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A SIGN FOR TODAY
by Philip Owen

      One of the predominant characteristics of our age is the demand for pleasure and self-gratification.  People constantly pursue entertainment, amusement, and titillation.  This worldly pursuit of cheap thrills has flooded over into the church to the extent that many would-be worship services have become little more than circuses.  And entertainment, rather than worship and edification, has become the order of the day.  One of the more subtle forms that this robbery of true worship has taken may be viewed in the practice of sign gifts, such as “faith healing” and speaking in tongues, once practiced exclusively by those in the charismatic movement, but now practiced broadly throughout the Protestant world through practitioners of the seed-faith movement and others of similar ilk.

      Both the Word of God and the historical experience of the true church indicate that sign gifts have ceased.  Even in Christ’s own day when God used sign gifts to authenticate the message that Christ and His disciples were proclaiming, Christ rebuked the scribes and Pharisees who came to Him asking for a sign.  “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:39b, 40). 

      “There is no sign,” the Lord suggested, “except My death, burial, and resurrection.  As Jonah returned alive from the belly of the fish after three days, even so will I come from the grave.”  And except for that one sign—the lifting up of Christ on the cross—no sign can or will help, but especially, save any man.  An example of this fact is the Lord’s miracle in “the country of the Gadarenes.”  Two men possessed by demons came to the Lord.  They frequented the tombs there but were “so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way” (Matt. 8:28b).  The Lord cast the demons out of the men, permitting them to “enter a herd of swine” (v. 30).  But the demons that had been in these two men were so numerous and fierce that, when they entered the swine, “the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters” (v. 32).  The people of Gadara rejoiced over the deliverance of the two men and over their own freedom to pass by the tombs again, and they believed.  Right?  Wrong!  “And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region” (v. 34). 

      Christ had just exhibited a wonderful, gracious sign.  But the people did not believe because signs and miracles do not and cannot save people; only the Holy Spirit witnessing to a bloody gospel brings salvation.  The place of the church, its services, its ministers, and its members is not to entertain but to bring the message of salvation, which is always a message offensive to the flesh.  The Word itself speaks of “the offence of the cross” (Gal. 5:11, KJV [or, “stumbling block,” NASB]).  A clear picture of its offensiveness may be found in the Old Testament record of the circumcision of Moses’ son.  The Bible says that Moses’ wife, Zipporah, “took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, ‘You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me” (Ex. 4:25).  This bloody Jewish ritual was offensive to Moses’ Gentile wife:  she wanted something neat, or pretty, or impressive—some pleasant religious ceremony that would be entertaining, perhaps, not the offensive thing demanded by God.

      But God does not serve the whims of carnal man.  We have a bloody, offensive gospel because Christ suffered a bloody, agonizing, offensive death in our stead.  And all who would be saved must share that offense—no longer by the rite of physical circumcision but by circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29)—that bloody operation by which we accept and trust in Christ’s death for us, a death that gives us new life and cuts off forever our old, offending, sinful nature.

      That is the message of salvation and grace:  no other message will suffice.  “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:22, 23).

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