Spiritual Signs and Spiritual Truth: Matthew 16:1-12

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Continuing our journey through Matthew’s gospel brings us to a challenge Jesus receives from a group of Pharisees and Sadducees, and also to a challenge Jesus gives His disciples that they initially misunderstand. Let’s read what Matthew tells us and discover what we can learn from our passage for this episode.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 16, and we will read from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us that:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus, wanting to trick him. So they asked him to show them a miracle from God.

Jesus answered, “At sunset you say we will have good weather, because the sky is red. And in the morning you say that it will be a rainy day, because the sky is dark and red. You see these signs in the sky and know what they mean. In the same way, you see the things that I am doing now, but you don’t know their meaning. Evil and sinful people ask for a miracle as a sign, but they will not be given any sign, except the sign of Jonah.” Then Jesus left them and went away.

Let’s pause reading here because I want to draw our attention onto an interesting counter challenge Jesus gives to these religious leaders. First, these leaders come to Jesus asking Him to show them a sign, specifically a miracle from God. On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be a trick or a trap. However, the trap comes in a spiritual form because if Jesus would have performed a miracle for them, it would have taken the focus off of God and placed it upon Himself – which is something Jesus didn’t do. Similar to what Jesus was tempted to do in the wilderness after His baptism, this challenge was to use His divine ability for His own benefit.

Instead of falling to this temptation, Jesus challenges these religious leaders by telling them that there were already signs present that they should open their eyes to. Similar to how the weather gives its own predictions that they had learned to pay attention to, Jesus gave signs throughout His entire ministry that were clearly visible to all who were paying attention.

Jesus challenges the leaders by saying that evil people ask for signs. In my mind, this is because those who demand signs are simply discounting or out-rightly ignoring the signs that are already being given.

Continuing in verse 5, Matthew tells us that:

Jesus’ followers went across the lake, but they had forgotten to bring bread. Jesus said to them, “Be careful! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”

His followers discussed the meaning of this, saying, “He said this because we forgot to bring bread.”

Knowing what they were talking about, Jesus asked them, “Why are you talking about not having bread? Your faith is small. Do you still not understand? Remember the five loaves of bread that fed the five thousand? And remember that you filled many baskets with the leftovers? 10 Or the seven loaves of bread that fed the four thousand and the many baskets you filled then also? 11 I was not talking to you about bread. Why don’t you understand that? I am telling you to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” 12 Then the followers understood that Jesus was not telling them to beware of the yeast used in bread but to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

In this trip across the lake, I wonder if Jesus intentionally spoke in a way that caused a misunderstanding. Not much time had passed between the miracles of feeding the two large crowds, and I wonder if some of the disciples had bread on their minds as they were crossing the lake.

While Jesus regularly spoke spiritual truths using literal examples, the disciples seem to always focus on the literal concept before understanding the spiritual truth. In the case of this event, yeast is physically used in bread, so Jesus must be talking about bread, even though the phrase doesn’t really make sense that the disciples should be concerned about bread from the Pharisees and Sadducees.

With this misunderstanding, Jesus actually has the opportunity to emphasize two different truths. The truth Jesus wanted the disciples to understand they eventually figured out, and that truth is found in verse 12, where Matthew tells us: “Then the followers understood that Jesus was not telling them to beware of the yeast used in bread but to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

However, the bonus truth that Jesus could reemphasize because of this misunderstanding is a truth about trust in God. When hearing the conversation turn to not having any bread, Jesus steps in and questions why they even went there. After being present for two extraordinary miracles involving food multiplying in incredible ways, the last thing the disciples should be concerned about is a lack of bread. Using the same ratios as Jesus’ earlier miracles, a crumb in the corner of the boat could have been enough to feed Jesus and all twelve of His disciples till they were full.

With this misunderstanding, Jesus emphasizes the truth that God is more than willing to supply us with what we need, and He is very aware of what we need. Jesus also wants us to be aware of the dangers of placing our trust in the teachings of men. This is because the teaching of men, and you could say of women, changes over time with tradition. However, the spiritual truth God wants to teach us never changes. The big truths and themes of the Bible are just as true as they were when they were written as they are today, regardless of how culture, technology, or humanity has changed.

In our lives, we should ask God to help open our eyes to His truth, to His signs, and to His moving in the world today. Instead of being skeptical of something new, we should bring what we discover to God and let Him help us determine if it is worthy of our time, our energy, or our efforts. God wants the best for us, and when we live for Him, He will guide us along the path He has called us to walk!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, be sure to intentionally seek God first in your life and place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Him. Choose to trust that God will supply all your needs and ask Him to help you walk the path He created you to walk, and for help opening your eyes to see what He wants you to see and focus on.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each day. Through a strong prayer and study life, you will grow a solid foundation and relationship with God that will withstand the storms Satan wants to throw your way.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or let Satan trick you out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 29: When the religious leaders come to Jesus with a trap, discover how Jesus counter-challenges them before warning His disciples about being deceived by their teachings.

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