Looking for Signs or for the Sign?

Matthew 16:1-4 reads

“1 And the Pharisees, together with the Sadducees, came, and tempting desired that he would show them a sign from heaven. 2 But he answering said to them, About the commencement of the evening you say, It will be fine weather; for the sky is red. 3 And in the morning, There will be a storm to-day; for the sky is red and lowring. Hypocrites, you can judge aright of the face of the sky; but can you not judge of the signs of the times? 4 A wicked and adulterous nation demands a sign, and no sign shall be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah. And he left them, and departed.” Thus is the reading of God’s Word.

Here in this account, once again, Matthew injects a note of hostility and confrontation in his gospel account. The more Jesus’ fame grows, and the more the crowds gather to him and experience his healing touch and his compassionate provision, the more the opposition grows. We know that Jesus Christ is the anointed one, the true, legitimate King of God’s own choosing. But there is another kingdom in the world, one which is in opposition to the kingdom of God. The sad thing is that it is often dressed up in religion, or often times today in the Church.

Verse 1 says, “And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him,” How did they test him? The passage goes on to tell us “they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.”

Mark’s account of this story brings to light an additional feature or point that must be brought to our attention. In Mark 8:11, he records that the Pharisees and Sadducees “began to dispute,” from which we may conclude that they, the Pharisees and Sadducees had tired in argument against Jesus and this here was their last resource in their conversation. They as finite men, trying to avoid being compelled to the truth of the Gospel are accustomed to introduced something which is foreign to the subject at hand in their “dispute” they were having with Christ. While the nature of the debate or dispute is not made mention of in Mark’s account, I can only imagine that it is something similar to that debating the calling of Christ, who He was, and what He was doing claiming the Kingdom of God is at hand. Matthew and Mark both write that “The Pharisees, together with the Sadducees.” This deserves our attention, though the Sadducees and the Pharisees looked upon each other as enemies, they came together as a team in this particular dispute against Jesus Christ. It was their desire here to silence Jesus that had caused the two opposing religious parties to unite in one common effort. The Pharisees were the traditionalists of their day, while the Sadducees were quite liberal. Yet they seemed to have united to issue a challenge to Jesus saying in verse one “Show us a sign from heaven and we will believe You are the Christ.” How is it that these men came to Christ? Matthew records by their “tempting” or some translations write by their “testing.” Here Matthew means that is was not with honest intentions, nor was is a form of instruction. The Pharisees and Sadducees came by cunning and deceit, that they demanded what they thought that Christ would refuse, or at least what they had imagined was not in His power to do. John Calvin comments on this saying,

“Regarding him (Christ) as utterly mean and despicable, they had no other design than to expose his weakness, and to destroy all the applause which he had hitherto obtained among the people. In this manner unbelievers are said to tempt God, when they murmur at being denied what their fancy prompted them to ask, and charge God with want of power.”1

Did not the Pharisees and Sadducees have plenty of signs thus far? Why would they ask for another? Had not Christ healed the sick, cared for the sorrowful already in Matthews account? Every miracle Christ had completed was a sign, for no man could do what he had done thus far in the Scriptures unless God were with Him. However, this did not serve the Pharisees and Sadducees, they must have a sign of their own. They despised the signs that they had both seen and heard of before them in Christ’s ministry. As one Puritan (Matthew Henry) said,

“It is fit that the proofs of divine revelation should be chosen by the wisdom of God, not by the follies and fancies of men.”

And so one could easily ask themselves today, how often do you test or tempt God, asking Him that He may show himself according to your plans and for your sign. Do you not in our own hardships come to prayer, but often test God in doing so? Do you not often in need come to Him demanding that He answer you on your terms? Do you not in your own need come to Him with deceitful hearts seeking after your own desires and signs? Do you not in your own need come to Him seeking evidence that He is a part of what is going on in your life? How true at times believers of Christ often are like the Pharisees and Sadducees seeking after a sign for our own desires and not that of God’s. Believers like the Pharisees and Sadducees often find ourselves seeking after the signs of this kingdom, and not the Sign of the Kingdom.

Is it not interesting to see that the Pharisees and Sadducees sought after a sign and not the Sign. The same is true of us, often at times we tend to look for a sign within situations and forget to look towards the Sign of the situation. If you are seeking after help in a situation, a need in trouble, or a want within your family, God has given no greater sign than His Son for you to look upon. There is no reason for you to continue to seek after signs, wonders, wants, or desires of your own. Oh, but to be satisfied in God’s Great Sign, Jesus Christ, and in Christ alone no matter what the situation is that one may endure.

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