Persistence (Matthew 16:1)

Photo by Matthew Kosloski on Unsplash

Matthew chapter 16 opens with, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.”

This is not the first time the Pharisees have shown up to make Jesus’ life uncomfortable. They saw Him at Matthew’s house and questioned His disciples. They saw the possessed mute man healed and attributed it to Jesus working under Satan’s power. They directly confronted Jesus at the synagogue when they saw His disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. They plotted to kill Him when He healed a man’s hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath. They accused Him of being Satan’s minion when He rescued the blind mute from demon possession. Over and over again the Pharisees – sometimes alone, sometimes with the teachers of the law and sometimes with the Sadducees -come to Jesus with doubts, snide comments and foolish accusations. 

A life in service to God will have pros and cons. The pros are obvious – you get to enjoy and be a conduit of God’s peace, presence and power. You are privileged to see His Kingdom grow all around you, even as His joy grows inside you. You know His love for you and you are confident of your identity in Him. 

But there are also cons – negative aspects of a life in service to God. There is the occasional direct spiritual attack, and there is the constant sniping of the enemy through those who believe his lies. For Jesus, the Pharisees are part of the latter. They come to Him in selfishness and ask questions with unclean motives. His answer is almost irrelevant to their cause, because they are not actually seeking to affirm His identity as God’s Son by means of the witness of a miracle. They are disregarding all He has done so far and selfishly insisting that they alone are the judges of just who is approved of God and who is not. And in so doing, they are acting out the enemies plan to ensnare Jesus by prompting Him to do something for His own glory. 

Ironically, by this point Jesus has already judged them. In fact, back in chapter 12 Matthew recorded, “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Jesus then went on at some length to clearly lay out the urgent need of the wicked to repent. 

Since then, Jesus has taught the parables of the sower, the weeds, the mustard seed, the hidden treasure and the net. He has fed the 5000 and the 4000, walked on water and both delivered and healed the Canaanites’ daughter! The evidence of who He is has been profound and sustained.

That the Pharisees would come back to Jesus with a different group of supporters for their cause and ask exactly the same question is both insulting and wearisome. But the called must be persistent, because the dogged determination of the enemy to try to grind down your joy and stall your life purpose does not go away until the day you open your eyes in glory. 

Jesus emphasizes […] the value of persistence not simply in challenging injustice, but also in exercising expectant faith that divine providence assures the final reign of justice.

Carl C.F. Henry

APPLICATION: Intentionality

As God persists in bringing sun and rain on all year after year, so also His people must persist in demonstrating His grace upon all.