Seeing His Signs
Merry Christmas! What a joyous season, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior and King. I pray God’s peace and blessing upon you and your loved ones. I pray that God’s presence will comfort, strengthen and guide you into the New Year. His mercies are new every day; expect God to do great things this Christmas Season and New Year—truly, hope springs eternal!
The Promised Son
Think for a moment of the love and faithfulness of God. From the moment sin separated humanity from God in the garden, the Father promised to send a Savior.
He fulfilled that promise by sending His Son, Jesus, to reconcile us and to restore that relationship, redeeming us into His family. Jesus is the lamb of God, the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.
We don’t know for sure the date of Christ’s birth, but December 25th is the day chosen to celebrate the greatest gift ever given to mankind. What we do know is that King Jesus was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago, in a humble stable, not a palace.
His birth, life, death, and resurrection have changed human history. Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and taught us how to love unconditionally. To forgive our enemies and display kindness and mercy to one another. He truly is the greatest gift to humanity, and His birth is the greatest sign of God’s love toward humanity. Sadly, most ignore the signs of God’s salvation—true through history.
Many in Israel were expecting the birth of the Messiah, but most missed the signs of His coming. Even Joseph and Mary struggled at first with the pronouncement Mary would give birth to the Son of God—Jesus.
The Pharisees, Priests, and Scribes didn’t see the signs, didn’t recognize the prophesied Messiah, Jesus had arrived. Yet, Isaiah and other voices prophesied hundreds of years prior to His birth. The wise men (astrologers) in the East recognized a king was born in Israel and followed a star to Israel where they were told by Herod and religious leaders that the prophet Micah said Bethlehem was where Jesus would be born—and they found Him there.
Today, many miss the significance of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Much of humanity is unaware of the sign God has given through Christ, nor do they see the signs of His working among us today.
In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him. The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. After he carried out the cleansing of people from their sins, he sat down at the right side of the highest majesty. And the Son became so much greater than the other messengers, such as angels, that he received a more important title than theirs.” (Heb. 1:1-4 CEB)
Did you notice in this verse that God has always been speaking to humanity? But since the incarnation of Christ, the eternal Word, God has spoken to us through the life of his Son, Jesus. Jesus is the greatest gift, and His birth, life, and resurrection are the greatest signs of what God has done for us in Christ!
Jesus came to reveal the Father, and because of His death and resurrection, we can be reconciled to God. The Holy Spirit has been freely given to transform us and lead us. Jesus continues to speak to us through the written Word and Holy Spirit—at times, God may still send an angel!
God often Communicates through Signs and Impressions
Our daily lives are busy; if we are not careful to observe God’s ways, we can miss his gentle impressions and signs that speak “loudly.” You and I can be “seeing,” but not really “see.” That is, we can observe through our natural sight and senses many things around us but be “spiritually dull” to what God may be revealing plainly.
Learning how to see, hear, and understand what God is communicating is vital to maintaining our intimate relationship with the Lord and obtaining His direction and strategy in life. Jesus said to his followers that they are “friends.” He reveals his thoughts and plans to friends who are close to him (John 15:14-15). But sometimes even the “friends of God” can be slow to understand God’s ways, nature, and what he is revealing.
The Disciples in Mark 6 couldn’t recognize Jesus coming to them during a storm.
They felt abandoned by God for Jesus sent them away in a boat to cross the sea of Galilee while He left for the mountain to pray. It seemed like God “left” or “abandoned” them. Have you ever felt this way?
St. John of the Cross, a 16th-century Spanish Catholic priest and mystic, referred to these days of spiritual dryness, doubt, and estrangement from God as the “dark night of the soul.” Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest and author in the 20th century, called them “the ministry of absence.”
King David, a man after God’s own heart, often complained in the Psalms of God’s seeming absence. “Why do you stand so far away, Lord, hiding yourself in troubling times?” (Psalm 10:1 CEB) God hadn’t really left David, and He doesn’t leave you or me. The truth is Jesus promised,
I will be with you always even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20 NKJV)
We can take this to the bank folks! God never lies nor relents on what He has spoken. Jesus promises His disciples that He will be with them always (in Spirit)—irrespective of circumstances.
Not only did the disciples in Mark 6 feel separated from Jesus, but they encountered a storm and are straining to prevent the boat from capsizing. As I shared last week, their strain was severe. They were vexed with pain and tormented in mind and body. Our chaotic and storm-filled world often does this to us!
In Mark 6:49 we read how the disciples were so busy rowing they didn’t recognize Jesus walking to them on the water. Their fear of the situation prevented them from recognizing Jesus, the very answer to their problem. What they needed to do was stop rowing for a minute, seek His presence and cry out to Him!
We often allow the worries, fears, and cares of life to cloud our view of Jesus. We keep “rowing against the waves,” struggling, fearful, and relying on our own strength to overcome. But Jesus comes to us during storms, and we often don’t recognize Him.
Perhaps a friend stops by to pray with us, or maybe someone comes to help during a difficult time (brings a meal). Perhaps it’s the gentle leading of the Holy Spirit to a passage in scripture that will encourage us during our trial, or that still small voice from Him that comforts and guides us.
Dr. Victor Raymond Edman, the fourth Wheaton College president and a friend of the late Billy Graham, said “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.” Good advice! Trust what God has spoken above the circumstances you may find yourself in.
Take a moment and think of the ways that God has come to you in your situation today to help you. Do you recognize Him and His hand at work in your life? Know that He is always near! Jesus steps into the boat, and the wind ceased. Mark 6:50 NASB Jesus declares, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Hard Hearts Prevented the Disciples from Recognizing Jesus
In Mark 6:51 and 52 we read how Jesus calms the storm and the disciples were greatly amazed beyond measure.
The twelve disciples had been with Jesus, saw many miracles, and witnessed the power of God firsthand. They were used by God to heal the sick and cast out demons. They had just witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, yet their hearts were hard. Because of their unbelief, they were not able to apply His power and grace to their own situation.
They had just witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, yet, they had a vision problem! Mark injects a shocking interpretation that explains much of the disciple’s perception problems: Mark 6:52 “their hearts were hardened.” No different than the religious Pharisees, their hearts were dulled to the reality of who Jesus is.
Miracle bread, a demand for a sign, and hardness of heart (Mark 8:1-21)
Like the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 (Mk 6:35-44), Mark discusses the feeding of 4,000 in a Gentile region (Mark 8:1-10). Both stories stress the disciples’ lack of faith, both end with abundant leftovers, the dismissal of the crowd, and the departure by boat.
The disciples previously witnessed the miraculous provision of the 5,000, but they are skeptical again, Mark 8:4 NIV “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”
Many disciples today are no different; doubt and unbelief prevail when confronted with challenging circumstances.
Like the early disciples, we often fail to grasp the full revelation of Jesus—the bread of life. The poverty of our own faith clouds our ability to see clearly how Jesus can multiply whatever we put into His hands. Often our faith is only “situational faith!” Faith tied to the senses, not Jesus!
The Demand for a Sign (Mark 8:11-13)
In Mark’s previous stories, multitudes encounter the love and power of God! Food is multiplied for the masses and numerous healing miracles occur. But the Pharisees are unable to “see” who Jesus is. Their religious activity and hardened hearts blind them from the working of God’s Spirit. For these Pharisees, Jesus’ abundant miracles, revealing God’s love for humanity, are not enough.
“This generation,” recalls the “evil generation” of Israelites who refused to trust God after witnessing all that He had done in Egypt, who died in the wilderness, and never entered the promised land.
Like them, Jesus’ opponents are self-willed, full of unbelief, and refuse to relate to God on His terms, i.e., live by faith and obediently follow God!
To demand irrefutable evidence is not only a sign of unbelief, but a demand for control. “Force us to believe God, otherwise we won’t trust you or change our hearts!” Faith that is compelled is not faith, or love, at all! God doesn’t make us love Him—He took the initiative in Jesus. Jesus responds, “No sign will be given to this generation!”
That is, no sign which could satisfy their demand for undeniable proof. You see, Jesus’ birth, life, miracles, mercy, and resurrection demonstrate God’s love for humanity—they invite faith, but they do not coerce faith!
I’ve observed people witness God’s acts of mercy and power, yet hearts remain hard toward God. God will not force repentance or faith—He invites. God cannot be proven through empirical scientific data, or even miracles! He is, and we believe!
John 3:16 Revealed to Millions!
I was reminded of a story that revealed the subtle, and perhaps not so subtle, ways that God communicates. The story involves former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. CBN News covered the story on their web page in January 2018, Tebow John 3:16 Article and Video
CBN’s story covers a video of former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow recalling an amazing Biblical ‘coincidence’ in his life that went viral on social media. The story begins with Tebow in his college football years. It was 2009 and he was weeks away from competing in the highly televised national championship football game.
Tebow said God led him to write John 3:16 under his eyes for all the world to see while he played. “The next six weeks leading up to the game I was really agonizing and contemplating what verse and God kept bringing up to my heart and my head John 3:16 which is the essence of our Christianity. It’s the essence of our hope,” Tebow said in the video. After winning the championship game he found out something incredible happened during the game: 94 million people Googled John 3:16.
“Honestly my first thought was ‘How do 94 million people not know John 3:16?’” Tebow said. “I was just so humbled by how big the God is that we serve.” But that’s not where the story ends.
Fast-forward three years to 2012. Tebow is a Denver Bronco playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, and after the Broncos won, he headed into the post-game press conference when his public relations representative stopped him in his tracks. “He says, ‘Timmy, did you realize what happened?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, we just beat the Steelers. We’re going to play the Patriots.’ And he was like, ‘No, do you realize what happened?’” Tebow shared. “He said, ‘It’s exactly three years later from the day that you wore John 3:16 under your eyes,'” Tebow continued. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool.'”
“He said, ‘No, I don’t think you realize what happened. During the game you threw for 316 yards, your yards per completion were 31.6, your yards per rush were 3.16, the ratings for the night were 31.6, and the time of possession was 31.06 and during the game, 91 million people googled John 3:16 and it’s the number one trending thing on every platform,’” Tebow shared.
“I was just standing there in the hallway about to do this press conference just thinking that that night was about a football game. It really wasn’t… we serve such a big God,” he continued. Tebow believes God did something miraculous that night. “The God that we serve is a God of miracles,” he said. “I just have to be willing to step out and say, ‘Here you go, God, I’m going to give you my fish and my loaves of bread and watch what he does with it.”
This Christmas Season, choose to gaze into the wonder and mystery of the birth of Jesus. Celebrate His love and forgiveness extended to humanity through His life, death, and resurrection.
Pray for friends and family who are blinded to the sign of His majesty and glory as eternal God! Pray for them to turn in faith and receive God’s greatest gift, His precious Son Jesus! Next week I’ll continue and share how we can overcome spiritual blindness.
For a deeper look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message “Seeing the Signs”