Matthew 16:1-4 (NIV) The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
Despite Jesus’ long record of miracles, some of which they themselves saw (and objected to because they were done on the Sabbath), these religious leaders came to Jesus and demanded a miraculous sign from Him on the spot to prove Himself to them.
Jesus could easily have done anything these men requested of Him. But that wasn’t really the point being pushed. They refused to believe in Jesus, refused to hear His teachings, and refused to give Him any credibility, because all of that would have the potential to undermine their own authority. They didn’t want Him to actually perform a miraculous sign; they wanted Him to fail to do a sign so that they could write Him off. Or they wanted Him to refuse to do a sign so that they could spin it to mean that He wouldn’t because He couldn’t.
But Jesus wasn’t into playing games with these men, or allowing them to control the agenda by making Him jump to their tune. He had His agenda straight from God Himself, and it was both important and urgent. He would not allow Himself to be distracted by His enemies. Besides, if they wouldn’t believe on the basis of the miracles He had already done, one more wouldn’t convince them.
So He refused. Or, more correctly, He used a parable to show them their own obtuseness. They had learned over the years to know what the weather would be by the signs in the sky, because they had seen numerous red skies at night and experienced a pleasant day the next day. They had seen red, angry looking skies in the morning, and had slogged through storms before the day was over. Past performance assured them of future results.
But they refused to apply the same standards to Jesus. They knew from direct observation, as well as the testimonies of others, that Jesus was able to do astounding miracles, many of them every day. There was no illness or disability that He had not been able to heal, no demon he had been unable to cast out, no crowd he was unable to feed. He even calmed storms with a word, and walked on water! But they always demanded one more sign, in the hopes that He might fail THIS time. They were unwilling to accept any of His past performance.
The sign of Jonah, which Jesus promised them that they WOULD see, was His rising from the dead on the third day (cf. Matthew 12:40). There is also a sense in which Jonah himself was a sign to the Ninevites after his “resurrection” from the belly of the great fish. He came from that experience in the power of God with a demand for repentance, and a threat of destruction for those who refused (cf. Luke 11:29-32). Jesus was warning that if these men refused to believe His message, especially after His resurrection, the same kind of destruction awaited them (and was actually delivered in AD 70!).
Father, help us to always give ourselves to You and to Your agenda fully, with no reservations, and without demanding any “signs” before we will take You at Your word. You have already done more than enough for us in our past to enable us to rely on You for our future. Help us instead to be a testimony to others as each day we trust in You, and allow You to work through us. Amen.