Summary: We are more like the Pharisees than we would like to admit - hiding our true selves from others and from God and blaming external things for the consequences of our own behavior. But Jesus offers real hope if we will open up to Him in relationship.
The act of projection involves blaming things outside of yourself for your problems. The act of denying personal responsibility means it is the fault of your spouse, your boss, the government, the weather, or even that tool you were using. The Pharisees were masters at projection, and as it turns out, when it comes to taking personal responsibility for our own sin and our dealing with the Messiah, we are also pretty good at it.
33 – 37
Jesus is saying that the Pharisees can’t cover up their true character by fancy robes, titles, and rules. God knows the heart, and an evil heart that has rejected Him will speak out in words and deeds. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. He calls the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” and “evil.”
The Pharisees were the children of Satan (John 8:44), who imitated righteousness but were evil (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). They claimed to represent God, but could not do so because they belonged to the devil and were actually keeping people away from acknowledging that the Messiah was Jesus.
Jesus is saying either you are good or you are evil. You can’t pretend to be one while being the other. God isn’t fooled by our outward appearance. He says that by our words we will be judged. The word “careless” there means “insignificant or innocuous.” It doesn’t refer to jokes or idle speech, but often it is the words we do not prepare that show our real character, not our carefully planned speeches.
Point 1: The real you isn’t the persona you put on, but the sum of the character within you—that hidden person that only you and God see. Look to the abundance of your heart to know your true character
38 – 42
Now the Pharisees, joined by some Scribes, want a sign—a definite example of Jesus’ special relationship with the Father that would prove He was the Messiah. Jesus had already given plenty of signs but He would not perform for them (though He could have). The sign He would give was much greater than a healing, it was the resurrection.
Jonah was “resurrected” as he came out of the fish to obey God’s command to preach to Nineveh. Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent or God would destroy the city (Jonah 1:2). Jonah beat feet for the coast and ran away from God and His mission. Why? It’s not that Jonah felt sorry for Nineveh; quite the contrary. The Israelites hated Nineveh. The Assyrian empire had harassed and harmed Israel tremendously. The problem was that Jonah felt sorry for them but that he knew God would be merciful to them. When Jonah actually did preach judgment, they repented and God did have mercy.
Jonah 4:1-4 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."
Nineveh heard the words of judgment and believed the messenger and took action on the message. That is more than the Pharisees did. After the resurrection of Jesus the people of Israel will be given the opportunity to repent and turn as the people of Nineveh did.
Then He uses the Queen of Sheba as an example. This happened in 1 Kings 10:1-10, where this Arabian Gentile came up to see what all the fuss was about with “the name of the Lord” (1 Kings 10:1). She came away completely impressed with God. She said “I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it.” The people had laid eyes on someone greater than her, yet they would not, like her, believe.
Point 2: Don’t make God in your image by demanding He be and act according to your wishes. Deal with Him on His terms. Let Him overlay His character on you, not the other way around.
43 – 45
Jesus is here making a point about the results of the unwillingness to commit to Jesus as the Messiah. He is not teaching doctrine about demons. It was a popular belief that demons lived in the desert so Jesus uses that as a way to teach against neutrality.
Israel had been swept clean by John the Baptist. John said “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Many had repented, but to what? If you empty a mind and don’t fill it with something redemptive the natural human nature will create a vacuum so powerful that it will end up in far worse condition than it was before.