Categories
encouragement theology Uncategorized

What is God Doing Around Us?

Thoughts from Matthew 16…

We live in uncertain times. I am writing this from isolation as the virus pandemic is sweeping across the globe. We have many questions about what will happen — to our jobs, our health, or our loved ones? Will God take care of our needs during these times? Is it OK to question God?

It is easy to get so worried about our own lives that we miss what is happening around us. We can get so focused on our own world and our own needs that we miss what He is doing around us.

Jesus gave that same answer to both His enemies and His followers when He was confronted in Matthew 16. He had crossed the Sea of Galilee only to be met by His enemies when they landed on shore. They demanded a final proof. They wanted to be wowed before they would believe. 

But instead, Jesus showed them their blindness. They looked to the sky for the weather but they were blind to what God was doing in the world. The Kingdom of Heaven had come to them and they were missing it! 

And yet His own followers were worried about their bread supply. They had forgotten how Jesus had — twice — fed massive crowds with lots of leftovers. He will take care of the physical needs — they need to be concerned with the truth of His good news!

Matthew 16:1-12
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him 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 seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet 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 is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Earlier Challenge

Matthew 12:38-42
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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. 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.

Luke 11:29-32
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 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.

During a busy day of His ministry, Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man and was then accused by the Pharisees of invoking Satan’s power. He refuted their charges, teaching that their rejection of the Holy Spirit would leave them eternally separated from God (see here).

Immediately after these events, the scribes and Pharisees came to Him asking for a sign. But Jesus had already performed several miracles, so what were they looking for? They were looking for a dramatic sign of the Messiah that will prove to them, once and for all, that He has come from God. Until He could come up with something that will absolutely convince them, they refused to believe. 

Jesus had accused them of speaking against the Holy Spirit and their answer was, “If you are really from God, then prove it!” These were the same Pharisees who, earlier that day, had claimed that He was empowered by the devil. They now quickly responded to His charges, demanding proof.

“To ask for a sign was evidence of unbelief: They wanted Him to prove that He was the Messiah. But for Jesus to have given them a sign would have been wrong. He would have catered to their unbelief and allowed them to set the standards for faith. No matter what miracle He performed, it would not have pleased them.” – Warren Wiersbe8

“God is not in the business of bending to those who want no relationship with him.” – John MacArthur15

But Jesus’ response shows that He was speaking, not only to the Pharisees, but to the entire crowd present. It wasn’t only the scribes and the Pharisees who were demanding proof from Him, they were simply speaking the words for the entire population. 

Jesus called them “An evil and adulterous generation” for demanding a sign.a They had seen the miracles and the overwhelming proof of His claims. As Nicodemus had said, “no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). But these people would still not believe. 

This generation of Jews had seen all of the proof and still rejected Him. Therefore, the final proof for them would be His own death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus compared Himself to Jonah in the belly of the fish. Just like Jonah, He would be buried in the earth for three days, yet rise again. His own resurrection would be the final, irrefutable proof that He has come from God (Romans 1:4)!

Furthermore, He called two witnesses against this generation. This generation will be condemned at judgement because they were witnesses to the Kingdom of Heaven, yet they refused to believe.b 

After being vomited out of a great fish, Jonah went to the pagan, violent city of Nineveh, preaching that God would destroy them. To Jonah’s great surprise, they repented (Jonah 3). Jonah was a weak, selfish prophet, yet they still believed! But the Kingdom of Heaven is far more spectacular than anything Jonah could show!c d

King Solomon was known as the most splendid and wise ruler of the ancient world. The Queen of Sheba came with a large delegation to visit him, testing him and leaving him many great gifts (1 Kings 10:1-13; 2 Chronicles 9:1-12). She traveled a great distance, but Jesus lived among them! The Kingdom of Heaven is far wiser than all of Solomon’s wisdom! 

Later Challenge

Matthew 16:1-4
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him 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 seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

Mark 8:11-13
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

This next scene occurred several weeks later. Jesus had left Galilee shortly after the previous confrontation and headed north for the Gentile lands of Tyre and Sidon, where he healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter (see here). He then went south and east to the Decapolis, where He healed a blind man and fed four thousand (see here). He then crossed back over the Sea of Galilee to the obscure port of Magadan.

But it appears that his enemies were waiting for Him. As soon as he landed back in Jewish territory, the Pharisees and Sadducees confronted him. If He really was from God, then they demanded proof. And the only proof that they would accept was a sign from heaven.

Note that he was confronted by the Pharisees and the Sadducees this time. While the Pharisees populated the local synagogues, the Sadducees had their headquarters at the temple in distant Jerusalem. Therefore, the presence of the Sadducees with the Pharisees showed that they had brought their elite leaders to counter Jesus Christ. While the previous challenge may have been a spontaneous response, this challenge was undoubtedly a planned confrontation.

Why a sign from heaven? It was obvious to Jewish leaders that the devil and his followers could counterfeit miracles on earth. But according to their rabbis, only the Messiah could alter the heavens. Therefore, based on their tradition, they demanded a heavenly sign from Jesus. This was the only proof that they would accept.

“A superstitious belief existed among the Hebrews that demons could perform works on earth, but only God could execute a sign from heaven.” – Toussaint1

They had directed the subject to the sky by requesting a sign from the heavens, but Jesus also directed them to the sky in his response. They knew how to look to the sky to predict the weather, but they had no clue about what God was doing. They knew how to anticipate a storm but were oblivious to the kingdom of God.e

And He repeated his same response to the earlier challenge. They were an evil and adulterous generation for demanding proof – not because of genuine questions, but because of refusing to see what was already there and being entrenched in their unbelief. The only sign that would be available to them was the sign of Jonah: just like Jonah, Jesus would be buried in the earth for three days and then rise again. 

After responding to the challenge, Jesus simply got back into the boat and left again. There was no hope for going back to Jewish territory without facing constant opposition from the religious leaders.

“How strange! Men could discern by the appearance of the sky whether the day would be fair or stormy. And yet, when all the signs of the gathering storm, that would destroy their city and people, were clearly visible, they, the leaders of the people, failed to perceive them!” – Alfred Edersheim10

“The Pharisees and Sadducees did not lack evidence; they lacked honesty and humility.” – Warren Wiersbe6

Beware Their Teaching!

Matthew 16:5-12
When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet 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 is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Mark 8:14-20
Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”

Once they got to the other side of the lake, Jesus warned his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.f g They didn’t understand him and interpreted his warning to be related to their supply of bread. They had forgotten to bring food with them and would need to purchase bread in the new location. Perhaps Jesus was warning them to not buy bread from the Pharisees? Perhaps there was a deeper statement related to the way the Pharisees made their bread, that they should be aware of in the future?

Note that Jesus rebuked both their lack of faith in Him and their failure to understand Him. Our trust and understanding of Him are tied together. It is a lack of faith that caused them to be too preoccupied with the physical to be able to notice the spiritual truth (see also Matthew 6:34).

But Jesus quickly corrected their misunderstanding. They had witnessed two completely miraculous feedings, first of the five thousand and then of the four thousand. On both occasions, the Lord had not only fed the crowds but left them with ample leftovers. They need not worry about their food supply.

But Jesus was warning them to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Just like the leaven that starts out small and insignificant, their teaching will permeate the entire population (see also the parable of the leaven here).

How would the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees be damaging? First of all, it affected the entire Jewish population toward Jesus Christ. This same crowd that was so enthralled with this teacher and miracle worker would soon be crying out for his death!

But there is a deeper danger to their teaching. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were bitter rivals who disagreed with and hated each other (see Acts 23:6-10), but they both had one belief in common: they both believed that you were saved by being good. It was your good works that saved you and made you right in God’s eyes. And sadly, this false teaching survives to our present day. There are many churches and religions around the world that preach the same message. You must be good. God only likes people who are nice. Clean yourself up before you can even think of coming to God. God helps those who help themselves.

But this is not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that the only true way to happiness is for those who realize they have no hope within themselves and come to God (see here). 

Jesus was telling His disciples not to focus on the physical battle. He would take care of their physical needs. But there is a real spiritual battle. This false teaching will follow them throughout his ministry and on to their future ministry afterward. Even today we still battle the same false teaching. 

Conclusion

What can we learn from these confrontations with Jesus Christ?

First, we need to understand the difference between questioning God and doubt. God has never rejected someone who comes to Him with genuine questions (John 6:37), yet we have no right to demand proof from Him. For those who are looking, the proof is already given: Jesus died, was buried and rose again!

Second, God will take care of your physical needs. He already knows your needs and has promised to care for you (see here). We are to focus on advancing His kingdom and let Him worry about the details.

Thirdly, don’t miss what God is doing. Take time to look around you — especially when times are difficult — to notice how God is working around you. He is changing the people around you and He is changing your own life!

And finally, beware of the false gospel. When you believe you need to be good to get to God, you are buying into the same lie that was taught by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. For those who don’t know Jesus Christ, repent and come to Him before it is too late (see here)! For those who do know Jesus Christ, make sure you are trusting in His goodness and not your own!

“All of us are blind. But we fall into two categories: the blind who will never see and the blind who will be made to see.” – John MacArthur14

Previous post: Caring for the Outsiders


References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 16:1-12, pages 197-200

[2] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 12:38-50, pages 165-167

[3] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 16, The Church and the Kingdom

[4] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 12, The King’s Authority Denied

[5] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 42, Responsibility According to Light, Luke 11:29-36

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 16:1-12, pages 46-47

[7] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 8:10-26, pages 111-112

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 12:38-50, pages 36-37

[9] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 11:23-32, page 174

[10] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book III, CHAPTER XXXVI: THE FEEDING OF THE FOUR THOUSAND, TO DALMANUTHA, ‘THE SIGN FROM HEAVEN’, JOURNEY TO CAESAREA PHILIPPI, WHAT IS THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES? (St. Matthew 15:32-vi. 12; St. Mark 8:1-21.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.viii.xxxvi.html

[11] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, CHAPTER XI: THE FIRST PERAEAN DISCOURSES, TO THE PHARISEES CONCERNING THE TWO KINGDOMS, THEIR CONTEST, WHAT QUALIFIES A DISCIPLE FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND HOW ISRAEL WAS BECOMING SUBJECT TO THAT OF EVIL (St. Matt. 12:22-45; St. Luke 11:14-36.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.ix.xi.html

[12] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 9, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/19-jesus-finds-solitude-with-his-apostles-far-north-in-galilee.html

[13] John MacArthur, Dealing with Spiritual Blindness, Part 1, Matthew 16:1-4, Sep 12, 1982

[14] John MacArthur, Dealing with Spiritual Blindness, Part 2, Matthew 16:5-12, Sep 19, 1982

[15] John MacArthur, Judgment on the Rejectors of Christ, Matthew 12:38-42, Dec 6, 1981


Notes

[a] Jesus called them an “evil and adulterous generation” for asking for a sign (Matthew 12:39). They were adulterous because they had rejected the clear message of God and clung stubbornly to their own false beliefs. God used adultery as the example of when His people rejected Him to follow worthless idols (see Hosea and the post here).

The generation were the people of Jesus’ place and time. They were the first-century Jews who had rejected Him, including both the religious leaders and the people. They had all rejected Him (see here). 

[b] Jesus uses the term “something greater than” twice in Matthew 12:38-42. Most Bible teachers believe that He was either talking about Himself or His Kingdom. Both the Kingdom of God and Jesus Himself fit the context, and both are much greater than Jonah or Solomon. But since Jesus is saying something (not someone), it seems to be less likely that He is talking about His own person. Therefore, I have continued this study with the understanding that He is pointing out that the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than Jonah and is greater than even Solomon. This also fits Jesus’ response to the later challenge, in that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were able to interpret the weather but were completely blind to the Kingdom of God.

[c] “Jesus is greater than Jonah in many ways. He is greater in His person, for Jonah was a mere man. He was greater in His obedience, for Jonah disobeyed God and was chastened. Jesus actually died, while Jonah’s ‘grave’ was in the belly of the great fish. Jesus arose from the dead under His own power. Jonah ministered only to one city, while Jesus gave His life for the whole world. Certainly Jesus was greater in His love, for Jonah did not love the people of Nineveh—he wanted them to die. Jonah’s message saved Nineveh from judgment; he was a messenger of the wrath of God. Jesus’ message was that of grace and salvation.” – Warren Wiersbe8

[d] For those who would question the accuracy of the Old Testament book of Jonah, note that Jesus treated the account Jonah as a historical fact.

“Many men reject the story of Jonas, and some who even stand at the sacred desk in our churches would cast out this story as false; but our Lord Jesus, God manifested in the flesh, said that as Jonas was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Thus He has placed His seal of authority upon that little Old Testament book which has been rejected and ridiculed by agnostics throughout the centuries.” – H.A. Ironside5

[e] What were the signs of the times that they should have recognized?

Source: Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 16:1-12, pages 197-2001

[f] This scene takes place on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The next scene after this shows them in Caesarea Philippi, far to the north of Galilee (Matthew 16:13). Therefore, they must have crossed over from Magadan (near Capernaum) and landed on the northeastern shore of the lake.

[g] Mark’s account says the “leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod”, while Matthew’s account says “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees”. The Herodians were the political faction which encouraged the Roman way of life through Herod’s rule.7 They were religiously aligned with the Sadducees and politically aligned with Herod. Therefore, the Herodians and the Sadducees were often the same people.

[h] In Luke 12:1, Jesus told His disciples to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” The hypocritical lifestyles of the Pharisees can spread like leaven, corrupting the entire flock. Jesus continued in that passage to show the solution for this hypocrisy, which was in revealing the truth. See also the posts about hypocrisy here and about the commissioning of the disciples here. In contrast with the statement in Luke 12:1, Jesus used leaven to describe the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees when He warned His disciples as they crossed the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 16:12). Both their hypocrisy and their teaching could spread like leaven.

The leaven of the Sadducees was false doctrine.3 They denied miracles, life after death, and all scripture except for the five books of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy). But when it came to the teaching of the Sadducees, the one thing that they had in common with the Pharisees was that they both believed that you are saved through your good works.

One reply on “What is God Doing Around Us?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s