Reading Time: 8 Minutes
If you’ve been reading Matthew 12, you will have noticed some astounding claims that Jesus made for himself. He claimed to be:
— Greater than the Temple (verse 6)
— Lord of the Sabbath (verse 8)
— Someone who acts by the power of the Spirit (verse 28)
— Someone whose activity is an expression of the effective reach of God’s power (verse 28).
These statements remind us of C. S. Lewis’ famous quote about Jesus. I paraphrase, “A person who makes these claims is either the devil of hell, because he commands people to believe what is a lie. Or, he is a lunatic whose mind is on par with a poached egg. Or, he is exactly who he claims to be.”
The men whose job it was to protect the people from false teachers, believed that Jesus was empowered by Satan himself (Matthew 12.24). For this reason they asked him to show them a sign to back up his claims.
They said, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you” (Matthew 12.38).
Jesus responded to their question and said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12.39).
How many signs did these people need? A leper was cleansed and a little girl was raised from the dead. A deaf and mute man could both hear and speak, and a man with a withered hand had been healed right before their eyes. Now, they wanted an authenticating sign!
Jesus echoed the words of the Old Testament prophets, when he called the people an “adulterous generation.” The claim of the prophets was that God’s people had deserted him and served idols instead of the true and living God.
An idol is anything that acts as a substitute for God. The idols of being in authority, having power, possessing wealth and status kept the religious leaders from being able to appreciate the signs that Jesus had already provided them.
The corona virus has revealed one of my idols to me. When the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup last year, I wept in joy. I remember players raising the cup in the air and kissing it as a precious treasure. I also wept with joy when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.
As of today, 700,000 people have died from the corona virus. I have wept only a few tears over the devastation of this pandemic. I have repeatedly told God that I hope I never again place a sporting event over people for whom his Son died.
Idols cloud our vision of God’s activity and they keep us from understanding his plans and purposes. As a result, Jesus told the people that the only sign they would experience would be the sign of Jonah.
He said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12.40-41).
The people of Nineveh were notorious for this sin and godlessness. Yet, they repented because of the preaching of Jonah, who was rescued from death in the belly of the great fish. “This generation” of people, who were so captured by the idols of power, prestige, and correct views, would receive no sign except a crucified, buried, and resurrected Savior.
Jesus added to his qualifications, when he spoke about the Queen of Sheba. He said, “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12.42).
Jesus added to his “greater than” message by saying he was greater than the prophet, Jonah, and the wisest man in history, Solomon. Once again, Jesus is either the greatest liar of all time, a crazy man, or exactly who he claimed to be.
The Danger of a Clean House
Jesus continued to speak about the generation of people who were blinded by their idols of power, money, status, being right and the like. He told an intriguing parable about demons.
He said, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation” (Matthew 12.43-45).
Imagine the scene. There is a crowd of people watching the back-and-forth argument between Jesus and the religious leaders. Some are clearly on the side of the Pharisees and Scribes and they want to be rid of Jesus. Others are on the side of Jesus and they are silently praying for God to empower Jesus in his argument.
The people in the crowd who have not yet taken sides are Jesus’ target audience for this parable. They have received a glimpse of the freedom that Jesus and his message of the kingdom offers, but they are in danger of being swayed by the authorities of their day. If they turn away from Jesus, they will be bound even more to the idolatry of their generation.
A Warning for Today
C. S. Lewis wrote his famous quote during a time when people didn’t want to completely dismiss Jesus, but they also didn’t want to follow him either. They were willing to say that Jesus was a great man, but not the Lord who demanded their complete allegiance. Lewis pointed out the folly of their logic and said that Jesus demanded a choice.
Jesus makes striking claims about who he is. We can’t be neutral or apathetic to his claims. We can’t say that we believe in Jesus and follow our idols at the same time. As the old preacher said, “Either he is Lord of all, or not Lord at all.”
I just bought a new cell phone. I took a couple of hours to read reviews on the Internet before I made my purchase. I encourage you to examine the life of Jesus with as much care as I did in the purchase of a phone. If he is who he says he is, he is worthy of being the Lord of your life.
If you are undecided about Jesus and you waver between serving your idols and Jesus, take another look at Jesus parable about the demons. If you return to your idols, they will take way more of your freedom and joy, and not less.
Finally, please spend some time examining the idols in your life. Remember, idols are any substitute for God. What do you depend upon more than God? What brings you more joy that God? What gets more of your attention than God? You answers will reveal to you the place of idols in your life.
Dear Jesus, our prayer is that we will be completely loyal to you. Please show us the blind spots in our lives, where we serve substitutes for you. Please help us to follow you in a greater way today.