Seeking Signs

Matthew 12:38-45

We come come this morning to the climax of this very angry and bitter dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees.

You will remember Jesus has just performed one of the greatest miracles of His entire ministry; He had healed a man who was not only demon possessed but his poor wretch, who until he met Jesus was barely human, was also blind and dumb. Jesus performed this threefold miracle restoring the man to normality.

The effect on those who witnessed the miracle was that they were moved beyond amazement to ask who could possibly have the power to do something so wonderful as to heal this man; they made this wonderful connection between Jesus and the long promised King who would bring a new age of blessing to Israel. The Pharisees who were watching scoffed at Jesus and what they thought was the credulity of the crowd, ‘It is by Beelzebub prince of demons’ they sneered.

Jesus was stirred to anger by their scoffing and demolished their trite remarks, warning them that they were committing sin against the Holy Spirit, if sinful men hold mercy and forgiveness in contempt what hope can they have and then warning them about how they use their tongues for the words we use reveal what is in our hearts.

It is a fearful exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, it is as though Jesus sees these men walking down the road to committing the unforgivable sin, walking carelessly, convinced of their own cleverness issues them with the sternest of warnings to call them back from destruction. Wonderfully right in the heart of His grave warnings to the Pharisees is the most wonderful assurance of forgiveness that ever fell from the lips of Christ; where He assures them that it is not too late; every word uttered against Him every foul deed done to Him can be forgiven; they can curse Him, calling Him a prince of Beelzebub, ridicule the great miracles He has performed it can all be forgiven if they will not harden their hearts against the marvellous thing the Holy Spirit is doing in their midst. In this most stern of warnings there is the most gracious and humble appeal to them to turn and seek mercy … there is the most dramatic pause between v37 and v38 as we wait for the Pharisee’s response. Will they own up to the ugliness of heart their sneering words reveal? What will they do?

Matthew tells us that some of the Pharisees asked Jesus for sign; we are not told what the others did. Did they walk away their heads held low, did some in their hearts cry out for mercy? We cannot tell what the Pharisees did but we can but weep over the pride within our own hearts that holds us back from true adoration of the Son.

What was so wrong about the Pharisees asking for a sign? I am sure there have been moments of anguish within our own lives when we have cried out asking that God would let us know He is there. Didn’t Gideon put out his fleeces asking that God would show Him what to do?

Well in Gideon putting out his fleeces we had faith seeking reassurance, with the Pharisees we meet unbelief saying to Jesus ‘Prove yourself to us.’

The Pharisees had just witnessed Jesus healing this blind, dumb demon possessed man but such a miracle and the compassion that lay behind it meant nothing to them they were seeking something far more spectacular. Moses unleashed seven plagues upon the Egyptians and then made a roadway through the sea; Elijah stood on Mount Carmel challenged the prophets of Baal and then called fire from heaven these were the kind of signs the Pharisees were seeking. But as Jesus said in His reply to John the Baptist’s query as to whether or not He was the Messiah Jesus said that the signs associated with the coming of the Messiah were that the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk. The messiah’s ministry was to be one of compassion and healing for men and women of every tongue and nation. The Messiah was to be a king like no other, one so gentle He would not break the bruised reed or snuff out the smouldering flax, He would not shout or cry out in the streets.

The Pharisees should have been drawn to the meekness and gentleness of Jesus rather than seek signs from Him that were wholly incompatible with His ministry.

There is something very wonderful, very profound here. Paul tells us that Jesus as the Creator of all that was worthy of the worship and adoration of the whole created order. Since he made all that is Jesus was worthy of every constellation, every sun and every planet, along with every creature plus all the wealth of every galaxy aligning themselves before Him and worshipping Him. But Jesus turned His back on such glory for what He considered the greater glory of being a servant who washed His disciple’s feet and died for them upon the cross.

If Jesus had held onto the Creator’s glory if he had held onto power he would be feared and revered but would He ever have been loved? He would be a God without love, without mercy, without compassion, a cold distant omnipotent potentate. But Jesus laid aside His glory and became obedient unto death even death upon a cross. In asking Jesus to perform a sign to use power for the sake of power, little did the Pharisees know what they were asking for. Little wonder Jesus calls them a wicked and perverse generation.
Fascinatingly to demonstrate that He was the Messiah but using powerful signs was the second temptation that came to Jesus in the wilderness.

The Devil asked Him to throw Himself from the top of the Temple and if He was the messiah and God was pleased with Him then God would send His angels to bear Him up as he promised in one of the Psalms.

That is just the kind of sign the Pharisees were looking for. Imagine Jesus standing on the apex of the roof of the Temple. He then outstretches His arms and you see Him begin to fall forward, you see Him in in a perfect swallow dive hurtle towards the earth. Then in an instant you see two angels appear and then fly to his side lift Him up the instant before He hits the ground and set Him upon His feet. That would have been something wouldn’t it!
Or today if Jesus wanted to fill the churches in Glasgow He could announce to the press he was going to throw Himself off the top City Chambers. Again He would stand there, stretch out His arms, lean forward plummet towards George Square only for the angels to appear and to lift Him to safety. And it could all be recorded on HD television for us to watch again and again whenever our faith was a bit low.

But we just need to translate the image from the Temple and Jerusalem to Glasgow and the City Chambers to see how tacky such a display of power would be, to feel the bite in Jesus response to Satan ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ God will not turn Himself into a performing seal just to prove Himself to you!

Moreover what kind of a God would your faith be in if He did seek to woo your soul by throwing Himself off the City Chambers? Or put it the other way if god revealed His glory by throwing Himself from the City Chambers what would you know of His patience, His kindness, His forgiveness, His mercy, His meekness, His gentleness. No if Jesus gave way to Satan’s temptation and the Pharisee’s jibe He would have destroyed His whole ministry.

But God is to give a sign of glory to the world, a sign for all to see and that is the sign of Jesus on the cross. There is no great sign of power, Jesus does not summon a host of angels to deliver Him from the cross he simply hangs there in absolute agony. There is nothing in the cross that speaks of the majesty of a great King worthy of the adoration of the whole universe, just nakedness, bleeding, and the spittle dribbling down His face. There is nothing of the worship due to Creator, but disciples who desert Him the crowd that mocks, Pilate who washes his hands of Him and priests who scoff saying it is best that he dies.

But this is the great demonstration that Jesus is the world’s true King. This is what God is like. He is no despot but a King who gives His life for His people. He is not simply a great potentate, He is meek and gentle, forgiving, and tender hearted. He is not distant from his people, he is crucified in their midst. Peter can look into his eyes as He dies.

The Queen of Sheba travelled all the way to Jerusalem to witness the wealth, of Solomon and His skills as an architect and builder his wisdom as a king and she was amazed. The people of Nineveh heard a wee man preach but there was such authority in what he said they turned from their wickedness. Do you see in Christ someone greater than Solomon, greater than Jonah?

Jesus then directs attention back to the man who moments before had been demon possessed blind and dumb. The question was now that he had been restored what was he going to do with the life that had been given back to him?

Jesus had driven the mocking spirit out of the souls of the Pharisees. He had laid bare the ugliness of the arrogance that lay at the root of their mocking. He had just shown them the folly of seeking for a sign. They had no words left, no arguments against Him left, Jesus had driven every smug self-satisfied, ignorant foolish thought from their minds and souls. The only question remained who was now going to fill their minds? As they walked away from Jesus would the old self-satisfied, conceited mocking spirit return or would the glory Christ now fill them? Would they now see that Jesus, so quiet and gentle so tender in His works of compassion was a far greater revelation of the glory of God than even the greatest signs of the Old Testament?

Those who see beyond the flesh of Jesus to the beauty of His glory are His true family.