Theme: Knowing the Times
This week we see the dangers of legalism and modernism still among us.
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A Wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
It took a great deal of unbelief for the Pharisees and Sadducees to ask a sign from Jesus after he had already given so many. Matthew alone has told us about his healing the sick, casting out demons, calming storms on Galilee, feeding the hungry, even raising the dead. Most, if not all of these miracles must have been reported back to these leaders, which is why they had come to challenge Jesus. But it was not really signs they were after. They hated Jesus for who he was, and their demand was really only a open attempt to discredit him.
“Show us a sign!” “Show us a sign from heaven!”
At this same point in the next gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus “sighed deeply” (Mark. 8:12). So we may conclude that Jesus’ answer came from a heavy heart. He was distressed at the fierce unbelief and lack of spiritual understanding of those who should have been leading Israel to believe on him as their Messiah. “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times,” Jesus said. “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he “left them and went away” (vv. 2-4). Those last words are ominous with meaning.
We have already studied the sign of Jonah, since Jesus spoke of it in nearly the same words as early as chapter 12 (v. 39). What is new here is his reference to the leaders’ skill in predicting changes in the weather. We have almost the same saying, of course. People used to say,
Red sky at night: sailors’ delight.
Red sky in the morning: sailors take warning.
Yet we might be closer to Christ’s actual meaning if we compare his saying to our preoccupation with weather reports. Some people watch the evening news on television chiefly to see the weather predictions, which are really quite amazing. We have satellite pictures that display cloud cover and moisture density, computer-generated graphics of clouds, rain and snow patterns, live pictures of hurricanes, floods and blizzards, and day forecasts. All this can be seen on a global scale, too, if we want it.
But wouldn’t Jesus say to us, if he were here to speak to us freshly and directly, “You know how to forecast the weather, but you cannot interpret the times in which you live. For I came; I died for sin; I have been raised from the dead, and all that means nothing to you. You worry about whether it is going to rain tomorrow, but you don’t give a single serious thought to where you will spend eternity.”
What will get through to such a wicked and adulterous generation as our own? Nothing, of course—if we will not believe on the basis of the sign of the prophet Jonah, which is a reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
We can understand the failure of the Pharisees and Sadducees to perceive the signs of the times, of course. They were unable to understand because they would not understand. It is exactly why people are unable to believe on Jesus Christ today, not because they are unable to believe but because they do not want to believe. What really is incomprehensible is the dense minds of the disciples. To reapply the title of a movie of a few years back, the Pharisees may have been spiritually “dumb,” but the disciples were “dumber.” They were dumber because they had every reason and help for understanding.
Again, this is set in the context of the story. After leaving the unbelieving leaders of the nation, Jesus went back across the Sea of Galilee, taking his disciples with him. He had withdrawn from Galilee before when he had traveled north to the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21). Now he left again. As we will learn when we get to verse 13, he was headed for the region of Caesarea Philippi, which was about as far from Jerusalem as it was possible to get by going north. This was the last of Jesus’ withdrawals before his final return to Jerusalem, where he was crucified.
What was the real reason the Pharisees and Sadducees asked for a sign from Jesus?
How did Jesus respond? Where did he then go?
Why were the disciples dumber than the Pharisees?
With what are you more concerned: tomorrow’s weather or your place in eternity? How well do you demonstrate your priority?
Identify the sign of the prophet Jonah. See Matthew 12:39-41 and Luke 11:29-32.