In 1 Corinthians 1:22-23, Paul said that “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”
D.A. Carson makes some excellent points about the phrase “Jews demand signs.” After making the point that Jesus performed a number of miracles during His earthly ministry, Carson rightly asserts that He also condemned the desire for them.
But one might well ask why Jesus should object. After all, he performed many miracles. Why should he object when someone asked him for one? Did not such requests simply give him an opportunity to display yet one more powerful work?
These questions miss the point. There is a kind of longing for a display of Jesus’ power that is entirely godly, submissive, perhaps even desperate. There is another kind that puts the person making the request in the driver’s seat. Some want to see Jesus perform a sign so that they can evaluate him, assess his claims, test his credentials. At one level, of course, he accommodates himself to our unbelief by performing miracles that ought to limit faith (John 10:38). But at another level, he cannot possibly reduce himself to a powerful genie who performs spectacular tricks on demand. As long as people are assessing him, they are in a superior position, the position of judge. As long as they are checking out his credentials, they are forgetting that God is the one who will weigh them. As long as they are demanding signs, Jesus, if he constantly acquiesces, is nothing more than a clever performer.
Thus the demand for signs becomes the prototype of every condition human beings raise as a barrier to being open to God. I will devote myself to this God if he heals my child. I will follow Jesus if I can maintain my independence. I will happily become a Christian if God proves himself to me. I will turn from my sin and read the Bible if my marriage gets sorted out to my satisfaction. I will acknowledge Jesus as Lord if he performs the kind of miracle, on demand, that removes all doubt. In every case, I am assessing him; he is not assessing me. I am not coming to him on his terms; rather, I am stipulating terms that he must accept if he wants the privilege of my company. “Jews demand miraculous signs.” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, pp. 20-21. Emphasis of the word “if” is the author’s, not mine.)
Father, may we long for your power, but never demand it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.