Matthew 16: 1-12, Seeking a Sign?
General Idea: The Pharisees were hounding Jesus for more miracles to prove who He was. Even though Jesus gave them miracles that were greater than even Moses had shown, their faith was absent and their focus was skewed. The leaders were so concerned with appearances and their made-up doctrine they could not, nor wanted to see the real Truth. They interpreted and applied their ideas and judgments from the Law, but did not understand His plain truth as revealed in the Scriptures. So, they focused on trivial matters and burdened the people with silly laws that were not scriptural. They became obstacles to the truth and facilitators of confusion. They literally believed, with passion, the weather report based on superstitions, but not God's Word based on fact! They could see the sky and predict tomorrow's errands, but were unwilling to see God at work or His plan.
Jesus made use of the Pharisees as examples of what not to do, as they were preachers of false doctrines. That they were wrongly teaching what the Bible plainly contains may seem small and insignificant to some, but we have to realize when we teach something as His Word that is not in His Word, or skewed, we are being Pharisees. We would be the ones clouding people from God's revealed truth. This is no small matter. It is like yeast; only a small amount makes its way through all of the dough, affecting the entire outcome. Essential Truth is essential. False doctrines are destructive and will ruin people, churches, and skew His plan from unfolding in us.
1. Testing Him. The Pharisees and Sadducees were two groups who were diametrically opposed to one another (Matt. 15:2-3; 22:23; Acts 23:6-10). The Pharisees were traditionalists and popular, while the Sadducees were liberal, denied an afterlife, and held the political power. They disagreed on many doctrinal points and customs so that each one hated the other. Yet, they were united in their joint hatred of Truth. They both liked to interpret and apply their own rules as Law, and the One who is Truth was their chief opposition.
a. A sign from heavenhea. Literally, point to the sky and show us! This did not refer to a sign from God; Jesus already gave them that. This was an astrological proclamation.
i. Often the leaders would use astrologers and star predictions for understanding the signs of the times and the future, even though God did directly forbid it (2 Kings 20:8-9; 2 Chron. 32:24; Isa. 38:7).
ii. They relied on superstitions and not spiritual maturity. Superstitions were rooted in Jewish custom; Josephus wrote that the heavens, as shown to men, had a special portion to predict future events (Judges 6:17; Isa. 7:11-14; 8:18; 19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 38:7; 66:19; Ezek. 4:3; 12:11; 24:24-27; Matt. 24:29).
iii. Elijah countered the astrologers by making a sign on the spot (1 Kings 18:38).
iv. They were looking for proof from fables, and refused to see the real proof as predicted by the prophets.
b. Heaven is also a title for God. Thus, it can be said the leaders were looking for a sign from God, but that is unlikely due to the fact that Jesus already gave them many.
c. Their problem was not the lack of signs, but the refusal to adhere to them. God had given them the signs, but they refused to read or obey them (Duet. 32:5-20). The ultimate sign would be the resurrection (Matt. 12: 39-40).
d. Sign of Jonah referred to our Lord's resurrection to come. Christ alludes to His coming suffering for their redemption. A people who refused to acknowledge or accept Him and will put Him to the death, are given ultimate forgiveness and salvation if only they will believe. Jesus offers His life to redeem them from their sin. (Acts 2:22-36). Jonah was at the door of death, and God kept him alive with a miracle (Matt. 12:39).
2. Yeast was, and still is, an essential component to make bread rise and taste better. Yeast also was a colloquialism referring to evil (Matt. 13). It only takes a small amount of evil to corrupt the entire batch. Jesus is using yeast to mean false doctrine which is extremely destructive because it hides real truth. It is a counterfeit that quickly penetrates and corrupts and has no value for redemption. So, when you cash it in, you receive nothing but the rotten works of its aftermath.
a. The only way to remove false doctrine is to remove the people proclaiming it. First, show them the real truth; if they still reuse to recant, remove their platform and poison from harming others (Gal. 5:9; 1 Cor. 5:6-7).
b. Some first century Jewish commentators said false doctrine is like poison water.
c. Jewish teachers often spoke figuratively, as Jesus did.
d. The Israelites had a long history of forgetting who God is and His provision-from just a few months of wandering in the desert, to the next generation after Joshua, to all the good kings compared to the failed kings. Thus, God had to remind them of who He is on numerous occasions (Duet. 8).
e. You of little faith was one of Jesus' favorite nicknames for His Disciples (Matt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31). They had some faith, but still needed to learn and grow into maturity.
3. You do not understand. The Disciples once again misunderstood their Lord. Jesus spoke plainly, but He also taught in figurative language to draw people deeper into the meaning, to think through and apply His teaching. The Disciples only saw the face value, and either were not listening or did not want to think. The Disciples should have started to see the signs, especially after so many unprecedented miracles, the most seen since Moses.
a. Just do it requires a process-from the signal to enter the brain, it is categorized, implemented, and then the info is sent to the hands and feet. So it is with faith and our spiritual growth. Plain speech instructs, and to a good listener, it can be applied. But, metaphors require thought and a process to hone and own the precepts-to be a changed person so behaviors can be changed. This just does not happen; it requires the wrestling of thought and the work of the Spirit.
b. No bread. This is the sign that the disciples were over-concerned with material matters and not spiritual ones, as they should have been. We need to be aware that we do not slip into superficial ideas of Christianity; rather, we look deeper and apply His depths to our hands and feet.
c. The Disciples had so much testimony and wonders before them to still be stuck with superficial notions. It would take another miracle in the next chapter to cement, in their hearts and minds, who He is (John 3:4; 4:11; 6:52; 6:63).
d. We need to understand our Lord's worth; He is Worthy, He sees us as worthy to be saved. We need to see that worthy means honorable and precious, so we need to empty ourselves of pride and concerns so as to be worthy to worship Him.
Do you understand who you are in Christ? Do you look for signs, or do you take His precepts as your sign and roadmap for life? The Pharisees were experts in interpreting what was going on in the world with people, motivations, knowing their rules, and even the weather, but they did not know their Scriptures. They only knew what their interpretations were, what others had said, and the passion to follow the concepts they cherished. But, they did not know the facts of what God had plainly told them in His Word. They clouded the Truth with so much rhetoric and tradition they could not see the Truth. They put forth so many other regulations and insights that the main insight and rule was unseen. We, too, can be experts in interpreting trivial matters such as the weather, but unable or unwilling to apply God's Word into our lives. We, instead, focus ourselves on minor, trivial matters such as a particular Bible version or an obscure doctoral point that becomes our god; then we become unconcerned with the bigger picture of His real truth. We are to keep our eyes on important matters such as His Word, and how to apply it, and not be concerned with the latest trends. Ask Him for wisdom and His insights so your ideas and the ideas of others do not cloud His truth from your eyes.
1. How do you find out what the weather is going to be-TV, radio, newspaper, or superstitions, such as "ring around the moon and it will rain soon?" How does knowing the weather ahead of time affect your day?
2. Why do you suppose the Pharisees were hounding Jesus for more miracles to prove who He was after He had already done that?
3. How does the over-concern with appearances or trivial matters get in the way of seeking Truth?
4. Have you ever seen the evidence of how false doctrines can be destructive? How so?
5. The Pharisees and Sadducees were two groups who were diametrically opposed to one another. So, why did they get together in this passage? What are some similar instances you have seen with groups today?
6. Why would religious leaders use astrologers and star predictions to understand the signs of the times and the future, even though God directly forbade it? How do people do this today?
7. How do people today look for proof from fables and refuse to see the real proof from facts? Have you done this? How so?
8. The main problem was not the lack of signs, but the refusal to adhere to them. God had given them the signs; so why did they refuse to read and obey them?
9. How have you seen a small amount of something, such as one rotten piece of fruit, corrupt the entire batch? How is evil like that?
10. How and why is false doctrine destructive?
11. What is the best way to remove false doctrine? Why does this not take place very often in most churches?
12. How would you feel if Jesus called you, you of little faith? What would you do?
13. Why would the Disciples once again misunderstand Jesus? Place yourself in their mindsets and culture; would you misunderstand too? Why, or why not? Keep in mind how the distractions of life keep us from listening!
14. Why did Jesus teach in figurative language? Have you ever explained something figuratively?
15. How does being over-concerned with material matters dampen our spiritual journey? How has this happened to you? What can you do about it?
16. How can you be on guard so that you do not slip into superficial ideas of Christianity, so you can look deeper and apply His depths to your hands and feet? What would that mean?
17. Do you understand who you are in Christ? What does that mean to you?
18. Do you look for other signs, or do you take His precepts as your sign and roadmap for life?
19. How can you know when you are unable or unwilling to apply God's Word into your life? How can this awareness help you apply His truth?
20. What do you need to do to keep your eyes on important matters, such as His Word and how to apply it, rather than following the latest trends?
© 2003, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org