15th April 2023
Read (Matthew 16v1-12)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
I grew up in the city of Belfast and so had no idea about the ways of the countryside but what I did know was "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight. Red sky at morning, shepherd's warning." I've no recollection of who taught me that little rhyme but nevertheless if the sky had that reddish tone in the evening I expected a good day to follow.
Jesus knew this little nugget of wisdom too. He told the Pharisees and Sadducees “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’" (v2-3). Sadly Christ's opponents had not come to talk about tomorrow's weather but in order to see a sign from heaven.
They had already demanded a sign back in Matthew 12 and the Lord told them then what He was also to repeat in Matthew 16. Christ had performed more than enough miracles to authenticate His identity and mission. His opponents could predict what tomorrow's weather was going to be and yet they couldn't recognise the arrival of the Messiah. The problem wasn't a lack of signs but rather a lack of faith in the Pharisees and Sadducees. Therefore Jesus described His opponents as "an evil and adulterous generation" (v4). They would receive only one more sign and that would be the sign of Jonah.
What was the sign of Jonah? The prophet was dead and buried in the belly of a great fish and yet after three days and nights the Lord raised him to life. In the same way Jesus would be crucified, dead and buried and in the tomb for three days and three nights. Just as Jonah was raised to life, so too Jesus would stand again upon the earth. The sign of Jonah was the miracle of the resurrection and it remains a sure testimony to the authenticity and power of Christ. Jesus is the crucified and risen Lord in whom all must believe.
Later the Lord taught His disciples to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (v6). What does this phrase mean? A little leaven added to a batch of dough spreads through the whole lump. You may add only a little yeast in your bread recipe but that yeast has a widespread impact. The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees was sinful unbelief. It was a leaven that refused to see what was at the end of their nose and a leaven that demanded a sign in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Christ needed to warn His disciples because despite having witnessed two miraculous feasts for thousands of people, they were now discussing among themselves saying "We brought no bread." (v7). Jesus rebuked them and said “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (v8-11).
How quickly the disciples had forgotten! They had served food to thousands of people at the miraculous provision of Christ and here they were scratching their heads about a lack of bread. Yet Jesus wasn't merely talking about bread but rather the bigger picture of faith (v12). His opponents looked the part and were no doubt seen as fine upstanding members of the community but they opposed Christ at every turn even suggesting that He was in league with Satan. Christ had provided a feast and yet they would neither eat nor drink.
We are so often people of little faith. The Lord has graciously opened our eyes and given us new hearts and speaks to us by His Word and washes us in baptism and feeds us in the supper and listens as we pray, but sometimes we act as if God has left us starving. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, it is the leaven of sinful disbelief and its destination is Hell.
Q21 Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect? The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever.