Give Us a Sign
Our reading for today (Matthew 16) begins with the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to Jesus to ask (“demand” in NLT) a “sign from heaven.” Pharisees and Sadducees were just about as opposite as they could be; normally they wouldn't cooperate on anything-- except their opposition to Jesus. Here they come to Jesus to ask to see a miraculous sign because they wanted “to test him.” That means that they were fishing for something to use against him; they were not honestly asking. I’m not just judging harshly here. If they really wanted to see a miracle, there were miracles being performed all around them. Jesus had just finished the miraculous feeding of 4000 people with nothing but single sack lunch (Matt 15:32-39). And the reason that this multitude was there to be fed was because Jesus was healing “the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others” (Matt 15:30).
Jesus did many of his miracles in private; no one would have known that the daughter of the Canaanite woman had been healed until she went home and found it to be so (Matt 15:21-28). And sometimes Jesus told people not to let anyone know that they were healed (though they usually went out and told everyone anyway). The miracles that had just been done were very public and very amazing, and the people “praised the God of Israel” (15:31). So when the Pharisees and Sadducees ask for a miraculous sign from heaven, they aren’t really asking for a miracle-- they were setting a trap.
What sign does he give? Weather. He quotes a version of the old seaman’s weather truism, “Red sky and night, sailor’s delight; red sky at dawn, sailor be warned.” OK, Jesus' version doesn't rhyme, but the point is the same. They could read signs in the sky and know what the weather would be. But they couldn't see the signs of the kingdom of God all around them. They came to Jesus with calloused hearts and cold, condemning attitudes trying to find a way to trip him up rather than praising God because His kingdom was breaking into the world of men.
The Pharisees and Sadducees weren't stupid people… just human ones. They were so sure they were right that they weren't seeing the obvious signs all around them. We continue to do the same thing, right? How can one Christian criticize, condemn, gossip, slander, and and write another Christian up and off just because they have a different view about some issue? Isn't that contrary to how Jesus tells us to treat both brothers and enemies? But once you have made up your mind that you are right, then you aren’t really open seeing such obvious truths. The Crusades and Inquisition took place because the church became so sure it was right that it wasn’t open to entertaining the possibility that its actions in the name of God were breaking the heart of God. That is also true of so many mini-Crusades and mini-Inquisitions that take place in the church all the time.
What was the difference between the way the crowds responded to Jesus (“they praised the God of Israel”) and the way that the Jewish leaders responded (“came to Jesus and tested him”)? The difference was that the Jewish leaders already had their minds made up before they came. This is a reminder to us to constantly remain open to God and His presence around us or we too may miss the very thing that He is doing!