Show Us a Sign

Reading Time: 8 Minutes

If you are reading along with these articles in the Gospel of Matthew, you will notice that I have skipped two sections of chapter 15. One of the sections was a summary of Jesus’ healing ministry. The other section was the feeding of 4000 Gentiles.

I have skipped these passages, because they repeat themes of Matthew that I have already covered. However, everyone who was healed, delivered, and fed by Jesus were profoundly happy that Jesus didn’t skip over them. We should take particular notice that Jesus did not leave out the Gentiles from his ministry. He provided a banquet of food for them just as he did for 5000 Jews.

What More Do You Need?

Chapter 16 begins with a demand from the religious authorities for Jesus to give them a sign. Matthew wrote:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.

He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away. (Matthew 16.1-4).

This is the second time that religious leaders asked Jesus for a sign. The first group of religious authorities lived in the region of Galilee (see Matthew 12.38-42). This group of religious leaders were from Jerusalem and wanted Jesus to provide a sign to authenticate his claim to have authority.

I am continually amazed at how often the enemies of Jesus were clergymen just like me. I need to ask myself if there are any ways that I am like them. I think all of us need to keep on asking how we are like the “bad guys” as we study the life of Jesus. Here are a couple of ways that we may be like the “bad guys.”

(1) Jesus threatened their way of life. The religious leaders were wealthy and powerful. They were afraid of what a Jesus inspired revolution would do to their way of life and their country.

John reported on the sentiment of the authorities this way: “So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation'” (John 11.47-48).

The authorities didn’t want to lose their status, power, or their role in government. How about us? Let’s examine our lives and ask a couple of questions:

— Do I only focus on the Bible passages that make me feel good and neglect those that challenge me to be different?

— Do I have any interests that go beyond my own comfort, safety, pleasure, and wealth? Or, am I primarily concerned with my own welfare and desires?

— Do I fill my mind with entertainment, so I don’t have to confront the realities of the world in which we live?

(2) The religious authorities questioned Jesus when they should simply followed him. The Canaanite woman, who we met in yesterday’s article (Matthew 15.21-28), had great faith. Jesus and the disciples didn’t encourage her faith, but she was desperate to get Jesus to help her daughter and her faith would not be denied.

By contrast, the religious authorities had a tremendous wealth of knowledge about God, but they didn’t expect any miracles from him. Even though they had reports of mass healing, they came with questions instead of faith.

Again, let’s ask ourselves some questions about our relationship with Jesus.

— When was the last time I went to church and expected God to do something miraculous?

— When I pray, do I come to Jesus with the expectation that he will respond to my requests and do things in my life that can only be described as “God things”?

— When I have “God talk” with other people, is it full of confidence in his work, or is it full of complaining about church events, people, or ways that I am not getting what I want?

Even Followers Can Be Blind

It wasn’t just the religious leaders who were unwilling to appreciate Jesus. Even Jesus’ closest followers didn’t understand what he was all about. Matthew was one of his followers and he remembered it happening like this.

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.”

And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!”

Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16.5-12).

Technical Note

The yeast that we use today comes in a foil packet or in a jar. The yeast that was used in the first century came from an old piece of bread dough that was on the verge of going bad. It put off a gas and was mixed in the new dough to cause the dough to rise and become lighter in texture.

Not Getting It Right

When Jesus told them to “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (verse 6), they thought he was talking about that there was no bread in the boat.

I remember a very painful time in my ministry, when I was wrong about what I thought Jesus was saying. I was a guest speaker in a church and gave a wrong interpretation of the Bible. The pastor had just weeks before preached on the same passage with a different interpretation than mine. At the end of the service, he publicly corrected my interpretation.

To a young preacher in his 20s, that was devastating. The truth is, I left him little option, but to give the correct interpretation. My 20-something pride didn’t let me acknowledge that fact like my 70 year old experience does today, but he was right.

How about you? I need some company. Have you ever said or done something only to receive a rebuke? Were you able to tone down your pride, accept correction, and make the necessary adjustments? If so, you are in good company. That is what the disciples did.

The “Old Dough”of the Pharisees

The Pharisees and Sadducees brought the “old dough” of a corrupt system to challenge Jesus. Jesus wanted his followers to not be corrupted by their influence. He told them to beware of their teaching (verse 12), even if it was familiar to how they had lived earlier in their lives.

All of us have “old dough” and old teaching that needs to be replaced. Repentance involves changing our minds about what we have tried in the past and being willing to follow Jesus in the present. Let’s ask ourselves some questions about the past.

— Am I willing to release old ways of thinking that have failed me in the past and adopt thinking like Jesus?

— Am I willing to spend time with Jesus, so I can learn to value the things that are important to him?

— Am I willing to respond to Jesus in faith and obedience, when he reveals aspects of my old life that are getting the way of following him?

Today’s Prayer

Dear Jesus, our desire today is to come to you in faith. Please help us see ourselves the way you see us. May we adjust our behavior to follow your directions for us.

2 Comments

  1. As we look at the Pharisees and Sadducees and how they relate to us today, I think about that yeast – and how a little yeast can change an entire bowl of flour, egg and milk or water. It doesn’t just change one section – it changes the entire bowl – the whole loaf. If it’s bad, the loaf is ruined. If it’s good, all can see value in the loaf.

    I believe Jesus was telling His followers (and us) that we are not to blindly follow religious “experts” but to instead, look for Jesus with eyes wide open. As believers, we are to establish our own relationships with God and rely only on Christ to bridge our path to Him.

    As you admitted about your own experiences, even our pastors sometimes get it wrong. We don’t see many pulpits these days, but just because something is said from a church stage, doesn’t mean it is right. We have an obligation to ourselves and others – even our leaders – to measure their words against what Jesus has said.

    Jesus wants us to protect our “loaf” from bad yeast. It only takes one misspoken word or misguided sentence in a 30 conversation to disrupt harmony and unity. Not all bad yeast is old yeast. And not all old yeast is bad! But all yeast must be proofed – and that is our obligation.

    As always, Pastor Bob, thank you for challenging us to follow the Bible path to a Jesus-kind-of-life. It truly is a clearly marked path if we take time to read the signs. Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

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