In the Gospel According to Matthew, the Lord Jesus performed some magnificent miracles to help people know his identity and power. As you likely know, the grace that Jesus was bringing was offensive to the religious leadership of his day. Jesus’ authority and his power threatened the comfortable positions that many in the religious establishment had made for themselves. And in this instance, leaders from two very different groups seek Jesus out to confront him.
Matthew 16:1-3 – 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.
Matthew tells us that the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to demand a sign from Jesus as a test. This would be like saying that President Trump and Nancy Pelosi came together to stop you from doing something. Those two do not agree on almost anything. They do not like each other. And for them to do anything together would be a major news event. Similarly, the Pharisees and Sadducees were the opposing factions of Jesus’ day, and they could not stand each other.
But the one thing that the Pharisees and Sadducees could agree on was their dislike of and disbelief in Jesus. They hated him. Jesus threatened their power and influence. So these two opposing factions could agree on their desire to get rid of Jesus.
The religious leadership comes to Jesus and demands that he give them a sign from heaven. We saw them do something very similar to this in Matthew 12:38-ff. And, like back then, this demand for a supernatural sign comes just after Jesus has done a whole set of miracles. Jesus has healed. He has miraculously fed crowds. He has shown all the power they could ever want to see.
But this group seems to be saying to Jesus, “Yes, we know about those miracles, but we want something convincing.”
Jesus, for his part, responds with a rebuke. He says that the religious folks can read some obvious signs quite well. They understand that looking at the sky can forecast a pleasant or unpleasant day. But when it comes to Jesus, the religious leaders simply are not willing to see. They demand evidence. But, in truth, they had already seen more than enough evidence. The simple truth is not that they lack enough evidence to prove that Jesus is who he claims to be, they just refuse to believe it.
That faulty motivation of the religious teachers reminds us to call people to seek Jesus honestly. There is no good to be gained from pretending to want proof from Jesus if you are not at all willing to believe in him or follow him. As a friend of mine has said to me, it is good to ask a skeptic, “What kind of proof would it actually take for you to believe in Jesus and surrender to his Lordship?” If the person says to you that no proof would make them follow Jesus, you know that they are not at all open-minded about their inquiry. They are trying to oppose Jesus. They are trying to oppose you as Jesus’ witness. But they are not being honest with any questions they ask about Jesus. When you discover this in a person’s attitude, perhaps you can help them to see it.