The Scriptorium

Signs of the Times

The religious leaders ask for a sign. Matthew 16.1-4

Matthew 16: Turning Point (1)

Pray Psalm 12.1, 2.
Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases!
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
They speak idly everyone with his neighbor;
With flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

Sing Psalm 12.1, 2.
(Hamburg: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)
Help, Lord! The godly cease to be!
They who believe in Christ are few.
Falsely the wicked confidently
flatter, deceive, and mock Your truth.

Read and meditate on Matthew 16.1-4.


Prepare.
1. For what did the Pharisees and Sadducees ask? What do you suppose they had in mind?

2. What “sign” did Jesus say He would give them?

Meditate.
Having clarified the true nature of faith in chapter 15, Matthew now sharpens our focus on the Lord and His agenda in chapter 16. This chapter marks a kind of turning point, since from this point forward, Jesus can be seen to be focusing forward, toward the finishing of one stage of His work, and the beginning of the next.

The Pharisees and Sadducees asked for a “sign from heaven.” They were always asking for a sign, trying to make Jesus jump at their bidding (cf. Matt. 12.38). They were probably thinking of something like Elijah calling down fire, or Joshua stopping the sun. This is false thinking on full display: “I won’t believe unless You conform Your ways to my desires and my way of thinking!” It’s easy to fall into this snare and not even know it.

Jesus reviled them as “Hypocrites!” We recall from chapter 15 that a hypocrite is one who professes to believe in God but has no heart for Him. To the hypocrite God is only someone to use for whatever I want, not someone to love and serve even to the point of laying down my life (see on, vv. 24-28). The religious leaders had enough common sense to read the signs of the weather, but then the weather didn’t demand anything unreasonable of them (bring an umbrella, or put on some sunscreen). The signs Jesus was giving, on the other hand, made serious demands: set aside your cherished traditions, repent of your pious posturing, lay down your life, and seek the Kingdom of God rather than the favor of Caesar.

They could not read the signs Jesus was performing because they would not read them as they were intended. They were so used to making religion work for them that they were not prepared to deny themselves and their selfish priorities, join the yoke with Jesus, and learn of Him to be meek, mild, and truly righteous.

To the masses, the Pharisees and Sadducees looked like the real deal. But they were hypocrites. Those who followed Jesus, marveled at Him, and glorified God, they were the real deal.

Jesus would give them a powerful sign in due course – the sign of Jonah: three days in the earth, then rising from the dead (cf. Matt. 12.38-40). But they would not believe that sign, either.

Do we?

Reflect.
1. What signs had Jesus been performing? To what did those signs testify?

2. Why did Jesus call the religious leaders “hypocrites”?

3. What was “the sign of the prophet Jonah”? Is that still a powerful sign in our day? Explain.

Just as that whale was not able to digest Jonah nor was able to keep him alive inside himself for long, so too voracious Death assuredly received the Lord. But since he was not able to keep him alive and in custody inside himself, Death regurgitated him on the third day, just as the whale had regurgitated Jonah.
Chromatius (fl. 400), Tractate on Matthew 54.3

Send me forth today, Lord, in the power of Your resurrection, and I will…

Pray Psalm 12.3-8.
Pray for people you know who are so ensnared in the lie that they cannot see the truth that is in Jesus. Ask the Lord for an opportunity to share Jesus with someone today.

Sing Psalm 12.3-8.
Psalm 12.3-8 (Hamburg: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)
Stop, Lord, the lips that utter lies,
all those who speak with boasting tongue!
See how Your holy Word they despise,
while their own praises they have sung.

Rise up, O Lord, and rescue all
Your precious children sore distressed.
Save those who faithfully on You call;
grant them deliv’rance, peace, and rest.

Your words are pure and proven true,
like silver seven times refined;
You will preserve Your Word ever new,
and keep the heart to You inclined.

Proudly the wicked strut and stand;
Your indignation builds on high.
Men may exalt their wicked plans,
but You will judge them by and by.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore