Matthew 12:38-40 (NIV) Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”
He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! 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 teachers of the law had seen Jesus do amazing things: healing the sick from every disease, and casting out demons left and right. But now they came to Jesus demanding a miracle of their own choosing before they would be really willing to believe in Him.
It is hard to put into words how insulting and insolent this attitude was, both to Jesus and to the Father. Basically, it is demanding that God the Son become the servant of those who are demanding the sign, jumping to their tune. The correct response for them in the face of what Jesus was doing, things that they could not do at all, would be to fall at His feet in surrender, saying, “God is really with You!”
But the hearts of these leaders were not actually seeking God, despite their pious demeanors. They weren’t looking for ways to make sure that Jesus was the Messiah; they were trying to trip Him up so that they could prove that He was not. If He actually accomplished whatever “impossible” sign they asked for, they would simply come up with a more “impossible” one. “Yes, you did that, but can You do this?”
Jesus never turned away legitimate seekers. But He had no patience for those who wanted signs before they would believe, or who wanted nothing more than to continually debate the fine points of Scripture. Their agenda and aim was not to believe, and they did nothing but waste Jesus’ time and energy that He wasn’t willing to take away from what He had been tasked to do.
The only bone that He was willing to throw to those sign-seekers was a foreshadowing of His resurrection (the sign of Jonah) – the greatest sign of all, and the most powerful vindication of every claim that He made. No one could reasonably ask for a more confirmatory sign than a person raising themselves from the dead! Yet He knew that even that sign wouldn’t be enough for many of those people, but would be sidestepped and denied. (Cf. Matthew 28:13-15.)
Father, even today there are some who seem to want to engage in debate, or to see some proof before they will believe. But when they are engaged, they prove to be a moving target. “Yes, you answered that one, but what about this one?” They end up wasting our time because they aren’t really interested in salvation, but just debate, somehow trying to prove their own points. But in the meantime, the fields are white for harvest, and that is clearly where we need to spend our time and direct our efforts. Amen.