Seeking Signs From God
Biblically speaking, signs can be a bit confusing, at least in terms of how God views them. Sometimes he seems to like them. Other times not so much.
When Signs are Good
God flat-out told Ahaz to ask for a sign.
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” – Isaiah 7:10-11, NIV-1978
The Gospel According to John never speaks of “miracles,” preferring to refer to them as “signs.” John was very particular about the signs he chose to share.
- Water Turned to Wine (John 2:1-11)
- Healing the Nobleman’s Son (John 4:46-54)
- Healing the Lame Man at the Bethesda Pool (John 5:1-17)
- Feeding the 5,000 (John 6:1-15)
- Walking on Water (John 6:16-21)
- Healing the Man Born Blind (John 9:1-41)
- Raising Lazarus From the Dead (John 11:1-47)<
Before going to battle against the Midianites and Amalekites, Gideon asked God repeatedly to confirm the call with signs. God seemed okay with that.
When Signs are Not Good
There are other times when the narrative is quite different. Paul downplays the seeking of signs in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23a, saying “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified.” This is the same sign-seeking attitude that Jesus harshly rebuked.
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” – Matthew 12:38-39, NIV-1978
And yet, just four chapters later, Jesus’attitude seems different, that he is disappointed the Jews cannot interpret the signs of the times.
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” – Matthew 16:1-3, NIV-1978
It seems that looking for and interpreting signs from God is not the issue, but rather our motivation for doing so.
Three Christmas Signs
As Christmas Day approaches, I want to call our attention to three specific signs regarding the Immanuel, God with us. There are most certainly other signs, such as the star that guided the seekers to Bethlehem, but today we will look at three specific signs.
The Virgin Birth
Returning to the opening passage above, Ahaz refused to ask God for a sign, even though God directly told him to do so. Ahaz said, “No. I will not put Yahweh to the test.” But God said, essentially, “I’m gonna give you a sign whether you ask or don’t ask.”
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14, NIV-1978
“God with us,” came by way of a virgin birth, a biological impossiblility apart from a miracle of divine intervention. Through Immanuel, God with us, the omnipotent I AM entered time, space, and the family of humanity. If you ponder that, it is a mind-blowing proposition.
As God in the flesh, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, we would expect great fanfare, glitz, and trappings. Not so in this case, and it was another sign.
Rather than a doctor-attended birth in a palace as would have been fitting for a king, the birth of Jesus was beyond the humblest of circumstances. An angel appeared to a group of shepherds attending their flocks explained the situation to them.
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. – Luke 2:10b-12, NIV-1978
This is completely unexpected for a Christ, a Messiah. Lying in a manger? A trough of straw for feeding livestock? For a King? A sign, indeed!
The Blessing of Simeon
The third sign we look at today is one that is often missed. It is so easy to read over and forget, but it happens to be one of my favorite stories involved in the birth of Christ.
The firstborn male belongs to the Lord.1 If you wish to do so, you may redeem your son back through a sacrifice to Yahweh. This is what Joseph and Mary were doing when the went to the temple in Luke 2:22ff. It is there that they met Simeon.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25-32, NIV-1978
That is a beautiful story, but it is not the sign. That comes next.
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” – Luke 2:33-35, NIV-1978
Jesus, the God/man was himself a sign from God to Israel and to the whole world. Our very attitudes toward Christ reveal the state of our hearts and seal our destiny, whether rising again to everlasting life or falling forever away from God.
Regarding the story of Simeon, I strongly encourage you to watch this 3:30 video wherein Michael Card sings the story of Jesus being presented for consecration at the temple. I pray God’s joyous blessing on you as you celebrate the birth of the Christ child.
Now That I’ve Held Him in My Arms – Michael Card
1. Exodus 13:2, 12