Title: Signs and Symptoms
Text: Matthew 15:39-16:12
FCF: We often struggle with being preoccupied by the mundane instead of being obsessed with the divine.
Prop: Missing signs of the Kingdom is a symptom of being distracted, so we must seek the kingdom first.
Scripture Intro: NET
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 15. You may be wondering why we are going to chapter 15 since it appeared as though we covered everything in it last week. Indeed we did. In fact, if I were creating the chapters all over again I probably would have ended chapter 15 at verse 38 and began chapter 16 with these words.
39 – After sending away the crowd, He got into a boat and went to the region of Magadan.
[Slide 2] Magadan is never mentioned in any secular literature and is only mentioned once in the bible. Here. In Mark’s gospel, he mentions that they travel to Dal – man – ooo – tha (Dalmanutha), which is equally as obscure.
Magadan is probably an alternative name for Magdala. Magdalene is not Mary’s last name but instead where she is from. Magdala. But where is this on the map? It is uncertain. Archeologically since the sea of galilee is shrinking (notice the grey areas on this map) they have been able to unearth some ports that were once under water. It is supposed that at the time of Christ, the water level was also quite low and one of these ports was Magdala.
Matthew does not say “cross over the sea” which is curious since they are coming from Decapolis, a gentile area and back to Galilee. But like we talked about last week, this is probably Matthew just trying to make sure people don’t focus on the gentile part of that particular episode.
[Slide 3] This sets us for today a passage of scripture that can be somewhat perplexing. This week I wrestled long with this passage. I still do not feel as confident as I normally do in its application. I believe the application is supported elsewhere in scripture, so I did not come to an unbiblical application for this text, but perhaps one that is not what Matthew intended.
I am telling you this primarily for you to understand that I do not have all the answers, as much as I’d like to pretend that I do J
Still, I believe the Lord has drawn me here to this specific application today because I need it. And maybe you do too.
I’m in Matthew chapter 16 and I’ll start reading in verse 1. I am reading from the NET but follow along in whatever version you prefer.
Today we are going to see two groups of people who missed some signs. One group missed the signs on purpose, the other group just got distracted. Both sets of signs were pointing to the Kingdom of God. And missing these signs is actually a symptom of a greater problem they each had. That something was wrong with their heart. One could be fixed, and indeed we will see it fixed. But the other is broken. Let’s look at these signs and symptoms together. First is that missing signs is a symptom of rebellion.
I.) Missing signs of the kingdom is a symptom of rebellion, so we must seek His Kingdom first.(1-4)
a. [Slide 4] 1 – Now when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
i. The key to understanding exactly what is going on here is the word test.
ii. They aren’t seeking a sign folks. No sign would convince them.
iii. All they wanted was to push Jesus to make a decision. If he performs some miracle, they can blame it on Him using the power of Satan. If He doesn’t perform some miracles, well then He is obviously unable to do so.
iv. A great plan that is about to blow up in their faces.
b. [Slide 5] 2-3 – He said, “When evening comes you say, “it will be fair weather because the sky is red,” and in the morning, “It will be stormy today because the sky is red and darkening,” You know how to judge, correctly the appearance of the sky
i. What is Jesus saying here?
ii. They are adept at looking at the sky and figuring out weather patterns. They understand what is about to happen based on having seen it before.
iii. Seeing a red sky in the evening means that it will be a clear night. But seeing a red and darkening sky in the morning indicates that there will be storms.
iv. They are able to see the providence of God in the weather…
c. [Slide 6] but you cannot evaluate the signs of the times.
i. But they are unable to see the providence of God in weaving together prophesy.
ii. They are unable to see the signs that point to Jesus being the Messiah.
iii. Everywhere He goes He produces signs that this is the messianic age. That the Kingdom of God is at hand. That God is beginning the process to come and take back what is rightfully His.
iv. But they are unable or unwilling to let themselves connect the dots.
d. [Slide 7] 4 – A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign
i. Here Jesus cuts right to the heart of the matter.
ii. Only a rebellious and unfaithful people would need a sign to confirm what has already been abundantly proven.
iii. A people who were faithful and righteous would listen to their prophets, would depend on their God, and would submit to instruction. They would need no sign to believe God. Why?
iv. Because it is easy to believe a miracle. But much more difficult to trust that God is Sovereign and take Him at His word.
v. And those who are rebels at heart always will say that they need confirmation before they will believe.
vi. So Jesus traps them right back – either you are a wicked and adulterous generation asking for a sign or you are not asking for a sign and I have caught you trying to work against the Messiah of God. So which would you like? Are you rebellious or rebellious?
e. But no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away.
i. Jesus is saying – if you don’t believe I am who I say I am, based on what you have already seen and been given, then you’ll not believe even if a miraculous sign is given to you. And yet, a sign will be given to all…
ii. The sign of Jonah – which Jesus explained a bit more clearly in chapter 12 –
iii. What happened to Jonah is far more providence than miracle. God created that fish specifically to swallow up Jonah and guided that fish to be at the right place at the right time.
iv. And just as Jonah was as good as dead in the belly of that fish for 3 days and 3 nights – so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth, actually dead for 3 days and 3 nights. But the real sign between the two is God’s salvation. For Jonah, providential preservation, for Jesus, miraculous resurrection.
f. [Slide 8 (blank)] The Pharisees and Sadducees had missed the signs. But why?
g. All they needed was the law and the prophets. All they needed was what God had already given them. All they had to do is look at what Jesus had already done. And if these two groups could stop clinging to their “old way”, their assumptions about what the kingdom would look like, what the Messiah would look like, and what they were to preoccupy themselves with while they waited for it, then they might be able to discern the signs of its coming being displayed right before their eyes.
h. That their Messiah had come. That He did not come to bring peace between Israel and the world but to bring peace between God and man. He did not come to keep the law but to fulfill it. He did not come reinforcing the rituals but brining their meanings to life.
i. But they did not wish to entertain the possibility that such things were true. So, because of the hardness of their hearts, they are now actively fighting against God’s Messiah.
So the first group missed the signs of the kingdom because they didn’t want to see them. The next group wanted to see them, and were seeing them, but were so easily distracted. So they missed them too. Which Christ reveals as a symptom of deficient faith.
II.) Missing signs of the kingdom is a symptom of deficient faith, so we must seek His Kingdom first. (5-12)
a. [Slide 9] 5 – When the disciples went to the other side, they forgot to take bread.
i. Other side means the Gaulanitis side. In Mark we see they go first to Bethsaida, so that is probably where they are headed.
ii. At first this detail about the disciples forgetting to take bread seems a little out of left field. Matthew includes it to help his readers understand exactly why the disciples thought what they did after Jesus said…
b. [Slide 10] 6 – “Watch out,” Jesus said to them, “beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
i. Can you imagine being the disciples here?
ii. You are quite distraught, knowing that you forgot provisions for your little group.
iii. There Jesus is, as He typically is, standing at the end of the boat staring out onto the open water.
iv. He says – Watch out!
v. Immediately you look to the sea, expecting something that you must steer clear of.
vi. Then He continues. Beware the yeast of the Pharisees?
vii. I mean… what?
c. [Slide 11] 7 – So they began to discuss this among themselves, saying , “It is because we brought no bread.”
i. It is tough to know how disappointed to be in the disciples here.
ii. On the one hand, Jesus’ remark seems incredibly cryptic and somewhat random. But that is par for the course at this point. Jesus is always speaking in parables and riddles.
iii. On the other hand, the concept of leaven being a metaphor for wickedness or evil is not an unfamiliar teaching. It even goes back to Passover.
iv. So while we may not have done much better – it is still sad and shocking even to see the disciples whiff this badly.
v. What has been consistent is the disciples’ overwhelming and unyielding attention on the physical world around them, to the exclusion of the spiritual. Time and time again the disciples cannot shake off the constructs of the physical. Even in this section of narrative we’ve seen them fail twice at feeding people, and Peter sink even after walking on the water.
vi. So in what is a predictable sign of deficient faith – the disciples think Jesus is talking about the bread they forgot.
d. [Slide 12] 8 – When Jesus learned of this, he said, “you who have such little faith! Why are you arguing among yourselves about having no bread?
i. Jesus’ initial words reveal a few things.
ii. He reveals that the disciples were actually bickering back and forth – no doubt playing the blame game to assign whose fault it was that they did not bring bread with them.
iii. We also know that Jesus has determined that once again, their faith is deficient. It is insufficient. It is lacking.
iv. But why specifically this time?
e. [Slide 13] 9-10 – Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand and how many baskets you took up?
i. So Jesus reveals another layer of their bickering.
ii. Not only were they probably fighting about who forgot the bread, but they were even fearful that they now would not have enough to eat.
iii. That they would have to buy bread when they got to Bethsaida.
iv. Jesus recalls them to a time not long ago when at the will of the Father – bread in abundance was found. Is it so impossible to think it could not happen again?
v. And like before when they were in the boat and Jesus was sleeping, if they had only truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, they would have known that with Him, they could face no danger that God did not ordain.
vi. And with Him, they would not starve unless God wanted them to.
vii. Jesus commands their attention to the fact that the physical world and all its rules do not apply to the one who created them. What truly do they have to fear with the King of glory in their midst?
f. [Slide 14] 11 - How could you not understand that I was not speaking to you about bread?
i. Jesus is bewildered.
ii. While we ought never to be shocked at humanity’s capacity for unbelief – it seems that Jesus is always shocked, always amazed by how quickly we can move from some amazing provision to fear and doubt.
iii. Guys I wasn’t talking about bread… at all. When I talk about bread… it is like – literally – almost never just about bread.
g. But beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!”
i. So right back to it, Jesus restates his original message.
ii. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.
h. [Slide 15] 12 – Then they understood that he had not told them to be on guard against the yeast in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
i. Finally it clicks.
ii. The yeast is the corrupting doctrine and influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
iii. But what exactly is that doctrine and influence?
iv. This is quite a difficult discussion. Because for the most part the Pharisees and Sadducees did not agree on much. The authority level given to scriptures and writings, the certainty of a resurrection of the dead, the certainty of an afterlife, the coming of a Messiah, the application of scripture, whether angels and demons exist, even how closely to associate with gentiles is all disputed between them. So what exactly is the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees?
v. We could suppose that Jesus is saying to beware of the teachings of both parties separately, but grammatically it seems that Jesus is uniting the two into one. So what thread unites the two parties together?
vi. While it could be any number of things, and many commentators give various opinions on what they think it is, I’d like to again go back to the purpose of Matthew in this narrative section.
vii. He is communicating truth to us about Jesus through the eyes of those who have been given understanding and those who have not. And in this text one group does not understand, and the other takes a while but does eventually understand. And what do they see or fail to see?
1. [Slide 16] Well the Pharisees and Sadducees failed to notice the signs of the times.
a. They failed to see that Jesus was fulfilling prophesies about the time of the Messiah. That He brings with Him a kingdom that they did not expect.
b. Not an earthly kingdom, at least not at first, but a spiritual kingdom. A kingdom that would leave the political climate of Rome alone, while simultaneously installing a spiritual and eternal kingdom among His people freeing them from sin.
c. And if Jesus’ claims were accurate, both sects of Judaism come crashing down.
d. The Sadducees would be forced to admit that there is an afterlife, the spiritual, and the eternal, and the Pharisees are forced to see that God has bigger plans than just Israel and the law, and that maybe, their hearts are not quite as pure as they think. That this cleansing was also for them and not just the sinner on the street.
e. Because of this, realizing that the status quo is better than the changes Jesus is bringing, they call a cease-fire between them, and plot to discredit Jesus. They invent a test to slander his reputation.
f. In so doing they prove to work against God and His Messiah.
2. [Slide 17] In a similar way, the disciples failed to see the implications of the feedings of the 5,000 and 4,000 and instead preoccupied themselves with temporal, and call it, normal life.
a. They failed to see Jesus’ spiritual application because they were stuck in the mundane
b. But if they had only understood the signs they had already seen, the mundane would have not been such a worry.
c. Jesus’ instruction proves to be affective in that they realize and come to understand what Jesus meant.
d. Jesus invades their small view of the world with the Kingdom of heaven and all it’s great spiritual implications.
3. Jesus’ point, his teaching, his application, is to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
viii. [Slide 18 (blank)] So what is that doctrine?
i. Both the Sadducees and the Pharisees saw Israel as the end all. They taught a doctrine of Israeli supremacy. They taught a doctrine that was Hebrew-centric. What I mean by this is that all the Sadducees had was THIS world at THIS time. All the Pharisees had was THIS nation and THIS law. Their Messiah was to come and make their nation the greatest nation. Their hope was in the outward keeping of God’s law. Indeed everything about this passage takes the Great big, vast and expansive spiritual plan of God to save all of mankind from the inside out and contrasts it with the petty little preoccupations of 3 groups of people. The Pharisees with being ritualistically clean and ready for God’s messiah to make Israel the superpower of the world again. The Sadducees with keeping power and influence they had accumulated under Rome. The disciples with where their own provision and safety.
[Slide 19 (end)] Which leads us quite naturally to our application today. Since Jesus already told us. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Beware hypocrisy of being in the world and of the world. What does that look like?
I cannot help but go back to chapter 6 of Matthew in the Sermon on the mount. Jesus talks about the Pharisees making sure they put on a good show, but being dead inside. That outward, physical, visible – this was all good. But inward they were far from God. A theme we just saw again a few weeks ago.
Later in chapter 6 Jesus talks about storing up treasures in heaven, how you can’t serve God and money, and then seeking God’s kingdom first before seeking physical needs.
All these themes tie together beautifully this concept that to deeply concern ourselves with the things of this world, all that is temporary, all that is perishing, all that is combustible – is madness. It is yeast in our bread. Its effect on us is a devastating poison.
And the reason it is so devastating is because this worldview, this philosophy, this construct rebels against everything God is doing in this world.
Take the Pharisees for instance. They are obsessed with being as visibly pure as they can. They want to appear to take seriously the ritualistic and even moral laws of God. So much so that they had even added over 600 laws, just to make themselves feel like they were not getting close to violating His law. Upon this concept rests comfortably their erroneous expectation that the Messiah would bring peace. Peace in the form of Israel becoming the seat of life on earth. An empire that rules the world in righteousness. Orthodox Jews today, STILL, do not believe Jesus was the messiah primarily because He did not bring peace. And although they have a concept of an afterlife, it is primarily a place of reward and punishment.
Meanwhile God’s actual plan was to restore what had been broken. To mend the whole world. To reclaim what was His. To invade and take back what He had to release out of mercy toward us. The afterlife isn’t so much about reward and punishment as it is purification and restoration. The New Earth is wonderful because it is life as God intended it to be. The Lake of Fire is terrible because it is life without communion with God.
But we struggle with a similar war in our hearts. We often get distracted by nationalism, causes and movements. We become little evangelists for or against something.
But I think most of all, and perhaps worst of all, we are constantly preoccupied with the mundane. And there is so much of the hum drum in this nation. More than any other culture we have surrounded ourselves with the most boring distractions. We are addicted to everything. We are chasing after this and that. Material and immaterial. Future and past. We act as if we hadn’t found a treasure in a field. We act as if we hadn’t found a pearl of great value. We are more concerned at times with growing our vegetable garden than our spiritual growth. We obsess over keeping our houses clean while our thoughts are a mess. We pull all-nighters to hit that benchmark at work, but we don’t have time to pray with our children and read them God’s Word. We pursue that house, that phone, that game, that song, that car, that job, that school, that feeling – with all we have, with all we are… but wait, isn’t that effort reserved for something else?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. When last I checked it isn’t Love the Lord Your Job with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The influence, the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees is simply this… The world will go on as it always has and if God ever acts it is only to make your life better. So focus on your life and make it the best you can. Whether that is because there are no rules or many rules. Whether there is reward at the end or not. Make the most out of now.
You could almost put that on a Hallmark Card.
But what should we do instead? Instead of succumbing to the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees, what should we do?
Seek God’s Kingdom and God’s Righteousness, FIRST. Let me translate that so we can understand. Make it your primary mission to let God use you as His agent in transforming the world into what He wants it to be starting with letting Him transform you.
Seeking God’s Kingdom first is being discipled to make disciples.
If we are doing this our prayer will be that the Lord’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. And instead of being preoccupied with the mundane, we will be obsessed with the majesty, and power, and glory, and dominion, and righteousness, and peace that only God and His Kingdom can bring.
Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. How do I know that I have been overcome you may ask.
Do you feel at home here? On earth. At this time. Do you feel comfortable? Is the world right? Could you live here forever? If your answer is yes to any of these –you may be caught up in their leaven. We are in this world because it is our mission, but we are foreigners, peculiar, and we do not belong here.
So what if we’ve been sucked in? If you’ve been shown today that God’s kingdom is not your one pursuit, and that you’ve been distracted, preoccupied by the mundane. Then repent of this. Confess it to God. Call it what it is… sin. Then cry out in dependence and surrender to Christ to help you to see God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness as the only thing worth pursuing.
I wish I could help you more with this, but to be honest God raked me over the coals with this one this week. I’m still working on not being distracted. The only solace is that our answer is always Christ. If we run to Him together, He can change our perception and help us put proper priority on furthering His Kingdom.