“The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, demanding of him a sign from heaven to test him. Sighing deeply in his spirit, he said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
There are two kinds of people who don’t believe in Jesus: the seeker and the skeptic. The seeker hasn’t settled too fully into a particular worldview and is open to learning about the truth of the Gospel. The skeptic, on the other hand, is not. The skeptic doesn’t simply not believe, he doesn’t want to believe. A seeker won’t ask for a sign, but will be impressed by one. A skeptic will ask for one, but won’t accept it if it comes. Jesus knew the difference between the two and wasn’t about to tolerate being patronized by the latter.
I once had a series of conversations with a young man who had gone away to college and announced to his Christian parents that he was an atheist. At one point along the way I asked him what kind of evidence would convince him of God’s existence. He thought for a minute and then said that if God wrote His name in the sky, that would do it. Thinking about it now, that wouldn’t have done the trick at all. He was as committed to his path of unbelief as I was committed to my path of belief. He wouldn’t have taken that as a sign of God’s existence at all. He would have simply found a way to explain it away as a random quirk of the clouds or a jet contrail.
When the Pharisees came up to Jesus and asked for a sign here, they weren’t doing so because they were looking for reasons to believe in Him. They didn’t believe in Him. They thought He was a blasphemous fraud. They were looking for any opportunity they could find to discredit Him and destroy His reputation. When it finally became clear that wasn’t going to work, they shifted gears to murder.
When I was engaging with that young man, he offered me all kinds of reasons for his unbelief. As he did, I offered rebuttals to every single one of them. I gave him reason after reason that the Christian worldview was a more intellectually and morally and spiritually satisfying option than the atheism he professed to embrace. And as I did, he just kept digging up more reasons for unbelief on the Internet. Most of them were terrible, but he had to find something because he had zero interest in the alternative I was offering.
The Pharisees were doing the same kind of thing. Every time Jesus said anything they were contradicting Him. Their asking for signs here would have just given them more ammunition to pick Him apart in front of the people. Jesus was tired of it. He still loved them and was kind to them, but He wasn’t going to play their games any longer.
Here’s the truth for us here: God will give us evidence of who He is. He’s given us plenty of evidence already. He’s given us so much evidence in just the world around us that Paul could say all people are without excuse for not believing in Him. If we are on a search for evidence, He’ll point us in the right direction. But at some point we have to decide whether or not to believe. Do we want to believe or not? Because if we simply don’t want to believe, all the evidence in the world isn’t going to make a difference.
This goes for us personally, but it also goes for our interactions with others. When you are engaging in Gospel conversations with someone who seems to be more of a skeptic than a seeker, rather than trying forever to find and offer the proof that will finally demolish all her objections, consider digging in a little deeper. Turn the conversation back around on her: What evidence would you count as convincing?
The truth is that in most cases, when someone is sitting firmly in the camp of skeptic, the reason is not a lack of evidence or proof. Instead, the reason is connected to morality or the problem of pain. Either the person feels burned by God, is hurt and angry at Him, and has decided unbelief is the best response, or the person wants to engage in something the Christian worldview pronounced immoral without feeling guilty about it. Rejecting the Christian worldview gives him that cover.
Continuing to argue and offer reasons in that kind of a situation is actually not helpful at all. Rather than getting to the heart of the matter, we are giving the person cover to keep hiding from the real truth. When someone is hard-hearted like this, a sign won’t convince them. It’ll make them double down on their unbelief. Jesus knew that would be the case with the Pharisees which is why their constant questioning left Him so exasperated. Instead of playing ball, He just called them out on their unbelief.
Seekers are worth engaging meaningfully in Gospel conversations. Skeptics are worth loving well until life finally shocks them into becoming seekers once again. Keep that in mind and engage accordingly. It’ll make for a lot less frustration and wasted time on everyone’s part.