Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign


Reader – Paul Palmer; Text: John 2:12-25

A few years ago, we went to the famous-to-tourists-and-locals-alike Friday night “Fish Fry” in Oisten, Barbados. Wilfred Smith is from Barbados and so I know that he and his relatives have been to that fish fry numerous times. At the fish fry you’re seated at picnic tables, eat delicious food, and visit with whoever else has been placed at your table. I was seated beside an “old” guy from Toronto. He told me that he played as the keyboardist in the Five Man Electrical Band, a music group that had one huge hit, “Signs” back in 1971. He was excited because his band had been asked to re-record the song as some company loved it so much that they wanted to use it in an advertising campaign. I politely nodded my affirmation at his exciting news without admitting to him my dirty, little secret: that the song “Signs” is in my personal Top 10 list of most annoying songs ever recorded. It really is an annoying song!

The lyrics of the chorus people my age know by heart: “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this, don’t do that. Can’t you read the sign?” That’s the chorus. The three verses interspaced around the too-often sung chorus focus on the control a person can exert on another by simply posting a sign which stops them in what they are doing or wanting to do.

I am thankful that the Gospel book writer, John, did not know about that song or he may have used that song’s phrase, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign” and annoyed me greatly. As things turned out, Joh used the word “sign” but in a positive, not a negative one. For John, a “sign” was a pointer, an indicator, a marker not forbidding people from anything or attempting to control them but directing people to look at the signs pointing to Jesus in the hope they would see that he truly is who people in chapter one of his Gospel said he was: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Messiah, and the Son of God. Last week we read about the miracle Jesus did in the town of Cana when he turned water into wine. Commenting on that event, John says: What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)

The miracles of Jesus were signs about his greatness. After the miraculous resurrection appearance of Jesus to Doubting Thomas we read these comments by John: Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30,31)

So, each miracle was a “sign” according to John pointing to who Jesus was and is. In writing about them John’s hope was that his readers would believe in Jesus and thus find life in his name. Today, we will read about more miraculous signs Jesus did. John summed up thusly: Many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. (John 2:23b)

So, John chapters 1 and 2 contain signs, signs everywhere. Let’s set the scene for today’s passage from the second half of chapter 2. After his first miraculous sign that we read about in the first half of chapter 2 – the turning of water into wine at a wedding banquet at the town of Cana – Jesus and his family did something very unusual: they took a bit of a holiday at the sea, it seems, before the major action of his ministry would commence. This would be Jesus’ chance to take one last, big, breath there before the next 3 years of hectic ministry.

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. (John 2:12) The family lived in Nazareth, but after leaving Cana they all went to Capernaum, a scenic, restful beach town at the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum had already become Jesus’ base of ministry.

Show map of Galilee and point out Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, and Jerusalem.

After that restful time in Capernaum, we read this about Jesus going on foot on a more than 193-kilometer journey: When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. (John 2:13)

The Passover is held annually in March or April, depending on the cycle of the moon. Jesus going to Jerusalem for this Passover was the first of three consecutive Passovers that John states Jesus went to. From those facts, we can conclude that Jesus’ ministry lasted 3 years.

Faithful Jewish pilgrims would go annually for the Passover Feast to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer their Passover animal sacrifices to God. As you recall in the Exodus, it was the shed blood of the Passover lambs that was put overtop of the doorframe that saved the Israelites from dying. It was thus for God’s protection that the Jews commemorated the Passover. By the time of Jesus, the process was this: Before that pilgrim could enter into the Temple itself, they would go to the outer courts of the Temple and there, exchange their “unclean” Roman coins for the “clean” Temple coins. Using their clean Temple money, the pilgrim would then go to the animal holding pens located nearby and there purchase a suitable animal for sacrifice. That animal they would take to the Temple priests and offer it as their sacrificial offering to God. When Jesus heard the commotion of noisy animals and the shouting of the animal sellers and money changers, and saw how browbeaten and maligned the pilgrims were as they were ripped off by the high money exchange rates, and then by the exorbitant prices demanded by the sellers of the sacrificial animals, and knowing that the priests were taking a cut of all the profits and thus getting rich off of the pilgrims who had come to worship His Father in heaven, he was not happy. Righteous anger drove his resultant actions. John writes this about Jesus: In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So, he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:14-16)

John, the writer of this Gospel, and the other disciples of Jesus who had accompanied him to Jerusalem, were reminded of Psalm 69: His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17)

Now, some of you may very well be confused by the timing of the cleansing of the Temple event because in our minds we associate the Temple cleansing with what happened on Palm Sunday after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That event, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels took place in the final week of Jesus’ ministry. Yet here in John 2, he cleared the Temple courts right near the start of his ministry. Huh? Scholars believe that Jesus cleansed the Temple on twice. The two events were similar but distinct from one another, just as were Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and his subsequent feeding of the 4,000. Besides, on a chronological level, the claim that Jesus’ ministered for three years is dependent on John’s Gospel being accurate, and thus on this event of Jesus going to this first of three consecutive Passovers. Concerning his clearing of the Temple courts, we read this about the Jewish religious leaders: The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (John 2:18)

The religious leaders did not actually say that Jesus cleansing the temple was wrong. Rather, they asked him what authority he had to do what he had done. Remember, those religious leaders had not been in Cana to see his miraculous sign there. They didn’t yet know Jesus as this was their first encounter with him.

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. (John 2:19-21)

Jesus’ answer totally confused both the religious leaders and his disciples, though his followers would later come to understand what he had said, that understanding coming after Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. In John 1:14, the apostle John shows that he had come to understand by writing about God dwelling, or tabernacling (as the Greek says), in Jesus’ body for, Jesus, in his incarnation was the temple of God on earth, God’s residence on earth. The Word became flesh and dwelled (‘tabernacled’) among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).

This understanding became widespread, though among the first Christian theologians. Consider what Paul wrote on this: For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. (Colossians 2:9).

God lived in Jesus, yet Jesus, the fullness of God on earth, died. How could that be? Also mind-blowing was that Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. Here, in John 2, Jesus told the religious leaders for the first of many times that he would die but in three days be raised back to life. If the John 2 event happened at an early point in his ministry, then it would have at a later time when the religious leaders again challenged him: Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:28-30)

Remembering that Jesus often referred to himself in the third person, as “the Son of Man”, a term from the prophet Daniel referring to the Messiah who would come, Jesus’ answered the religious leaders by using the event of Jonah being raised back to life as an analogy of what would happen to him. By the way, this was the only time Jesus said his death and resurrection would take place over three days and three nights. Every other time he said that he would be raised from the dead “on the third day” after his death on the cross. Jesus used Jonah’s story here to indicate what happened with Jonah would happen to him. Remember that in language, any portion of a day is considered to be a full day, so it was accurate for Jesus to claim that he would be three days and three nights in the earth before God would raise him back to life. The only reason Jesus alluded to Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish was to test how serious the religious leaders were. Jesus refused to play their game for he knew that even his dying and then being raised back to life would not persuade them. “You want a miraculous sign? This will be it: I will be dead and in the ground for three days and three nights but will then be resurrected back to life. That’s it! That’s all you are going to get.”

Jesus knew that the religious leaders wouldn’t look at the miraculous signs pointing out who he was. They didn’t want to believe. Jesus knew that. But, it is interesting that after Jesus was arrested, and before going to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, the religious leaders did their own kangaroo court trial of Jesus and they used his words – well, they misquoted them, to be precise – his words about the Temple being destroyed and then put back together three days later. The religious leaders needed something with which to ask Pilate to put Jesus to death but to ask for a person to be sentenced to death, there had to be evidence of a crime serious enough for that to happen – and, destroying the Temple would be one such crime. But that crime also needed to be witnessed by two people and, lo and behold, two witnesses came forward to satisfy their case.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree. (Mark 14:55-59)

The religious leaders were delighted, even though what was claimed misrepresented Jesus’ words. He never claimed that he would destroy the Temple, but only predicted that it would be destroyed (which it was, in 70 AD). He was speaking about his body, remember. Also, Jesus never said that he would build a new Temple, but that God would bring his temple, his body, back to life on the third day. The religious leaders didn’t want to understand Jesus’ words or believe them, for doing so would mean undoing everything they believed in and destroying their elevated positions in society. It’s true that some Pharisees and religious leaders did look at Jesus’ miraculous signs and put their faith in him but the vast majority did not. Heck, at the foot of his cross, they even dredged up those demonstrably false charges to try to discredit and mock Jesus.

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the Jews. They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” (Mark 15:25-30)

To be honest, every day I hear known lies stated as facts by the media or certain politicians in today’s world, so things haven’t changed that much. But the key thing for us to consider with Jesus, is this: were the miraculous signs he did enough to move us to have saving faith?

After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:22)

We tend to look at the disciples lives from this side of their belief, without recognizing that there was a time when none of them believed. They all had to make a decision about believing in Jesus and they looked at the miraculous signs and made the right decision. I am sure that you look at me as a pastor and assume that I have always believed, but I didn’t. I had to make that decision on my own and I did.

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. (John 2:23)

Belief in Jesus is just the first step, but it is the necessary first step. However, as the New Testament states, even demons believe in who Jesus is. What must happen after looking at the miraculous signs and believing that Jesus is who he and others claim him to be, a person must then dedicate himself or herself to becoming a follower of Jesus.

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (John 2:24,25)

The reason for that is that Jesus knew that people would both cheer for him on Palm Sunday as he triumphantly entered Jerusalem, but then call for his crucifixion on Good Friday. The process of going beyond being a believer to a follower would take time. Jesus knew that. He also knew that his true followers would change the world but the key was that they would be able to tell others about his death and resurrection, miraculous signs that no other human being has ever done or ever will do. There are 4,200 religions in the world but there’s only one empty tomb. There is only one man who could and predict his death and resurrection. His name is Jesus, and he is alive still today and will be forevermore, and by looking at his miraculous signs and then believing in him, you will find life in his name as you commit to being his followers. May God bless you as you do so!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *