Title: Don’t Miss the Signs
Text: Matthew 12:38-45
FCF: We often struggle understanding what it means to be converted.
Prop: Because Christ is the best sign we could ask for, we must believe and follow Him.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 12. By way of quick review, let me remind you that Matthew has structured his book around 5-7 discourses, or speeches of Christ that are preceded by 5-7 narrative sections that weave into these discourses. We are building to another discourse shortly in chapter 13, which will be our 3rd discourse.
Also let me remind you that Matthew does not structure his book chronologically but thematically. And his primary goal, is to show to the Jewish believer and non-believer alike, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and their King. His book is called a gospel, and it seems like all we talk about is the gospel, but I guess I never put two and two together that we might talk about the gospel a lot if we study a gospel. And believe it or not – today – we will talk about the gospel again. But maybe… just maybe… that is all God wants us to see for now… I’m in Matthew 12 and I’ll be starting in verse 38 reading from the NET. Follow along in what you have in front of you.
[Slide 2] On my first solo trip down to college I was passing through Tennessee. I came to an area where three cities sort of crop up together. And between them on the stretch of highway the speed limit changed several times in a short distance. As I was passing by Johnson City Tennessee, I saw the gut wrenching lights of a JCPD cruiser in my rear view. The officer approached my window and asked me if I had a particular reason for going so fast in a 55 zone. As nicely as I could I told him that the last sign I saw was for 70 and didn’t realize that it had lowered. He asked for my license, registration and proof of insurance which I gave him. He went back to his vehicle and about 9 years later he came back to my window. He handed me the information back and gave me my ticket. As he handed it to me he said – by the way, there are at least 3 signs informing drivers that the speed limit decreases through here. Try to pay better attention.
[Slide 3] On my way back from Christmas break, I decided to verify that this was true and sure enough… three signs with orange flags sticking out of both top corners of the signs, informed me that the speed was being reduced. I don’t know how, but I missed them.
To a people who were obsessed with signs, all that Jesus did should have been evidence enough that He was what the Jews had been looking for all along. But they missed the signs. And in reality – they refused to see them.
Today you will see the greatest sign that has ever been given. You will see a sign telling you to pay attention. Don’t miss it.
Look at verse 38 to see it.
I.) Jesus, His Words and Works, is the only sign we need, So we must believe and follow Jesus. (38-42)
a. [Slide 4] 38 – Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.
i. Chronologically, these events happen as they appear in Matthew. Meaning that even after Jesus tells them they cannot be forgiven, calls them snakes, and says they are evil because of their words, still some continue to ask for a sign. This is perplexing, but there may be some explanations.
1. This is a different group of scribes and Pharisees. It does say some scribes and Pharisees, so perhaps these are a group that had not heard what he said. Perhaps this is a group that did not say that Jesus’ work was by the power of Satan. – This probably is not the case though, since it says they were saying this in answer to what He had said.
2. They are just that blind – perhaps they are so blind to their condition, that they didn’t even realize that Jesus was talking about them. Perhaps they assumed that he was talking about the crowds. This is possible, but I think there is a better explanation.
3. Some of them are beginning to doubt their presupposition about Christ. So as a measure of compromise – they are asking Jesus to help them.
ii. But the help they want, is for Jesus to conclusively prove – without shadow of doubt, that He is the Messiah. That the miracles of healings and exorcisms were not enough to convince them of the truth.
iii. Therefore rather than responding to what is evident – they remain skeptical. They still do not believe. Nor do they want to. They are basically asking Jesus to force them to believe.
b. [Slide 5] 39 – But he answered them, An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
i. Once again we see that Jesus does not want people to believe facts about him only… if this were true, then he would have simply demonstrated whatever sign they dreamed up.
ii. No Jesus wants them to need Him, to depend on Him. To submit to Him.
iii. A heart that demands Jesus prove He is what he says based on their terms – is a heart that cannot yet believe.
iv. Thus the only sign Jesus has for them is the story of Jonah.
c. [Slide 6] 40 – For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
i. This is part 1 of the sign of Jonah.
ii. This is the part that the Jews would have been most familiar with – since they ignored the latter portions of the book of Jonah out of spite for the Ninevites.
iii. Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for 3 days and nights and similarly the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth 3 days and nights.
1. Now there is apparently some disagreement as to the precise amount of time that Jesus spent in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea – and we have stumbled upon the keystone verse for which many argue against a Friday Crucifixion.
2. We won’t spend a bunch of time of this because, it isn’t really what Jesus was getting at
3. After researching this - what I have come to believe, although not dogmatically, is that we have two Semitic idioms here.
a. Three days and three nights – which is not referring to a literal 72 hour period but instead to a period of time that will not exceed 72 hours, and has portions of three days. To a Semitic mind any portion of a day is considered full. So if Jesus was buried on Friday and raised on Sunday morning – it would be less than a 72 hour period and encompassing a portion of three days. Also,
b. In the heart of the earth – is another idiom, not necessarily to refer to in the grave, or buried – but instead to be in the realm of the dead.
c. So in seeing these two idioms we can make room for Jesus to have died on Friday and be raised again on Sunday morning.
d. But – if you hold to a view that he died on Wednesday or Thursday - I probably won’t fight too aggressively to defend my position J Why? Because you agree that he was dead and yet now lives - and friends that is really all that matters isn’t it?
d. [Slide 7] 41 – The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them – and now, something greater than Jonah is here!
i. Ok so this is part 2 of Jonah’s sign and it is a biggie.
ii. Bringing this up would have probably grated on their ears a little bit – but hey, Jesus has already talked about how Sodom and Gehmorrah would have repented when they didn’t… so they’ve seen worse I guess.
iii. To stand up in judgment, probably does not mean in an eschatological sense as if they were brought to the same judgment. Instead it probably means that they will stand up as witnesses to testify against this generation. Specifically to condemn it. Why?
iv. Jonah preached – perhaps the worst evangelistic message that has ever been preached - by our day’s standards – and they repented in sack cloth and ashes. To the point that the KING of Nineveh basically said – we are going to beg for mercy and if we get it – Great – if not – we’re gonna die but either way we are repenting.
v. And today – the Pharisees and Scribes are being shown God in Flesh. Jonah is nothing compared to that. And yet… they are skeptical.
vi. The sign of Jonah – the reason the Ninevites of Jonah’s day will stand and bear witness against them – is because the Pharisees and scribes had the attitude that was – well if it is definitely true and you can prove it without a shadow of a doubt – then we will believe it
vii. And the attitude of the Ninevites was - We Believe! We are wicked! Have MERCY ON US!
viii. Do you see the difference?
ix. It is Pride vs Humility
x. God puts down the proud and exalts the humble.
xi. NO sign will be given save for the sign you have already been given. Believe what you already have seen!
e. [Slide 8] 42 – The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon – and now, something greater than Solomon is here!
i. Friends to a Jewish mind – there is nothing greater than Solomon. That was the Golden Age of Israel. The closest they ever came to the promises of God that the King in the line of David would rule the world from the seat of Jerusalem forever.
ii. And the Queen of Sheba came to see all that God had done – and she marveled at it! And she did not credit Solomon for it - She gave the God of Israel glory for it.
iii. And she will also stand and bear witness as to the hard hearts of a generation that had the Son of God - Wisdom incarnate in front of them – yet they remained skeptical.
So the sign had been given – but what happens if we miss it?
II.) Failure to believe this sign will leave men worse than they started, So we must believe and follow Jesus. (43-45)
a. [Slide 9] 43 – When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but does not find it.
i. How in the world did we get here?
ii. This seems like Jesus just totally switched topics.
iii. For that we must look to Luke to see that, Chronologically, Jesus said this immediately after he told the Pharisees that they were unable to be forgiven if they knew it was by God’s power that He cast out demons but they said it was the power of Satan. Which makes this statement about demons not come out of left field.
iv. But the bigger question is – Why did Matthew put this statement here? Why did he shuffle it away from the event of Jesus casting out the demon, to put it after his discussion of words AND the sign of Jonah?
v. We’ll get to that but for now let’s analyze what is being said.
vi. So a demon is cast out – and it looks through waterless places for rest. So – the pigs ran into water, and they look for waterless places? Is this the origin of Holy Water to the Catholics?
vii. Truth is that no one really knows what the relationship to demons and water is.
viii. Jewish tradition and superstition seemed to think that demons had to inhabit barren places – barren being not blessed by God. Perhaps Jesus is simply playing into that thought – or maybe there is a relationship to demons and deserts. We just don’t know.
ix. In any case the demon finds no one to inhabit.
b. [Slide 10] 44 – Then it says “I will return to the home I left. When it returns, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order.
i. So the demon that has been ousted is back and he finds that the person he had inhabited before has returned to some state of normalcy.
ii. Is this moral goodness? Is this societal normalcy? It is really hard to know for sure.
iii. This is – if you haven’t guessed – a very vague passage of scripture that we aren’t really given a whole lot of insight into. Which there may be a reason for…
c. [Slide 11] 45 - Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first.
i. Alright – so this demon gathers 7 more demons and invades.
ii. Obviously the state of this person is worse than when he first started.
iii. Now this is where Luke stops. And I think it is because Luke takes Jesus’ words as an indictment against the disciples of the Pharisees who had actually witnessed this happen. Where they cast out a demon and lo and behold it actually makes the state of the person worse because many demons invade them next.
iv. So for Luke – Jesus is using this to back up his claim that the power of their disciples is under suspicion as well.
v. But for Matthew – who was with Jesus at the time this happened – he remembers through the Spirit’s revelation that Jesus said one more thing.
d. [Slide 12] It will be that way for this evil generation as well.
i. Did you catch what happened? Did you see it? Let me help those who didn’t.
ii. First, Matthew bookends these verses together. I must confess when I was deciding how much to preach on, I was tempted to preach on 43-45 next week. But Matthew started talking about this evil and adulterous generation and he bookends these last 3 verses with the same title. Clearly this is one thought.
iii. Which means that what is said here relates to what was said before. So what was said before?
iv. Jesus deserved a response of humility and submission from a generation that should have recognized Him for who He was – Their Messiah – Their King – Their God. Instead – he had at best – enduring skepticism and at worst – outright opposition and rebellion.
v. So although Jesus no doubt said this – when he did in Luke – he did not simply mean it to prove that the disciples of the Pharisees were just as guilty as Him if it was indeed by Satan’s power that He cast out demons. No.
vi. Jesus is using this whole thing as a true to life – VIVID illustration. Let me rephrase it all so you see it.
vii. Guys you want a sign but let me tell you something – if you don’t believe the signs that have already been given then you will never believe. The Ninevites didn’t get a sign – they only got the words of God and they repented! The Queen of Sheba didn’t get a sign, she only got to see the providence of God and she recognized it as such. She humbled herself to recognize a power above everything else. And listen guys – the greatest sign that has ever been given is standing right in front of you – but you have totally rejected it. What do you think is going to be the result of that ongoing rejection? I’ll tell you… you know how your disciples cast out demons but the demons keep coming back more powerful than before? Well listen guys… the Messiah has come and he has chased away the darkness for this brief window in history. He has removed the scales, peeled back the clouds and shown you that the Kingdom of God is here. But you don’t want it. Do you realize that in rejecting me, after having been revealed so much, will leave you worse than you were before I came? Do you realize that you are heaping coals of judgment on your head by what you are doing? Do you realize that you are damning yourself?
[Slide 13 (blank)] And friend listen to me.
At this church we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. We preach the wrath of the Father upon the wickedness of men, the hope of men in the words and work of the Son, and the usefulness of men in submitting to the Spirit to bring God glory.
In this room, week after week, we expose the terribleness of our depravity. We shine a brilliant light on the love of God who came to save us from what we had become, and we unearth the greatest of this redemption which is to finally allow God to get the glory He deserves from the lips of men.
It is every week. I don’t plan it to be. I don’t purposely set out to talk about the gospel. But every passage of scripture I look at goes to it . But friend that is what we need. Why because the gospel is God’s POWER unto SALVATION!
And that Salvation was offered to the Jews first – but they didn’t want it! And they were left in a miserable and pitiable state. Even today they are pagans and wicked – adulterous . Not all of course but most.
But by the grace of God He offered that Salvation to the Greeks, the Gentiles, The nations.
But listen to me!
The most dangerous place you can be on this earth is sitting where you are sitting.
Friend it is time to stop playing games with God. It is time to stop pretending to fit in.
Father please show them – REVEAL TO THEM THE TRUTH
Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Did you repent like the Ninevites when they saw the imminent hand of God’s Judgment? Did you humble yourself to recognize the awesome power and majesty of God as the Queen of Sheba did? They weren’t shown but a fraction of what you have seen only today. Have you done this? Do you continue to do this?
Today you have seen the Messiah of God – Second person of the Godhead – Master and ruler of all things. And He doesn’t ask you to swear allegiance because you are His already. He doesn’t ask you to accept Him as your Lord because He is your Lord already. He doesn’t ask you to believe some list of facts, perform some list of chores, or say some mystic spell.
He doesn’t ask you anything.
He commands you to repent and believe the gospel. Believe Him, depend on HIM. He is your King and Your Lord and He just so happens to be your only hope for peace with His Father.
Have you been pretending? Have you adopted a faith of your parents to fit in to their designs for your life? Have you adopted a list of values and a worldview that makes you morally indistinguishable from a genuine follower of Christ, yet your rules and values make Christ irrelevant and unnecessary? Are you a good girl? Never done anything wrong. A good boy who follows the rules.
The Pharisees were good people friends. They believed a lot of good things. They were morally pure. They were ceremonially pure. You would never catch them violating the law overtly. And the Pharisee of Pharisees, a man who stood above them all at keeping the law, said this in Philippians 3:2-11 [Slide 14-21]
[Slide 22 (blank) (end)] What is he saying? That all his accomplishments amounted to excrement. The only thing that mattered to Him now, the only thing on his mind was to be in Christ, to have His righteousness, to be like Him – to know Him in death and resurrection. Paul found that he needed Christ.
And friend the only thing that matters is your posture to Jesus Christ. Do you live in constant desperation for Him? Do you pant after Him as a deer pants for water?
Listen to me. Christ’s warning, is for you.
If you leave here, unchanged, unaffected, not needing Christ, not depending on Him and surrendering to Him. The window is closing. And if you do not respond now… you will leave worse than you came.
Father – I’ve done all I can. I leave it all to you. May your Spirit break the hearts of stone. Rend us apart and reveal whether years of claiming you are true. Please Father – move as you can. Draw those that are yours to you.
And thank you Father for your grace on those whom you have already drawn. May our hearts resonate with the Apostle when he desires nothing else than to know Christ in his death, sufferings and resurrection.