“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” “Are you saved?” The question can pop up almost anywhere. Answer “yes” and you’re in; “no” and you’re out.
But why only this question? Why not, “Do you pick up serpents in your hands?” Some religions do. If an adherent asked me that question, I would have to answer “no.” In? or out? Or why not, “Do you drink poison?” Several years ago an entire group of people died in Texas. They drank the “deadly thing,” but they did not survive. In? or out?
“Do you drive out demons in the name of Jesus?” Perhaps, if you happen to be an exorcist. But I am not. In? or out? “Do you speak new languages?” While some are given the gift of tongues, I myself am happy just to be reasonably proficient in English. In? or out? “Do the sick recover when you lay hands on them?” A gifted heart surgeon is also an atheist. In? or out?
Obviously, answering “yes” to these questions does not guarantee God’s favor. But maybe this passage isn’t about who’s “in” and who’s “out.” Jesus told his disciples to “Go … and proclaim the gospel.” A few lines further we read “they went … and preached … while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” In other words, the signs weren’t the disciples’ doing — they were from Jesus!
The signs were God’s confirmation of the work that the disciples and God were doing together. They were meant to assure Jesus’ followers that even though he “was taken up to heaven,” Jesus would continue to work through them.
The venom of poisonous snakes, in the hands of a skilled physician, would bring about recovery from certain illnesses. Counseling and drug therapy would drive out psychological demons. Computer technology would create new languages for the deaf and those physically unable to speak.
Perhaps, then, a better question might be, “Are you Jesus’ disciple?” Do you believe that you are a co-worker with the Lord? Does your belief influence how you do your work? How is your work a sign of the Good News?
Van Benthem is a longtime pastoral minister in the Diocese of Green Bay.