Shakespeare said it. “Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.” (From Venus and Adonis.)
So did Jesus. “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ (Matthew 16:2,3)
The saying is an old weather forecasting device. It referred to the relative position of the sun to high and low pressure fronts and the cloud systems that resulted from low pressure. At sunrise and sunset the sun is just above the horizon and its light rays move horizontally through earth’s atmosphere. A red sky means there is dust and/or moisture in the atmosphere. If the red sky is caused by moisture, “sailors take warning.”
Sometimes signs are highly useful devices. Such as the “Sharp Curve” sign that keeps observant cars from veering into oncoming traffic or going down a steep embankment. An ancient sailor who saw a red sky could go to port or pick a different route to avoid the oncoming storm.
When signs are used as a form of data to help making wise decisions, they are useful and positive. But there must be an openness of discovery and a willingness to be changed by the information.
But sometimes the desire for a “sign” is, itself, a sign of doubt or cynicism. “Give us a sign” is only slightly more polite than “prove it.” Which is what the religious leaders were asking of Jesus. Matthew says that Jesus walked away from the demand because he knew that there was no quenching this sign-hunger.
An ancient military leader named Gideon once asked God for a sign. He is often used as an example of great faith, but he wasn’t. His request for a sign came after being told that God would use him to deliver Israel from her enemies. After God’s promise.
“In order to see if you will use me to deliver Israel, as you told me, please perform this sign.” This was not a sign of great faith on Gideon’s part.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, on the other hand, received news of her pregnancy with a simple, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” There was no, “Prove it to me.”
A simple red sky. No request for a fleece or some other sign. A sense of wonder and optimism preceded her response.
Which God honored…..