Many in the Church today do not believe either that God still speaks to us today, other than through the Bible, or/and that God performs no more signs an wonders these days. Both, they say, were for the early Church and since we now have the completed Bible upon which to rely, we no longer need such gifts. There is a name for the holders of such doctrine, “secessionists,” those for whom the charismata (the spiritual power) of God has ceased, and typically, they point to Matthew 12:39 in support of their claim, which says:
“But He [Jesus] answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign. And there shall be no sign given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.'”
The obvious question which arises from this verse under the cloak of secessionism, is whether is it therefore wrong for Christians prayerfully ask God for miraculous help?
After all, what is miraculous help, but a sign or wonder from God?
Is it wrong to ask God to interceded and spare the life of a dying child or parent after doctors have given up all medical hope?
Is it wrong ask for a sign for a non-believer, so they may be led to believe?
Is it wrong to pray for help to arrive when you know full well there is no one there to help?
From what I have read, practically all of mankind come to prayer when certain death is staring them in the face and the only straw available, is a sign or wonder from God. Believers or not, such prayer seems to be built into mankind. But does Matthew 12:39 infer such prayer is wrong?
I argue that is does not, for two reasons. The first, is that practically all prayer to God is seeking after sign or a miracle. We pray to God for that which we are unable to do ourselves, or incapable of doing by ourselves. If we can do it ourselves, there is no point in praying for it – we just need to do it. Everything else, by definition, requires the help of God, and surely instances which can clearly be classified as by the “help of God” in our lives, can also be classified as “signs and wonders”.
Secondly, let’s look to the Bible and see what Jesus really did and said. To start with, we can read in Mark 7:32 that Jesus healed a deaf man who could hardly speak, simply because “they begged Him [Jesus] to put His hand on him [the man].“ Then again in Mark 8:22 we read that “they brought a blind man to Him and begged Him to touch him.” In both cases Jesus healed solely because they brought the person to Jesus and begged Him to heal and there is nothing in either incident to lead us to believe that Jesus healed for any other reason.
To “beg,” means to ask for as a gift, as charity, or as a favour which is undeserved and certainly no earned. Most intercession prayers are exactly the same as begging, as we ask God for a gift, or a charity or a favour for which we are undeserving and have not earned.
Now it is interesting to note that twice Jesus spoke the phrase “An evil and adulterous generation” for those seeking after a sign. The first time was in Matthew 12:39,
“But He [Jesus] answered and said to them,‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign. And there shall be no sign given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.'”
and the second in Matthew 16:4,
“‘A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign. And there shall no sign be given to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’ And He left them and went away.”
To understand the intent of Jesus, we need understand what commonalities link these two occasions together. First, in both occasions, Jesus was asked to perform signs by the Pharisees and the Sadducees:
Matthew 12:38“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.'”
Matthew 16:1“And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.”
Secondly, let us look as what has occurred immediately before Matthew 12:38 and Matthew 16:1.
Matthew 12:22-23 tells us that Jesus publically healed a man who was blind and mute:
“Then one who had been demon-possessed was brought to Him, blind and dumb. And He healed him, so much so that the blind and dumb one both spoke and saw.”
And all the people were amazed and said, Is not this the son of David?”
Mathew 15:32-39 tell us that Jesus publically fed four thousand man (plus uncounted women and children) with seven loaves and a few fish:
“Then Jesus called His disciples and said, I have compassion on the crowd because they continue with Me for three days now and have nothing to eat. And I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
And His disciples said to Him, From where should we get so many loaves in the wilderness, so as to fill so great a crowd?
And Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ And they said, Seven, and a few little fish.
And He commanded the crowd to sit on the ground.
And He took the seven loaves and the fish, and gave thanks, and broke, and gave to His disciples. And the disciples gave to the crowd.
And they all ate, and were filled; and they took up seven lunch baskets full of the pieces that was left.
And those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.
And sending the crowd away, He went into the boat and came into the borders of Magdala.”
What is clear that the Pharisees and Sadducees came asking Jesus to perform signs and wonders immediately after He had publically carried out two miracles which had amazed the people. However, the Pharisees and Sadducees came asking in unbelief. Even though they may have seen with their own eyes, that which thousands of others has witnessed, yet they would still not believe. They asked for a personal miracle to be performed at their behest, right in front of their eyes.
Once thing is certain from studying the Bible, Jesus could read the hearts of men. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came asking, He knew that no miracle He could perform would be acceptable to them. Luke 11:16 confirms this saying the Pharisees and Sadducees were simply out to test Jesus, “And others, tempting Him, sought a sign from Heaven from him.” Jesus therefore refused.
Matthew 12:39, therefore, does not mean that we are not to ask for miracles, or for signs, or for wonders. No, what we need to remember are the promises of Jesus for us:
Matthew 21:22“… And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”
Mark 11:24“… Therefore I say to you, All things, whatever you ask, praying, believe that you shall receive them, and it will be to you.”
John 16:24“Before now you have asked nothing in My name; ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.”
First John 3:22“… And whatever we ask, we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
As part of my testimony to the wisdom of Jesus in Matthew 12:39, I was told by a good friend of mine, an American atheist and middle ranking Freemason, that if God healed miraculously in front of him, that he would believe. Recalling Matthew 12:39, I politely told him that if God would do such a thing in front of him right there and then, he would still not believe. After a thoughtful silence, he nodded and smiled and confirmed that Jesus was correct; even in spite of a personal miracle, he would still not believe.
But this is not necessarily always the case – for remember – what God reads is our hearts. I also have a friend who was brought back to life by God and in her hospital bed challenged God for proof of His existence. God provided the proof, but she still dithered, unable to take that step of faith to say ‘I believe, forgive my unbelief!” She then spoke words to the effect of “If you really are God, write my name in the sky!” From where she lay in her hospital bed, she saw a clear blue sky outside. Minutes later, as God started to write the third letter of her name in clouds in the sky, she surrendered herself to God and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as her personal saviour and her Lord and God.
Yes, God reads hearts and we can unreservedly pray to Him for signs and wonders!