Matthew 12:38-45

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.” Matthew 12:38-45

“Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” Who among us haven’t asked that question a time or two in our lives? Facing a big decision, not knowing where to turn, wondering what the “next right thing” is, we pray for God’s help. We pray for direction. We look for signs. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

I look back at my life and I can remember dozens of times when seemingly miraculous things surprised me along the way. Just recently, a nurse came to get Kelley and me from a waiting room, early in the morning, to escort me to the room where I would be prepped for open heart surgery. I was nervous. The hospital hallway was deserted. We turned the last corner and ran smack dab into a member of my congregation. Stephen was on my call committee. He and his sons and their Mom are in my confirmation class. Turns out I would be in his circle of care. He was a godsend during my time in the hospital. It was a sign to me that everything would be OK. That God was watching over me. That God still comes to us undercover in human flesh.

But what counts as a sign? I guess it depends on where you are looking and how open you are to see what you see. You miss the signs if your eyes are closed. You miss the signs if you’re not looking for them. Signs, by definition, point beyond themselves, so there is a certain amount of responsibility on our part to expect them, to look for them, to interpret them.

Can we miss the signs? Can we be confused by the signs? Anyone who has ever driven through Dallas has experienced the discouragement of unhelpful signage. There was an interesting article in the newspaper the other day about how hard it is for us to see what we don’t expect to see – we easily overlook what shows up on the edges of our expectations.

The scribes and Pharisees have been watching Jesus like a hawk. They have seen him interact with people. They have seen him help people. They have heard him teach people. Yet none of that is enough for them. Their hearts are hard and their minds are closed. Maybe their desire for yet another sign is actually a real plea for help in seeing what they can’t see, yet is so obvious to many others. The answer Jesus gives is shocking.

He calls them evil and adulterous because they are following a god they have created in their own minds – a self-serving god who does their bidding rather than the real God who invites them into a covenantal relationship of love and service. They want the kind of sign that we all want – a sign that we’ll be OK, a sign that God is with us, a sign that comforts us. But Jesus points them instead to a story of death and resurrection. It was great to see Stephen in the hallway but I still needed to let a surgeon cut into me and my heart. God sees us through the difficulties of life far more often than God moves the mountains out of our way.

The scribes and Pharisees wanted to see a sign from Jesus. Did it ever occur to them that maybe Jesus was looking for a sign from them? A sign of their openness to new ways of thinking about God? A sign of their willingness to follow God down new pathways of service? A sign of a new understanding of how they had twisted their spirituality into rules and regulations that created divisions between people rather than a spirituality rooted in creation that sees everyone and everything as an interconnected sign of God’s loving presence?

Do we ever consider that God looks for such signs from us as well?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, today is a new day. Today is a gift. Today is a sign that you haven’t given up on us. A new day. Heartaches and disasters and death will visit us today. Each will bring grief but also out-pourings of courageous compassion and generous acts of self-giving love. Lead us through, that we might taste the hope of resurrection. Lead us, one day at a time, to see you among us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


2 Responses to “Matthew 12:38-45”

  1. Dave Armstrong Says:

    Today’s devotion is a sign for me and it encourages me to keep moving on a ministry that I am involved it in. Thank You Lord, and Thank you Pastor.

  2. Nancy Sasser Says:

    I have received many signs from God in response to prayer some of which are downright humorous. I have been ill and in pain many months. I had been reading a book about experiences with angels and prayed as I had read in one account: “God, send a sign I will get better. Send an angel to the foot of my bed at midnight.” That evening when I went to bed my husband was cleaning off a long unattended dresser top in that bedroom. He said, “What’s this?” He held up an object that looked like a quarter. But instead of monetary images it had an angel engraved on each side. I have no recollection of ever seeing it and no idea how it got there. That is just one example. BTW I am about 80% better with treatment and praying for full recovery. I do treasure these signs- they lead me to ask “Who am I that you are mindful of me?”

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