Signs

Matthew 12:38-50

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”

39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

43 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. 44 Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”

46 While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. 47 Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”

48 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

Introduction

Why do you believe in Jesus Christ? Have you ever asked yourself that question?Why do you believe in Him? We all have good reasons why. For some of you, it might be because your parents taught you from your youth. That’s not a bad reason. For others, it is because you have examined the evidence and found it persuasive. For others, the things God has done in your life is what gives you confidence in your belief. These and more are good reasons. Another one, which comes to us from this passage with shocking clarity: the accuracy with which the Bible describes human beings is unlike anything else in the world. The way the Bible shows what people are like is like nothing else. Particularly, the way the Bible shows how people will refuse to believe what is real and obvious so long as they can justify themselves shows us exactly what people really are like. And this stands out starkly in our passage today.

The Sign of Jonah (38-42)

In this chapter, Jesus has been fighting with the bad guys in the Gospels, the scribes and Pharisees. Now they show up, show Him phony respect by calling Him “Teacher,” and tell Him, we want to see a sign from you. Stop for one moment and think about the brazenness of such a demand. God has taken on human flesh, and appeared to His people, healing them, casting out demons, raising the dead, doing many great powerful works, and speaking with the authority of God, and here these guys show up and demand God prove Himself to them.

Before we go any further, this is exactly what all contemporary unbelief is like. When you hear the mockers who don’t want to believe the Bible, don’t want to go to church, don’t want to change how they live, what do they say “well, I’m agnostic. I just don’t think there is enough evidence to believe in God.” Look at the position they have put themselves in. “Jesus, we don’t think there is sufficient evidence to believe in You. We want to see a sign from you.” Exactly the same position as the Pharisees. 1. To begin with, God created a world, a reality wherein every square inch screams “I EXIST AND I MADE THIS!” 2. Though He absolutely could have, He didn’t stop there, but He interacted with this world He created, and acted within it. Speaking directly to His people and revealing Who He is to them. 3. Lastly, He personally came into the world that He created, was murdered by His people, and triumphed over death.

Yet there are people with the same brazenness as the Pharisees to stand in judgment over God, saying, “yeah, not good enough. I need to see a little bit more before I can be persuaded.”

What does Jesus say to this? “An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign. Lots of stuff Jesus says is packed with meaning, because His audience knew the Bible, especially the Pharisees. When He calls them an evil, adulterous generation, they know exactly who He is comparing them to: the generation that came out of Egypt in the Exodus. It would be like comparing an American who prided themselves on their patriotism, a veteran who flies fifty giant flags in front of his house to Benedict Arnold. That generation was the one that saw God delivery them from slavery in Egypt, by nuking the most powerful empire on the planet, and they still had the temerity to reject Him. You did not want to be compared to them. How about adulterous, what does He mean by that? Well, God had the prophet Hosea literally marry a prostitute as an object lesson to Israel about what Israel is like. That generation whored after false gods, and God raised up the Assyrians to destroy them and send them into exile. Also not a generation you want to be compared to.

But Jesus goes on to say “you know what, I am gonna give you a sign: the sign of Jonah.” If you know the story of Jonah, you might think, what does that have to do with anything? “Sign of Jonah? What?” Well, let’s dig into this a bit.

Most people know the story of Jonah. You had it in color books and children’s Bibles when you were a little kid. Maybe you saw the Veggietales rendition. The popular understanding of Jonah misses a ton, because they treat the Bible like a set of random fairy tale stories, rather than having an organic connection to the rest of the Bible. God tells Jonah to go to the heart of the Assyrian Empire, the city of Nineveh and preach against the wickedness there. Jonah refuses to go and instead gets on a boat for as far away from Nineveh as he can. This is where people badly mess the story up. Jonah doesn’t do this because he is afraid of the Assyrians. He doesn’t do it because has a particular hatred of them, either. He flees because earlier in the Bible, God had promised His people that when they reject Him, when they serve other Gods, when they refuse to believe and obey Him, He was going to reject them and go to other non-Israelite, Gentile nations. Even though the only thing Jonah was told to do was preach that God was going to destroy Nineveh, He knew even that act was God showing grace to these foreign peoples which meant that the curse of being rejected by God was about to happen to Israel. Chapter 4 of Jonah gives this away. Jonah is concerned that Israel is going to be abandoned by God and given over to destruction. That is a major part of what the “sign of Jonah” means. It means that these wicked Assyrians, who repented at the preaching of Jonah who didn’t show a single miraculous sign ( by the way!), will condemn them. Someone far greater than Jonah, God Himself in the flesh(!) has shown up and they REFUSE to believe.

The Queen of the South, the Queen of Sheba, came across continents (a MASSIVE undertaking in the ancient world by the way) to see Solomon’s wisdom and in seeing the wisdom God had given Solomon, believed in his God. Here, that wisdom God had given Solomon had taken on flesh and came right to them, and they REFUSE to believe. The queen of Sheba, whose belief required vastly more faith, will condemn this generation.

“I’m Talking About You! (Israel)” (43-45)

Jesus goes on, in what seems like a non-sequitur. What He says next doesn’t seem to have much to do with what He said before, but they are very much connected. He talks about a demon that Has been cast out (something He had just done earlier in this chapter which caused the Pharisees to accuse Him of being in league with the Devil). The demon is driven out into the wilderness. Then it returns back to where it came and now the demons have multiplied. It would have been better if the man only had had one demon rather than eight. What is Jesus talking about? Like He is most of the time, He is talking about Israel. He is talking about God’s people. Israel is that man in the story. The Son comes, drives the demon out, they reject him, but things seem to be okay. The house is swept and in order. But then the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost, and the demons return and things are far worse for that man than before. What happens to Israel at the end of the ministry of the apostles? The same thing that happened to Hosea’s and Jonah’s Israel. The Gentile power comes and nukes them. Israel is consumed by demonic power and it reaches a fever pitch. In a fit of rage they rebel against Rome and the Roman legions come crashing down upon them leaving a trail of blood and misery and destruction everywhere. That is the fate of Israel that Jesus is warning them about.

Will Is Thicker Than Blood (46-50)

Jesus is then interrupted. His mother and His brothers wanted to get into where He was. And He says something that takes us aback (and even more so ancient Jews): His real family are those who do the will of His Father in heaven. Jesus is not dishonoring Mary. The Bible tells us she is blessed among all women. She is a model of faithfulness for us to emulate. But what does Jesus say? The blood He shares with her has far less meaning than the will that He shares with her. The will to do righteousness, to obey God, to worship and serve Him is of more value than blood. For modern deracinated people, you almost have to rebuild the importance of family and relatedness to even begin to understand why this is shocking. Your family meant everything. Your nation meant everything. It was central to who you were. For Jews, this had an even greater meaning. The blood of Abraham flowed through their veins. They were children of Abraham. In their blood was the blood of the special people of the God that made the universe. Jesus is saying, no. God can make children of Abraham out of these stones. The blood that runs through your veins means nothing. That isn’t going to save you. In fact, all these people throughout the whole world who don’t have the blood of Abraham running through their veins, God is going to reject you for them. Because like Nineveh and like the Queen of Sheba, they are going to repent when the Holy Spirit comes and my apostles preach, whereas, you Jews, most of you will reject Him like you rejected Me. *That* is what Jesus is telling them.

Conclusion

So what does that mean for us?  All over the place people will tell you “America is not ancient Israel.” That’s true enough, we could point out all the discontinuities all day long. But I want you to think of the continuities, the ways in which we are like them. A lot of people think “nothing bad is ever going to happen to our country, because we are Americans, we are the city on a hill.” Implicit in this is the thought that God loves us as Americans in a special way just by virtue of being Americans. Being American is seen as being virtuous, almost synonymous with being a Christian. A generation or two ago, that is more or less the way it was. Even if you didn’t have a particularly strong faith in God, if you were an American, well of course you were some kind of Christian. Well, that kind of thinking does not exist anymore. But the idea that America has this special place, this uniqueness, this exceptional place as a favored people of God persists. And a similar type of thing that took place in Israel in the forty years between the resurrection and Israel’s destruction is taking place in our own country. Rather than repent at the preaching of God’s word, we reject it. We are Americans, nothing bad can ever happen to us. We won World War II! We put a man on the moon! And what does God do? He sends a serious, (but not even close to world-historic) disease to bring us to our knees. He allows the most destructive civil unrest in our nation’s history. And has our response been like the people of Nineveh. Did we put on sackcloth and ashes, and fast? If anything, we have doubled-down on our pride. The masks are now off, so we think “whew, glad that is over. Now we can go back to normal.” The house is empty, swept, and put in order. Do we really think things are going to get better? That socially, politically, economically things are going to be great? We’re all going to be rich and happy and safe? No, we should probably expect things to continue to decline. This doesn’t mean we should have a blank check for pessimism however. Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, where He shall reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. Decline just means what we have to do gets that much clearer. That much more obvious. Rather than rely on “things are gonna be great, they have to because we are Americans” we have to trust in God, that He is our hope. We have the duty and the opportunity to build something in our own community that can be a refuge to people. A place where they know they will be loved and cared for. A place where they know they will be told the truth. A place that is a place of life. We can build that here. We can show the love of Jesus Christ to those who desperately need it. So, what is stopping us? Let’s build it together.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!