January 9, 2015

Signs and Assurances

God sometimes takes me places that I might not have searched out on my own. One of them involved a short study on the concept of ‘signs’ and I say short, so don’t quote me. I could have easily missed something vital.

First a definition; in the Bible a sign is something that designates an important reality or is a reminder of that reality. Remember, the sign is not the reality, only a sign that points to it. Likely many of the debates about signs would be settled if both sides remembered the difference.

In the Genesis reading, my attention stopped at this verse: “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:11)  The covenant was God’s commitment to His people. It sometimes depended on their cooperation and sometimes not.

Circumcision was a sign of the covenant. The ark was also a sign of the covenant, as was the rainbow. People and other things were also called signs of God’s covenant with His people. The Jews considered the Sabbath a sign of the covenant also. Remember, the sign points to an agreement or a reality. The sign is only a sign. God’s power, authority, and presence were what mattered.

God wanted to make clear this distinction between a sign and what it represented because Abraham was not circumcised when he believed, but later, and Isaac his son was circumcised before he believed not after. The sign was not about their faith, but about God’s decision and promises for those who walk in faith . . .

“(Abraham) received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” (Romans 4:11–12)

In other words, this man’s faith was the reality. The sign only pointed to it. Others might be circumcised and not believe, signifying that the sign is worthless apart from the reality it points to.

The second reading is about the assurance of our destiny. In the OT, this was strong for some, like Job. He said, “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26) yet Solomon was not as positive. He said, “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:20–21)

Throughout the day, I’ve been reading a textbook about the issue of God being knowable. Some say not, but God says knowing Him is the essence of eternal life. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) John also said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

Do we need a sign for that? Jesus said only one as He talked with some of the scribes and Pharisees who were looking for a sign to verify His identity. But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:38–39)  This is a reference to Him also being buried three days and emerging alive – His death and resurrection.

Many people seek signs for all sorts of reasons. Some say they will not believe what they cannot see. That is, they want a visible sign. Others ask God for a sign to show them what to do, or what He wants from them. But rather than signs, He gives us the death and resurrection of His Son, and of course His Word. Both point us to the reality of who He is and the power He has to reveal His will and guide us through life.

Instead of seeking signs that point me where I think I should go, or where I want to go, I need to humbly seek the reality of Jesus Christ and pay attention to what He has already revealed.

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