The Misguided Attraction To Spiritual Signs

Text: John 2:1-11 

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

In the 1960s and 70s, the American Church began to see a substantial problem of young adults leaving the church for the first time. In other words, before the 1960s, young adults were just as likely to attend church as were older adults. But that began to change.  Furthermore, it seemed as if atheism was on a dramatic rise in America about the same time. And so, among some, it was believed that young adults were either shifting or leaning towards the threats of atheism.   

Now, there has certainly been a rise of atheism in America since that time. However, contrary to what you and I may think, atheism is quite small. Here in America, depending on which research you look at, only 3-7% of the population would subscribe to atheism. In fact, worldwide, those that would consider themselves to be an atheist or what we call an agnostic is right around 3-7% as well.  It is a very small percentage.  

So, if Christianity has been declining since the 1960s and 70s in America, and since atheism has not dramatically grown in America but remained relatively small, what is happening to all those who have left the church? The answer is quite complex yet very simple: these people are certainly not atheists, and they are certainly not Christian; however, they are still spiritual. They may still believe in God and even pray from time to time but will not come through the door of the church.  That is to say, they are not atheists and not religious but are spiritual.

Now, why bring this up? Well, one of the defining characteristics of the spiritual but not religious is that they are often attracted to signs and wonders. We notice this when we go into a bookstore and look at the religious section. There you will find many spiritual books. For example, you will find basic leadership books, but leadership books written with a spiritual tone. You will find diet books, but diet books written with a spiritual theme.  Indeed, you will find books on cooking, sex, and exercise – all written with a spiritual mood. But perhaps the books that sell the most are the books that speak of profound spiritual experiences – life after death, miracles, amazing healings, and profound spiritual visions. In other words, one of the defining characteristics of those who are spiritual but not religious is their attraction to spiritual signs. Yes, their attraction to spiritual signs and wonders.

In the reading from the Gospel of John this morning, we hear about Jesus performing a sign. In fact, turning water into wine was the first sign that He performed. After turning water into wine, we read in the rest of the Gospel of John that Jesus performs another six signs. He healed, multiplied bread and fish, walked on water, raised the dead, and so forth.  

Now, these signs of Jesus are indeed very profound. And they should not only grab your attention but should also pique the interest of those who are spiritual but not religious.  But that is where problems arise, not only for you and me, but also for those who are spiritual but not religious.  

As it has already been stated, there is a strong push to seek after, welcome, and embrace supernatural signs in America. However, this fascination with signs and wonders has also impacted those inside the church as well. Whether those in the church are tired of the so-called mundane liturgy or want a bit of excitement in their lives, the desire to look for signs, interpret signs, and ponder signs is very prevalent in our society.  

But isn’t it good that people have not succumbed to atheism and are still interested in the realm of the sacred? 

Isn’t it good that people have embraced the realm of the supernatural – the spiritual realm and haven’t become materialists?  

Dear friends, please hear this knowing that I say it with all the compassion I can muster – a sign that does not lead to Jesus, and His forgiveness of sins is nothing but an empty sign. Yes, spending all sorts of time looking for signs, interpreting signs, and thinking about signs that do not lead to Jesus is not only a waste of time but also an exercise in na├»ve foolishness.  

Think of it this way. Imagine taking a three-day road trip to Arizona. And as you are driving along, your eyes are scanning the highway looking at the signs. And then, all of a sudden, you see a sign that has a picture and says, “Grand Canyon, 5 miles ahead.” And then imagine getting excited and pulling over by the sign. Imagine rushing out of your car with your cameras to take pictures of the sign. Imagine touching the sign, smelling the sign, and pondering the sign. And then, after 30 minutes, you jump back in your car and head home without seeing the Grand Canyon. I don’t have to convince you; this would be foolish. And yet, that is what so many people are unfortunately doing in our world right now. Unfortunately, it is also what so many well-intentioned Christians are doing in the church as well. 

But what should we do with all the so-called signs and wonders that we encounter in our world today? Shall we discard them? There is perhaps a better question that we can ask: what do people hope their so-called signs lead them to? 

Let’s be really honest right now. In our world, with all of its vast spiritual experiences, so-called spiritual signs, and diverse spiritual feelings, how many are hoping to arrive at the person, work, and assurance of Christ-crucified for the forgiveness of their sins? Tragically in my approximate twenty years of being a pastor, I have yet to encounter a person who is impressed and excited about Christ-crucified after they have asked me to try and interpret their so-called spiritual signs.  

You see, when Jesus did the first of His signs in the Gospel of John – turning water into wine – it was not for the purpose of doing a spiritual sign, and that is it. Our Jesus is not a magician or a trickster.  No, the signs were like a catapult that grabbed ahold of people’s attention and then launched them to the person, work, and words of Jesus for eternal salvation. Like a short preview for a movie that makes you want to go to the theater and watch the whole movie, these miracles worked to make people go to Jesus for the whole package. Indeed, these miracles were signs because they revealed a little about Jesus and refocused people’s attention on the One performing the miracles. As signs, the miracles were intended to make people say:

“Who is that person who changed water into wine? What kind of person can heal sick people? How can that person walk on water? If He can raise a person from the dead, maybe we should hear more from Him!” 

Dear friends, we need to repent of the time and energy that we spend sorting through all the so-called signs of the world that do not lead us to Christ. We need to repent and know that Christ has already given us seven signs in the Gospel of John. Yes, you and I must repent and know that in spite of our sin, the Lord has not only given you and me seven signs in the Gospel of John, but He has given you and me the ultimate sign – an empty tomb.  

Just think about that for a moment. With all the hundreds of so-called signs that lead to questions, more questions, and doubt, you have been given the sign of an empty tomb. The sign of the empty tomb points to the reality that Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil for you. 

And there is more. You have been given the sign of Baptism. Unlike a road sign, the sign of Baptism does not merely point you to Jesus and His Cross off in the distance but instead brings Jesus and the accomplishments of His Cross to you.    

And do not forget the Lord’s Supper! Unlike a sign that only points you to Jesus, the Lord’s Supper gives you the body and blood of Jesus upon your mouths and into your bellies for the forgiveness of all of your sins.     

And so, you not only have all the signs recorded in the Bible that point you to Jesus, but you also have Jesus right now through the signs of His Word and Sacraments. 

So, Baptized Saints, it is perfectly clear! Stop wasting your time with the world’s so-called signs. Stop wasting your time, money, speculation, and energy on signs that do not lead you to or give you Christ. You already have the Lord’s signs, and that is enough! 

The tomb is empty! 

You are snatched from darkness in the waters of Baptism!

You are absolved in the Word of absolution!

You are forgiven in the Lord’s Supper!

You are given these signs so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing, you may have life in His name. And again, that is enough your pilgrimage here and for life everlasting.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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