The True Sign
"AGAIN He went out from the borders of Tyre,
and came through Sidon unto the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of
Decapolis." Mark 7:31, R. V.
It was in the region of
Decapolis that the demoniacs of Gergesa had been healed. Here the people, alarmed at the
destruction of the swine, had constrained Jesus to depart from among them. But they had
listened to the messengers He left behind, and a desire was aroused to see Him. As He came
again into that region, a crowd gathered about Him, and a deaf, stammering man was brought
to Him. Jesus did not, according to His custom, restore the man by a word only. Taking him
apart from the multitude, He put His fingers in his ears, and touched his tongue; looking
up to heaven, He sighed at thought of the ears that would not be open to the truth, the
tongues that refused to acknowledge the Redeemer. At the word, "Be opened," the
man's speech was restored, and, disregarding the command to tell no man, he published
abroad the story of his cure.
Jesus went up into a
mountain, and there the multitude flocked to Him, bringing their sick and lame, and laying
them at His feet. He healed them all; and the people, heathen as they were, glorified the
God of Israel. For three days they continued to throng about the Saviour, sleeping at
night in the open air, and through the day pressing eagerly to hear the words of Christ,
and to see His works. At the end of three
days their food was spent. Jesus would not send
them away hungry, and He called upon His disciples to give them food. Again the disciples
revealed their unbelief. At Bethsaida they had seen how, with Christ's blessing, their
little store availed for the feeding of the multitude; yet they did not now bring forward
their all, trusting His power to multiply it for the hungry crowds. Moreover, those whom
He fed at Bethsaida were Jews; these were Gentiles and heathen. Jewish prejudice was still
strong in the hearts of the disciples, and they answered Jesus, "Whence can a man
satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?" But obedient to His word they
brought Him what they had,--seven loaves and two fishes. The multitude were fed, seven
large baskets of fragments remaining. Four thousand men, besides women and children, were
thus refreshed, and Jesus sent them away with glad and grateful hearts.
Then taking a boat with His
disciples, He crossed the lake to Magdala, at the southern end of the plain of Gennesaret.
In the border of Tyre and Sidon His spirit had been refreshed by the confiding trust of
the Syrophoenician woman. The heathen people of Decapolis had received Him with gladness.
Now as He landed once more in Galilee, where His power had been most strikingly
manifested, where most of His works of mercy had been performed, and His teaching given,
He was met with contemptuous unbelief.
A deputation of Pharisees had
been joined by representatives from the rich and lordly Sadducees, the party of the
priests, the skeptics and aristocracy of the nation. The two sects had been at bitter
enmity. The Sadducees courted the favor of the ruling power in order to maintain their own
position and authority. The Pharisees, on the other hand, fostered the popular hatred
against the Romans, longing for the time when they could throw off the yoke of the
conqueror. But Pharisee and Sadducee now united against Christ. Like seeks like; and evil,
wherever it exists, leagues with evil for the destruction of the good.
Now the Pharisees and
Sadducees came to Christ, asking for a sign from heaven. When in the days of Joshua Israel
went out to battle with the Canaanites at Bethhoron, the sun had stood still at the
leader's command until victory was gained; and many similar wonders had been manifest in
their history. Some such sign was demanded of Jesus. But these signs were not what the
Jews needed. No mere external evidence could benefit them. What they needed was not
intellectual enlightenment, but spiritual renovation.
"O ye hypocrites,"
said Jesus, "ye can discern the face of the sky,"--by studying the sky they
could foretell the weather,--"but can ye not discern the signs of the times?"
Christ's own words, spoken with the power of the Holy Spirit that convicted them of sin,
were the sign that God had given for their salvation. And signs direct from heaven had
been given to attest the mission of Christ. The song of the angels to the shepherds, the
star that guided the wise men, the dove and the voice from heaven at His baptism, were
witnesses for Him.
"And He sighed deeply in
His spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign?" "There shall
no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas." As Jonah was three days
and three nights in the belly of the whale, Christ was to be the same time "in the
heart of the earth." And as the preaching of Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so
Christ's preaching was a sign to His generation. But what a contrast in the reception of
the word! The people of the great heathen city trembled as they heard the warning from
God. Kings and nobles humbled themselves; the high and the lowly together cried to the God
of heaven, and His mercy was granted unto them. "The men of Nineveh shall rise in
judgment with this generation," Christ had said, "and shall condemn it: because
they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here."
Matt. 12:40, 41.
Every miracle that Christ
performed was a sign of His divinity. He was doing the very work that had been foretold of
the Messiah; but to the Pharisees these works of mercy were a positive offense. The Jewish
leaders looked with heartless indifference on human suffering. In many cases their
selfishness and oppression had caused the affliction that Christ relieved. Thus His
miracles were to them a reproach.
That which led the Jews to
reject the Saviour's work was the highest evidence of His divine character. The greatest
significance of His miracles is seen in the fact that they were for the blessing of
The highest evidence that He came from God is that His life revealed the
character of God. He did the works and spoke the words of God. Such a life is the greatest
of all miracles.
When the message of truth is
presented in our day, there are many who, like the Jews, cry, Show us a sign. Work us a
miracle. Christ wrought no miracle at the demand of the Pharisees. He wrought no miracle
in the wilderness in answer to Satan's insinuations. He does not impart to us power to
vindicate ourselves or to satisfy the demands of unbelief and pride. But the gospel is not
without a sign of its divine origin. Is it not a miracle that we can break from the
bondage of Satan? Enmity against Satan is not natural to the human heart; it is implanted
by the grace of God. When one who has been controlled by a stubborn, wayward will is set
free, and yields himself wholeheartedly to the drawing of God's heavenly agencies, a
miracle is wrought; so also when a man who has been under strong delusion comes to
understand moral truth. Every time a soul is converted, and learns to love God and keep
His commandments, the promise of God is fulfilled, "A new heart also will I give you,
and a new spirit will I put within you." Ezek. 36:26. The change in human hearts, the
transformation of human characters, is a miracle that reveals an ever-living Saviour,
working to rescue souls. A consistent life in Christ is a great miracle. In the preaching
of the word of God, the sign that should be manifest now and always is the presence of the
Holy Spirit, to make the word a regenerating power to those that hear. This is God's
witness before the world to the divine mission of His Son.
Those who desired a sign from
Jesus had so hardened their hearts in unbelief that they did not discern in His character
the likeness of God. They would not see that His mission was in fulfillment of the
Scriptures. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus said to the Pharisees,
"If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one
rose from the dead." Luke 16:31. No sign that could be given in heaven or earth would
Jesus "sighed deeply in
His spirit," and, turning from the group of cavilers, re-entered the boat with His
disciples. In sorrowful silence they again crossed the lake. They did not, however, return
to the place they had left, but directed their course toward Bethsaida, near where the
five thousand had been fed. Upon reaching the farther side, Jesus said, "Take heed
and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the
Sadducees." The Jews had been
accustomed since the days of Moses to put away leaven from their houses at the Passover
season, and they had thus been taught to regard it as a type of sin. Yet the disciples
failed to understand Jesus. In their sudden departure from Magdala they had forgotten to
take bread, and they had with them only one loaf. To this circumstance they understood
Christ to refer, warning them not to buy bread of a Pharisee or a Sadducee. Their lack of
faith and spiritual insight had often led them to similar misconception of His words. Now
Jesus reproved them for thinking that He who had fed thousands with a few fishes and
barley loaves could in that solemn warning have referred merely to temporal food. There
was danger that the crafty reasoning of the Pharisees and the Sadducees would leaven His
disciples with unbelief, causing them to think lightly of the works of Christ.
The disciples were inclined
to think that their Master should have granted the demand for a sign in the heavens. They
believed that He was fully able to do this, and that such a sign would put His enemies to
silence. They did not discern the hypocrisy of these cavilers.
Months afterward, "when
there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode
one upon another," Jesus repeated the same teaching. "He began to say unto His
disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is
hypocrisy." Luke 12:1.
The leaven placed in the meal
works imperceptibly, changing the whole mass to its own nature. So if hypocrisy is allowed
to exist in the heart, it permeates the character and the life. A striking example of the
hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Christ had already rebuked in denouncing the practice of
"Corban," by which a neglect of filial duty was concealed under a pretense of
liberality to the temple. The scribes and Pharisees were insinuating deceptive principles.
They concealed the real tendency of their doctrines, and improved every occasion to
instill them artfully into the minds of their hearers. These false principles, when once
accepted, worked like leaven in the meal, permeating and transforming the character. It
was this deceptive teaching that made it so hard for the people to receive the words of
The same influences are
working today through those who try to explain the law of God in such a way as to make it
conform to their practices. This class do not attack the law openly, but put forward
speculative theories that undermine its principles. They explain it so as to destroy its
The hypocrisy of the
Pharisees was the product of self-seeking. The glorification of themselves was the object
of their lives. It was this that led them to pervert and misapply the Scriptures, and
blinded them to the purpose of Christ's mission. This subtle evil even the disciples of
Christ were in danger of cherishing. Those who classed themselves with the followers of
Jesus, but who had not left all in order to become His disciples, were influenced in a
great degree by the reasoning of the Pharisees. They were often vacillating between faith
and unbelief, and they did not discern the treasures of wisdom hidden in Christ. Even the
disciples, though outwardly they had left all for Jesus' sake, had not in heart ceased to
seek great things for themselves. It was this spirit that prompted the strife as to who
should be greatest. It was this that came between them and Christ, making them so little
in sympathy with His mission of self-sacrifice, so slow to comprehend the mystery of
redemption. As leaven, if left to complete its work, will cause corruption and decay, so
does the self-seeking spirit, cherished, work the defilement and ruin of the soul.
Among the followers of our
Lord today, as of old, how widespread is this subtle, deceptive sin! How often our service
to Christ, our communion with one another, is marred by the secret desire to exalt self!
How ready the thought of self-gratulation, and the longing for human approval! It is the
love of self, the desire for an easier way than God has appointed that leads to the
substitution of human theories and traditions for the divine precepts. To His own
disciples the warning words of Christ are spoken, "Take heed and beware of the leaven
of the Pharisees."
The religion of Christ is
sincerity itself. Zeal for God's glory is the motive implanted by the Holy Spirit; and
only the effectual working of the Spirit can implant this motive. Only the power of God
can banish self-seeking and hypocrisy. This change is the sign of His working. When the
faith we accept destroys selfishness and pretense, when it leads us to seek God's glory
and not our own, we may know that it is of the right order. "Father, glorify Thy
name" (John 12:28), was the keynote of Christ's life, and if we follow Him, this will
be the keynote of our life. He commands us to "walk, even as He walked;" and
"hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments."1 John 2:6, 3.