Matthew 12:38-40 — 38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Prove it! Have you ever been challenged to prove something to somebody? That kind of challenge can be terribly frustrating. A wife gives her all to love and partner with her husband. He comes home one day, she’s had a rough afternoon, and he foolishly asks if she really cares about how she makes him feel or how the house looks. Parents care for, provide for, feed, entertain, and reshape their lives for their kids. Suddenly, when the kids want something they do not get, they challenge their parents to prove they love them. They are nuts. A pastor prays for the church, visits members, preaches the word, and spends himself for the good of the congregation. Then, when a church member has something happen they do not like, they want the pastor to prove that he is really committed to God, His word, and the people. Prove it can be very hard.
Right here, Jesus is challenged by the religious scholars to prove who he is. The Pharisees and scribes approach Jesus and demand to see from him a sign that will convince them that he really is the Messiah, the promised one from God.
Now, stop and think with me for a moment. What is wrong with the religious leaders’ question? They want Jesus to impress them with a miracle. What are they missing?
How about the fact that Jesus has already performed multiple miracles in public that should be enough. Let’s just consider the miracles that we have seen from chapters 8-12 of Matthew:
- Healed a leper (8:3)
- Healed a centurion’s servant (8:13)
- Healed Peter’s mother-in-law (8:15)
- Healed and drove out demons from many brought to him (8:16)
- Calmed a storm (8:26)
- Drove demons out of the demoniac and into the pigs (8:32)
- Healed a paralytic carried to him. (9:6)
- Healed a woman with a discharge of blood (9:22)
- Brought a girl back from the dead (9:25)
- Gave sight to 2 blind men (9:29)
- Drove a demon out of a demon-possessed and mute man. (9:33)
- Healed a man with a withered hand (12:13)
- Healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (12:22)
That, my friends, is a list of 13 miracles if my count is correct. None of those are things that an ordinary person has the power to do. Jesus had already done enough to prove himself. The problem is, the religious leaders just do not want to believe.
So they are still demanding a sign. I wonder what they thought would be enough to really prove who Jesus is. Perhaps they wanted him to make the sun go backward, or make the moon turn red, or write his name in the stars, or cause the walls of Jerusalem to fall down, or cause the city of Rome to collapse. What would have been enough?
Take note, by the way, that people love to say that they would believe in Jesus if he just proved it to them. However, people seldom establish what it would really take to prove it. They never say what kind of proof would suffice. Why? Most people are not failing to believe because of a lack of evidence. Instead, most people who do not believe refuse to believe because they do not want to be required to submit to the Lordship of Christ.
Jesus responds to the demand of the teachers by telling them that their demand for a sign is an evil and adulterous thing. They are evil, sinning against the Lord in their desire to disprove who Jesus is. They are also adulterous, a strange-sounding way to talk about their lack of faith. But, remember, the teachers of the law of God were supposed to be faithful to God. Jesus, God the Son, was fulfilling the prophecies about the Messiah that these teachers should have recognized. But, instead of being faithful to Christ like a bride being faithful to her husband, the religious teachers were turning away from God to give themselves to another lover, their own power and authority in the nation.
Then Jesus told them that their generation would receive only one sign to prove the identity of Jesus. They would receive the sign of the prophet Jonah. AS many of us learned as children in Sunday School, Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish and lived for 3 days in its belly. Jesus says that, in just the same way, he would be 3 days in the heart of the earth. That would be the ultimate sign for this generation.
Can you tell what Jesus was saying to these men? He was actually being very subtle. The Jews at that point had no idea of the cross and resurrection to come. Only after Jesus did his work would those who heard this prophecy about the sign of Jonah be able to realize that Jesus was talking about dying, being buried over 3 days, and then rising from the grave to live both physically and eternally. As Jonah was 3 days in the fish and lived, Jesus would be 3 days in the grave and live. This would be the only sign that Jesus would actually give to that skeptical generation to prove that he is exactly who he claims to be.
So, what is the proof of Jesus’ identity? The Savior tells us that the ultimate proof is his resurrection from the dead. The Son of god went to a cross to die as a perfect sacrifice for every sin that God would ever forgive. The Son of God was buried on Friday, day 1, through Saturday, day 2, and rose on Sunday, day 3 as the Jews would have counted it in their culture. And then the Son of God would live again, defeating death and offering the ultimate proof of every one of his claims about himself. Jesus claimed to be God. He claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. He claimed the authority to forgive sins. He claimed that he would one day return to earth as king. And his resurrection is the proof of it all.
Throughout the New Testament, it is always the resurrection of Jesus that stands as the perfect and final proof to every claim of the Lord. It is the resurrection of Jesus that proves he is God in flesh. It is the resurrection that proves that his sacrifice was enough to cover our sins. It is his resurrection that proves that those who trust in him and surrender to his lordship will have life everlasting. It is his resurrection that proves to us that we will live again after we die. It is his resurrection that proves that Jesus is not just another religious teacher like the prophets of the Old Testament or the false prophets of later years. It is the resurrection upon which all our confidence in Christianity rests.
The point that the Savior is making in his words to the teachers in this passage is simple: Believe in Jesus because of his resurrection. He will not bow to the wishes of the skeptics by giving them extra signs to suit their fancy. He will not dance whenever they play a tune. He will not offer them a circus performance to see if he might win their approval. No, all Jesus will do is the work that he came to do. But, when he rises from the dead, he will have done enough to prove it all.