Signs of Unbelief

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

Matthew 16:1-4

The Pharisees and Sadducees, religious leaders in that community, asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven. They wanted to test whether they could really believe Jesus was legitimate. Jesus refuses.

It’s important that we understand why Jesus refuses. This is not Jesus saying He won’t do signs and wonders. He had already performed hundreds and hundreds of healings. He had already cast out an overwhelming number of demons. He had already miraculously fed the 5000 (Matthew 14) and then turned around and miraculously fed the 4000 (Matthew 15). And with these miracles we see it bolster people’s faith. Jesus expects miracles to increase faith. But the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) teaches us that it all depends on the soil of our heart.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were around for most of these healings, miracles and deliverances. They had already seen sign after sign from heaven of Jesus’s legitimacy. But their pride caused their hearts to be full of unbelief, doubt and skepticism. So they wanted another sign. Jesus refused to bow down to their unbelief and doubt.

Jesus refuses to bow down to our unbelief and doubt. Instead, He invites our unbelief and doubt to bow down to Him. Jesus is more than willing to show us miraculous signs, but He is unwilling to throw pearls to pigs (Matthew 7:6). He refuses to be treated like a side show, a novelty act, just for the sake of people’s stubborn unbelief.

Right now, so much of our culture operates with the unbelief, doubt and skepticism of these Pharisees and Sadducees. I’ve seen many of my friends go through a process that is called “deconstruction.” I went through it too. It is basically a process of doing surgery on your faith. It’s like breaking a bone that’s not growing correctly in order to set it properly. At least that is what it is supposed to be.

But so many of my friends didn’t go through this process in an atmosphere of faith. It would be like doing surgery on yourself in an open field. It’s not so much the surgery that causes so much damage; it’s the infection that comes from doing the surgery by yourself in an unclean environment that ends up doing the damage.

When deconstruction is attempted on your own in an environment that is filled with doubt, inevitably the infection of unbelief seeps into your bones. Deconstruction itself–when done with spiritual guidance, in community, and in an atmosphere of faith–can be useful. But when it’s done in isolation, without spiritual guidance, in an environment of doubt, unbelief is often the result. Deconstruction in this context will tear down a person’s faith without reconstructing a healthy faith on the other side. It’s like breaking a bone and never resetting it.

If we’re looking for a sign to overcome our unbelief and doubt, Jesus advises us in this passage to look first to the sign of Jonah. In other words, look first to His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead three days later. That is our primary “sign from heaven” that builds faith. The apostle Paul said it this way:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

While uncertainty is a normal part of the Christian life, unbelief is not. Unbelief (often labeled “doubts”) is an infection that can grow to the point of killing one’s faith. Don’t let it. We are not helpless, passive victims of unbelief as if we can’t do anything about it. Root it out of your heart as soon as possible. Choose to trust God. Choose to trust scripture. Choose not to give in to your doubts.

The Wise and Learned

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Matthew 11:25-26

Pride and arrogance shut down our ability to receive and hear from the Lord. Jesus praises His Father for hiding the secrets of the Kingdom of God from the wise and learned. Access to the deep things of God doesn’t come through theological education or years of bible study. It comes through intimacy with Jesus, the kind of intimacy where we operate in faith like a child.

This is the danger of formal theological and biblical education. I was a biblical studies major in college. I went on to seminary to get my Masters of Divinity. I value theological education and I am so glad that I learned all that I did in those settings. But if one does not maintain faith like a child in those settings, it can become a trap.

I saw so many friends lose their faith in those schools. I saw so many other friends embrace doubt and skepticism. I saw classmates start to reject the very scriptures that they had previously built their lives upon. I saw identities change from “children of God” to “wise and learned.” And then they’d wonder why God felt so “hidden” from them.

In part, this happened to me. I fell for one of the enemy’s oldest tricks. The temptation is to exchange information for intimacy. The more information I got, the less intimacy I thought I needed. And while I didn’t come close to losing my faith, I did lose my confidence in the truth of scripture. By the time I left seminary, my faith was riddled with bullet holes of doubt, skepticism and cynicism. I didn’t understand how toxic it really was until years later.

It took a radical disruption from the Holy Spirit and a process of Jesus renewing my mind in order to set me free from the demonic chains of unbelief. As I had encounter after encounter with the living God through the power of the Spirit, my skeptical mind was washed clean. I had renewed faith in the reality of the Kingdom of God on the earth, the truth of the gospel, and the trustworthiness of the Bible.

A woman spontaneously spoke a prophetic word over my life months before the radical disruption of the Holy Spirit began. She said to me, “You will walk in the power of God like the disciples leaving the upper room, but lean not on your own understanding.” This word over my life has become true, but the chronology of it was reversed. I had to first “lean not on my own understanding” before I ever experienced the power of God.

In order for God to reveal to me His power, He had to strip away what I thought I “knew.” He had to strip away my titles of “wise and learned” and had to return me to child-like faith and trust in the Lord. These deep truths of the Kingdom are hidden from the wise and learned but revealed to little children.

Are there parts of the Bible that you’ve rejected because you are now wise and learned?

Where does God need to return you to child-like faith?