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Matthew 16:1-12

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Introduction

The Pharisees and Sadducees Demand Signs

16 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 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. 4 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.

The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees

5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 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.

If you’ll recall, Jesus and his disciples have just returned from a trip outside of the district of Galilee. At first they ventured to the district of Tyre and Sidon, and then headed south to the district of Decapolis on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was one of the only times during Jesus’ life and ministry that he traveled outside of Israel to Gentile lands.
We witnessed Jesus healing a Canaanite woman near Tyre and Sidon, saw him miraculously feed a Gentile crowd of more than 4,000 people in Decapolis. Jesus would ultimately become the bread of life, not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles.
Already the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign back in ,

Travels to Magadan

Then we read there in verse 39 of chapter 15 that,
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 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. 40 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. 41 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. 42 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. 1

39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Signs and wonders already done by Jesus
In Mark’s parallel account he calls this place the district of Dalmanutha, or Magdala. Magdala was located along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee like many of the cities Jesus spent his time in. In fact, it was probably only 3-4 mile south of Capernaum. The city would eventually be destroyed in AD 68 by the Romans, and would never again be reoccupied.
Magdala will be Jesus’ last time in Galilee teaching and ministering to the Galileans. This will also be his last confrontation with his Galilean opponents, before he heads north to Caesarea Philippi, outside of Israel, and ultimately travels south to the district of Judea near Jerusalem. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s remarkable how small the scope of Jesus’ ministry was while he was on earth. He never travelled outside of a 140 square mile territory, only a portion of the entire nation of Israel. Yet the kingdom of heaven, like a mustard seed, would grow to become what we see today throughout the whole world larger than any of its fellow garden plants.
It’s incredible that the Pharisees are yet again asking him for a sign. But even more incredible than asking this question before, they ask him as though they haven’t already witnessed incredible signs and wonders done by Jesus.

Pharisee and Sadducees

Unwilling to acknowledge the source of Jesus’ miracles
So we pickup there again, in verse 1 of chapter 16,
They’re unwilling to acknowledge the source of Jesus’ miracles. If you’ll recall they’ve already called him an instrument of the devil (back in chapter 12), doing these miracles by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

16 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.

Now, this isn’t altogether new, we’ve seen the religious leaders approach Jesus before with similar requests, back in chapter 12 some of the scribes and Pharisees from Galilee asked Jesus to show them a sign. However, this time we’re told that the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to test him. And what’s interesting about this encounter is that this is the first time Matthew tells us that the Sadducees have interacted with Jesus. The last time we saw them was with John the Baptist, south of the Sea of Galilee along the Jordan river back in chapter 3.
Signs and wonders authenticate Jesus as Messiah
Whereas the signs and wonders done by Jesus are intended, first and foremost, to identify him as their Messiah, to be a witness to who he is. Even Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees, a ruler in Israel, recognized this when he came to Jesus in secret and said,
The Pharisees were the conservative, fundamentalists of Jesus’ day, to the degree of legalism, whereas the Sadducees were the liberals of Jesus’ day. They only affirmed the first five books of the OT while the Pharisees embraced all of it (including the Prophets), so the Sadducees subtracted from God’s word while the Pharisee added to it (with their traditions). The Sadducees did not believe in miracles while the Pharisee did. The Pharisees believed in a future resurrection while the Sadducees did not.

Unholy alliance from Jerusalem

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” ()
These two groups typically opposed one another, yet served together on the Jewish council known as the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. So what’s interesting is that these two groups appear to have found common ground in their opposition to Jesus. While they typically would have been at odds with one another, this itinerant preacher named Jesus seems to have given them cause to form an unholy alliance.
The Sadducees were also known to be a smaller group, living largely in Jerusalem, which seems to indicate that this group of Pharisees and Sadducees had, again, come from Jerusalem as we saw back at the beginning of chapter 15. More and more, as time went on, was Jesus’ ministry beginning to have an impact beyond the district of Galilee, beyond the small towns of Capernaum and Bethsaida.
Yet so many of the religious leaders still refuse to follow him, bearing witness to the hardness of their hearts. There was no proof that Jesus could do to convince them, because it wasn’t convincing they needed. It wasn’t a lack of convincing proofs that prevented them from becoming his disciples. Instead, they had set themselves up in opposition to Jesus. He was an enemy who needed challenged, a foe to be destroyed. You might recall back in chapter 12 when they asked Jesus whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, and Jesus responds by healing a man with a withered hand. Then Matthew writes that “the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” ()

Came to test him

Jesus illustrated this same point in the Gospel of Luke () in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus,
And Matthew tells us that these religious leaders came to test him, to have Jesus show them a sign from heaven that would prove he was from God.
I remember as a teen reading texts like these wondering why this was such a big deal for them to ask this of Jesus, unable to understand why it was that Jesus took such offense at their request, but over the years many of the questions that I’ve had like that have been answered by the context, and so it is with this one. If you’ve been here since I started preaching through the Book of Matthew, over 3 years ago now, one thing that ought to stick out in your memory is that Jesus performed a lot of miracles, and not just small and obscure ones, but incredible miracles, and lots of them. Sometimes it seems like every other text includes an account of the miracles Jesus performed. Jesus has healed the terminally sick, cleansed lepers with boils, raised people from the dead, calmed the wind and the waters, and made bread out of thin air. In fact, at the end of John’s Gospel, in chapter 21, he writes this,
  The Rich Man and Lazarus

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

So the miracles that we have recorded for us in these four Gospel accounts only record a fraction of what Jesus did, that every one of the things Jesus did were written down that the world itself couldn’t contain the book that would be written.
Now I want you to take that reality with you when you read verse 1 of chapter 16,

16 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.

Are you kidding me! You need a sign from heaven? Where have you been the last year of Jesus’ ministry? Are you not paying any attention? Has your head been stuck in the sand? When you realize just how many incredible signs and wonders that Jesus had performed already, you ought to shake your head when we read this! A sign from heaven? Were none of the other thousands of miracles not from heaven?
All of a sudden you can see Jesus’ frustration. These Pharisees are not asking like we might think they are, they’re asking, not so they might know, or to gain assurance, but so they might put him to the test. They’re unwilling to believe that these miracles are from God, and they’ve already accused him of performing his miracles by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons back in chapter 12. They’ve already blasphemed the Holy Spirit by calling Jesus’ miracles the work of the devil, and Jesus will have none of it.

God in our own image

You see, they want Jesus to perform a miracle on their terms, they want Jesus to be subject to them. And we see this same kind of thinking today, no one is opposed to the idea of God, as long as it’s on their own terms. As long as they get to define God to match their own sensibilities. It’s easy to think that idol worship has somehow ceased in our modern era, simply because we don’t usually carve them out of wood, or chisel them out of stone, but idolatry is alive and well today whenever we create a god of our own making in our minds, or make ourselves the arbiters of what is true and what is not, or what is good and what is evil. We’re content to allow God to exist as long as he submits to our demands.
They’re not really looking for the Messiah, they’re happy with the kingdom they’ve built for themselves, a kingdom that they are in control of, a kingdom that benefits themselves, so the kingdom that Jesus’ brings stands in opposition to their’s, and so they stand in opposition to Jesus. The Sadducees were known to be a wealthy group, what we might aristocrats, who benefited greatly by selling of sacrifices at the Temple. They had systems that were threatened by Jesus and his kingdom, therefore, they challenged him to give them a sign from heaven.
It also smacks of what the devil said when he took Jesus to the holy city (Jerusalem), back in chapter 4, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “on their hand they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” And Jesus said to him, “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” In essence, what these Pharisees and Sadducees are saying is, “Prove it, Jesus.”

Signs of the times

So Jesus answers them and says,

“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 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. 4 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.

The analogy Jesus gives is probably very familiar to most of us, especially here, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.” But during Jesus’ day the saying when something like this, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in morning, shepherd’s warning.” This is one of those sayings that has stood the test of time, largely because it’s often quite accurate.
Storm systems typically move from west to east, therefore, at sunset, if the sky is red it often indicates that a low pressure system is moving out and that a high pressure system is moving in, which usually means good weather. However, in the the morning, at sunrise, if the sky is red it often indicates that a low pressure system is moving in and that a high pressure system is moving out, which usually means bad weather.
19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”
And so Jesus uses this rule to demonstrate that it isn’t for a lack of signs that they don’t believe and follow him, because somehow they have no problem identifying weather patterns by the signs in the sky, but they’re clueless when it comes to what Jesus’ miracles signify. What do they want him to do, perform a miracle that isn’t record in the Prophets? “These men seem to be better meteorologists than theologians or biblical scholars!” (R.C. Sproul, Matthew Commentary, p. 487)

John the Baptist’s disciples

I’ve referenced it several times since, but back in chapter 11 when we saw John the Baptist’s disciples coming to Jesus to ask him if he was the one they should be looking for he doesn’t simply say, “yes”, or give them another sign, instead he quotes the prophet Isaiah, and he lists all of the signs that were to be associated with his coming, because John and his disciples didn’t need a clearer sign from Jesus as to who he was, instead, their faith was weak and they needed reminded of what they already knew, they needed reminded of what God had already said, what God had already spoken by the prophets concerning the Messiah, because what Jesus was doing was a fulfillment of those things. It’s why he says to them,

Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Again, we see the importance of Jesus’ miracles, and we see the the primary reason for his miracles, to be a sign of his coming, to signify who he is, and to aid the people of God in recognizing the signs of the times.

Unwilling to believe

And so Jesus tells these Pharisees and Sadducees that they’re an evil and adulterous generation because of their unwillingness to believe these signs. That their unbelief bears witness to the hardness of their hearts. You see, there was no proof that Jesus could perform to convince them, because it wasn’t convincing they needed. It wasn’t a lack of convincing proofs that prevented them from following him.
Instead, they had set themselves up in opposition to Jesus. He was an enemy who needed challenged, a foe to be destroyed. Back in chapter 12 when they asked Jesus whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, and Jesus responded by healing a man with a withered hand. Matthew writes that “the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” ()

Unfaithful to God

In the OT when people where labeled evil and adulterous it was usually in reference to forsaking God and worshiping other gods made by human hands, or forsaking the God of Israel to worship the pagan deities of the surrounding nations. So how could Jesus say this? Well, one of the hallmarks of the religious leaders was their hypocrisy, and it was a hypocrisy of the worst kind, one that claimed faithfulness to God in the strictest sense, yet they were completely unfaithful, for they had the appearance of faithfulness, yet were fully devoid of it. They were not faithful to God, rather they were unfaithful to him, they were an evil and adulterous generation.

Do not harden your hearts

Jesus tells us that the problem isn’t a lack of convincing evidence, but a heart that is hard.

Sign of Jonah

Therefore, Jesus will not give them a sign, he refuses to submit to their manipulative request, and tells them that only the sign of Jonah will be given to them. And what he means is that his death and resurrection will be the only sign they’ll get. His resurrection will be the ultimate proof. Jesus unpacks this back in chapter 12 when Jesus answers the scribes and Pharisees at that time, and says,
And this is vitally important for us to understand when we evangelize, when we share the Gospel with others, that we’re going to encounter a multitude of people who have hardened their hearts toward God such that no degree of evidence could change their minds.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 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. 41 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.

6  Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

7  For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture,

and the sheep of his hand.

Today, if you hear his voice,

8  do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

9  when your fathers put me to the test

and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

10  For forty years I loathed that generation

and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,

and they have not known my ways.”

11  Therefore I swore in my wrath,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

Answering objection after objection
Both Jonah and Jesus were delivered from death, but by Jesus’ resurrection he will be vindicated. His resurrection will publically condemn his enemies, a generation fraught with hypocrisy, suppressing the truth by their unrighteousness. Proving that they’re more wicked than the Ninevites of Jonah’s day. Attempting to put out the light of God’s Gospel by murdering the Messiah.
This psalm is intended to remind the reader of Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt. After God had performed many mighty works in Egypt to deliver them from Pharoah they quickly fell into unbelief. While traveling in the wilderness they became thirsty and began quarreling with Moses, and because of their thirst they put the Lord to test by saying, “Is the the Lord among us or not?” It didn’t matter what had happened just chapters before, it didn’t matter that God had delivered them by such miraculous means, it didn’t matter that he had split the Red Sea for them to escape the Egyptians, they had became riddled with unbelief.
I’ve had several conversations over the years with others about the mountain of evidence that supports and proves the existence of God, that demonstrates the veracity of the Bible, conversations that answer objection after objection, yet without any affect. Because the issue isn’t a missing silver bullet of convincing evidence, the issue is a hard heart, such that the person wouldn’t be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.
Their self-righteousness had blinded them from seeing and knowing Christ. While they honored God with their lips their hearts were far from him. Which is precisely what all of us must guard ourselves against. Any desire or motive that is rooted in earthly pleasures, self-indulgence, self-righteousness, money, or passions of the flesh will blind us from knowing Christ. Those things will keep us from following him, keep us from loving him, those things will cause us to make excuses, and become unwilling to leave everything to follow him. The Pharisees were unwilling to forsake self-righteousness to follow Christ, it felt too good, they loved the glory that came from man more than than the glory that comes from God. Jesus said to them in ,
The obvious admonition is this, do not harden your hearts toward God. Instead, humble yourselves before him, fear him, trust him, trust in his Son who he sent into the world to save sinners. Remember Jesus’ words to John’s disciples, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Making a defense

44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

Where you treasure is there your heart will be also. Is God your treasure or is something else? If it’s something else then your heart will be powerless to come to Christ, you will be unable to follow him. The sin that so easily entangles us will become a hindrance to your faith in Christ, as it was for that generation in Jesus’ day.
And I say this not because we shouldn’t have a defense for our faith, or that we should’t give good reasons for what we believe, we should most certainly have a reason for the hope that we have. The Apostle Peter tells us explicitly (in ) that we should “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us].”
So the exhortation is this, turn from your sin and turn to Christ. And,
The sin, that so easily entangles us, can cause us to believe what is not true.
Therefore, my point is that we ought to do this with the understanding that unbelievers don’t merely need convincing, in fact, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit the unregenerate man cannot be convinced simply by evident reason. The Apostle Paul later write (in Romans chapter 1) that “what can be known about God is plain to [all], because God has [already] shown it to [everyone],” that God’s “ invisible attributes ... his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, by the things that have been made.” And that the problem is that men suppress that truth. Therefore, we must also pray for those that we share the Gospel with, that God would open their eyes, that God might grant them repentance through our efforts.

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Jesus was plainly the Messiah

Prayer

And so it was, and so it is, with Jesus’ ministry, it was plain to anyone who had eyes to see it, that Jesus was the Messiah. It wasn’t that the Pharisees and Sadducees just needed another sign or proof, instead they were intent and purposeful on suppressing the truth about Jesus. And rather than believing they decided to put Jesus to the test.
Do not harden your hearts
In the psalmist exhorts the people of God to worship him. He tells them to sing praises to him, to may a joyful noise, to give thanks to the God of their salvation. And he also tells them to be careful not to harden their hearts. He says,
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8  do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9  when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10  For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11  Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
The author of Hebrews would later pickup the language of this Psalm and write to those in the church,
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” ()
So the warning we must be careful to hear is to take care lest we harden our hearts like these religious leaders.
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