Here’s an extended quote from Frederick Dale Bruner, commenting on Matthew 12:40 [For just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and nights]. (Commentary on Matthew, Vol. 1, Revised & Expanded, page 575ff emphasis mine:
“Whenever the church has joined “this generation’s” lust for signs, that is, whenever the church has sought sensational events and movements in church or history as God’s Word, she has been seduced from Center. The German Church Struggle in the 1930s may be the main twentieth-century example of this aberration (see the Barman Declaration, 1934). Jesus in his Word, not signs in history – His-Story, not history – is the Christian agenda.
‘Finding out what God is doing and joining him there’ (an expression popular in some theologies) can [certainly not always] be a call for a march into a wilderness of subjectivity and false causes. This call to find God in history is off center when it does not look for God in the one place in history where God put himself to be surely found: in the proclamation of the history of Jesus, culminating in his death and resurrection and presented to us in the church’s means of grace (Acts 2:42) and in the world’s poor (Matt 25:31 – 46). The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said it well in the middle of the last century: ‘The church that marries itself to the present age will find itself a widow in the next generation.’ “
I want to be informed but not obsessed with the news. I don’t want to mistake the news or what is popular in church or culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t want economics to be my North Star, but rather love for God and love for neighbor in our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t want to be seduced into thinking that numbers measure spiritual ministry – for no matter what man may say the Scriptures teach that the true Gospel will never be popular. I don’t want the acceptance of others at the expense of not knowing what it is to bear the reproach of Christ. Jesus says that the slave is not greater than his master and that if they have persecuted Him that they will persecute his followers - why no persecution?
When I think of how my errant compass was once tuned into the latest Middle East conflict, or political movement, or economic scenario – I wonder at the time I lost in growing in Christ and sharing Him with others. When I think of the times I wanted to be “relevant” by dating the popular culture and buying into the latest Christian faddist thinking – I marvel at the time lost away from His Word. And when I listen to us talk about what we need as a church, what pastors need as leaders, and at what the world needs from the church – I hear (it seems) everything discussed other than a return and commitment to the Bible, His Word, and His Gospel. Just like the generation that Jesus lived among, we clamor after signs – when the only sign we need is Him, Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
Whether it is a popular media preacher creating a following by a constant emphasis on the “”Last Days”, or a local pastor striving to make Sunday morning an “experience” rather than a time of worship and submission to His Word [Lord forgive me when I’ve done that!] – we seek after signs. The thing about signs is that once you start down that path you’ve got to continue to produce greater and greater signs as followers become addicted to them; signs become the measure of success. The last special series on the Middle East has to be surpassed by an even greater series, the last special event has to be exceeded by the next extra-special event (the subject of the event doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it is a special event!).
The sign that Jesus gave was Himself – crucified, dead, buried, and raised from the dead. Perhaps we would do well to be identified with Him, taking up our cross and following Him in self-denial – for isn’t the seeking of signs so often the equivalent of saving ourselves? Could it be that the sign that we are following Jesus is not spectacular success and acclaim – but rather learning what it is to know Him in His sufferings, to know Him on the Cross, to be dead to this world, to ourselves…and alive unto God? [Romans Chapters 5 – 8; Galatians 2:20.]