Show Us A Sign!

April 26, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 12:38-42

Show Us A Sign!

1. Several scribes of the law and Pharisees said to Jesus, "Teacher, show us a sign!" "A sign" means "proof." Proof that he is the messiah. They're saying something like, "If we see the evidence, we will believe you." However, Jesus gave them the following reply. "The people of the age that has turned its back on God with wickedness desires a sign, but no sign will be given to it besides the sign of the prophet Jonah." Today I read you that story.

2. "The people of the age that has turned its back on God with wickedness desires a sign," said Jesus. He does not say that "Desiring a sign is to turn against God with wickedness." He doesn't conclude, saying, desiring a sign in and of itself is evil. He says, "The people of the age who have turned their backs wickedly in rebellion against God often desire a sign." The act itself of seeking a sign is not really anything special for the Jews. We can even make the case that it is a Jewish tradition.

3. For example, when Moses was sent to the people, he performed marvelous deeds before them as proof that he was sent by God. He does, in fact, show them signs because the Lord told him to do them. And the text does say that upon seeing the signs the people did believe him. It is that way even in the narratives of Elijah that we read in the first reading for today (First Kings 17:17-24). The mother who had her dead son brought back to life by Elijah says, "Now I understand. You are truly a man of God. The word of the Lord that is in your mouth is the truth."

4. Signs accompany those sent by God. If God sent [somebody], God himself will prove [it]. That is the traditional Jewish way of thinking. Therefore, if we make the case the opposite way, no matter how skilful a person may be, even if the person begins speaking with "Thus says the Lord" with words that are so persuasive, even if the person said something that is very welcome in the name of the Lord, [the people] would not blindly believe [him or her]. They seek a sign. They confirm [whether] one is truly sent by God. I'm pretty sure that's the important part of this matter.

The People Seek A Sign Not To Believe

5. However, even though [they seem to be] "seeking a sign" the same [kind I mentioned above], in this case where "The people of the age that has turned its back on God with wickedness desires a sign" has a different subtlety in meaning about it. We understand that clearly when we read a little before the passage of scripture for today. Today's passage begins with the words, "Therefore." That means there was something before that, and then their wish, "Show us a sign!," comes in the text. What is it that is written before it? Jesus says something quite sharp with regard to the Pharisees. "Oh sons of vipers, how can you say something good though you are evil persons? Out of the mouth of a person comes that which fills [his or her] heart," (verse thirty-four).

6. That really is true. What is filling the heart comes out of the mouth. If we look at the story before it, we can see clearly that that is the truth. When we look at verse twenty-two, it looks like a person unable to see or speak and possessed by an evil spirit is brought to Jesus. Like always, Jesus feels compassion on him and heals him. A person who had suffered for a long time was healed and set free. How happy was he about that!? Indeed, not just him, but there were others who had cared for him in their hearts. There were people who had wanted him to be healed [and so] they brought him to Jesus. How happy were they [over his getting healed]!? That place where Jesus healed the sick man must have been covered over with joy. There were people there who saw in the joyous thing that happened the sign of the coming of the messiah. They said, "Isn't this man the son of David?"

7. Meanwhile, the religious leaders were also there. The Pharisees were there. If they had always desired the liberation of the persons who were demon-possessed, if they were wanting the healing of the persons who were suffering, if love and compassion were filling their hearts, then what filled their hearts would have come out of their mouths. Words of joy would have come out of their mouths in this scene. But, if they could care less about the suffering of the persons possessed by evil spirits, and they had no desire for the liberation and the healing of the people, and if only thoughts of self preservation and jealousy as well as animosity towards those more powerful than them filled their hearts, then, with their indifference towards the joy of the people, those kind of words would have to come out of their mouths. And it in fact did. They cold-heartedly say, "Unless it had come from the power of Beelzebub the head of the evil spirits, he would not have been able to drive out the demons," (verse twenty-four).

8. On the surface, the Pharisees are exemplary Jews. They truly look like piety itself. However, Jesus can see what fills their hearts. Therefore, he said to them, "Oh sons of vipers, how can you say something good though you are evil persons? Out of the mouth of a person comes that which fills [his or her] heart." These persons, to whom [Jesus] spoke the way he did that "You are evil persons," had a question for Jesus. "Teacher, please show us a sign!" Their implication seems clear. Are [we] seeking a sign in order to believe? No, that's not why. We require a sign in order not to believe. Rejecting the words of [our] opponent [we] require a sign in order not to admit we are evil people and in order to protect ourselves.

9. By way of example, consider this if you would. A certain persons sees you and says, "I'm a doctor. As far as I can tell from your appearance, you are quite seriously ill. The symptoms have actually come out plainly. I think you should receive an examination at a major hospital and get medical treatment right away." Your health is actually bad. Strange symptoms are surely appearing. I suppose then that after someone admits I'm sick he or she will go to a hospital immediately. But, what do you do when you don't want to admit, no matter what, that you are sick? Maybe you might say, "Please show me proof you're really a doctor since you're talking to me like that." I don't want to believe you're a doc. I don't want to believe it is a message from a doctor. So, driven by desperation, why not ask for a sign? The scene read today is the same as that.

10. Thus, "The people of the age that has turned its back on God with wickedness desires a sign." They ask for a sign because they have wickedly rebelled against God. Since they are wickedly rebelling, in order to reject their opponent who is making this obvious, they ask for a sign. Because they don't want to admit they're like that, they're asking for a sign. How would things have turned out had he shown them some kind of sign at that time? We can picture it broadly. No matter what sign he might have let them see, they would not believe. Even though people had been set free right in front of their eyes and they were shown things that happened like where the joy of the kingdom of God was filling the earth, they would have set forth plenty of reasons not to believe. They even make the claim that he "drove out [the demons] by the power of Beelzebub the head of the evil spirits." That's how it was, even though a number of marvelous things happened, the persons who requires a sign in order not to believe will absolutely never believe.

The Sign Of Jonah Is Given

11. The point has clearly been made, we will either admit [the way we are] or we won't. So, people are split into two kinds. Christ clearly shows what is inside us. He demonstrates the truth that what is on the inside will show itself to the outside. He shows that there surely is sin in us and that that sin will reveal itself externally. Through Christ it has been made clear that we must be forgiven by God, that we must have God cleanse us, that we must have God save us. [He has made clear] we will either admit our helplessness or we won't.

12. Admitting how we are when made plain and clear and bowing humbly before the Lord, do we ask him to "Please forgive my sin, please cleanse me, please heal me, please change me, please save me?" Or rather, not admitting how we are do we say, "Please show us a sign?" When we try our best not to admit how we are, even if we are shown some marvelous events, I'm afraid that it will have no significance to us. But when we ask the Lord for forgiveness and salvation, the special sign the Lord gives does have significance. Jesus called that sign "the sign of the prophet Jonah."

13. What kind of sign is that? Jesus said, "The people of the age that has turned its back on God with wickedness desires a sign, but no sign will be given to it besides the sign of the prophet Jonah. That is, just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights, the son of man will be in the earth three days and three nights also," (verses thirty-nine and forty). In saying that the son of man will be in the earth three days and three nights it is pointing to the fact that the Jesus, who was crucified to death, was buried and then rose again from the dead on the third day. (As it is the third day, strictly speaking, it is not "three days and three nights" but this is a Hebraic expression.) The sign belongs to the one sent from God. Therefore, one should seek for the sign. But, the Lord is saying that the decisive sign that belongs to the coming of the messiah is the cross and the resurrection. From the Lord's viewpoint, this indeed is a unique sign. As a matter of fact, the Lord performed all kinds of miracles, but with those miracles he did not intend to attach with them proof that he was the messiah. Instead, in most cases, he forbade the healed persons from speaking about it, "You mustn't tell anyone!" The reason is the cross and the resurrection are the VERY sign.

14. It is not some so-called objective "proof" so irresistible so that those refusing to believe inevitably will have to believe. If God wanted to, he could have had the risen Christ stay permanently in downtown Jerusalem, so that the disciples could show him to the people. But that's not what God did; because repentance is what humankind really needs. We ought to admit how we truly are in God's light. We ought to turn to God and ask for forgiveness. We ought to ask for salvation. That doesn't happen by objective "proof."

15. Like the Lord has made clear, when we admit that we are sinners and in need of salvation, the cross of the atonement for sin and the resurrection first presses upon our hearts as the sign of the messiah. And we bow down before this very one as the messiah who surely did come in order to save us from sin and death. And we become persons who live in obedience to the messiah who was crucified for our sins, rose again from the dead and lives for ever.