What Could Be Greater than Signs and Wonders?

The most astounding miracles will not bring life to dead hearts. Even the resurrection, on its own, is not enough to create faith. Great works of God may encourage us and spur us on, but they will not save us. We need the greatest work of all, though it is the least spectacular—that is, the Holy Spirit of God bringing about a new birthThe confidence of heaven is in the Word of God. Whatever else may happen or not, all the knowledge that is required for men and women to come to faith in Jesus Christ has been revealed for us in the Book.

In John 20:30–31, the Gospel’s author explains that his account of Jesus’ life and works was “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” In saying this, John makes it clear that the wondrous signs that he recorded are there to elicit belief from his readers (or hearers). Jesus’ miracles authenticate His claim to be the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

As we think about the place of signs and wonders in the church today, it’s important to recognize that it is the Holy Spirit working through God’s revealed Word that creates faith in human hearts. Miracles are simply not meant to do what the Word of God alone does—and we cannot expect them to.

There is an inherent danger in looking to signs and wonders to authenticate our faith. Rather than pointing away from themselves and to the Savior, miracles can become ends in themselves, giving us a false sense of salvation through temporary benefits. In the pages of John’s Gospel, we see religious crowds fall into this very error on multiple occasions. But when we examine the Scriptures, we’re reminded that even the effects of miracles pale in comparison to the effects of the faithful proclamation of God’s Word.

“What Sign Will You Perform?”

Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel records a moment in Jesus’ ministry when the crowds’ desire for miracles came to a head. Earlier in the chapter, we read of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (vv. 1–15) and walking on water (vv. 15–21). The next day, the crowd follows in His wake across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, where they eventually confront Him with a telling question:

They said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:30–31)

In 1 Corinthians 1:22, Paul (himself a Jew) writes that “Jews demand signs.” The evidence of that is here in John’s Gospel. In John 2:18, a Jewish crowd had asked the same question. When Jesus cleared the temple, they demanded, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” In both chapter 2 and chapter 6, the Jews are essentially saying, “You’re stepping on toes here. If you’re going to act this way and if you’re going to make these big claims, then let’s have your credentials.”

The question in chapter 6 is all the more incredible in light of the signs that Jesus had already performed and that they had already seen. Jesus had changed the water into wine. He had healed the official’s son. A man crippled for thirty-eight years was running all around Jerusalem thanks to Him. And, of course, He had fed the five thousand. The very Jews asking for a miracle now had been there, and they knew that He had somehow crossed the lake ahead of them without a boat.

In fact, only a few verses earlier, in John 6:26, Jesus says to them that the reason they had come to Him was “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” In other words, they had seen the miracle of multiplied loaves, but they had little interest in what it signified. As one commentator puts it, “Instead of seeing in the bread the sign, they had seen in the sign only the bread.”1 Far from helping them to believe, the miracle had merely revealed that their understanding was darkened by worldly thinking.

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