Quasimodogeniti, The Sunday After Easter April 11, 1999
188, 381, 201, 50
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. Here ends our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, our triumphant King, who was dead and is alive, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
One of the most distinguished British writers in the first half of this century was Somerset Maugham. In his most famous novel, Of Human Bondage, the main character is a person named Philip Carey. As a boy, young Philip is an orphan and a cripple; he is raised by an English minister and his wife, who take him to church, and tell him to have faith in God. When he’s thirteen years old, Philip decides to put God to the test: he prays that God will heal his crippled foot, and make it sound and healthy like the other one. Well, time passes and nothing happens. Philip is disappointed, and when he finds out that life holds even more suffering and hardship for him, he eventually tells himself that God must not exist at all. Any Christian faith he may have had is lost completely.
People tend to do that, I’m afraid—they seek extraordinary miracles from God to prove that He exists and that He really is concerned about them. Sometimes even a good Christian can catch himself putting God to the test. “Oh Lord, give me a sign! If You’ll only do such-and-such for me in my life, if you’ll only provide me with a certain thing that I want, then I’ll really believe in You!” Be honest now—which of us hasn’t at least had thoughts like that at one time or another? In our text for today, Jesus illustrates the foolishness and sinfulness of testing God. And He also reminds us that, in our quest for a sign, we may be overlooking the most miraculous sign of all. On this first Sunday after Easter, let me ask you a question—
I’ve got a couple of intriguing books in my library. One is by a man who claims to have found the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah on the floor of the Dead Sea; the other is by an explorer who thinks he knows where Noah’s ark is. For all I know, either or both of them could be right. But what’s interesting to me is that so many Christians get so excited about this kind of stuff. It’s almost as though they’re looking for proof that God exists—some miraculous discovery to prove that what the Bible says is true.
In our text, the Jewish scribes and Pharisees were asking pretty much the same thing from Jesus. They wanted to see proof! Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. On the face of it, it seemed like a straightforward request: if You really are who You say You are, the Son of God and the Messiah, well then prove it! Perform a miracle for us right here and now!
But beneath the surface of this apparently simple request, there was a hidden wickedness. Jesus put His finger on it immediately: An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it.
—Now I have to admit to you, when I was studying this text there was one word in there that I just couldn’t figure out—“adulterous.” Why does Jesus call these people adulterous? What does adultery have to do with this business of asking God for a sign? Eventually it became clear that Jesus was talking about spiritual adultery. As you know, people commit physical adultery when they forsake their own spouse and go chasing after someone else. Well, people commit spiritual adultery when they forsake the true God and go chasing after a false god. In this case the false god isn’t Baal or Ashteroth—it’s human reason. “Give me a sign, Lord,” people say. “Just show me something definite in my own life that I can really see and understand, and then I’ll believe in You.” Such testing of God, Jesus says, is spiritual adultery!
How about you? Are you seeking a sign? Are you setting up little tests in your life that God has to “pass” before you’ll believe His Word? Are there any conditions the Lord has to meet before you’ll give Him your full devotion? It might be more subtle than you think. Suppose God doesn’t immediately solve a certain personal problem of yours, cure you of a certain illness, or give you a certain thing you think you need. Does that make you mentally adjust your trust in God down a notch or two? It shouldn’t. Jesus said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” —Luke 4:12 (NIV). Making your faith dependant on such “signs” is spiritual adultery!
There will be people on Judgment Day, Jesus says, who by their good example will put such “sign-seekers” to shame. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. Did the people of Nineveh need signs and miracles to prove God’s Word was true? No! Jonah simply preached God’s powerful Word to them, and they immediately repented of their sins and believed. My friends, you have a much greater Prophet than Jonah speaking to you this morning. Today Jesus Christ Himself is coming to you in His Word! Will you listen and obey that Word—or is there some other “sign” you require?
The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. He’s talking about the queen of Sheba, the account we heard in our Old Testament lesson a few minutes ago. She traveled hundreds of miles just to visit King Solomon, and for what? To see him perform amazing miracles? No. Simply to listen to the wisdom God had given him. Well, a greater than Solomon is here. Every Sunday the Word of Christ Himself is preached here in this house of God, and yet, far from travelling hundreds of miles, there are plenty of people who won’t even travel a few blocks to hear that Word! What will it take? A miracle? Some kind of sign?
I saw a comedian once who told a funny story. He was working a variety show, and he met a man backstage who had an amazing act—his wife would shoot a gun at him, and he’d catch the bullet in his teeth. Well, it just so happened that he ran into the same fellow again a few months later, and he found to his chagrin that he couldn’t recall the man’s name. “I was so embarrassed,” the comedian said. “He catches bullets with his teeth, and I can’t even remember his name! He must have been thinking, ‘What do I have to DO to IMPRESS this guy!’”
My Christian friends, what does God have to do to impress you? A miracle? What kind of sign will it take to convince you that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and that it is the most important thing in your life? Well, if you were with us last Sunday, you know that God has already given us such a miracle. It’s the Easter miracle. In our text it’s called the sign of the prophet Jonah, but we know it better as the miracle of the resurrection! Jesus said, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Now there’s a sign for you! Jesus’ resurrection is the only miracle we need!
Just the physical aspects of Jesus’ resurrection should have been enough to convince the skeptical Jews. Think of it—to actually come back from the dead! It must have seemed like an outrageous claim at the time, but Jesus did it—and right on schedule, too. Just as Jonah came back from the belly of the great fish after three days, so Jesus rose from the grave on the third day, exactly as he’d predicted. And that’s not just some legend, or something we read in a book, either—it’s a fact, authenticated in history by hundreds of eyewitnesses. And if those words of Jesus proved to be true, must not His other words—indeed, all of Scripture—be true as well?
Even more miraculous, though, is the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul says, He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: —Rom 4:25-5:1. The resurrection means that we are justified.
I wonder if you understand the full meaning of that Bible word, “justification.” It is a courtroom term. It means “declared not guilty.” You can imagine yourself in the courtroom of the Lord. You are standing at the bar, accused, hanging your head with guilt. Satan is the prosecuting attorney. He has presented to the court mounds of evidence against you. He has brought to light every shameful deed from your past: every youthful indiscretion, every hurting word you ever said to your spouse, every dark misdeed that you kept hidden away from the eyes of the world. There is not a single thing to be said in your defense. Your guilt is overwhelming. Then the gavel of the Lord comes crashing down, and the verdict is announced: NOT GUILTY!
Why? Why, in the face of such overwhelming evidence of guilt, would the Lord declare you “not guilty”? Because Jesus bore the punishment for the whole world’s sins on the cross. He offered His own precious blood as the payment for your misdeeds. The empty tomb of Easter assures you that God has accepted the offering Christ made in your behalf. Salvation, a clean conscience, and perfect peace with God—these are the Lord’s Easter gifts to you in Christ Jesus. The innocent Jesus is sacrificed for sinners—what a strange and wonderful miracle that is! The hymnist looks with awe at the cross of Calvary and asks,
“What punishment so strange is suffered yonder!
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander;
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.
“O wondrous love, whose depth no heart hath sounded,
That brought Thee here, by foes and thieves surrounded!
All worldly pleasures, heedless, I was trying
While Thou wert dying.
“And when, dear Lord, before Thy throne in heaven
To me the crown of joy at last is given,
Where sweetest hymns Thy saints forever raise Thee,
I, too, shall praise Thee!” LH 143:4, 7, 15
Are you seeking a sign? Here it is! It is a miracle, and it is wonderful! In His love for us, Jesus did it all to save us. He accomplished every last thing that needed to be done for our salvation. It’s no accident that the Easter season is traditionally the most joyous time of the year for Christians. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, that He has indeed saved us, and that we will one Day rise just as our Savior rose, and live with Him forever in eternal happiness. For us Christians, Jesus’ resurrection is the only miracle we need!
There was a man once who didn’t believe that Jesus really rose from the dead. He had quite a few friends who were Christians and were concerned about him. They tried to witness to him about the living Christ, but he was stubborn. He was the kind of guy who always wanted to see proof. He was seeking a sign. Maybe you know the guy I’m talking about—his name was Thomas. He said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” —John 20:25-29. In His Word, God has already given us all the proof we need. May He grant us grace to cling to that Word in faith! AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.