Religious leaders demand a sign (Matthew 16:1; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16) from Jesus. They wanted a “sign” because Moses used some. The Prophet that was to come, which Moses spoke about, was supposed to be like him (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). So they reasoned that if Jesus were the Prophet He would use similar signs. They should’ve reasoned that the Prophet would be humble and hold to God’s Law completely. This would in fact be more “like Moses.” Remember that Israel wanted signs from Moses too, but were never satisfied with them. They were not really interested in signs, ever. Except maybe as a substitute for TV.
Signs don’t do anything to convert anybody. They sure didn’t work with Israel, nor do they work now. How can a sign do anything for those who refuse to see? Worse, who see and refuse to obey? It’s like a fireworks show where everybody oohs and ahhs. But the end of the show is also the end of the impact.
Jesus skillfully goes to the heart of the matter. First, He says they couldn’t properly interpret or obey a sign from God anyway. This is a biblical equivalent of “blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other” as my dad used to say. Second, He said that only the sign of Jonah would be given (Matthew 12:39, 16:4; Luke 11:29). Make a note for yourself here that the people of Nineveh repented at the mere preaching of Jonah. He didn’t use any signs.
Of course, signs were on display all around the leaders. Jesus was healing, casting out demons and raising people from the dead left and right. However, they refused to act on the signs. They were like children sitting in the market place, singing to each other in the wisdom of the world. They wanted Him to dance to their music. But Jesus doesn’t dance like that for beans.
31“To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32“They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35“Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” (Luke 7:31-35 NASB95)
Jesus wasn’t going to give them the dog and pony show they wanted (Matthew 11:16; Luke 7:32). His wisdom, especially in the proper use of the Law, was proven by all of His actions. If the leaders really wanted confirmation that Jesus was the Prophet there was plenty of evidence to go around. The refusal to jump when they said jump went a long way towards His arrest and false conviction. No, signs have about as much chance of making hard-hearted people “see” as the United States Marine Band playing “Stars and Stripes Forever” has of making deaf people hear.
Doing a miracle is related to asking for a sign. People want their senses stimulated with signs and miracles, but this is not the same as a softened heart. Is it better to do miracles, or just do what God says? The false prophet (coming soon to a government near you) will do all sorts of miracles to get people to worship the beast. He will be very successful, for a while, because there are those who want any miracle except the miracle of changing a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.
According to Jesus, many people who merely do miracles (or “signs”) will not enter His Kingdom. The person acting on His Word will (this could include miracles, properly done).
22“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ 24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Matthew 7:22-24 NASB95)
The one who performs a miracle, but is “lawless,” will have to depart. The one who did no miracles but does the will of God gets to enter. Later, Jesus will tell Thomas that a person who does not see, yet believes (acts on His Word) is more blessed than the one needing a sign.
27Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:27-29 NASB95)
A miracle or sign is a piece of cake. What’s really hard is taking the small steps of obedience to God on a daily basis, even when no one is looking.
From the book, Whole Bible Christianity