Though academics such as Bertrand Russel have won recognition from their ability to skillfully assault the claims of Christ, the typical skeptic that buzzes around the modern evangelical congregation has spent little time debating whether or not Jesus’s claims in Matthew 16 can be applied to the transfiguration. He or she possesses a different sort of skepticism altogether.
The Essence of Skepticism
Their issue is not so much the intellectual solvency of Christianity as much as their felt needs. I suspect many pastors and faithful church members have heard numerous people on the fringes of their congregation say that they would return to church if they had the time, or if their church had better preaching, more engaging music, or a more lively kids’ program. Others remain distant because God failed to meet a non-church need in a timely fashion. Despite the now skeptic’s prayers, he or she is still single, childless, sick, stuck in a professional rut, and hurting. In other words, this skeptic needs God to do one more thing for him or her in order that he or she might believe. They require another sign: a better preacher, a wedding date, or just something that proves that Jesus is truly who he says he is. Until then, they will happily give their Sunday to the local sports complex or to hiking the blue ridge mountains. Will they get it?
In Matthew 16:1-4, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the spiritual elite of Jesus’s day, come requesting a sign. They want to know whether they can trust Jesus. And their question arises not from their study of the Scriptures but rather from their denial of their Old Testament scrolls. If these men had truly believed their God’s word, they would have understood that Jesus was the Messiah for his miracles fulfilled the promises of old. Matthew makes this explicitly clear when he writes of Jesus’s miracles, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illness and bore our diseases (Matt 8:17).’ In other words, these men want another sign because they have rejected the revealed words of God as found in the Old Testament and Jesus ministry. Jesus condemns them as being “An and adulterous generation,” and then declares that they will receive only one more sign, “the sign of Jonah” the sign of the resurrection (Matt 16:4; 12:39-41).
If the resurrection of Jesus will not convince someone to follow our Savior, nothing else will. If a soul can assent to the reality of their sin, to Jesus’s death as the substitutionary payment for said sin, and to his resurrection which grants us eternal life and then say, “show more me,” it will never be satisfied. Even if Jesus were to comeback and perform a modern-day miracle or bless a church with the most amazing music ministry, or give someone a positive pregnancy test, the skeptic would still not believe. If God’s currently revelation as contained in the Bible is not enough for them, future revelation will also fail to convince them of the reality of Jesus’s claims. There is no greater sign than the sign of Jonah.
Our greatest need is not tied to our love life, or our professional career, or to the efficiency of our church. Our greatest need is deliverance from sin and death. If Jesus’s unique ability to give us eternal life will not draw us to our bibles throughout the week and to our churches on Sunday morning, neither will good health nor a full bank account. The Jesus of our health and family will ultimately prove as convincing or unconvincing as the Jesus of the resurrection.
How To Pursue the Skeptic
Men and women who regularly find Jesus and his church wanting do so not because of some great fault in either Jesus or his people but because their hearts are hard. And if Jesus responds to such skepticism with fresh mentions of the resurrection, then we should follow suit. We should not stress about whether we have the best this or that. Nor should we should spend our time trying to produce a program or event that will positively meet their felt need. Rather, we should continue to lovingly and unapologetically preach the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the only antidote for the religious skeptic who frequently buzzes about our church is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the sign of Jonah is not enough nothing will be.