How Do you Read the Signs?

Have you ever read a sign and then realized that it could be read in more ways than one? Sometimes the sign maker has one thing in mind, and the sign reader gets a different message. I enjoy reading signs to see if I can come up with an entirely different meaning from what was intended.

Years ago when our children were young, Barbara and I took the kids to a strawberry farm to pick strawberries. As we approached the farm, I saw a sign that said “Pick Your Own Strawberries.” I turned to the kids and said, “I guess we are out of luck today. We wanted to pick their strawberries but they are telling us to go pick our own strawberries.” Our children and my wife all groaned but then laughed as they saw how the meaning intended by the sign could be stood on its head to mean the opposite.

A favorite of mine is the sign on a chiropractor’s office that reads, “Adjustments while you wait.” I want to know how he gives someone an adjustment if they don’t wait! And I am sure everyone can identify with the sign posted at the end of a construction zone on the highway, “End Construction.” Yes, please, end construction right now!

Moving from the trivial to the sublime, let’s look at the sign that Pilate placed on top of the cross where Jesus was crucified. It read, “King of the Jews.” The religious leaders were incensed when they read it and told Pilate to change it to read, “He claimed to be the King of the Jews.” Pilate refused to change the wording however and said, “What I have written, I have written.” We don’t know for sure what Pilate intended by his writing. Perhaps he was trying to shame the Jews, since he could find no reason to crucify Jesus except to save his own neck from the angry crowd who would have appealed to Caesar.

The strange thing about this particular sign is that even though Pilate probably wrote it to mock the Jewish leaders, and they rabidly disavowed that Jesus was the King of the Jews, the sign was still correct. Jesus was—and is—the King of the Jews. Jesus was the eternal king whom the Old Testament prophets declared would establish his throne forever. Pilate and the Jewish leaders thought the sign was a terrible exaggeration. Yet what the sign said was true. But even had they believed that Jesus was the King of the Jews, the sign itself was one of the biggest understatements ever written. We know from Scripture that this King of the Jews was also the King of the Universe: the almighty, omniscient, everywhere present God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who became flesh so that he could perfectly fulfill the demands of the law for people, die in their place on the cross, and be raised as the first of many sons and daughters of God who would believe in him.

One of the “signs” of a believer is good works. Once again, this “sign” is misinterpreted by most of the world (and many who claim to be Christians), when they think that good works are the way Christians demonstrate how sanctified they are. But, the Scriptures make it clear that our good works are just part of who we are as Christians. Our good works were prepared for us by God, who gives us the will and ability to do them. Good works, including giving a portion of God’s gifts to help others, are a blessing and a privilege, not an obligation to show how “good” we are. Because when it comes right down to it, in God’s eyes there is nothing pleasing or good in us, except what he has given us in Christ. Rejoice that he has done everything for us that he requires of us!

Roy Heggland serves as associate for biblical stewardship to the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.