How much is your faith dependent on what God has done? If God does nothing in your life – never performs a miracle, never provides for you in difficult circumstances, never answers your prayers – do you still believe? God’s silence is not His absence.
In Matthew 12:38-42, Jesus reveals to his adversaries one of their major intellectual problems. They won’t believe in Him unless He performs some great miracle. They ask Him for a sign. In this context, a sign means some deed that proves He is who He says He is.
The debate comes as Jesus has continuously displayed and explained who He is. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus and His disciples are picking heads of grain to eat. Since it is the Sabbath, the Pharisees consider this working. Jesus explains that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8).
Next, Jesus goes into a synagogue and, again on a Sabbath, heals a man with a withered hand. This time, the Pharisees decide to destroy Him (Matthew 12:13-14).
Later, Jesus exorcises a demon from a man who was blind and mute. The people begin to wonder if He is the “Son of David,” or in other words, the prophesied Messiah. The Pharisees respond by saying that Jesus is Satanic (Matthew 12:22-24). This leads to Jesus rebuking the Pharisees.
The scribes and Pharisees respond by asking for a sign. What they are saying is, “If you are from God and not from Satan and are truly the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord of the Sabbath, then prove it.”
Jesus has been performing miracles, healing people, and casting out demons, among other works. However, the unbelieving Pharisees will not believe unless they see God work on demand. They want Jesus to perform for them. If Jesus does not answer in the way they desire, they will refuse to believe in Him.
Jesus’ response is to call them evil and adulterous. Evil, because their religious beliefs are selfish and they believe they know better than God. Adulterous, because what should have been a proper relationship with God based on faith has become a disloyalty and a betrayal based on what they have determined God should do. This results in Jesus saying that they will not see God do anything they might desire to see and that the only miracle they will see is His resurrection.
There are two sides to this argument. To the Pharisees’ point, if Jesus is a false prophet, then the Pharisees are right: Jesus has nothing to do with God; He is not able to perform a miracle on request because He is not from God; He is a liar and therefore worthy of destruction.
To Jesus’ point, since He is the Son of God, He is acting on God’s behalf and any denial of who He is and what He is doing is evil and is against God (adulterous).
So how are they to know?
How are we to know?
It really comes down to two questions: What have the Pharisees seen Jesus do before and will they believe Jesus is who He says He is without any particular sign? Or, to apply this to ourselves: what has Jesus done before in your life, and does faith depend on God’s work in your life?
Regarding the first question, the Bible is clear that only God draws us to Himself (John 6:44, 12:32). Without that drawing, we cannot come to know Him at all. Since God desires no one to perish (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9), we know that God is drawing all people to Himself. The question is not whether God is working, but whether we are listening. We all choose to be drawn to Him or to remain separate. You have either made that choice already or will make it in the future. That choice is an essential and eternal one.
Assuming you have made the choice to receive Jesus, to accept God’s drawing you to Him, you know what Jesus has done in your life. You know how He has drawn you to Himself and what He has done to convict you of who He is. You have answered the first question: what has Jesus done before in your life?
This brings us to the second question: Does faith depend on God’s work in your life? It is not a surprise that Jesus did not answer the Pharisees with a miracle. They were unbelievers. Some of us might be tempted to think that if Jesus had done a miracle right then and there, the Pharisees would have believed and Jesus would never have been crucified. That would be incorrect. The Pharisees had already seen Jesus do many miracles on demand. In John 11, after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees do not respond with, “Wow, Jesus must really be who He said!” They respond with, “How can we destroy him?” (Matthew 12:14, John 11:49-50, 53).
Since they were unbelievers, Jesus was not going to do any miracles for them. God’s miracles are reserved for His own and for those who would honestly seek Him. God chooses to remain silent to those whose hearts are stone and disbelieve.
What about when God remains silent to those who believe, who are His own? Does God’s silence mean we are not really His? Does it mean He doesn’t hear, or that He doesn’t know our situation? Does it mean He doesn’t care?
We can answer all of these questions with confidence. God’s silence does not mean we are not His, nor does it mean He doesn’t hear, know our situation, or care. God’s silence is not His absence It simply means that God is doing something in our life that does not fit with our idea of what He should be doing.
Does faith depend on God’s work in your life? It shouldn’t!
Whether God does a great work or is silent, God is still God. He still knows and hears. He is still good and is still almighty and able to do great things. Just because God doesn’t do what we want Him to do doesn’t take anything away from who and what He is. He is still the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Faithful, and Good God. The perfect example of this is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-36). Jesus prays for hours for God to remove the cup from Him, but God does not answer. God’s silence is not His absence. He is with Jesus. Jesus understands this and His faith is not shaken but strengthened.
Sometimes, we are called to go through trials for a purpose. Often, we don’t understand that purpose. This does not mean there isn’t one. God is good. We can know that whatever He is doing in our lives is good and will turn out for good, even if that good is not revealed until eternity.
Does faith depend on God’s work in your life? No. Faith is not based on what God is doing. It is based on what and who God is. If He is who we think He is, then regardless of His work in our lives, we can have faith that trusts that God is God and that Jesus is who He said He is.
This is a genuine faith, a true faith.
It is the faith that is assured of what we hope for. It is the faith that is convicted of what we do not see. It is the faith that gains the approval of God (Heb 11:1-2). It is the faith that God sees and strengthens (2 Chron 16:9).
Let us be children of God who seek His face more than we seek His hand. Let us not seek His work. Let us seek His heart. Remember, God’s silence is not His absence. It is God doing a great work that we do not see.