Chapter Forty – Matthew 14: Death of a Prophet

john the baptist

I believe that one day I will see your Kingdom come and I wanna hear you say ‘welcome home my child, well done’ / so I step to the edge and I take a deep breath… / I’m going all in / Headfirst into the deep end / I hear you calling / And this time the fear won’t win – Matthew West, All In, from the 2017 album of the same title.

We need to take a side street and visit some ancient history before we move on much further, for in the beginning of chapter fourteen, Matthew re-introduces us to Roman ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas. We know this individual existed because he is recorded in the writings of Josephus (“History of the Jewish War” “B.J.” ii. 9) and other early manuscripts such as the English translation of Graetz (ii. 114). He is the son of Herod the Great who attempted to murder Jesus as a child (2:16-18).

Herod Antipas is mentioned a few times in scripture – most notably for imprisoning and executing John the Baptist (v. 6-11), but also for playing a role in condemning Jesus to death (Luke 23:6-11). More on that later. For now, let’s focus on Herod and John the Baptist. The reason he is in prison is because he has been speaking out against Herod’s relationship with his brother’s former wife (Mark 6:17-18). “Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot because all the people believed John was a prophet” (v. 5).

What to do? What to do? You are living in sin with your brother’s wife and one of the only guys to call you out for your immorality is also a beloved religious figure of the people you rule over. You can’t bring yourself to order his execution and you can’t bring yourself to let him go free. I wonder how the people of Galilee felt about John being locked up. They may have seen it as more Roman oppression and resented Herod for it. That’s quite a dilemma. It’s what we call a no-win situation.

We’re not told how long John was kept locked up. But we do know how the story ends. Herod has a birthday party. His step-daughter dances for him and he likes it enough to promise her anything (v. 6-7). So she talks it over with her mother – you know, “What should I ask for, mom? He said I could have up to half of his kingdom!” (Mark 6:23). The mother tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a silver tray. How’s that for dealing with a man you don’t like?

Herod instantly regrets his vow but follows through on it anyway, and John in beheaded in prison (v. 10). It’s not the ending I would have chosen if I were John. He is, after all, a respected man of God who is merely doing and saying what God has given him to do and say. He’s a faithful servant. Shouldn’t someone who has dedicated their life to the service of another at least have a happy ending? Shouldn’t there be a get-out-of-jail-free card?

But no. The only way for John to get out of prison was via a body bag (v. 12). It doesn’t seem fair. He was “all in” for sure.

Please note, and this is very important, God is not interested in what is fair. Ever. He is interested in what is right. Period. Re-read that if you need to. How do I know? He basically tells us through the prophet Micah:

“…the Lord has told you what is good and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8).

It’s not much simpler or plainer than that. Even I, with my limited capacity at times, can grasp that. So can my six-year old nephew. Do what is right. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Don’t worry about what it “fair”. My high-school history teacher once told his class that “fair is when something goes your way.”

John the Baptist was a faithful servant who did all three of these things. He rotted in prison and was later killed for it. It’s not fair from John’s perspective. The death of a prophet never is.

Sometimes I think about what John’s final moments must have been like. I imagine him stoically facing his executioners, accepting his fate. I do not believe he begged for his life. Someone who has lived life well would have no regrets, no ambitions to eek out another moment past the appointed time. Maybe I’m wrong. We don’t know – John’s reaction to the executioners showing up outside his cell is not recorded.

What we do know is Jesus’ reaction – He grieved the loss of His cousin (v.13). More on that in the next chapter. In the end, it seems as though we must keep in mind that “the lord of the gentle breeze is lord of the rough and tumble” (Steven Curtis Chapman, King of the Jungle, from the 1994 album “Heaven In the Real World”). God is god not only in the good times. If He were, He wouldn’t be much of a god. When we go through difficult times, whether it’s the loss of someone we love, the loss of our freedom, or the loss of our life – we can count on Him to still be there. And to grieve with us. It’s a hard thing to say, and an even harder thing to do. But let’s do it. Let’s go all in, like John.

Chapter Thirty Nine – Matthew 13: A Leap of Faith

leap-of-faith-goldfish_med_37503448-768x600

Leap of faith without a net makes us want to hedge our bet / Waters never part until our feet get wet – Petra, Beyond Belief, from the 1990 album of the same title

The Christ has finished with His Kingdom parables for now and returns to His hometown of Nazareth. Why the trip home? Maybe He is nostalgic. Maybe He is also checking in with family that resides there. We don’t know as Matthew doesn’t say. But at some point, He makes His way to the local synagogue and begins teaching.  The reaction from the parishioners is interesting. On one hand, most of them are amazed at His teaching and wonder, “Where does He get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” (v. 54b). But then they start thinking about who Jesus is – someone they’ve known since He was a toddler and whose family still lives in town – and “they were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him” (v. 57).

Seems like an extreme reaction to me. But that’s how Jesus rolls. Most people are drawn to Him but there are those who are simply repelled for some reason. In this case, I believe the townsfolk of Nazareth are too close to the situation.  “Jesus had come to them as a prophet, one who challenged them to respond to unpopular spiritual truth. They did not listen to the timeless message because they could not see beyond the man” (Study Bible, p. 1571). And I wonder how often that still happens today; people can’t see the Savior because they are too hung up on the historical figure. Or they don’t believe in the historical figure. It’s probably more the latter.

And why not? Look at who His representatives on earth are today. You and I – and a bunch of old white men who seek power in political climates rather than in spiritual realms.  I wouldn’t believe in us either. In their 1995 song “What if I Stumble”, the Christian rock group DC Talk makes the following statement:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable”.

And they’re right. Look at how hard it is to convince people that Jesus is who He says He is when He’s performing miracles to back up His claims right in front of them. Forget our sloppy Christian lives today. “Unbelief blinds people to the truth and robs them of hope” (Study Bible, p. 1571). The people of Jesus’ day missed the Messiah standing right in front of them because they were too hung up on His past. How are people of today missing the Messiah in us?

The question we need to ask ourselves is how are we measuring up? Do we miss God’s work in the world because of our unbelief or our mistaken beliefs? What do you think God would accomplish in the world through us if we simply stepped out and went beyond belief? If we really lived what we said we believed? How many waters would part if we simply got our feet wet?

Or maybe you’re on the outside looking in and wondering what all the hype is about. You don’t see miracles because of your unbelief. You are more like the townsfolk of Nazareth. I’m not sure what it would take to convince them (or anyone) of who Jesus is. The late C.S. Lewis once said there are only four possibilities when it comes to the Christ:

He’s a legend (meaning He never really existed)

He’s a liar (because He claimed to be the Messiah and knew He was not)

He’s a lunatic (because He claimed to be the Messiah, thought He was but was not)

Or He is Lord (He is who He claimed to be).

It’s a decision that we have to make for ourselves. We can’t force it on other people (though there are plenty of people in the world today who are trying to do just that). All we can do is live it out to the best of our abilities. All we can do is go beyond belief. Take that leap of faith. Go on and hedge your bet. This gamble pays off in big ways.

Chapter Thirty Eight – Matthew 13: More Kingdom Talk

pearl

To give all that you are, for all that He is – This is the gospel according to Jesus

  • Steve Camp, Consider the Cost, from the 1991 album of the same title

God You don’t need me
But somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me
Somehow that frees me
To take my hands off of my life
And the way it should go

God You don’t need me
But somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me
Somehow that frees me
To open my hands up
And give You control

  • Tenth Avenue North, Control (Somehow You Want Me), from the 2016 album “Followers”

The key phrase in the remaining five parables of this chapter is “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” (v. 31, 33, 44, 45, & 47). Jesus repeats these words to begin each simile. In one instance, the Christ says it’s like a mustard seed. In the others, it’s like yeast, a hidden treasure, and a wily merchant.  Finally, He compares it to a fishing net. Seems like Jesus is all over the place, doesn’t it?  How are we supposed to get any type of clarity? What is the Kingdom of Heaven really like?

It’s complicated for one thing. It’s all of these similes and more. The Christ is trying to communicate to mere human minds the lofty ideals of a spiritual place. It starts small like a mustard seed or a bit of yeast yet manages to grow and permeate society. It is valuable like a hidden treasure that is found in a field. The person who finds it sells everything he has to acquire the field and thus, the treasure within its borders. It catches everything in its wake like a fishing net thrown into the water. Therefore, it is indiscriminate.

But the parable I want to focus on here is the one about the wily merchant. It’s the shortest parable that is recorded in this chapter, but it is perhaps the most important. Let’s take a look:

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (v. 45-46).

What is the Christ trying to say here? For one thing, He’s saying that He is the merchant and we are the choice pearls. He is saying that He will give everything to make us His. He’s saying He is relentless in His pursuit of us. “In contrast to the previous picture, Jesus is now displaying another aspect of the Kingdom. The contrast becomes vivid in the transaction – the Kingdom pays the ultimate price to possess the pearl, the price God was willing to pay to redeem us” (Study Bible, p. 1671). That makes us valuable and wanted. Isn’t that amazing?

It’s so freeing to know no matter what we do or don’t achieve in life, God has already considered us as prized for a place in His Kingdom. Why? Because we are image-bearers (Genesis 1:26-27). We bear the image of God. We are the piece de la resistance in His creation and He was willing to give up EVERYTHING to keep us with Him. That’s the whole point of the Christ. God steps down from the comfort and luxury of His heavenly throne and takes on flesh, which He allows to be destroyed just so we are redeemed. It’s crazy. But no other figure in all of human history (past, present, future) will ever do this for us. Not another god. Not a superhero. Not a Nobel Prize Winner or a star athlete. The richest man on earth, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, will never sacrifice himself for any one of us, let alone all of us. Only Jesus.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Jesus is the only one who can control us without destroying us. Everything else, everything else, taken to its extreme will be our ruin. I don’t care what it is – love, hate, food, drugs, sex, others, fame, fortune, success, failure…all of it leads to our downfall. We can’t save ourselves. So Jesus reaches down and offers to save us. He thinks that much of us. Which makes me wonder why so many of us think so little of ourselves? Don’t we know our value? Don’t we know our place? It’s in His Kingdom. Why don’t we take our hands off of our live and give Him control?

And You reach for me, with a love that quiets all my fears / And You reach for me, like a Father wipes away the tears / So many people in this world but I hear You calling out my name / You reach for me / Now I’m never gonna be the same – Peter Furler, Reach, from the 2011 album “On Fire”.

Chapter Thirty Seven – Matthew 13: Farmers, Soil and Weeds

scatter-seeds

For your consideration – congregations in sanctuaries must be temporary / Not isolating but infiltrating / No time for delaying / The world is waiting for a love that will come to them / We got to spread out thin / We got to go to them / Like seeds in the wind – scattering

  • Geoff Moore and the Distance, Scattering, from the 1997 album “Threads”

The first two parables that Matthew records in chapter 13 deal with agricultural themes – something that would have been clearly understood in Jesus’ day; not so much in 21st century America where the closest the majority of us get to fresh produce happens in our local grocery store or farmers market. We rarely get dirt under our nails or callouses on our hands from working the soil. Some of us would only have a green thumb if we stuck our thumb in green paint. That’s ok. I don’t have to be an artist to appreciate Picasso and I don’t have to be a farmer to understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables.

In the first one, He introduces us to a farmer indiscriminately scattering seed on four different types of soil which “represent different responses to God’s message” (Study Bible, p. 1569).  The seed is the word of God and the farmer is His messenger (all of us). Some of the seed falls on a footpath and is eaten by birds. Some seed falls on shallow ground and is quickly wilted by the hot sun. Some seed falls among thorns that choke the young plants. And some seed falls on good soil and produces a crop worth harvesting.

First of all, if I were a farmer I would care a little more about where I was scattering. I mean, why waste seed? But Jesus doesn’t see it like that. He wants us to openly share the good news of God’s word with everyone, even though most of the time it won’t produce worthwhile results. The truth is, people will respond differently to how we live our lives because their “soil” is in different states of readiness to hear what God has to say. “Some are hardened, others are shallow, others are contaminated by distracting worries” (Study Bible, p. 1569) and a few are receptive. Jesus says it doesn’t matter.  Scatter indiscriminately anyway and don’t be concerned with the results.

Notice also how the crop yield for the good soil varies. Jesus says it produces “a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as has been planted!” (v. 23). Again, Jesus is breaking the rules of agriculture.  That’s God multiplying the outcome considering what was invested. It just proves that you don’t have to hold back on your supply of seed. For one thing, with God it’s infinite, and for another a little bit on good soil produces an amazing return. It begs the question: what kind of soil am I? Exactly how has God’s word taken root in my life? If I am “good soil” what kind of yield have I produced?

The second parable focuses upon an enemy sowing weeds among a field of wheat the farmer has just planted. His farmhands want to pull up the weeds (nonbelievers) but risk also pulling up the wheat (believers). The reason is that before they mature, weeds and blades of wheat look an awful lot alike. Therefore, the weeds and wheat must remain side by side until the time of harvest. Jesus says this harvest is the end of the world (v.39), a time when His angels (harvesters) will separate the wheat (good) from the weeds (evil), which will be thrown away.   “There are true and false believers in churches today, but we should be cautious in our judgments because only Christ is qualified to make the final separation. If [we] start judging, [we] may damage some of the good “plants”. It’s more important to judge our own response to God than to analyze others’ responses” (Study Bible, p. 1570).

While I mostly agree with this sentiment (Jesus did say not to judge others 7:1), Jesus has also said twice (7:17 & 12:33) that you will be able to tell what kind of tree you’re looking at by the fruit it produces. There’s a bit of “discernment” required. And when there’s a group of bad trees leading the church, it seems like the correct and necessary thing to do to call it out. After all, non-believers only see a tree and if it’s producing bad fruit they tend to think most “trees” are bad. This view stains the effort of what Jesus is trying to accomplish through us; namely, bringing people into the Kingdom.

I also find it interesting that in his explanation of the parable, Jesus uses the phrase “fiery furnace” (v. 42) to describe where the weeds will be thrown. There is a story about a rich man in Luke 16 who has died and is in agony in the flames (v. 24). In the view of many scholars, they believe these references are to hell and the fact that hell will be a hot place. Maybe this is true. I’m certainly not as learned as some. But I did hear someone at some point in time suggest that hell will actually be an empty void of suffering without the presence of God. I tend to believe that view because it fits better with the portrait of a loving, benevolent God. Why would He sentence lost people to a fiery place when I believe He will simply respect the wishes of individuals who do not want to spend eternity with Him?

If there is a fiery place of torment, I believe Revelations indicates this will be the eternal resting place for Satan and his minions (20:10, 14-15; 21:8). One thing is certain: more study is required. Revelations is a confusing book and not our focus here.

In any event, Jesus concludes his explanations of the second parable with the words “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (v. 43b). He’s opening the door to everyone in that sentence and not discriminating against anyone based on any of the qualifiers that people throw up to prevent others from entering the Kingdom. I like that. The question now is: do I do the same? Am I opening the doors for everyone? If I’m not, then I’m not imitating my Savior.

Go forth and scatter indiscriminately. Remember, good soil produces a bountiful harvest.

Chapter Thirty Six – Matthew 13: The Parables Begin

stories

Storyteller are you just a teller of some stories or can you perform a miracle in me? – Storyteller CD, Track 4: Teller of Some Stories. Unknown release date. Unknown Artist.

Jesus is a master story-teller. In this chapter of Matthew, seven stories are recorded but we are told there are many more (v.3). Each of these seven stories is told in a particular form called a “parable” in which familiar things are often compared to unfamiliar things. The purpose is for spiritual truth to be understood through everyday objects and relationships (Study Bible, p. 1568). Why would the Christ use parables? Why not just plainly speak the truth? Sometimes He did, and other times He didn’t. His disciples also wanted to know why He did this (v.10).

It’s certainly not for entertainment value. Jesus was a compelling enough speaker that He didn’t need gimmicks to get people to pay attention. But if you speak in parables, only the people who are truly listening will understand the point being made. Jesus was revealing the mysteries of Heaven (v. 11) in these little stories and He only wanted truth-seekers to understand what He was saying. Let’s face it, not everyone who came out to listen to Jesus speak was truly interested in hearing the truth. Some hearts were too lazy or too stubborn to want to understand Him. Some hearts were just there for the spectacle, and Jesus knew it. He didn’t begrudge them – but He would not cater to them either.  He had a mission to fulfill, and He wasn’t going to get sidetracked doing magic tricks the entire time.

Most of the time, after Jesus would finish telling a parable – He would explain what He really meant to His disciples. Matthew also recorded a couple of these explanations so we could see what Jesus was trying to convey with certainty. You see, it’s tempting to read too much into a parable – and Jesus wanted to make sure there wasn’t any confusion when it came to the interpretation. Who knows? Maybe He did this for us – knowing His words would later be written down and read by those who did not walk with Him in the flesh. Maybe He knew some of us would be tempted to put our own spin on what He was trying to say – and He deliberately made an end run around this problem. I don’t know – this is all speculation on my part. Maybe His real reasons are lost to the ages or beyond our understanding.

In any event, in this particular chapter all the parables “teach us about God and His Kingdom. They explain what the Kingdom is really like as opposed to our expectations of it” (Study Bible, p. 1569). This is important to know because just like in Jesus’ day, people sometimes expect the Kingdom of Heaven to be a geographical location instead of a spiritual realm where God the Father reigns. I still suspect some “Christian” leaders of today are trying to usher in God’s Kingdom on earth by seeking to establish theocracies in many places of government. In the process, they ignore living a lifestyle that attracts people to God and focus instead on forcing exterior rules on others who don’t share their beliefs. They make it all about being “right” while others are “wrong”. There’s a time and place for that, to be sure, but government isn’t one of them. Our great country was founded on the principles that the church and state should be kept separate from one another, and that while there is freedom to worship, there is also freedom FROM worship. That’s why the Founding Fathers didn’t use “In God We Trust” on their initial currency. Literally, aside from acknowledging that “all men are CREATED equal and endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable rights” there really is no other mention of a higher power or the directive to worship Him in our founding documents.

Back to the parables and the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m sure if Jesus had been the slightest bit interested in establishing an earthly Kingdom He would have had no problem doing so. After all, all of Heaven’s army was His to command. He chose instead to keep things on a spiritual plane of existence. In verse 12, Jesus makes it clear that each individual is “responsible to use well what we have. When people reject Jesus, their hardness of heart drives away or renders useless even the little understanding they had” (Study Bible, p. 1568). We must be careful not to be like this. And I believe most Christians have true intentions to be good doers of the Word.

What gets me angry is when Christians deliberately do something to force God and their beliefs on someone else, and then when that person rejects Jesus – they still feel justified in their approach. No, no. Case in point, I have a friend (several actually) who is an agnostic. This person was recently assaulted by a “Christian” in a department store who recited Scripture at her in hopes of “converting her to Christ”. That is NOT the way of Jesus. Never ONCE did Jesus walk up to a complete stranger and recite Scripture at them in hopes they would follow Him. NOT ONCE.

For one, it’s a complete waste of time. For two, it’s completely disrespectful to that person. Maybe you’ve never done this (thank God) but maybe you’ve left a bible track somewhere public in hopes of “witnessing” to someone. Can God use that to speak to others? Absolutely. But does He? I think His preferred method of communicating His love for people comes in having us LIVE the lifestyle on a consistent basis. And no, that doesn’t mean being a perfect person. God doesn’t need us to be perfect He needs for us to be present. Present in our relationship with Him and others. Present in the good times. Present in the bad times. Otherwise, we are just stories without meaning.

 

Chapter Thirty Five – Matthew 12: A Family Affair

Family_Tree

You’re a good good father / it’s who You are / it’s who You are…/ And I’m loved by You / it’s who I am / it’s who I am… – Chris Tomlin, Good Good Father, from the 2016 album “Never Lose Sight”

I grew up loving Greek mythology. There was something to the stories of various gods, each with their particular station in life, reaching down and impacting human existence. It tended to be a family affair. You had Zeus, the chief god, brother to Hades and Neptune, and father to Aries and Apollo. I found it fascinating how the ancient Greeks explained the unexplainable in nature and the world around them. They invented the original comic book heroes.

The Hebrew God, Yahweh, also utilized family dynamics, with Jesus being introduced as the Son. Matthew emphasizes the familial relationship angle at the end of chapter 12. The Christ is teaching when Mary, his earthly mother, and his step-brothers show up outside, wanting to speak with Him. You see, the crowd listening to Jesus is so large, his earthly family cannot navigate their way through to reach Him.

When He receives word that his family is waiting outside and wants a word with Him, the Christ turns to the crowd and says, “’Who is my mother? Who is my brother?’ Then He pointed to His disciples and said, ‘Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!’” (v. 48-50).

Remember, this is THE virgin Mary He is referring to in this statement. Ouch. I don’t know how she reacted as Matthew doesn’t record that aspect, but if I were her I’d be a bit hurt by that statement. I’d think, ‘Wait a minute! I carried you in my womb for nine months! I raised you! Bandaged your boo-boos as a little boy! I wiped your tears! What do you mean by these other people are your family?’

Mark (3:31-35) and Luke (8:19-21) also include this event. “Jesus’ family did not yet fully understand His ministry [see Mark 3:21]”. “[He] explained that in our spiritual family, the relationships are ultimately more important and longer lasting than those formed in our physical families” (Study Bible, p. 1623). In Luke, Jesus replies “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it” (v. 21).

But Jesus wasn’t being disrespectful and He wasn’t denying His responsibility to His earthly family. “On the contrary, He criticized the religious leaders for not following the Old Testament command to honor their parents (15:1-9). He provided for His mother’s security while He hung on the cross (John 19:25-27). His mother and brothers were present in the upper room at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Instead, Jesus was pointing out that spiritual relationships are as binding as physical ones, and He was paving the way for a new community of believers (the universal church), our spiritual family” (Study Bible, p. 1568). “In our increasingly computerized, impersonal world warm relationships among members of God’s family take on major importance” (Study Bible, p. 1623).

It also means that anyone has the potential to join the family. In Greek mythology, you had to be sired by a god to be included. Not so with Yahweh. All you have to be is willing to follow Him. There’s no DNA ancestry test required. No secret ritual to follow. You don’t have to make a financial contribution to your local church or diocese. You don’t have to wear special undergarments or go on a mission trip. All that is required is to do the will of the Father.

How do we know what that is? Re-read the Sermon on the Mount (5:21-7:27) or at the very least do the opposite of what the Pharisees have been doing (ie: rejecting, disbelieving, doubting, blocking, etc.).  The challenge we have is to ask which side we are on. ‘Jesus’ true family is comprised of those who hear and obey his words. Hearing without obeying is not enough…Christ offers us an intimate family relationship with Him (Romans 8:14-16)” (Study Bible, p. 1697). How comforting for those who do not have a great relationship with their earthly family. What an additional blessing for those of us who do. Either way, the ultimate relationship is with the Father and the Son. The question is: Do you know them? You can. It’s easy. Just ask them to be a part of your life. Make it a family affair.

“I am a child of the Father and I know what that means for me / It means I’m loved and I’m spoken for / It means I’m wealthy in heavenly things…/ It means I’m redeemed and forgiven / It means I’m holy and blameless and free” – Cheri Keaggy, Child of the Father, from the 1994 album of the same title.

If you’re already a member of the family, great! The question then becomes are you living in such a way as to attract people to the family? That’s our whole purpose for being here. It’s literally THE reason God doesn’t immediately take us home to be with Him when we accept Jesus as our Savior. It’s the ONLY THING we can’t do in heaven. And it’s not “somebody else’s job”. It belongs to each and every one of us. I’m glad you are in the family, now go live God’s truth to an unbelieving world.

Chapter Thirty Four – Matthew 12: The Sign of Jonah

sign-of-jonah

It’s just another sign of the times / One step closer to the day He arrives / To come back and claim His bride / I said it’s just another sign of the times – Three Crosses, Just Another Sign of the Times, from the 1995 self-titled debut album

Matthew’s gospel is not presented chronologically. You have to read the gospel of Luke for that. No, Matthew’s gospel is arranged thematically so the events recorded herein are out of order for when they happened. Last time, we looked at Jesus’ fiery first shot speech to the Pharisees (v. 25-37) in chapter 12. Considering what Jesus had to say to the religious leaders of His day, I would be surprised if they ever spoke to Him again.

Yet in verses 38-45, Matthew records that the Pharisees approach Jesus and ask Him to perform a miracle in order to prove His authority. Can you imagine the audacity if these events were sequential? He calls them evil and then they want Him to prove He’s not?

It’s not like that. It’s hard to say exactly when this request is made because it doesn’t appear in any of the other three gospel accounts. I’m not sure why Matthew included it here at this time but maybe he’s on a roll about Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees so why not mention it?

In any event, the religious elites are asking for a sign and Jesus lowers the boom on them again saying no sign will be given. Why not? It’s not like it would be hard for Him to do it. Take your pick: make the mute speak, release the demon-possessed, enable the blind to see or the lame to walk…cause manna to fall from the sky, eclipse the sun on command, or raise the dead. Anything would work.

The problem is not the lack of options or the fact that Jesus is unable to perform. The problem is that Jesus knows their hearts and understands that they had already seen enough miraculous things done to convince them He is the Messiah. The problem is that their hearts won’t believe what their eyes have seen. The problem is that they are not sincerely seeking to know Him. “They had already decided not to believe in Him, and more miracles would not change that” (Study Bible, p. 1567).

Jesus then used two examples of Gentile faith in Jewish history to prove His point. The first example was of the city of Nineveh in the time of Jonah. Yes, THAT Jonah. The one swallowed by a whale (more of a great fish). Nineveh was the capitol of the Assyrian Empire (yes, THOSE Assyrians) and it was an evil place full of evil people who repented of their evil deeds when Jonah came ashore. The second example is of the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon to see for herself if he was really as wise and wealthy as stories claimed. Jesus told the Pharisees that someone greater than Jonah and Solomon was in their midst (Himself) but they refused to repent and listen to Him (v. 41 & 42). So no, no sign would be given. No sign but the sign of Jonah.

“For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (v. 40). He is, of course, referencing His own death and resurrection – but He’s saying that not even that would change some of their hearts and minds about Him.

Kind of makes me wonder what it would take for some people to believe in Jesus. This whole scenario applies to us today. There are a lot of individuals who have made the claim that if only they could see a real miracle, then they would believe in God. They don’t believe the Bible is an accurate representation of history even though nothing exists to refute it. They don’t recognize the complexities of nature’s design as being done by an Intelligent Being. They don’t appreciate the fact that every breath is a gift.  The problem is not that God has stopped performing miracles in our time; the problem is that we have so much evidence of God in everyday life and the work that believers are doing around the globe, we don’t need to be looking for miraculous signs.  We need to be looking to Him and reading the sign of the times that exist.