Matthew 16:1-4 The Pharisees Want a Sign

View by the Sea of Galilee

View by the Sea of Galilee

Jesus has just come off the mountaintop and He and His disciples headed to another seaport town on the Sea of Galilee named Magadan. When I Googled this town, Daily Bible Study tells me it might actually be the same town Mary Magdalene came from. Upon arrival, they meet the Pharisees again. I wonder if this group is made up of the same men as Jesus has encountered before. Was there a group assigned to follow Him wherever He went, or is every encounter filled with new faces? Jesus’ short answer to them this time leads me to believe at least some of them were familiar faces and had asked the same question of Him before.

Matthew doesn’t tell us of any miracles or teaching Jesus did while in this area. We are only told of this one encounter while ashore. I wonder if that means that Jesus and His group just stopped off for a quick moment or if whatever else happened there was so routine that it simply didn’t get mentioned. Why did Jesus come to this town in the first place? Is it possible that Jesus stopped here for some alone time after His three day marathon meeting? Did the Pharisees appearance prompt Jesus’ departure from the region? So many questions I want to ask. I think it is time to go meet Jesus on the street with these troublemakers. I’m going to put Jesus and His disciples near the shore when the group of Pharisees arrive.

Jesus is no stranger to this town. He lives just a boat ride away. Today, all was quiet as He and His disciples sat among the rocks eating their meal. They were enjoying the leftovers from the mountain top praise meeting. A little time passes and then group begins to break up into smaller groups. Thaddeus, Andrew, Matthew, and John began discussing some of the healings that happened during the last three days. Bartholomew, Judas, and Philip leaned back and began resting their eyes. Peter, Simon, and James headed off to perform maintenance on the boat. The other James and Thomas were putting out the fire used for cooking the fish and cleaning up the area after the meal. Jesus had walked a little further inland and appeared to be engaged in prayer. His disciples knew He needed time with God and respected His privacy during such moments.

Jesus is sitting on a large rock enjoying His time of refreshing with His Father. He doesn’t even need to speak. His prayers don’t all have to have words to be heard. Jesus and the Father’s hearts are perfectly attuned to each other. Jesus is simply resting in His Father’s embrace.

A group containing eight men approaches Jesus from the direction of the city. They are far enough away that their faces are obscured, but Jesus recognizes their distinctive style of dress, even from this distance. Another group of Pharisees, with a few Sadducees thrown in along for good measure. The first thought through Jesus’ head is, “Father, give me strength. Here they come again.” Jesus stands up and begins casually walking back towards where His disciples are waiting. He is ignoring the approaching group as if He hadn’t even seen them.

The leader of the group, Lucas, speeds up his pace slightly. The other members of the group are forced to quicken their pace so as not to miss a second of this, sure to be monumental, confrontation with the infamous Jesus of Nazareth. These men are too dignified to run but they are NOT going to let Jesus out of their region without challenging Him. Lucas plans to make Him think twice about ever coming around here preaching His obscene doctrine. If all goes well, Lucas will be rewarded handsomely by the head council in Jerusalem for how He traps Jesus. Lucas has heard how Jesus has managed to silence other Pharisees, but he is not concerned, because he studied under the best teachers in the land and can best anyone in an argument. He has been longing for his chance to go up against this thorn in Israel’s side.

The Pharisees reach Jesus just as He hits the beach. Jesus’ disciples saw Him approaching and are all moving towards Him too. Lucas says, “A moment of Your time please Teacher.” Jesus turns to face the group. He is silent, but it is obvious that He is waiting for them to make the first move. Jesus knows what is in their hearts and He is not going to make this easy for them. He can read Lucas’ arrogance blindfolded.

Lucas, bows ever so slightly, intending to catch Jesus off guard with his display of respect. “Please Teacher, show us a sign that we too might believe. I’m certain if You are who You claim to be, this should be very easy for You. All we are asking for in one definitive sign from Heaven.”

Jesus disciples have reached His side by now and are listening as Lucas as he addresses Jesus with words covered in honey dripping from his mouth. That “honey” can’t disguise the venom contained under it. John thinks, “Does he really think Jesus is going to fall for that old trick again?” Peter covers the smile and laugh, with a cough. Jesus sighs inwardly and draws on the Father’s strength again to deal with this SAME question. Silently He thinks, “I would have thought they would share information better than this. Didn’t I answer this same question not too long ago?”

Jesus, His face a mask of complete patients, asks, “When you see the sky painted red in the evening, you interpret it to mean fair weather is ahead. And when you see the sky ominous and red in the morning, you believe it will be stormy that day, do you not?”

Lucas replies, “Of course. Everyone knows this to be so.”

“Then how can you be so blind to the signs you see played out before your eyes every day concerning Me.”

“What signs? I see no signs. You have showed us nothing definitive”, Lucas barks.

“Since you have willingly chosen to ignore the signs already provided by God through the prophets, I will not indulge you with another one for you to ignore. The final sign I will give you is the sign of Jonah.” At this Jesus turns and walks away. Jesus disciples quickly follow as He heads straight for their boat.

Lucas shouts out to Jesus’ receding back, “Explain the sign of Jonah to us.” But Jesus refuses to respond. All Lucas can do now is watch as Jesus and His disciples climb aboard their boat and head out to sea, while Lucas contemplates whether he can call this encounter a “win” for himself. Lucas’ face is burning with anger at Jesus’ remarks about him willfully ignoring God and the prophets. Lucas is also contemplating the absurdity of Jesus’ statement about Jonah. Lucas had heard the reports of another encounter between Jesus and another group of Pharisees, where Jesus claimed He would be in the earth for three days. Jesus had to be completely crazy if He thought anyone would believe that He could perform that sign. Lucas straightens his robes, turns towards the group, and says, “I guess that should keep Him away from our coastline for a while.” The others nod their heads in agreement and the group returns to the city.

Father God, do You ever get tired of me asking the same questions over and over again? Am I being too nosey wanting ALL the details and background? Should I simply shut up and go with what You provided? If this was what You wanted from me, why did You give me such an active imagination? Why did You put such a deep curiosity in me? I had to laugh here because I’m right back to asking questions again.

When my children were little and would come to me with a thousand questions, I would sometimes answer them with a pat answer that was meant to stop further questions. It didn’t work with them any more than it worked with the Pharisees. The only difference between the two seekers was their reason for asking. The Pharisees asked Jesus questions so they could trap Him. My children asked me questions so they could either receive an answer they could understand or simply to have me give them my attention. Am I attention seeking in my questions or do I sincerely have a desire to know? Maybe I do both too.

I’m so glad that, even when the motives are wrong, You still respond to each of us when we come to You. Jesus could have turned His back on the Pharisees and Sadducees and refused to even address them, but He didn’t. Inwardly, did He get tired of their repeating the same question? All their “questions” boil down to, “How dare you! Who do you think you are anyway?” And the biggest problem with that question was that they knew the answer to it but refused to accept it. Talk about aggravating to the recipient!

Jesus, did You ever tease them with Your answers, like I did with my children? One of my favorites was the “what are we going to have for dinner” question. I would answer, “Food.” They would then ask, “What kind of food.” This got the answer, “The kind you put in your mouth and chew.” They would then start the whole cycle over again with the same question of, “What’s for dinner.” I still get a chuckle out of that commonly repeated interaction. Did You do anything like that? Did You ever antagonize them with Your answers? As You head back to the boat that day, were You inwardly chuckling at the Pharisees predictable response as I did with my dinner answer?

Thank You for reminding me that Your created laughter and a sense of humor. When I started this writing I saw Jesus as frustrated by this encounter. But now I feel that You have lightened my heart by reminding me of the game I played with my children. I’m going to have to ask them if they have ever played this sort of game with their children. I can imagine it being a bit of fun and funny to frustrate the Pharisees and Sadducees every now and then too. Thank You for the laughter again. I’ll try to remember not to ask “what’s for dinner” so often too.

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