“Are You Missing Jesus?”

Matthew 16:1-12


> Based on what is already in our brain, from our past

> That’s why we get stressed out when we drive to a place we have never been before

  • How many of you have driven through a new city
  • Your brain is in overdrive because it has to process all the new information, it is constantly working to find a place to connect to previous information.

What optical illusions do is they take information in the brain down a dead end and it gets trapped. 

With the younger/older woman, once you see one of the faces, you have difficulty viewing the other. It doesn’t mean you aren’t intelligent, it just means your brain has taken the squiggly lines and created the most familiar image and once it does that it thinks it has it. Then you need to retrain your brain to back up and reinterpret the same lines as something different. 

That’s what makes it an optical illusion. 

It is also a profound reality about our brain. This type of thing doesn’t just happen with what we see. It also happens with everything around us. This is how our brain also works with our relationships. 

When we see people, or we meet someone, we are immediately sizing them up, with everything we know about people and everything we know about this person. So the way the initial reaction goes will shape the perception of that person. So once you start going down a road of how you perceive someone, it is difficult to retrace and see them differently. Much like trying to see the older woman, once you see the younger woman. 

This is especially true of how people perceive Jesus. This optical illusion is a helpful image of what is happening in the story we read in Matthew this morning. 

Today’s Scripture begins with the Pharisees and Sadducees approaching Jesus to test Him. The test has to do with Jesus performing a sign. This is not the first time Jesus has been asked by them to show a sign. 

Back in Matthew 12 some Pharisees and some other scholars had approached Jesus requesting a sign. 

A couple of things are going on here. 

First, Matthew is writing this to demonstrate the hostility and opposition the religious leaders have towards Jesus.

Second, were we back in the day of Jesus, and we were to see both the Sadducees and Pharisees working together, it would make our jaw drop. So that you could understand the impact, if it were to happen today, it would be like the leaders of the Republican party and Democratic party coming together and to test Jesus, heads would turn. 

We have two very influential leadership groups in Israel that spit venom at each other, 


when they have a common threat, 

namely Jesus. 

There were the Pharisees. They were the moral Spiritual leaders, working in the synagogue. They were Bible geeks and did everything right. The kind of neighbors you wanted to live next to. But the Sadducees were different. They come from Jerusalem and they are a web of families who were in leadership over the temple. When you think of the “temple,” you need to picture in your mind, “Washington, D.C., White House, Congress, etc.” It was the center of political and religious influence. Sort of like the Kennedy family or Bush family. Think of a web of families where they are all connected to the most influential and powerful people at the top. If you were in Jerusalem and you wanted to rub shoulders with important people, you would need to meet a member of the Sadducees.

In today’s Scripture we have bitter enemies who have joined together because of a common threat, Jesus. 

In their eyes, Jesus was in Galilee and had started this “Kingdom of God” movement. He was from the sticks, a town, Nazareth, that nobody cares about and was barely on the map. Now this guy and his ragged men have created serious momentum. 

The leaders of Jerusalem have traveled to find Jesus and asked Him to produce a sign from heaven. Okay, these men had spent their lives immersed in the Old Testament Scriptures. They knew them inside and out. 

There is a story here. 

Can you think of a time in the Old Testament, when the leaders of Israel came in contact with a prophet? And there was a showdown where the prophet was demanded to show a sign from heaven, to prove his authenticity. 

Anyone know the story I am referring to?


Remember, there was King Ahab, an Israelite king who had married a Canaanite princess, Jezebel and they had introduced the worship of the Canaanite gods, Baal, all over Israel. Then there was Elijah, a fiery prophet, who lived in the desert. He challenges Ahab to a showdown of the gods. Ahab gathers 450 gurus of Baal and they build two different altars. The gurus of Baal pray and dance and do a bunch of crazy things and nothing happens. Elijah douses his altar with water and then prays to the God of Israel to reveal Himself and fire comes from heaven and the altar burns up. 

There it is, a sign from heaven. 

Now, back to the Pharisees and Sadducees, do they actually care about Jesus? 

Do they actually believe Jesus was going to show them a sign that He was really the Messiah? 

No, Matthew tells us this was a test. They have come to show Jesus up, as the sham they believe He is. It’s as if they see themselves as Elijah and that Jesus was a charlatan prophet, like Ahab. 

However, in Jesus’ mind, it is the reverse. The leaders of Israel were the sham and Jesus was the prophet of God. Notice Jesus’s response. He responds like He often does. He starts talking about some other subject, all together. 

Jesus goes on to talk about the color of the sky in the evening and the morning and how people have figured out how to predict the weather based on that information. He tells them they have managed to interpret those signs. 

As a wicked and adulterous generation they want more signs but they will not get them, except He will give them one sign, the sign of Jonah. 

Then Jesus walks away. 

What just happened?

Let’s go back and think. 

Does Jesus for even one moment entertain the Pharisees and Sadducees and play their game? 

No, forget it, Jesus doesn’t care about that. 

He’s not going to jump through the hoops they have set up. Like He was going to do something fantastic and amazing to prove Himself to them.

Instead, He tells a parable. 

He reminds them they were able to tell the signs of the sky. Now think, at this time period, in this place most of the people were farmers. It was imperative that they figure out what the weather was going to be so they could ensure a good crop. 

What are the signs of the sky? 

There is a modern parable for this, 

“Red skies at night, sailors delight.

Red skies in the morning, sailors take warning.”

Good for farmers and sailors. 

Now let’s look at what the sign of the sky is. 

What color is it if there is going to be good weather? Red.

What color is it if there is going to be bad weather? Red.

Same color, so how do you know? 

Experience, time, familiarity. 

Quite similar to the drawing we looked at of the women. 

Jesus was telling the Pharisees and Sadducees that they were savvy people. Their brains were able to tell them all kinds of things, even if they are identical. The same set of lines, and our brains eventually can get there. It can produce two different interpretations of the same thing. Humans have the ability to do such things. 

But, somehow when the Pharisees and Sadducees were looking at the mission of Jesus they were unable to see what was right in front of them. They could read the signs of the sky, but they could not read the “signs of the time.” 

Ever heard that phrase before? 

This is a phrase that has entered the English language through King James, through Jesus. Jesus actually borrows this phrase, the “signs of the times,” from the book of Daniel, chapters 7, 9 and 11. Jesus knows the men who were testing Him were Bible geeks. He takes His cues from Old Testament Scripture. 

Jesus sees Himself and the people of Israel in a dramatic story which is coming to a culmination point. Back in the book of Daniel, Daniel was reading the signs around him. Israel had been on a collision course with Babylon. Israel had turned away from faithfulness to God who had saved them from being slaves in Egypt. They had neglected the teachings of the Torah, they had stopped listening to the prophets who had been calling them to repent and return to the God of Israel. Israel had gained a very narrow and nationalistic vision of itself. 

Instead of being a people of priests to the nations and a city on a hill with the light for the nations, Israel began to see the nations as their enemy. They began praying that God would wipe out all the other nations and save them. The prophets called Israel to turn away from that vision. They didn’t so they ended up in Babylon. 

Jesus sees Himself in that same tradition as the way of the prophets. He was calling Israel, of His day, to repent and turn and embrace the way of the Kingdom. Because He sees the Israel of His day on a collision course, not with Babylon this time, but with Rome. Yet, in Jesus’ mind, the Romans are not the problem. But, Israel has taken on a vision of itself as if Rome really was the problem. Think about it, they believed, 

“If we could get another king David to set up his kingdom here in Jerusalem and take over the Romans, 

then we would all obey the Torah and it would be the Kingdom of God here on earth.”

Jesus comes and says, “NO. The way of the Kingdom of God is very different from that.”

This is the upside-down announcement of the Kingdom. 

Jesus was trying to expose what He sees as real of the human condition. It’s not that the Jewish people are the good guys and the non-Jews are the bad guys. Think back a few weeks ago, in the last chapter, Jesus exposed what He thinks the real issue is, 

It’s the crookedness of the human heart. 

Humans are bent towards self preservation. We want to define good and evil for ourselves, because we know where history ought to be going. 

Jesus looks at this and says,

It’s the vileness of the broken heart that is responsible for all the conflict, violence and misunderstanding of the human condition. Jesus sees his calling is to deal with that issue, the problem of the heart. 

So Jesus calls the lost sheep of Israel to come, repent and embrace the ways of the Kingdom. 


Messiah comes to kill, wipe out the bad guys and put Israel on top. 

Think about it, if you want to be the most influential person in Jesus’ kingdom….. You go to the bottom. 

If you want to have the most power….. You become the servant of all. 

If you want to save your life…. You have to give up your life in serving other people. 

Jesus is going to live out this vision of the Kingdom all the way to the cross. 

This was so NOT what Israel’s leaders had in mind. They had no categories for it.  It was so off the map of how they thought the story was going, they just couldn’t see Jesus. 

The Son of God was standing right in front of them, but they couldn’t see Him for who He really is. 

It’s like their brains were trapped. It was like they could only see one interpretation of the drawing. Jesus tried to help them, but they were just trapped. It wasn’t just some kind of mishap. There was an independent stubbornness.

Think about it. 

Had Jesus ever performed any signs and wonders? 

Of course, He has been performing left and right. Healing people, rescuing people from danger and feeding people. Both Jewish and Gentile. Not one of Jesus’ signs was some public spectacle, or fantastic show of His power. That’s because Jesus’ signs and miracles are meant to prove that He’s the Messiah. They were meant to point to who He is and open up windows to the heart of God. 

Jesus has given lots of signs, but somehow, Israel’s leaders have made their minds up and they can’t see Jesus. 

There is a Jewish commentator W.D. Davies who has a Commentary on Matthew that explains this quite well. 

“The chief lesson here is that seeing is not believing. The truth is that one does not see until one believes, for the faith that holds the soul also rules one’s perception… Matthew paints here a telling picture of sad men who, professing to want evidence, in fact, refuse to see the proofs right in front of their noses. 

Jesus’ miracles, while certainly evidence that God is at work in him, are always healing or saving, worked for the benefit of others. They are never straightforward, overpowering marvels aimed at convincing skeptics…. Jesus’ way is not to force belief through stupendous miracles. His persuasion is roundabout, that it may beget an authentic faith. It is Jesus’ habit to hide himself and keep silent before the challenges of unbelief, and his good pleasure to make himself known to a faith already held.” 

This is how Jesus works with people who hate Him throughout the gospels. Jesus’ practice of interacting with people this way is going to come to a head when we get to the scene of His trial and crucifixion.  Remember, there were people there saying, “Just tell us! Tell us who you are!” And Jesus was either silent or He gave oblique answers like, “Who do you say that I am?” 

Jesus wants the experience that happens inside of us to be transformative and healing for us. Therefore, He won’t force it. So someone’s mind that is already made up and who’s heart is already hard against Him, He’s like, “Okay, if that’s where you’re at, just go for it.” And He walks away. 

He does give them something. It wasn’t the spectacle they asked for, because they won’t put their trust in Him anyway. Instead, He leaves them with, “the sign of Jonah.” 

Remember, these men were well versed in the Scriptures. They knew the story of Jonah. Now, who was Jonah? Oh, yes, that very hateful man of God, who detested non-Israelites and hated God’s mercy? That Jonah? 


There are some reasons for Jesus referring to Jonah. Jonah was an Isrealite prophet, who hated non-Israelites and he hated that God wanted to show His mercy to them, especially the Ninevites. So he runs away and ends up in his “death.” You know the story. Being swallowed by a big fish was not being rescued. Oh, no, it’s a tough way to go. Notice how everything gets turned upside-down. Paradoxically, Jonah’s death offers him a new leash on life. 

Jesus offered this cryptic sign of Jonah, that no one actually gets it until after Jesus rises from the dead. 

Somehow, Jesus can tell when someone already has their minds made up. They don’t want to see the old woman. All they care about is seeing the young woman. 

Rather than starting an argument,  Jesus shrugs His shoulders, offers a final clue and says,“Have a nice day.”

Look what Jesus does again in the next verse, verse 5 

“When they went across the lake,”

He just had a threatening encounter with the leaders of Israel, what does He do? He retreats. He goes back to the Gentile side of the lake. We will read later, they will go north to Caesarea Philippi. From there, Jesus will set His sights on returning to Jerusalem for Passover. That is where we will begin when we return to Matthew after Advent. 

Jesus has been at work proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven for about two years now and this encounter is what ends it all. The rejection by the leaders, not by most of the people, but the leaders. Which is a very sad note. 

Here Jesus and His disciples have been putting out all this effort to announce the Kingdom, and what do they get? Rejection, from stubborn leaders. 


You can imagine how Jesus must feel.

Matthew doesn’t stop with the Jewish leaders. Continue reading. They were going across the lake and what did the disciples discover? They forgot to bring food. Really?

Can you picture the conversation? 

They are in this boat about 25 feet long, you can hear a whisper, and Peter says to John, “I thought you were going to get the bread.” 

John responds with, “I don’t know, I was so distracted, the Pharisees are so intimidating.” 

Okay, wake up disciples. Have we had any stories of people lacking bread so far in the disciples’ journey?

Look at what Jesus says, verse 6,

“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Jesus, being the good rabbi that He is, having just had a serious encounter with people who hate Him wants to process this with His disciples. So He uses a very provocative metaphor to describe the cynicism and closed-mindedness of the religious leaders. He uses the image of yeast, something small and very difficult to see once it is in the dough, but it is pervasive. It takes over, much like how cynicism and closed-mindedness can take over and rule a person’s character. So Jesus warns His disciples, “Wow, be careful, don’t be like that.”

Then what do the disciples think? I love this part, they start discussing among themselves saying, “Oh, no, He’s upset with us because we didn’t bring any bread.” 

This is so realistic. How many of you have ever been in conversation with someone you know really well and there is some tension. You are talking it out, but there is so much miscommunication because everything your friend says, you are taking as coded messages that they are being passive aggressive and pointing out everything that is wrong with you?

That is what the disciples are thinking right now. They think Jesus is being passive aggressive. 

This is so classic. But what’s going on?

We have another group of people who can’t see Jesus for who He really is.


Because of fear. Think of the disciples, why are they afraid? They were going on a long journey and they failed to bring food. In their minds, that’s bad. 

They realize this and they are afraid of a lack of resources. And then they think Jesus is going to be angry with them because of their lack of resources and because of their fear. So awkwardness gets introduced when Jesus was just trying to have a conversation with them. They can’t hear Him. They were filtering everything through their fear. 

There are Christian and non-Christian psychologists who have written books on this phenomena. It’s called, “The Scarcity Mindset.” They base this mindset or habit of thinking on one’s family of origin, how your parent’s dealt with money or how you deal with money. It’s a mindset or way of interpreting reality. So, someone with a scarcity mindset is someone who looks at their lives and what they fixate on is what is missing, what is absent and what they lack. As they go through life, they constantly feel unstable because that is all they pay attention to. 

This is opposed to an abundant mindset. Which doesn’t mean you are rich and wealthy, but that you make a regular habit of fixing your attention on the things that you do have. And you are grateful for them. They are two fundamentally different ways of viewing the world. Just like there are two different ways of interpreting the lines and seeing two different women or two different ways of interpreting the red sky. There were two different ways of interpreting the lack of bread. 

The disciples have the mindset of fear and instability due to a lack of resources. They were so fixated on it that when Jesus talks about something else they cannot hear Him. 

Jesus is such a good teacher. He doesn’t get angry notice what He says, verse 8,

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, 

and how many basketfuls you gathered? 

Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, 

and how many basketfuls you gathered? 

How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 

Matthew is so good at filling in the details. 

Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

There is the end of the story. 

What does Jesus do? He can see that the disciples were missing everything He was saying because of their scarcity mindset. Because they were interpreting everything on the fact that they had forgotten bread. 

Jesus pauses with His discussion of the religious leaders and goes with the conversation on lack of bread. Jesus reminds them of what has happened in the past couple of weeks. Pointing out their fixation on this moment of lack, and reminding them of moments of abundance. The disciples began to shake their heads and go, “Oh, yeah.” 

Okay, time to check in. How many of you are thinking you are better than the disciples right now? I read this story and think, come on guys! If you watched Jesus feed thousands of people with your simple lunch, you would think it would make a lasting impression. 

Apparently it did. The stories have been recorded and the abundance story didn’t happen just once, it happened twice. So it makes a bit of sense for us to think, come on disciples, get with it. How many of you were thinking something like that? 

If you have had even an inclination of that,

I would say you’ve got it, or rather, 

you’ve been gotten. Matthew’s got you. 

That’s how these stories of the disciples work. When we get back to Matthew in the new year, we will be reading how clueless the disciples really are as they travel with Jesus back to Jerusalem. Matthew has a way of depicting them as clueless bumbling goofs who say the wrong things, do the wrong things, and just don’t comprehend what Jesus was all about. 

This is where Matthew gets us. He describes the characters around Jesus, those that were closed minded, thought they knew what God was like, those who were so afraid of their circumstances, the instability of their lives and their lack of resources that they miss Jesus all together. 

It’s really good that YOU’RE never like that. 

That’s when we realize we’ve been gotten. 

That’s why the Bible is so amazing. It makes us think we are better than the characters in the stories until we realize we are looking in a mirror.

Let’s try to wrap this up.

There seem to be two ways to miss Jesus:

You can miss Him by being closed minded with a bit of cynicism. This occurs when people have an expectation of how a God should behave. About what Jesus ought to be and do in my life. Then we see that Jesus doesn’t do those things, so this cynicism or jaded edge towards Jesus grows inside you. Then you start to miss Him, you can read about Him in the Scriptures or see things in your life that He is doing but all you see are things that are offensive. 

And apparently there is another way to miss Jesus. You can be fixating on your problems, or the scarcity and lack of resources in your life. By fixating on what you don’t have, when you hear about Jesus, you areunable to see Jesus for who He really is. 

What does Jesus say? 

Okay, disciples, think back to that time when there was enough. What about that time when there was more than enough? 

Are the disciples going to get rich off this whole deal? 

Are they going to be wealthy? 

Or are they going to have enough? 

Even an abundance? 

That is called the “abundance mindset.” When we look back at our journey with Jesus and recognize it has been an extremely difficult path, but there has always been enough. 

Apparently, fixating on what I do not have is a recipe for missing Jesus altogether. 

Check out Jesus’ response to each of these types of missing Him. 

When He responds to the Pharisees and Sadducees, He walks away. 

When He responds to the disciples, does He get out of the boat, and walk on water to get away from them. 

No, He is committed to them. 

As we keep reading we will discover that they will keep missing Him. Until we get to the climax, that moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus faces His calling as the Suffering Servant and what do His disciples do? 

His closest friends? They abandon Him. 

They run away. 

Jesus never abandons His disciples. 

Yet they abandon Him, because Jesus was so off the map of what they could imagine. 

Regardless, Jesus then goes to the cross for them. 

Looking at this story it seems to me that someone can be closed minded and miss Jesus, 

but even more significantly,

someone can be really close to Jesus, 

they can even be in the boat with Jesus 

and still not see Him for who He really is. 

What does this story have for you? 

I don’t know. 

What I do know is that the Holy Spirit has the power to take stories like this and use it inside our heart and mind and change us to be more like Jesus, in a way that no one else can do. 

So if you sense a distance from Jesus or you think you are missing something, ask Him to show you. He’s in the boat, He doesn’t abandon us. 

Let’s pray.