“Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign”

Matthew 12:38-50

We are completing chapter 12 of the Book of Matthew today. So far in this chapter Jesus has been confronting the Pharisees with their pious behavior and their ludicrous accusations of Him. We have read through enough of the Old Testament to recognize that the Jewish nation wasn’t good at following God. They kept messing up and God kept sending kings, leaders and prophets to assist them, to no avail. Matthew has been putting into writing His change of faith from a Jewish tax collector to a follower of the Messiah. The other followers of Jesus at this time were also misfits. Not one of the in-crowd or closest to Jesus was of any connection to the Jewish leaders of His day. 

How sad. 

It wasn’t like those following Jesus along with Matthew completely understood what Jesus was up to, but they knew enough to let go of their previous beliefs and turn and follow the King of Kings. 

The men who were supposed to be leading the Israelites spiritually were lost. 

I think they were trapped. 

Trapped in their ego, with blinders on, defending their beliefs not faith. They had put more faith in the Torah than in the God who wrote it. 

Humans have a propensity to such behavior. Especially when they are the ones in charge. There is something about power, or perceived power, that clouds one’s thinking and vision. 

At this point in the story the religious leaders have convinced themselves that Jesus was not from God. 

So He had to be from Satan. 

That is about as far away from the truth as one could get. 

Last week we left off with Jesus basically telling the Pharisees they were out to lunch and the words they spoke would either exonerate them or execute them. 

Today we hear the response from the scribes and Pharisees. They request a sign. 

Did you notice how they addressed Jesus? 

Calling Him “Teacher.” 

Just a minute ago they said He was from Satan. 

Jesus wasn’t fooled for a minute. He knew that if He did provide a sign, they would turn around and find some way to speak against it and try to demonstrate again He was from Satan.

Instead, Jesus called it like it was. 

Those who seek after signs are the evil and adulterous ones. 

Seriously, hadn’t Jesus already provided enough miracles? Obviously not enough for the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus didn’t provide a sign. Instead He told them what was to come, a great sign, that of a resurrected Jesus. Jesus used the picture of Jonah, who spent three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, to describe His future work. 

The reference made here to “three days and three nights” does not mean that Jesus had to spend at least 72 hours in the grave. In Jesus’ day, this phrase was understood as, a day and a night to mean a whole day, as well as a portion of a whole day to mean a whole day. They didn’t count hours. The first mechanical clocks had not been invented until around the start of the 14th century. 

The central point of Jesus’ statement goes back to His response to the scribes and Pharisees for a sign. Jesus was telling them “He was their sign.” Yet, they chose not to read it. The Ninevites recognized God’s warning in Jonah and the Queen of Sheba recognized God’s wisdom in Solomon. Those who have ears let them hear. 

Yet, greater light requires greater judgment. Jonah and the Queen of Sheba had lesser light than the religious leaders. The religious leaders had no excuse.

Adam Clarke, a British Methodist theologian described several ways that the witness of Jesus was greater than Jonah. 

  • “Christ, who preached to the Jews, was infinitely greater than Jonah, in his nature, person, and mission.”
  • “Jonah preached repentance in Nineveh for only forty days, and Christ preached among the Jews for several years.”
  • “Jonah wrought no miracles to authorize his preaching; but Christ wrought miracles every day, in every place where he went, and of every kind.”
  • “Notwithstanding all this, the people of Judea did not repent, though the people of Nineveh did.”

Jesus even goes so far as to say in verse 42, 

“…and now something greater than Solomon is here.”

Okay, we understand Jesus’ claim, but it is significant to take yourself back to the time when Jesus actually said those words, and to whom. First century, in front of the religious leaders of the Jewish nation. To claim to be “greater” than Israel’s richest and wisest king was downright audacious. 

Had we been there I am sure we would have seen the mouths of the religious leaders drop, and they would have looked at each other and pointed their fingers and said something like, “See what I mean? He’s out of His mind. He has to be from Satan.” 

Before the scribes and Pharisees could respond, Jesus continued using the example of demons, the very beings they were claiming Jesus was working for. Jesus’ use of demons as an illustration shows us that Jesus regarded demons as real and not just a contemporary superstition. Which means they are as alive today as they were in Jesus’ day. The Kingdom of God is here, but only in part. The Holy Spirit is helping those who allow Him to live for Christ and be ready for His return. That’s when Satan and his demons will be gone forever. In the meantime, Peter put it like this in 1 Peter 5:8, 

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Jesus’ description of demon’s behavior explains what happens when people reject Him. Some demons desire a human host and they seek a place that is empty. When someone has gotten rid of a demon, that demon seeks another host. When they fail to find it, they return to the previous host. Should they find that host empty, they take that as their invitation to re-enter. The meaning for empty in this case is a human without the indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Notice Jesus makes a point that it doesn’t matter to the demon if the host is “swept clean and put in order.” In other words, the person can be saying all the right religious things and doing all the right religious activities and yet not acknowledge Jesus. Today we would say they are religious but without a relationship with their Savior Jesus. 

Everything looks good on the outside, but on the inside they are empty. Demons aren’t offended by moralists. As long as the heart isn’t loyal to Jesus, Satan and His demons are able to use the person for their own purposes. In some ways, it may be even easier for demons to be in control, because neither the host or those around them are looking for demons or suspecting demons from a moral host. According to Jesus, when the demon returns he brings more demons with him and they make things even worse than it was before the demon was forced out in the first place. 

Jesus was pressing the seriousness of being filled with the Holy Spirit. It was the power of Jesus and His Spirit that will keep us from demon possession. It has nothing to do with our morality. This was a slap in the face to those religious leaders whom Jesus was addressing. 

It is most likely more prevalent today than most Christians recognize. Christianity has its charlatans as well. Those who look good, talk good, and are able to perform wonderful acts of goodness. But inside they are empty and they are used as pawns for Satan and his demons. A great example of this is in the novels, This Present Darkness  & Piercing the Darkness, written by Frank E. Peretti. Peretti presents two sides to life, the side we see and live, and then the spiritual side, of angels and demons. Each side affects the other, for good or for bad, depending on relationships with Jesus.  

Here’s the tricky part, trying to figure out whether what is being done is from the Holy Spirit. There are some litmus tests that can be utilized. 


First, 1 Corinthians 14:33,

 “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”

Paul wrote this to the Corinthians when they couldn’t decide if a prophecy was from God or not. 

Second, does it agree with Scripture? This is where knowing your Bible is important. The scribes and Pharisees thought they knew the Bible and thought they were defending God. Which brings me to the… 

Third point. God does not need defending. His Word is enough. Jesus the Word was enough. But did you notice in today’s Scripture no matter what He said or did, the religious leaders refused to see? John wrote in John 8:31&32,

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Lastly, Does it glorify God? Humans are masters at twisting things to look like they are glorifying God when in fact, they are glorifying themselves. Which brings us back to Jesus’ example of being a servant. To be like Jesus, we are called to serve others, not judge them. The Kingdom of God definitely looks upside-down. 

Matthew then tells us that while Jesus was talking to the multitudes His mother and brothers were outside and wanted to speak to Him. We can only imagine that they had come to talk some sense into Jesus. 


They had obviously heard what the Pharisees were saying about Him and maybe if they could reach Him they could hopefully restrain Him from being seen as ludicrous and crazy. 

As a Jew, we might have thought His immediate family would have had some special place or privileges. It seems like a surprise that even His mother Mary had no special favor. Instead, Jesus claims that, 

“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” 

A direct contrast with the religious leaders He had just confronted. Yet, in this gracious invitation, Jesus was inviting anyone who chose to follow Him, could be in the family of God. 

Even those religious leaders who had deepened their hostility against Jesus could still come and be a part. 

Let us not leave today without responding to this invitation. 

Whether for the first time or as a reminder, that when we chose to live with the Holy Spirit and we chose to do the will of God, we are members of the family of God and Jesus is our brother. Amen. 

Let’s pray.