I was reading earlier today through the Gospel of Matthew and this passage of scripture seemed to jump off the page. I have been thinking about it all day and here are a few thoughts that I wanted to share.
“One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, demanding that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.
He replied, “You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times! Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign, but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Then Jesus left them and went away.” (Matthew 16:1-4 NLT)
The context of this passage of scripture is quite extraordinary. Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus in discourse with the Pharisees and teachers of religious law concerning ceremonial hand washing prior to eating. The Lord uses this discussion to emphasize His desire that our hearts be pure not simply our outward words and actions. Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides who were teaching man-made ideas as commands from God.
Chapter 15 continues with a Gentile woman seeking Jesus for deliverance for her daughter. Verses 29-31 tells us of Jesus healing many people, “The crowd was amazed! Those who hadn’t been able to speak were talking, the crippled were made well, the lame were walking, and the blind could see again! And they praised the God of Israel.” The Chapter closes with Jesus feeding 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish.
It is into this setting of miracles and healing that our passage of scripture in Matthew 16:1-4 is spoken. Jesus had shown sign after sign, miracle after miracle, healing after healing and had spoken the Word of God with power yet this group of Pharisees and Sadducees wanted a special sign, something they said would make them believe that Jesus was Messiah.
How had they been there for everything that had take place prior to this demand for a sign and still needed to ask for a sign?
Any answers we give will be conjecture or an educated guess.
Perhaps they were so caught up in their presuppositions concerning Christ that when Jesus revealed Himself and did not meet their expectations they were unable to depart from their incorrect assumptions about what Christ would be and embrace the living Christ.
Unfortunately many of us as believers fall into this category at times. We see that things are happening in churches and in places around the world that look like they could be from God but we are unsure because what is taking place doesn’t fit inside our idea of how God should move or who God should use.
Don’t feel singled out if this has happened to you, even John the Baptist needed to be reassured:
“When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went out to teach and preach in towns throughout the region.
John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” (Matthew 11:1-6 NLT)
- Jesus changes lives.
- Jesus transforms our hearts.
- Jesus heals our sickness and repairs our brokenness.
- Jesus provides grace to the unworthy.
- Jesus makes us righteous.
- Jesus makes us new.
Jesus will use people we would not have chosen. The Holy Spirit will move in ways that we would not expect. Let our focus be upon Jesus; He is the King of His Kingdom and He can work how ever and through whomever He desires.
As a follower of Jesus I love to be in His presence for no other reason than who He is, God. There is no one like Him.
As a follower of Jesus I also love to see the manifestations of His grace, love and power in my life and in the lives of others. There is nothing like seeing a life changed by the Lord.
We are not asked to choose between Jesus and His power or between Jesus and His manifestations. We are simply commanded to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus must be our focus. Jesus must be at the center of all we are and all we do.
How do we keep Jesus at the center? How do we remain focused on Him while seeking the power and presence of His Spirit to be manifested to a lost and dying world?
At the most basic level we must not allow our ministry, work, family or any other aspect of our loves to become the focus of our lives; Jesus is the focus of our lives. Our Savior said it this way:
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27 NLT)
Those are really strong, really explicit words. Jesus want to be our focus. He wants our love for Him to outweigh every other person or possession in our lives.
As we look back through church history both recent and distant we will find that anytime Jesus was not the focus of the church the church became something other than that which the New Testament says it should be.
For the last twenty years I have been involved in the part of the church that believes that the signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit that were demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ, His Apostles and followers in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts should be a part of our lives in the 21st Century. Many people refer to those who believe as I do by many different names, “Full-Gospel, Charismatic, Pentecostal, etc.”.
I, like many others inside and outside of the church, have been witness to gross excess, heresy and even blatant attempts at deception by those whose ministry is focused on delivering a “Holy Spirit side show” to people and not on Jesus.
However, like many others inside and outside of the church, I have been witness to the genuine tangible moving of the Holy Spirit in signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit has promised in the Bible. Our focus must be on that which comes from the Holy Spirit and not what people seek to manufacture in the name of the Lord.
Scriptures like Mark 16:15-18 and Acts 1:8 tell us that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit will follow those of us who believe. This supernatural promise is to be the norm for the New Testament believer. It is not a rarity nor is it something that we must beg the Lord to do. He works through our lives in the power of His Spirit because of His grace.
Let us not be like the Pharisees and teachers of religious law of Matthew 16 that demanded a sign or a wonder from Jesus when they were standing before the Lord. I pray that our focus would be upon Jesus. For it is only in His presence that we become like Him. For if our focus is on the Lord Jesus we will find that He will make us the sign and wonder that points to the goodness and glory of God.
You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:5-7 NLT)