We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/
Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 16:1-12; Acts 22; Psalm 37:1-22, Exodus 35-37.
There is so much to be gleaned from these 12 verses in Matt. 16. Some background might help.
First, the Pharisees. They were Evangelical Fundamentalists of their day and had great sway among the masses. They were Legalists – but also held strongly to the oral tradition.
Second, the Sadducees. They were religious Liberals and the ruling Elite. They gave authority only to the Torah – the 1st 5 Books of Moses and recognized no other prophets, etc. They Rejected oral tradition but we’re steeped in ceremonial exactness. Josephus says they were boorish and vulgar. (A parallel to Hollywood – elite but vulgar) In league with the Romans. Acts 23:8 tells us they believed in no resurrection, no angels, no spirit. That body & soul dissolve @ death. God is not concerned with right or wrong doing.
Pharisees & Sadducees: Both opposed Christ AND each other. And here, both came to “test” Jesus by asking for a sign from heaven.
1. There will always be those who demand that God prove Himself to their satisfaction or they will not believe. This was central to the temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness, and it will be central to the temptations the Enemy still lays on the shoulder of the Church in our day. This betrays a fundamental upside down reasoning on their part. God as Creator has every right to demand what He will from the Creature. We have no right to demand anything of Him The one “sign” which transcends all the rest, is His rising from the dead. The sign of Jonah. But they will refuse to believe that.
2. There is no external proof that will suffice for those who do not want to believe who Christ is, and His Gospel. How many signs had they already seen and yet would not believe? Up to this point in the narrative: Visit of the Wise Men (Matt. 2); Response of Herod – butchering the children (Matt. 2); Preaching and ministry of John the Baptizer (Matt. 3); The voice from Heaven (Matt. 3:16-17); Preaching, healing, delivering (Matt. 4:23-25); Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7); Cleansing the Leper (Matt. 8:1-4); Healing the Centurion’s servant (Matt. 8:5-13); Mass healings @ Peter’s house (Matt. 8:14-17); Calming the storm (Matt. 8:23-27); Curing the Gadarene demoniacs (Matt. 8:28-34); Healing and forgiving the sins of the paralytic at Jesus’ house (Matt. 9:1-8); Raising the little girl from the dead (Matt. 9:18-26); Healing 2 blind men (Matt. 9:27-31); Healing the demon oppressed mute (Matt. 9:32-34); John the Baptizer’s men (Matt. 11:5-6); Calling Himself Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8); Restoring the withered hand (Matt. 12:9-14); Blind and mute demoniac healed (Matt. 12:22-23); Institution of the parables as judgment (Matt. 13); Feeding the 5K (Matt. 14:13-21); Walking on the Water (Matt. 14:22-33); Healing many sick @ Gennesaret (Matt. 14:34-36); Healing the Syro-Phoenecian woman’s daughter (Matt. 15:21-28); Jesus heals”many” (Matt. 15:29-31); Feeding the 4K (Matt. 15:32-39). No less than 26 public instances of miraculous power and preaching. Now Jesus says – WHAT MORE PROOF DO YOU NEED? If you will deny the obvious, what WILL work? Nothing. Luke 16:19-31 – If they will not believe Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe if one comes back from the dead.
3. Such is the nature of spiritual blindness. That people possessed of great intellect, knowledge and even common sense will deny the plain truth about Jesus. Unless the Holy Spirit opens their eyes, they remain in their blindness. If someone can be intellectually convinced INTO the Kingdom, then they can be convinced OUT of it too. No argument can make them Christians.
4. WE must beware that we can have such ironclad ideas of how God MUST work, that in the interest of protecting our systems, we can ignore the obvious. I worry about those who have so precisely determined how last days prophecy must play out. That just like the Pharisees, Sadducees AND the Essenes rejected Jesus because He did not fit their pattern – some of these too will reject what is right before their eyes. “IF we don’t repent, America will be judged” they say. They ignore the fact America IS being judged. Look at The rapid moral revolution. The rise of secular religion and spirituality that has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity. The lack of common sense in government and Godless leadership. These are judgments. And what of us who have such minutely defined end-times schema? Will we refuse Him when He comes because He does not fit the paradigm we’ve invented? Such was the case with both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Woe to us who cling to our constructs and schemes over clinging to Christ above all.
5. Unbelief is not something to be overcome by others, but repented of by the unbeliever. Note how Jesus holds them morally responsible. He calls them an evil and “adulterous” generation. Why adulterous? Because they claimed to be God’s people, but served themselves instead. They said they were God’s, but they really served their own opinions. Self was their god – not the God of the Bible.
6. Those who will not accept God’s testimony and proofs as given, will in the find themselves abandoned by God. He left them the text says – they did not leave Him. And He departed. The repetition in the text strengthens it. What a terrifying thought – that one can resist the truth to the extent that Christ Himself will withdraw, or as Gundry puts it – abandon them.