Summary: In today’s lesson we see, first, the request for a sign (that Jesus prove that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of sinners), and second, the response of Jesus.
Today is Easter Sunday, the day that the Christian Church around the world celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Two thousand years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Jesus knew that his life mission was “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He knew that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of sinners. On one occasion Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
But as Jesus preached the good news of God’s grace, opposition to his ministry increased—particularly from the religious leaders. In spite of Jesus’ extraordinary preaching and remarkable miracles, at one point the religious leaders demanded that Jesus give some proof, some sign, of his claim to be from God.
It is the narrative of that encounter that I want to examine on this Easter Sunday. So, let us read Matthew 12:38-42:
38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:38-42)
The reason Jesus came to earth was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). His entire life was given to the successful accomplishment of that mission.
Jesus began his preaching ministry at about the age of thirty. He taught people about the good news of the kingdom of God. He taught them how they could be saved by grace alone through faith alone in him alone. His preaching was accompanied by miracles that authenticated he was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior of sinners.
On one occasion he cast a demon out of a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute (Matthew 12:22-32). The Pharisees, however, declared that it was only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that Jesus cast out demons (Matthew 12:24). But Jesus showed them that his casting out demons by the power of Satan was absurd and contradictory. Jesus’ answer stung the Pharisees.
But rather than adjust their misconception of Jesus, they came back at him demanding a miraculous sign to prove that he was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of sinners.
So, in today’s lesson we see, first, the request for a sign, and second, the response of Jesus.
I. The Request for a Sign (12:38)
First, notice the request for a sign.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you” (12:38).
The scribes and Pharisees were still smarting from their verbal defeat by Jesus. But, not wanting to submit to him, they pressed him for a sign to verify that he truly was the Messiah.
They were clearly hypocritical in their demand for a sign. Jesus had performed hundreds, if not thousands, of miracles already. Just prior to this incident, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, had sent word to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one [i.e., the Messiah] who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up” (Matthew 11:3-5).
Clearly, Jesus had given many signs to authenticate that he really was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of sinners. But the scribes and Pharisees were so opposed to Jesus that they wanted him to perform some personal sign for them. They did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and they wanted to trip him up.
Now, someone may ask if God gave signs to people in the Old Testament. He did, but, as commentator Matthew Henry said, “Signs were granted to those who desired them for the confirmation of their faith, as to Abraham and Gideon; but were denied to those who demanded them for the excuse of their unbelief.”