Blunt Signs (Matthew 16:1-4)

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

After taking a short break in the vicinity of Magadan from ministry in the Decapolis, Jesus’ fame catches up with Him again. People have heard that He traveled there, and the Pharisees and Sadducees once again show up, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.”

The Pharisees had asked Him for a miraculous sign before. After the demon-possessed man who was blind and mute had been healed, 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.” In that case as in this one, Jesus only promises them the sign of Jonah. But this time He answers in the form of a riddle:

“He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.” 

Jesus’ response is cryptic yet more than understandable. He reminds them of the ancient childhood saying, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.” He points out that while they can understand such basics, they cannot understand who He is, why He is there at that season in Israel’s history, or what is happening all around them – even though they read Scripture all day long and claim to be the only ones who can interpret it correctly. He is cleverly insulting them, implying that they are able to grasp childish riddles, but not the things they claim fame for. 

At the same time onlookers can see Jesus as a new Solomon, who is able to address the most difficult of questions and solve the most problematic of riddles with the wisdom of God. Jesus refers to Jonah – a book that opens with God speaking and closes with God speaking. Those seeking God find the Lord speaking all through its verses. But those with closed minds find nothing more than a fishy story. 

To allude to Jonah is the ultimate comeback to those who are so close-minded they demand a sign just for themselves instead of looking at the obvious results of Jesus’ ministry. Everyone who looks at Jesus with an open mind finds God through Jesus. Just as the Queen of Sheba walked away from Solomon saying, “Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you,” so also Matthew notes of the people Jesus had just ministered to, “The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” 

It is clear that even a child could see and perceive that God was working powerfully through Jesus. There was no need to ask for a sign, only a need to look at the signs already given! 

There is much instruction in our Lord’s lack of response to a desire for the spectacular, for all too often we seem to say, “If God will only give me a sign, I will do wonderful things for Him!”

M.S. Mills

APPLICATION: Intentionality

When the King gives you a gift, you do not ask Him to also give you another gift to prove that it was He who gave you the first one.