify him. Theirs was the stance of an enemy! Some of us have experienced that too. We have had people in our lives who, no matter what good we do, are determined to put the most noxious spin on what we do. Their interpretation is determined by their hatred.
There is a second group of people who see this miracle but do not see it properly, who do not interpret it through the eyes of faith that see clearly. These are the ones who suspend judgement on the miracle, they wait and see and remain neutral.
Jesus says to them: "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters". Jesus point is that when it comes to miraculous signs, these signs that pointed to him again and again, neutrality, suspending judgement was not different from being his enemy. It was just another form of unbelief. And he warns, by using the illustration of the house swept clean from demons that choosing neutrality when it comes to your faith and relationship with God is not safety, it is not intellectual safety, it is setting oneself up for spiritual disaster. When it comes to the signs that God has given and gives now, neutrality is a most dangerous option.
And then in our passage a women expresses another version of unbelief, another interpretation that keeps God out of the picture. She cries "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." - in the process attributing to human genetics, human abilities and charisma, the gifts to do these amazing miraculous signs. Jesus cuts her unbelief off at the pass. He says to her: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." Faith brings blessing, not genetics.
And then Jesus talks about the sign of Jonah and he begins it with a statement that we tend to take in isolation and therefore faithfully misinterpret. Jesus says "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. In the parallel passage of Matthew 12, Jesus says it this way "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." We tend to interpret these as an instruction NOT TO LOOK FOR SIGNS of God's divine care in our lives! But the context in this and the other gospel passages is that God was through Jesus giving one sign after another. He was healing lives, he was raising the dead, he was working wonders, but the people who watched them refused to believe that they were signs of God, so continuously they would repeat "Show us something to convince us!" God was giving them evidences, signs to be seen and believed, but they would not. But these people would be judged by the people of Nineveh who believed only because of Jonah pathetic judgmental preaching. And they would be judged by the Queen of the South who believed in Solomon's wisdom, which paled in comparison to the wisdom Jesus had. The only sign that would be given to them was the sign of Jonah: just as Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days, so to Jesus would go to a cross, die, and for three days he would be in the belly of the earth to arise again. But the truth is, if they would not believe the signs that God was giving in Jesus' ministry, they would probably not believe the sign of Christ's death and resurrection. Jesus brings this out clearly in his point about the lamp. The issue behind how we interpret miraculous signs is not an issue first of all of the evidence placed in front of us, it is an issue of the heart and how it sees. Jesus says
"Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. "
Jesus is saying that when our hearts our bent toward unbelief, no matter what evidence is given to us, we will not interpret them right. Our sight will still be darkness. But if our eyes are good, by the gift of faith, then we start seeing things as they really are, signs from God everywhere. The issue behind interpreting the evidence God gives us is not the quality of the evidence, it is an issue of our heart. And Jesus is saying to us that when we have faith, we can feel free to see all the signs that God has given us, we can freely see the meaning of the cross and the resurrection, we can hear God speaking to us through his word, even in it we see signs, and we will see them! Only the dark heart asks for more!
So let me conclude this mornings message by tying it down to our own lives. Are you a person who sees signs of God's care in your life?
Here are some of the signs I see.
I look outside my window and everywhere I see design. Biological complexity that is the machinery of life, the amazing wonders of creation, far more complex than the computer I am using to write this sermon - I see signs from God who made it all.
I see my wife, who after 24 years still loves me, and I know that being married to a Dutchman builds character, but in a world where so many marriages fail, this one is a miracle, a gift from God.
And I see four wonderful children growing up, and I promise not to mention their names, but they are not mere biological accidents, God made them, gave them, loves them, cares for them. I see that, believe that.
If I look into my past, I see sign after sign, from my parents to my year after highschool holiday trip that resulted in my conversion, to the variety of near accidents I have had, to falling 30 feet into a well 9 years ago, into a three foot concrete tube and coming out with only scratches and bruises.
I see signs all around me. I see people who suffer sickness, who are anticipating death soon, and though they grieve in anticipation, they grieve with hope because they know that even through this pain, this suffering, even through death, God is watching out for them, and heaven will be a wonderful place. The worst thing that could happen to us - dying - is not so bad, because God is there. With them, I see the sign of an empty cross, my Lord who has risen from the dead, and I know that God is there for me, for us, for you.
I could spend hours sharing about this because it seems to me that there are signs everywhere, so much so that my neighbour thinks I have the gift of dragging God into almost any conversation. I don't have the gift. I simply see things that way!
What do you see?
We see creation, wives, husbands, parents, children, brothers and sisters in Christ, chance happenings that aren't chance, your provision, your protection, your word, the cross.
Help us to remember that how we see is a matter of our heart, that neutrality when it comes to you is a most dangerous option.
Help us to swing away - take the steps of faith that see and believe and respond with obedience - the obedience that arises from faith.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.