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All Flash, No Substance

by Tim O'Hearn

All flash and no substance. That seems to be descriptive of so many things today. In the entertainment industry that was a description of most magic shows. Even earlier it could be said to describe “snake oil” salesmen. It describes a lot of movies today, characterized by special effects but little in the way of anything that makes you think.

People like flash. Every two years a different city is tasked with creating an Olympic opening ceremony that will outdo at least the previous one, if not go down as one of the best ever. Every year the expectations for the Super Bowl halftime show are that it will be better (that is flashier) than all previous shows. One Albuquerque air conditioning company was given the unique task of designing a system for a church building that was powerful enough to vent the smoke from indoor pyrotechnics.

It is not a modern phenomenon. Jesus even dealt with the desire for flash over substance. Once he became known as a miracle worker, that is what people came to see.

And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him. (Lk 23:8)

On three separate occasions the leaders of the Jews asked Jesus to “Show us a sign.” (Matt 12:38; Jn 2:18; Jn 6:30) At least two of those occasions came shortly after Jesus had performed a miracle. The leaders did not even consider healings to be sufficiently flashy to prove his authority. It is not very clear what kind of a sign would have been sufficient, but Jesus said the only sign they would get would be “the sign of Jonah.” Being raised from the dead on the third day seems like it would be enough flash, but apparently even that would not do.

The problem with flash is that people get inured to it. They want something more, or something else. After Jesus had healed many people and fed the five thousand men with only five loaves and two fish, the people forgot the miracles.

Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. (Jn 6:26)

There is nothing inherently wrong with flash. While it could be argued that Jesus did not perform the miracles for their flash, nevertheless they were showy. John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask if he was the Messiah they were seeking.

Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. (Lk 7:22)

Jesus did not say that the miracles were unimportant. They served a purpose. But he pointed out that it was not all flash and no substance. They were to tell John about the miracles, but they were also to tell him that the gospel was being preached to the poor. The proof of his Messiahship was both the miracles and the teaching.

Just because a church uses pyrotechnics does not mean they should be dismissed out of hand. Nor should we dismiss them automatically because of a fantastic show band or a charismatic preacher. If that preacher rarely quotes scripture, and never says exactly where the reference is to be found, then he should be dismissed as all flash and no substance. If, on the other hand, the gospel is preached even in the context of flashy, possibly unscriptural, circumstances, the important thing is that the gospel is preached.