Wicked Rejection (12:38-42)
It sounds like a reasonable request. “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” Jesus been performing miracles and signs. In Matthew 12:38 some of the scribes and Pharisees answered that they want to see a sign from Jesus. So what is the big deal? Why doesn’t Jesus simply perform a sign for anyone who asks? Why would this request become a teaching topic that goes through the rest of Matthew 12?
Now it is important to note that this is not a new paragraph. This is the same audience that we have observed for at least half of chapter 12. The scribes and Pharisees are answering what Jesus just said, which some of the translations bring out clearly (ESV, LSB, NET, NKJV). Remember that Jesus has healed a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute. The people were now wondering if Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of David (12:22-23). The Pharisees are rejecting this, proclaiming that Jesus is doing miracles by the power of Satan. Jesus just gave a lengthy teaching on why this is impossible. Further, Jesus made a very clear point: fruit says something. Jesus’ fruit shows he has conquered Satan. The Pharisees’ fruit shows that they are evil and worthy of judgment.
The scribes and the Pharisees are now answering back to what Jesus just said and did. Listen to what they say in verse 38. “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” Now think about this for a moment. What just happened? Jesus healed a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute so that he can now see and speak. Jesus just gave them a sign. The sign was so significant that the people are considering Jesus to be the promised Savior. Jesus has been performing all kinds of miracles to show who he is. Jesus’ fruit reveals that he is the Savior sent from God.
This is why Jesus says what he says in verse 39. Jesus says that an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign. What is the problem? The problem is not desiring verifiable proof of who Jesus is. Jesus is performing miracles to prove who he is. The apostles will do likewise to prove the message they will proclaim in the book of Acts. So the problem is not wanting verifiable proof. That is not what Jesus is condemning. The problem is that Jesus is doing signs but those signs are not enough. These opponents want something more. They are telling Jesus that what he has done is insufficient for faith.
Does this happen today? This still happens today. People make the same proclamations about God. They say they would believe if God performed some particular sign that they want to see. But Jesus calls this evil and adulterous. Why? Jesus says this because the problem is not the evidence but the heart that wants to reject the evidence. Do you think if Jesus performed another miracle in front of them that they would now suddenly believe? If you think so then you have not read what Jesus did in front of their eyes. They saw all kinds of miracles. You see it is much easier to sound intellectual and thoughtful by saying, “I need more specific evidence.” Jesus is reading the heart and telling that the evidence is not the problem. The problem is you think you can tell God what he needs to do for you to make you believe. An evil heart says God must do something for me. An evil heart says God must meet me on my terms. An evil heart says that I will not believe until God does what I want him to do. Jesus is penetrating through this intellectual facade and showing what the real issue is.
But notice what Jesus says he will do in verse 39. Jesus has one more pivotal sign that is supposed to be the game changer for all people. No sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and night, Jesus will be in the heart of the earth for three days and night. Jesus’ great sign will be his resurrection three days after his death. Resurrection is the sign for belief. Every person has to grapple with this sign. Jesus rose from the dead. What will you do with that information? There are hundreds of witnesses for the resurrection of Jesus and none of the opponents could deny it. Jesus’ point is very simple. If the resurrection does not generate belief, no other sign will. His resurrection is the only necessary sign.
Now Jesus says something shocking in verses 41-42. The people of Nineveh would condemn this generation because they repented at Jonah’s preaching and Jesus is clearly far greater than Jonah. It is important to remember that Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and that was a ruthless, wicked empire. Yet they repented when Jonah came to them. Jesus has come to those who are not ruthless Gentiles but who are supposed to be the holy people of God. But they are not repenting but rejecting Jesus.
Further, in the days of Solomon we read about the queen of the South traveling a great distance to hear Solomon’s wisdom. She also was a Gentile and yet she understood the need to go to Solomon. Jesus is clearly greater than Solomon and yet these people are unwilling to come to him and listen to what he is teaching. Something greater than Jonah and Solomon is here. But you are rejecting him, proclaiming that you need him to do something more. What more do you want Jesus to do? What more do you think would truly be enough?
Rejection Illustrated (12:43-45)
Now as you come to verses 43-45 it can seem that Jesus completely changed topics. Suddenly Jesus starts talking about unclean spirits leaving a person and then coming back into a person. But this is not a discussion about unclean spirits. Rather, the truth about unclean spirits is being used to illustrate the rejection problem that is happening in their hearts. The illustration shows a cleansing and purging that happened in the person. But the house (the person) remains empty, only allowing seven more spirits to return.
So what does the illustration mean? Notice that at the end of verse 45 that Jesus says, “So also will it be with this evil generation.” Jesus is applying this illustration to their rejection. They have been purged of wickedness but spiritual life has not replaced it. Bock states the image well: “The picture is of a person who has experienced a great act of God, but has not responded to it, since the occupied house is left empty. The person has learned nothing and is still subject to the same demonic influence. The tragedy is that, by not responding, the opportunity for a permanent reversal is lost. Failure to have God enter in has left he person in peril” (Baker Exegetical Commentary, 1093)
This was Israel’s problem. If you have been with us over the last year on Sunday nights you will quickly see the issue. Israel had been purged and cleansed through their exile. But the people remained spiritually empty and had not replaced their sinning with a full life in God. Now their condition was worse than it was before. When we read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah along with the prophets Haggai and Zechariah you can see that this was the condition of the people. They had stopped some sins that had brought their exile punishment. But they had not been purged and then renewed with a new heart to seek and love the Lord. They said it was not time to build the Lord’s house but devoted themselves to worrying about their own houses (cf. Haggai 1). It was to such a point that Malachi notes that the people are saying it is a weariness to go to the temple with their worship and sacrifices (cf. Malachi 1:13).
Now you might ask why this is a worse condition. This is a worse condition because of the self-deception. Because you are not doing certain sins, you think you are close to God. Because you are not as bad as the world, you think you are close to God. The problem is that the people had not recommitted their life to having a deep devotion to the Lord. To state this directly for us, we can cleanse ourselves of evil acts and sin. But if there is not a commitment to truly devote yourself to Jesus, your life is going to be a spiritual wreck. There is a void in your life and if it is not filled by Jesus will be filled with even more wickedness. God is not looking for hollow shells of people who have stopped certain moral behaviors. God is looking for a people whose hearts are filled with a love of him. Israel had only gone halfway, purging some sins but not filling their lives with a devotion for God. Now their condition was worse than before because they could not see the saving work that Jesus had come to do for them. Without being filled with a knowledge and love of God, we will end up in a state of rejecting God. This is how these religious leaders could completely miss Jesus and reject him. The apostle Peter made a similar point in 2 Peter 2:20-22.
A New Family (12:46-50)
Notice in verse 46 that Jesus is still speaking and yet there is an interruption. It is almost like they are not really paying attention to what Jesus is saying as a message is given to Jesus that his mother and his brothers are looking for him and want to talk to him. But Jesus gives this answer to the man who told him this. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then Jesus stretched out his hands and said that everyone who does the Father’s will is his family.
Who belongs to God’s family? It is not about bloodlines or genealogy which is what Israel thought. They thought they were God’s family just because they were physical descendants of Abraham. Remember that John the Baptizer had to make this clear back in Matthew 3:9. He told them not to say that they have Abraham as their father. That is not how a person belongs to God’s family. Any person who does not reject but does the Father’s will belongs in the family of God.
But again, this is not a random interruption to the story that Matthew is recording. Just like the unclean spirit illustration, Jesus is also illustrating the new situation that he has created. Before what made you belong to God’s family was having a physical bloodline to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But now Jesus has come to create a new family that is not bound by blood of Abraham. Rather, Jesus’ new family is bound by the blood of Jesus.
By following Jesus we are entering into a new family and we need to see one another this way. Other Christians are not just a Sunday nuisance. We are pictured as being deeply connected together in fellowship as one family who are connected in Christ.
So let’s pull these pictures together that Jesus gives to us as we listen to his teachings. First, do not reject Jesus because you think he needs to further prove himself to you. Jesus has done more than any person could ever do and his greatest proof is his resurrection. The whole of our faith stands on the resurrection of Jesus. This is the evidence you need to follow him. Do not have an evil heart that rejects his signs thinking he should do something special for you. Second, be warned about how we can slide into a heart of rejection. Following Jesus is far more than just stopping some moral behaviors. Fighting against sin will be futile and leave our house empty if we do not fill that void with love and knowledge of Christ. Set your mind on things above and press into spiritual pursuits so that the end is not worse than the first. Be filled with the new life that Jesus is offering to you. Third, see the result of joining your life to Christ. You are entering into a new family. You are not just part of a church. Giving your life to Jesus is not like joining a club. This is walking into the family of God, a family like you have never had, filled with people spread all over the world with the same faith and same struggles as you. Let Jesus change your heart and change your life so that you can belong to imperishable kingdom and an eternal family in Christ.