“Jesus, Do a Magic Trick.”
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
From the Bible: Matthew 16:1b-4, I Peter 3:15, Psalms 86:17a, Romans 1:4
Matt. 16:1b (Holman) . . . and as a test, asked him to show them a sign from
The religious leaders held a strange belief. They felt miracles done on Earth could be caused by God, people, or demons. They believed the only way a miracle could for sure be said to be exclusively of God was if it fell down “from heaven.”
They wanted to see something spectacular plummet from the sky. Joshua stopped sun and moon (JS 10:12-13). Samuel caused thunder (I SM 7:10). Elijah called down fire (1 K 18). For Isaiah (38:8), the sun’s shadow went backward.
The logic of the religious leaders is hard to understand. Why would they be more impressed with sun, moon, thunder, fire, and a shadow than with the healing of vast multitudes? We don’t know why, but evidently they were.
The religious leaders acted as if Jesus were a magician, a juggler. They taunted Him to show them His best trick, as if He were their court jester, a joker.
These men were not genuine seekers; they were not humbly trying to find their way. They were adamant unbelievers who wanted to ambush Jesus. If He did nothing, they could say He was a fraud. If He did something, they could say it wasn’t enough, or that actions like His might instigate a rebellion against Rome.
Jesus gave Israel signs aplenty. It was ludicrous for the religious leaders to demand more evidence. They were like many today who have preconceived notions about how God ought to act, and thus decide to limit Him as to the method He must use to prove His deity. Evidence has to flow through channels they dig.
People have built-in fallacies when it comes to testing God. We emphasize the physical; God primarily deals in the spiritual. We like the spectacular and visible; God prefers to act quietly on what is deep inside us. We want more evidence; God says do not overlook the abundant evidence He’s already provided.
Another problem we have these days is, skepticism and doubt are very much in vogue. Saying “I’m not sure” is cool, intellectual, and politically correct.
“I do not know” is a statement of advanced learning. Doubts have become the theater on which some display their intellectual power (W. H. Williams).
People who want to doubt can always find ample reasons to not believe. This is why Charles Spurgeon did not promote Apologetics. He said we can never answer all the objections. I agree, but we must train people to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 P 3:15). We’ll not answer all a cynic’s questions, but we can help true seekers.
This raises a pertinent question. How does presumptuous skepticism differ from genuine seeking? A story might help. During Holy Week a friend called me. In the midst of an extremely difficult, discouraging time, he is battling depression. He had just read the story of Gideon, who used a sign to test God, and wanted to know what I thought about his doing the same thing. His test would be, God is still with him if someone out of the blue mentioned to him the story of Gideon.
I tried to explain the difference between demanding a self-chosen particular sign versus the Psalmist’s prayer, “Show me a sign of Your goodness” (86:17a). It’s okay to urge God to give us a sign, a token, for good. There’s nothing wrong with asking God to uplift us, to give us an extraordinary expression of His smile. The problem comes in trying to dictate to God what these expressions have to be.
Having told my friend (and you) what I believe, let me humbly and honestly tell the rest of the story. The next Sunday afternoon, my friend called again. In his Pastor’s Easter message, the preacher mentioned some people struggle with doubt, as Gideon did. I was reminded, God can do whatever He wants to do. It’s good for Pastors to experience things like this occasionally to remind us to be humble. I did not change my opinion, but I am humbler about it than I was before.
Jesus refused to oblige His detractors. He never was big on applause. They wanted a sign “from heaven”. He said, “By the way, speaking of the heavens. . .”
Matt. 16:2-3 He answered them: “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be good weather because the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times.”
These men were better weather forecasters than religious leaders. Experts in things less important, they failed in the very area they were needed most. They favored focusing on weather over focusing on what Jesus’ life and miracles meant.
Were they totally blind, unable to see the obvious, incapable of reading the handwriting on the wall? Did they not discern dead ritual and lackadaisical faith in Israel were leaving little time for repentance? Doom and judgment are coming. In 40 years, Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, the nation of Israel overturned. Unwilling to see the obvious, they could not tell Messiah had come.
Many today are like them, spending more time watching a weather channel than reading the Bible. These men were eager to know about tomorrow’s weather, but had no interest in pondering what would determine their tomorrows forever.
God created a world in which we usually have signs we can discern when trying to predict weather. He also provides ways to discern the times. Don’t give more time to weather conditions than to signs revealing our spiritual condition.
Always be examining ourselves. Ask the tough questions. How are we doing spiritually? Are our daily devotions vibrant? Do they even exist? Can we remember a time when we were closer to God than we are now? Test yourself.
Matt. 16:4a “An evil and adulterous generation wants a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”
The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted a sign “from heaven”. Jesus Himself was the sign of signs for all time. He literally came down “from heaven”.
Jonah was Jesus’ Old Testament prototype. Sailors cast Jonah into the deep. The Pharisees and Sadducees will try to silence Jesus’ voice by casting Him away.
Jonah came back. Jesus will too. Jonah carried a message to Gentiles in Nineveh resulting in many being saved. Jesus will do the same for all the world.
Unbelievers desperately need to hear and understand this text. The one irrefutable sign given to help them believe is Jesus’ resurrection from death. It proves He is beyond question the Son of the living God. Jesus “was established as the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
Twelve men who saw Him dead later saw Him alive. To prove their faith in this, they died martyrs’ deaths. People do not die for fairy tales or concocted lies.
Evidence supporting Jesus’ resurrection was abundant, but even this was not enough for the religious leaders. They rejected even this well documented sign. When they were told of it, they paid soldiers to lie about it (MT 28:11-15).
Are we like the religious leaders? Do we want proof? Are we demanding more evidence? Plenty has already been given. Jesus rose from the dead.