I had to go (I mean got to go!) to jury duty a few weeks back. I received my summons in the mail, I put in for the day off from work, I prepared my lesson plans and accompanying materials for the substitute teacher who would fill in for me (trust me, with all the paperwork you have to fill out to take a day off, it’s less work to go to work!), I got my travel bag ready filling it with a couple Bible commentaries and my laptop computer so I could fill the waiting time studying and working on upcoming sermons…I was ready to go! But to go where? By that I don’t mean the Justice Center where I would go to perform my civic duty, I know where that’s at and have passed by it many times. I simply mean where would I park?! The summons had a map of where to go on it but rather than giving directions from my house to the jurors lot saying turn right here and then turn left there and so on, it contained confusing diagrams and befuddling words such as North and South and East and West! I couldn’t seem to figure it out, so what did I do? What any directionally challenged, navigationally unconfident man would do; I asked my wonderful wife! She explained it to me and all was clear. Or so it seemed to be until the next morning. I got up and took a shower. I grabbed my prepared bag. I remembered to pick up the summons that I needed to show the clerk upon arrival. I pulled out of the driveway and drove towards downtown (from my house, go to the big street and take a right—or in the words of the map they sent, go West on Palm Beach Blvd!). I got close to my destination but apparently took a wrong turn somewhere because I passed the Justice Center (it was on my right, or on my North side if you want to be technical!) and that meant I had gone too far for the jurors lot. I turned around and upon coming back the same way I had just been, I saw road signs with accompanying arrows telling me where to park for jury duty (someone must have installed them into the ground sometime between my first and second time around the block!). The map they sent me on my summons had no doubt been right all along for those who could properly read it, my wonderful wife’s verbal description and directions had no doubt been right all along for anyone who could remember and follow them, and the downtown road signs pointing to the correct lot were visible for all to see (even the first time around the block), but I still had trouble finding the right spot! I missed the signs! All of them!
Missing the signs did cause me some trouble. It delayed my arrival. I barely had enough time to walk the 5 miles from the juror parking lot to the Justice Center (okay, maybe it’s not quite 5 miles away but, trust me, if you have jury duty bring your walking shoes and eat your Wheaties!), make it through security (showing my ID, taking off my belt and shoes, emptying my pockets of cell phone and wallet and car keys and napkins, and then putting it all back on/in), go up the escalator to the second floor (thankfully it wasn’t stairs!), and then proceed to the big room at the end of the hall (why is it always at the end of the hall?!) before the 8:00 am deadline! Had it not been for leaving home a little early (yes, I anticipated I would have trouble finding the place), I would have been late. I’m not sure what the ramifications of that might have been. (My wife might have gotten a robo- call saying that she would have to pay $1,000 in gift cards to a foreign account so that the IRS wouldn’t allow the Sheriff to keep me in the pokey for not showing up for jury duty!—I think I heard about something like that happening in the news!). However, what we are going to look at in this month’s newsletter is a much more severe case of missing the signs, with much more dire consequences from Matthew 16:1-4.
The chapter opens by saying that “The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.” The Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t much like each other and hardly ever got together for anything. The Pharisees were the conservatives of the day. They largely came from the ranks of economically common people and had a trade. Pharisees ruled the synagogues (the local churches of the day), widely despised the heathen ways of the Romans, and viewed themselves as highly moral separatists. Theologically, they believed in angels and demons, in a bodily resurrection, and in the afterlife. Pharisees not only had a concern for the word and law of God, but also accepted and adhered to the rabbinical traditions (Indeed, Jesus would scold them for their self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and holding to traditions of men above the Scripture from God). The Sadducees were the liberals of the day. They were the aristocrats. Sadducees ruled the Temple and had a lucrative business based on robbing the people in the name of religion (they ran the money changing racket that Jesus condemned so strongly). Far from loathing the Romans, they weren’t opposed to snuggling up to them politically if it meant their power and pocketbooks could be increased. Sadducees did not believe in angels and demons, did not accept a bodily resurrection or afterlife, did not take the Bible literally (especially when it fit their worldly interests to not do so), did not adhere to rabbinical traditions, and weren’t afraid to live a little morally lax (okay, maybe more than a little lax at times!). The Pharisees and Sadducees were two decidedly disparate divisions of Judaism who didn’t care much for one another. However, when it came to coming against Jesus, the two groups were singing Kum-Ba-Ya from the same song sheet!
The two religious factions came together to “test” Jesus. They weren’t genuine seekers coming with open hearts and open minds willing to receive revelation from Christ. They asked Him for a “sign from heaven”, literally requesting a sign in the sky (note: it is important to notice that rather than asking for a fulfillment of some sign prophesied in Scripture, they asked for a sign in the stars that would have been more in line with a pagan calling on the Zodiac). The Lord could have provided a fireworks display that would put Disney World to shame, He could have caused Jupiter to trade places with Mars, He could have made the Sun and the Moon be partners in a square dance, and still the Sadducees and Pharisees would have found reason not to believe that Jesus was the Messiah! The religious leaders asked for signs from Christ on five separate occasions. While He refused to kowtow to their demands, Jesus gave plenty of miraculous and mighty markers pointing to His Messiahship for anyone open to receive.
Time would fail to speak of all the Old Testament Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Christ, but let’s just look at a few. It was foretold that the Messiah would be Virgin born, and of course Jesus is the only One ever Who fulfilled this requirement (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 7:14). Micah 5:2 prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Hosea 11:1 speaks of the Messiah being called out of Egypt, fulfilled of course by Joseph fleeing with Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod the Great slaying the babies in Bethlehem. Furthermore, the Messiah would be: rejected by His own people (Isa. 53:1); betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver (Psalm 41:9; Zech. 11:12-13); remain silent before His accusers (Isa. 53:7-8); mocked, taunted and spit upon (Isa. 50:6; Psalm 22:7-8); die among the wicked and buried in the tomb of the rich (Isa. 53:9); and raised to life in that He would “see His offspring” even after His substitutionary death (Isa. 53: 10). Read Psalm 22 (written some 1,000 years before Christ) and Isaiah 53 (written some 750 years before Christ) and you would think you were reading a New Testament gospel passage because of its miraculous prophesying of the details of Jesus’ crucifixion! When John the Baptist asked for confirmation that Jesus was the Messiah (a fact to which which he being the prophesied forerunner had already attested—Mal. 3:1; Isa. 40:3; John 1:29), the Lord graciously replied that He was fulfilling the Old Testament Messianic prophecies of the blind receiving their sight, the lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing again, the dead being raised up, and the poor having the gospel preached to them (Isa. 35:5ff; Isa. 61:1ff.; Matt. 11:5)! Someone has calculated that the odds of any one person fulfilling all the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, as Christ did, is 1 in 10157. That’s one out of 10 with 157 zeroes behind it! If the Pharisees and Sadducees would have simply opened their hearts, opened their minds, opened their eyes, and yes, opened their Bibles, which they claimed to be experts in, and actually believed that the Word of God was true, they would have seen the signs that the promised Messiah was indeed standing right in front of them! But they were blinded by their brazen unbelief and they missed the signs!
Jesus’ response to the religious leaders not only rejects their demands, but rebukes them in the strongest possible language calling them “an evil and adulterous generation.” Now, the men in these groups would never have described themselves in such terms. Like mankind in general, they would have declared their own righteousness; being quick to point out their good deeds, not recognizing their evil ones, and certainly seeing themselves as in the upper 10% of humanity in general while looking down their noses at the remaining 90% (see Luke 18:9-12). In their own eyes, they weren’t evil and they weren’t adulterous. But what do you call a religious leader who won’t go to Heaven and by his teaching blocks the way for others as well (Matt. 23:13)? What adjective adequately describes someone who puts their fallible-manmade traditions above the infallible-divinely inspired Word of God (Matt. 15:1-9)? Where are the words to tell the horror of “ministers” (more like mercenaries!) who steal from people in the name of the Lord, turning the house of God into a den of robbers (Matt. 21:13)? What language could be utilized to speak of those who would trump up charges against an innocent Man, stir up a mob to call for the release of a murderer over the Messiah, and would ultimately have the Son of God, Who only went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil, sadistically slain upon a cruel wooden cross? Jesus certainly had it right when He called them “evil and adulterous.” Truly, as always is the case, those who miss the signs about who Jesus is, invariably miss the signs about who they are!
Now, let’s get personal for a minute, at least as personal as we can be over written correspondence. Let me ask you. Are you missing the signs? Do you know who Jesus is? Do you believe in Him as a good man, as a great preacher, as a grand miracle worker, but fail to put your trust in Him as the only Savior, the promised Messiah, the only acceptable Sacrifice for sinners, the One Who is the way, the truth, the life, and apart from Whom no one will come to God the Father and inherit the bliss of Heaven? Do you know who you are apart from Christ? Do you see yourself as an imperfect person, but still a good person, or at least a better than average person who certainly deserves Heaven and definitely doesn’t deserve Hell? Or do you have the biblical picture of yourself as one who has fallen short of the glory of God, one who has earned the wage of death for your sins, one whose best righteousness is as filthy rags in the eyes the Holy Lord of Eternity, one who justly deserves the righteous condemnation of the Almighty and the subsequent sentence of Hell where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die for the unrighteous words, thoughts, and deeds you have spoken with your mouth, harbored in your heart, believed in your head, and performed with your hands? The signs are there. The conviction you’ve felt when you’ve done what you know isn’t right. The 10 Commandments of God that you’ve broken time and time again. The Sermon on the Mount where Jesus elevated the concept of God’s law clearly teaching it’s not just murder but anger, not just adultery but lust, that makes one worthy of hell-fire. Don’t miss the signs that you’re guilty! As for the signs of who Jesus is, they’re right before your eyes too. Remember all of those prophecies He fulfilled and the Apostles who gave up their lives for the message that He had really risen from the dead. Christ offers the gift of salvation if you will but repent of sin (turn sincerely away from it) and put faith (absolute, exclusive trust) in Him as Savior. See Him for who He is! See yourself for who you are! Follow the signs of Scripture leading to salvation! Finally, if today, or perhaps even decades ago, you saw these signs and now genuinely know the Savior, then rejoice and give glory to God Who opened your eyes and for the faith and grace by which you have received His wondrous mercy! Indeed, the song of the saved, the song of the seers of the signs, shall ever be, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!”