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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Vision Thing (13): Seeing Signs

Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Crucifixion with the Converted Centurion (1536)

Some hope that by achieving a true vision from God, they will see miracles, and rightly so. Others recognize that getting a vision from God is a miracle itself. But it is also important to understand that without vision, one cannot recognize a miracle for what it is.

The label that John uses for miracles in his Gospel is translated "sign." The choice of that term is—there is no better way to put it—"significant." When God momentarily upsets the normal pattern of nature at the command of the Son—i.e., when Jesus works a miracle—it is not for nothing. And it is not merely for the immediate benefit of the recipients of the miracle, whether the host and guests at a wedding reception or a pair of bereaved sisters. As a sign, the miracle points to something else. If a person sees a miracle but does not see what the miracle signifies, it is like hearing a beautiful song in an unknown language—a measure of its loveliness may be perceived and enjoyed, but the point of the performance is lost.

Perhaps the supreme illustration of this is when Jesus fed 5,000 men (plus women and children), the only miracle performed by Jesus that appears in all four Gospels. John goes out of his way to demonstrate how this miracle was a sign (ch. 6). The day after the miracle, the huge crowd pursued Jesus to the synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus told them, "I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted" (v. 26). Note—these are the people who had not only seen but tasted the miracle Jesus had performed, but they never saw the sign because they failed to grasp what the miracle communicated. In the course of the conversation Jesus says, " . . . my father is giving you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. . . . I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty" (vv. 32-33, 35). The multiplication of bread to many to keep them alive a few more hours was a sign of God's gift of his Son to keep myriads of believers alive for eternity. The crowd did not see this. They really had a problem when Jesus asserted that "the one who believes has eternal life. . . . The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. . . . The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (vv. 47, 51, 54). The miracle was a sign of this reality, which is itself a miracle. Because they lacked vision, the crowd saw the first miracle but had no grasp of the one it pointed to.

Millions of people think that if they only saw a miracle, they would believe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Miracles do not make people believe. Miracles make believers believe. God the Father once spoke publicly from heaven to an entire crowd assembled around Jesus. A few thought they heard an angel. Most merely heard thunder.

A contrasting example is the Roman centurion who oversaw Jesus' execution. Wild things happened when Jesus died—the curtain in the temple split, a massive earthquake struck, and dead people got up out of their graves and started walking around the city. Most of the people in Jerusalem experiencing this concurrence of unprecedented miracles would never know or believe why they happened. But the man assigned the job of killing Jesus knew. "[W]hen the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, 'Truly this one was God's Son!' " (Matt. 27:54).

That is vision. Vision isn't seeing the miracle. Vision is seeing that the miracle is a sign, and where the sign is pointing.

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