Summary: Why Christmas is such an important celebration and why 2000 years after His birth, Jesus Christ is worthy of our trust, love, and devotion.
In less than two weeks it will be Christmas and almost all of us will celebrate the birth of someone born 2000 years ago. Why? That is the question of the day. What makes Jesus Christ so special? Why isn't the birthday of Mohammed, Confucius, or Buddha the biggest holiday of the year? Why does our calendar measure years from the time Jesus was born, 1998 years, rather than from the birth of Moses, Plato, Alexander, Galileo, Abraham Lincoln, or Michael Jordan? The historians will say, "Well, it is because Christianity has been the dominant religion in western civilization. Christians were in charge of the calendar so the birth of Christ was given the spotlight." But, why did that happen? How could a carpenter from an obscure village in Palestine start a religion which, within a few decades, would have followers in almost every part of the world? "Well," some Christians would respond, "it is because Jesus is the Son of God. He is the true Lord and Savior of the human race." Yes, I'm convinced that is true, but, why do we believe that? How do we know that He is who He says He is? What makes Jesus so special?
We find an important answer to this question in our text today. We are continuing our journey through the Book of Matthew and we come to Chapter 12:38-42. Here Jesus is essentially asked, "What makes you so special? Why should anyone believe that you are anything but one of those religious hucksters who is always out there trying to win people's loyalty and get their money?" We are going to look at Jesus' answer to that question, and I believe it will help us understand why Christmas is such an important celebration and why 2000 years after His birth, Jesus Christ is worthy of our trust, love, and devotion. Let's pray God would help our minds and hearts to grasp the truth today.
Our text records a continued confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders of His day. Back in Verse 24, these men had accused Jesus of doing the devil's work, and in Verse 34, which we looked at last week, Jesus referred to them as a "brood of vipers" or, in our vernacular, a "bunch of snakes." Then some of the Pharisees make a request of Jesus. 12:38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." Their respectful tone reflects not a sincere desire for truth, but political strategy. There is a crowd of people gathered, and the Pharisees' goal is to turn these folks against Jesus. Things had started back in Verse 12:22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. When that happened, people started asking, "Could this be the Son of David? Could this be the Messiah? Could this be the Savior that God promised, for whom we have waited so long?" That is when the Pharisees say, "No way, this fellow can only do this miracle because he is empowered by Satan himself.
Verses 25-37 record Jesus' compelling rebuttal of this charge, and so now the Pharisees have to change their tactics. What they are implying in Verse 38 is something like this: "OK, Jesus, we will concede there is some ambiguity about what happened today. Some say you received your power from the devil, others say from God, who's to know? But, you can answer everyone's question here and now. If you are the Messiah, then perform a great miracle right now which will prove to everyone that you really are the Christ." You can see why these Pharisees are sometimes called lawyers. Now, I'm not sure whether they believed Jesus could not or simply would not perform this miracle on demand, but I think they are pretty confident Jesus is not going to meet their challenge. At least, they sure hope He doesn't. Their goal is to convince people that Jesus is not the Messiah, but rather a religious fraud of some type. Now, if I were Jesus, I probably would have said, "OK, you guys want a miraculous sign. I will give you one." And then I would have snapped my fingers and turned the guys who challenged me into a bunch of pigs, or maybe a brood of vipers. But Jesus didn't do that, though He certainly could have. Instead, Jesus gives this response:
12:39a He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!" Jesus is not referring to sexual immorality though no doubt that was going on. Instead, He means that these religious people have been unfaithful to God. They have committed spiritual adultery. Oh, they may not have engaged in pagan idol worship as the people had done in the Old Testament, but they were worshipers of self. Though they claimed to be loyal only to the true God, they were really loyal only to themselves. 12:39,40 "But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The Pharisees and the crowd are not going to get their sign that day, but there will be proof that Jesus is the Messiah. The sign of Jonah. Most of you remember the story. God tells the prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh, but he tries to run away. Eventually Jonah is thrown overboard and is then swallowed by a great fish. After spending three days inside the fish, he is vomited back onto dry land, and from there, Jonah obeys the Lord and goes to Nineveh. Now, it is unlikely that the Pharisees, the crowd, or even Jesus' disciples understand with any clarity what Jesus meant by "the sign of Jonah" even though they all knew the story. With the benefit of hindsight, we know Jesus was speaking of His resurrection from the dead. Just as Jonah was "resurrected" after spending three days in the fish, Jesus will be brought back to life after spending three days in the grave. That is, of course, exactly what happened. The most magnificent, significant event of all time, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Probably too spectacular for even His disciples to imagine at that point, but the proof which shows Jesus is indeed the Messiah, indeed God's Son, indeed the Lord and Savior.