Can you think of any times that God has answered your prayers in miraculous ways? I can. He has come through in so many ways in my many years since I came to faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I can also remember the times when I felt that He didn’t “Come through” for me, and in spite of knowing all He has done for me, I have often forgotten, and begun to judge God for not acting the way I would like at any given moment.
That’s how we humans are; “What have ya done lately, for me?” Last week we saw the many healings and miracles that Jesus did.
And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel (Matthew 15:30-31).
This was a clear reference to Isaiah 35:5-6, Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy . The context of that Isaiah verse is clearly a sign for when the Messiah would restore God’s people from exile. Eminent theologian NT Wright commented on this saying, Matthew’s quote is “part of a passage where God promises that the people of Israel will be brought back from exile, coming safely through the wilderness to arrive at their home.”
Matthew is reminding us who Jesus is, and what these miraculous signs meant. It was a heralding in of a time that God would send His King to restore His people to Himself, and His Kingdom!
In today’s passage, Jesus warns us against false teaching that would make us doubt what we have already seen to be true!
From the Head…
The Skeptics Smokescreen (Matthew 16:1-4)
The first four verses remind us of the typical skeptics smokescreen; “If God is real, then let Him prove it, by showing me a sign.” What is interesting about the group that came to “Test” (Tempt) Jesus, is the fact that normally they opposed one another, and didn’t care for each other at all. The Pharisees were the religious moralists that believed in the miraculous and the idea of a resurrection after death. The Sadducees on the other hand were political minded modernists who eschewed the supernatural, especially the idea of any kind of resurrection. One was religious and conservative, while the other was irreligious and liberal. They were true rationalists. But in spite of their disdain for one another, their love for power superseded their differences and they banded together to stop Jesus, and as any good skeptic (Religious or Irreligious) does is asks God to “Prove” Himself. But the problem lies in the fact that God is not one to be judged by His own creation.
The fact is, God has given humanity more than enough “Information” to realize there is a God, but humanity continues to deny God none the less (See Romans 1:18-23). God has nothing to prove, and humans aren’t really looking for proof anyway. It’s a smokescreen to justify their heart of unbelief. Asking for proof is not a solution, because the problem is in our heart, not our mind. Information is not our problem, unbelief is.
It’s ironic that the “temptation” is coming from those most religious! Jesus’ answer is short, yet interesting. He knows that these people understand nature, so He gives them an illustration from nature. He says that they know how to interpret some of the obvious signs of weather patterns, and storms, but they can’t interpret (He uses the idea of “perceiving/Understanding”) the obvious signs of God’s existence, and His revelation to the world.
They can’t interpret, because their hearts are hardened to the idea, not that Jesus hasn’t already showed them plenty of signs throughout His ministry that demonstrate who he is.
So one again (See Matthew 12:40ff), Jesus tells them the only sign they will get is the “Sign of Jonah,” meaning that His death, burial and resurrection is enough of a sign for them. Both stories (Jonah and Resurrection) preach both judgment and hope. There is salvation and hope in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, but there is great judgment awaiting those that refuse God’s solution to humanity’s problem. Because of their design to see more from God, Jesus calls them and “Evil and Adulterous generation,” because they had turned away from their God and creator for religion, power and politics. They shifted their worth and joy from a vertical relationship with the savior for a superficial horizontal relationship with things.
The Believers Lack of Faith (Matthew 16:5-12)
As Jesus has been doing for a while, He shifts His actual teaching away from the skeptics and toward His disciples. AS they moved toward the other side, the disciples were discussing the fact that they had forgotten bread, and Jesus took it as an opportunity to discuss their faith, and how easily it can be thwarted by doubt brought forth with false teaching.
While they were debating their need for bread, Jesus told them to “Be aware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” SO instead of understanding Jesus, His disciples continued on about the fact that they had no bread, and the implication is that they would go hungry. Jesus immediately reminds them of the miracles they just saw Him do in regard to feeding thousands on 2 different occasions with limited loaves of bread and fish, and then has to make it clear that when He is talking “Leaven,” He isn’t talking about bread, but the false teaching of men like the Pharisees (Representing legalism) and the Sadducees (Representing rationalism), and how easy a little thing like leaven can have great consequences on our faith, or lack of it.
Real faith is more than an existential (experience/feeling oriented) ordeal, and is connected to objective events that can be “Perceived,” and “Understood. The “Sign of Jonah” is truly objective, and something that we need to continue to remember. That miracle is the foundation of our faith, without which our faith is in vain (See 1 Corinthians 15). What and who we listen can have great affect on our faith, as well as not perceiving the obvious facts of our faith that already exists. What we think, read, watch and listen to has effects in our life and if they are not filtered by clear teaching from scripture they can have enormous affects on our lives both spiritual and physical. We must ask ourselves, what filters the info that goes into our minds? How well can we defend the truth of our faith against false teaching? Do you really know what you believe and why you believe it? These questions are crucial to growing in both grace and “truth.”
….to the Heart
How Can We Have A Stronger Faith?
This is going to take having a bigger memory than what God has done for us lately. At Anchor, we celebrate the Lord’s supper weekly to “Remember” all He has done for us, and what He promises to do for us in eternity. Looking back and forward is key to strengthening our faith.
My suggestion is to read through the 3 chapters of Habakkuk, which starts in frustration with God (Chapter one), to remembering what He has done Chapter 2+3) and finally concluding that in spite of circumstances he will “Rejoicve in the Lord, I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread in high places” (Habakkuk 3:18-19). Habakkuk recovered from His tension and frustration with God and found a firm foundation by remembering backward and seeing forward. One writer said that, “He had this historical/eschatological faith, the faith we all need if we want to grow, a faith that looks to the future— trusting God will work again— because it looks back into history, remembering (not forgetting) what God has already done.”