My faithful friend:
As we move further in this gospel we find in the sixteenth chapter that once again the Jewish leaders ask to be shown a sign. Here the request is to be shown one “from heaven” (16:1). Earlier the scribes and Pharisees had but asked “to see a sign from you.” Jesus will at that time identify them as “an evil and adulterous generation seeking for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Mt. 12:38-19).
Now they seek for a miraculous heavenly sign, but our Lord now will say of them, “they know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but cannot interpret the signs of the times” (16:3). They may know when there will be fairweather or a storm approaching, but they are deaf and blind as to what is occurring right before them, just as many are today. Again the only sign they are given is that of the “sign of Jonah” (15:4). We should recall that for the disciples of John the Baptist Jesus will simply say “go and tell John what you hear and see” (see April’s Newsletter). They would surely understand the prophetic significance of the healings. and our Lord’s message of the Kingdom.
However, Jesus has no such confidence in the scribes, Pharisee, or Sadducees in correctly “interpreting” His ministry. He will call it the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (16:11). Yes. What they actually believe and will teach others is harmful spiritually. Those “of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold something greater than Jonah is here…greater than Solomon” (12:41-42). Jesus’ inference here is that Nineveh will at judgment condemn this “evil generation” for their hardness of heart, and refusal to believe.
We need to be very wary of the “leaven” of those that don’t want the truth, but seek to test or trap us like the Pharisees did Jesus, for the word “test” here is the same word used to describe what Satan tried to do as he “tempted” Jesus. It is a word describing the effort to “trap” someone. These “pious” religious leaders were not interested in a sign, some proof, something that might convince them. They only wanted to trap Jesus, to accuse Him, just as they did when Jesus healed the man with the withered hand (12:10). That remarkable healing didn’t move them at all. It only infuriated them further.
I fear this is the same with our present generation. It can be seen in our social exchanges, certainly in our politics, and in our religious interactions. Too many are dismissive of the truth, and obviously to the clear signs of our times. They are only interested in their own testing, trapping believers only to accuse us of bias, prejudice, being judgmental, or worse. Will many today, as those of Jesus’ day, be condemned by those of Nineveh who repented, and by all those forgotten multitudes who without the many advantages we have here in North American, have in their now unremembered lands repented by the millions? They know the truth of the “Son of Man (who was) three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (12: 40).
Our Lord knew that those asking for displays of power do not make for faith, just ask Moses or Elijah; the parting of seas, bread or even fire from heaven did not generate a change of heart. These great acts of divine power proved short-lived. Instead we have that one act, that irrefutable “sign of Jonah.” Not everyone will repent, like Nineveh did, or believe that after three days Jesus broke the sting of death, rose victorious removing the curse of the grave and hell itself. But this is our challenge. Still what better message to bring than the true sign from heaven the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of He who now sits at the Father’s right hand, and will do so until every enemy is defeated.
May we never retreat from proclaiming the “sign of Jonah.”
Thomas R. Wyatt