1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. 5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
“End of road for woman used by ‘pastors’ to perform fake miracles.”
That is the headline for an article that tells a very sad story of something that happened in in Nigeria. (Some of the translation in the article is a bit choppy.)
A 44-year-old woman, Mrs. Bose Olasukanmi who was used by several ‘fraudulent’ pastors to perform fake miracle has been arrested by operatives of the Inspector General of police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) in Lagos after months of trail on her by the undercover operatives.
According to a source close to IRT, the suspect Olasukanmi used to relocate to another church after being paid for every successful performance so that their trick would not be exposed by people or relations who may see her in the drama.
Mrs. Olasukanmi was in an accident and has a broken arm that has never been set and has never healed properly. The false miracles were centered on the alleged healing of her arm. She was paid money to go up on the stages of various churches for the healing. Perhaps most tragic of all, this lady is not even a Christian.
“I am a moslem, but the pastor, prophet Goffrey Abbey would only ask me to bring my hand down and I will start bringing it down as if his power was the thing bringing it down and be jumping up in joy to the deceit of the congregation who often clapped with joy and praising God for the miracle. I cannot remember the names of all the churches she took me to because their names were not disclosed to me.”
This is simply tragic. These pastors were using a Muslim woman to deceive the people of God and enrich themselves. The woman offers some interesting closing comments:
“My only regret is that I knew that it was a fake miracle performance, which deceived many genuine children of God and enriched the fake miracle performing pastors and prophets…”
“My advice to people who go to church is that they should open their eyes well and know the type of church they are worshipping. If they are careful, they would discover on time whether they are in a genuine church or with fake pastors and prophets.”
It is a fascinating and troubling thing that a non-Christian woman would have to warn Christians about false prophets, but she is, of course, 100% correct.
There is something within human beings that desperately wants to see signs, wonders, miracles, and displays of power. This desire to see wonders can lay the groundwork for some truly pernicious things, as the article just quoted demonstrates. Of course, sometimes the motives behind these kinds of desires are good: a genuine desire for healing or for appropriate blessing. But sometimes they are not good: a desire to test God, a desire to be rich, a desire to have our curiosity satiated.
Matthew 16 begins with men who want to see a sign. It is abundantly clear from the get-go, however, that their motives were not pure!
A request that reveals blindness.
In fact, the desire of these religious rulers for a sign reveals their spiritual blindness.
1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
The motives of the Pharisees and Sadducees are plainly spelled out. They asked for a sign “to test him.” In other words, they wanted Jesus to perform for them, to prove to them that He had authority, that He was who He said He was. They were asking out of their own doubt, their own disbelief. But it was more than that. They were asking out of a desire to prove Jesus fraudulent.
Yes, there is a desire for signs that is impure.
It is interesting how often throughout the New Testament “signs” are spoken of in a negative way. In Mark 8, for instance, Jesus outright questions the motives behind the desire to see signs.
11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
This must always be our first question: “Why does this generation seek a sign?” Why indeed?
In Matthew 24 Jesus warns that signs will be used by false prophets to deceive many.
24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.
So great will this deceit be that it will draw away even some in the church.
In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul attributes false signs and wonders to the devil outright.
9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
What this means is we need not only to assess our motives but, even deeper, we need to assess the spiritual causes for our desire to see signs and wonders. What might be working behind the scenes to make us want to see these signs? Are our motives pure or have they been tainted somehow?
The Sadducees and Pharisees stand as warnings to us. They remind us that it is possible to ask for wonders from Jesus but to have our hearts very far from Him while doing so.
An answer that reveals what matters most.
Jesus’ answer is fascinating. He tells them that they will indeed see a sign from Him but it will not be a sign they can imagine or one they will even accept.
2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
First, Jesus points out their blindness by observing that while they can read the weather they are missing the most momentous sign that is right before their very eyes: Jesus Himself. What is more, they will be utterly unprepared for the greatest miracle to come.
4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
The sign of Jonah is a reference to Jesus’ coming death, burial, and resurrection. Just as Jonah was swallowed by the great fish and then spit back up on shore, so Jesus would be buried but then would walk victoriously out of the tomb.
We must not miss what is happening here: while asking for lesser signs they were blinded to the greatest sign of all. This distinction was made by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Did you see it? “Jews demand signs…but we preach Christ crucified.”
They want lesser signs, but we preach the great sign.
They want a sign to impress and to prove, but we preach a sign that saves.
They want a sign to satisfy their curiosity, but we preach a sign that satisfies the Father Himself.
There is a note of perspective in this. If we believe that Christ has died, that Christ was buried, and that Christ was risen, then we already believe in the greatest sign of all. After all, what sign could be better? Try to name a miracle that would be greater than the sign of Jonah, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. You cannot.
Is it not the case, then, that belief in the greatest sign releases us from the demand to have the lesser signs?
I do not say that it releases us from asking for lesser miracles! There is nothing wrong with a pure request for the lesser sings. In the moment of pain and grief and fear, the “lesser signs” do not feel lesser to us! I believe we should ask for miracles of healing, for instance. It is right and good to pray that God heals the sick and the diseased. But the fact that we belief in the greatest miracle of all lets us know that if God says “no” to the lesser signs it is not because of lack of ability or desire on His part. We will not know the reason for God’s “no’s” on this side of heaven, but we can rule out one answer: that the miracle we asked for was too much for God. How can it be if we already know that God in Christ has already defeated sin, death, and hell!
Our faith, not to mention our sanity, are tied to the sign of Jonah—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus—not to any other sign. Yet we do thank God that He is gracious to give us other signs when He feels so led. He still works miracles, though sometimes He decides not to.
Anchor yourself in the sign of Jonah—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus—and do not despair if He does not grant our request for other signs. Yes, ask boldly for a miracle, but then trust God!
A warning that reveals danger.
Jesus uses the occasion of the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ request to warn His disciples of their error. First, of course, the disciples have a journey to go on before they can receive the truth that Jesus is telling them. They literalize Jesus’ warning about “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” and foolishly think He is talking about food.
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?
After reminding the disciples that He is more than capable of feeding them, He then moves on to the point He is trying to get them to see.
11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
“The leaven” he warns them of is “the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And what is this teaching? It is an obsession with the externals of custom and with their own interpretations of the Law that blinded them to the reality of what God was actually doing right in front of them.
Jesus was warning them about the soul-debilitating need for signs that simultaneously rendered them unable to see the greatest sign of all.
Jesus was warning them about the kind of religious hubris that causes people to love their own interpretations more than they love the Lord.
Some years after this, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5, would warn the Corinthian believers:
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
This was a warning that the Pharisees and Sadducees should have heeded.
So, too, the church.
Love Jesus more than you love His signs.
Anchor your faith in Christ crucified and risen.
Let these greatest wonders and signs keep you from despair, even if He says “no” to your other requests.
Our God is great. He is also able. We can trust in Him.