Scripture never ceases to amaze me. The intricacies of its make-up and the oft appearance of conflict is something that continues to capture my attention.
In a continuation through Mark, I found myself pondering a passage in chapter 8 where the Pharisees come to Jesus and begin arguing with him. That is, they began to question and enquire about who he is and his ministry. Mark says they were “…seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him (v.11).” Now it might be rightly concluded that the Pharisees were no friends of Jesus. And perhaps this “test” was not in their best interest nor a way for them to endear themselves to the Christ. However, at least they put their cards on the table. The masses, who were happy to take the healings, the exorcisms and the free meals showed no real signs of commitment to the Christ in mass any more than the scribes and Pharisees did.
Now it might be concluded that what the Pharisees were asking for was something out of the ordinary. You know, something like the sun standing still, fire from heaven or the like. Something of a supernatural origin similar to those signs of Moses,Joshua, Samuel, and Elijah. They were not overly impressed with the healing ministry as it were. They wanted something more. Something that would, without question, show the true origins of the Messiah. Many times we find ourselves in the same boat. Oh, we would never call it a “test” but we often ask for signs or indicators from God. Seldom would we tie it to our belief, after all, if we asked wrongly or without sufficient faith and what we prayed for did not happen we’d have some explaining to do. So we couch it all in different terms and cap it off with “if it be your will.”
What is interesting in this situation in Mark is Jesus’ response. Mark tells us that “Jesus sighed deeply in his spirit…(v.12 ESV).” Yes, I suspect he was offended at their “test” request, but more than that he was pushed to the brink emotionally by their callous disregard for him personally, the God who sent him (their God), and his means of introducing the Kingdom of God. They – most, not all – were indeed looking but not seeing. They were listening but experienced a spiritual tinnitus that prevented them from hearing the truth. And even though Jesus said it would be so, it grieved him deeply. For they were missing not only the point, they were missing the purpose.
Jesus’ reply to those who would test him was rather straight forward. There would be no sign – period. “‘I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation (v.12).’ And he left them…” Of course Matthew and Luke supplement this idea of a sign by adding “except the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 12, 16 and Lk 11). Why that was not included in this encounter is uncertain. Perhaps Jesus did not think it germane to the point, or he was not willing to open up that aspect of his life and ministry just yet. Whatever the reason, it seems rather conspicuously absent. I can’t imagine that Jesus left this encounter with the Pharisees and said to himself, “Oh man, I should have capped that off with except the sign of Jonah. The next time those guys try that “test” thing, I’m going to add that phrase.”
So why was it in the other synoptics and not in Mark? It seems like a rather significant concept. Especially if you take into account the “except”. Except the sign of Jonah. Of course, one would have to understand the story of Jonah to understand the statement and I expect the Pharisees did. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights so the Son of Man…. That’s powerful stuff. A staggering comparison. Furthermore, the Ninevites apparently aware of Jonah’s miraculous “resurrection” repented. Now the anticipation may be that once the sign takes place, the sign confirming that Jesus is the Son of God, the Pharisees would repent. Of course we know that does not happen to any significant account. So maybe they didn’t want a sign after all.