Scripture: And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “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.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. Matthew 16:1-4 ESV
[Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: In Friday’s Daily Focus (click here to read it), after feeding four thousand Gentiles in the region of the Decapolis, chapter 15 concludes with a segue: Jesus sends the crowds away and gets into a boat sailing to the territory of Magadan (unknown to biblical and extrabiblical writings). However, given the ensuing conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees, its location would be somewhere on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee, where the Jews resided.
Even though the Pharisees and Sadducees were rivals, they joined forces against their common enemy in instances threatening their leadership. And Jesus’ mounting popularity with the masses sounded the alarm. So these scheming religious leaders test him by asking for a sign from heaven (ouranos), which also means “sky.” Immediately seeing through their duplicity, Jesus responds with a familiar maxim cited even today: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailor’s warning,” He then exposes their hypocrisy by pointing out that they know the tendencies of nature revealed in the sky. Yet, they can’t supposedly interpret the signs of the times. Lastly, in a drop-the-mic moment, Jesus implicates them with an evil generation that demands a sign, announces that he will not accommodate their scheme other than offering the sign of Jonah, and exits the present company.
Of note, the Greek word translated “test” (peirazo) is the same word Matthew uses in his earlier narrative of Jesus’ testing in the wilderness, but here the intent is adversarial.
Takeaway: In a parabolic-like manner that eludes his listeners, Jesus juxtaposes the sky with the earth in citing the sign of Jonah, and he will soon provide a living illustration through his death, resurrection, and ascension: from earth to sky. Moreover, just as Jonah was an embodied sign to Niniveh of looming judgment, if they did not repent, so will the resurrected Son of God be to the religious order. And at the end of the age, when Christ returns, he will provide a conclusive sign from above when he comes in the clouds to pass final judgment on all humankind (Revelation 1:7).
Sadly, it will be too late for all these hardhearted generations. For the Pharisees, some had already seen Jesus heal a man with a withered hand (12:9-14, click here to read) and deliver a demon-possessed man from bondage (12:22-24, click here to read). In the first instance, the Pharisees focused on his healing of a man in supposed violation of the Sabbath. So they plotted to destroy him. In the second instance, they accused him of exercising power imparted by the devil (blaspheming the Holy Spirit). And, as in our story, they asked for a sign to entrap him, but he offers none but that of Jonah (12:38-40, click here to read). So our story marks the third and final incident—no more signs—time is running out for the religious leaders.
Our takeaway? Consider the early days of Jesus’ resurrection. In the upper room on the evening of that first day, Jesus meets his frightened disciples, pronounces shalom peace, and breathes the Holy Spirit on them. Eight days later, he reveals his wounds to doubting Thomas, who missed the first visitation. Thomas, overwhelmed, declares, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then says to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29 ESV, click here to read the entire passage). The point? We are the “blessed” that Jesus mentions here. Even though we cannot see Christ perform signs with our physiological eyes, we can exercise faith to believe and see what’s otherwise invisible to the naked eye: hearts of stone transformed into hearts of flesh—beginning with our own. And that’s the only sign we need.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, our sign of new and eternal life. And we thank you for your Holy Spirit, who attests to Christ working in our midst to make us into his signs of hope and forgiveness. Still, we confess that we sometimes waffle in our faith when times are tough. So would you please help us stay focused on your Son, the only sign we need when our spiritual vision dims? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
Leave a Reply