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Why Multitudes Cannot Recognize Jesus

Matthew 16:1-4

By Daniel Mayfield




And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. 


I suspect that upon the Lord’s return, many will feel their judgment is not warranted. A host of indictments will be brought against the Lord, all of which will appeal from the standpoint of the flesh: “If you wanted to make your presence known, you would have shown me your face…or at least verbalized to me an audible word—something to be perceived. But as it is, I NEVER saw a definitive proof of your existence; so the fault of my unbelief is not mine but yours.” And perhaps this is why so much gnashing of teeth will be present in hell—because the people feel for all eternity that God is yet unjust. I’m not sure hell will clear the fog for anybody. Perhaps it will only thicken their fog of understanding. 


Another indictment [And this one came from an atheist named Stephen Fry, who I heard speaking in an interview recently]: “Bone cancer in children? What’s that all about? How dare you! How DARE you!” So the argument is, Your apathy towards humanity’s suffering forced me to conclude there was no God beyond the sky—or at least forced me to conclude he wasn’t a God worth serving. Because everything perceivable is that we’re left here alone on this lonely rock in the midst of infinite space.”


And a couple others: “You allowed me to become paralyzed in a car accident — You made rules that contradict everything my body felt and desired — I saw NO proof of your presence.” 


Far too many people will never see Jesus because they aren’t validated by him on their own terms.


A Closed-Ended Question to Jesus


And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. Now it doesn’t really come across in my translation (I looked at several others, too), but that word in the first verse—they asked him—isn’t the most basic word for asking a general question. The word is emphatic. In other words, they are questioning Jesus to a decision. “What are you gonna do here, Jesus? Depending on how you answer my question, I either will or won’t recognize you as the Messiah. 


This is not the way to approach Jesus. And there are a lot of people in the world that approach Jesus this way, and so they never come to know him. Why? Because (1) Jesus doesn’t oblige such questions—v. 4, such a generation will receive no sign…and he left them and departed, and (2) the deity of Jesus is not verified or legitimized by how compliant he is with human demands. He’s the Lord of the universe! He’s existed for all eternity and he made every human being on the face of the planet from the dust of the ground through a word of his mouth…


So, the deity of Jesus isn’t established by how well his creation recognizes him as king, or how well he accommodates faithless requests; it is established by his word—one of which God proclaimed at Jesus’ baptism, This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. The deity of Jesus is true because God said it is—whether or not your or I were there to hear him say it. 


If Jesus is true (right now in the 21st century)—and in this passage he states that he will not prove himself on our terms—then if one has an authentic desire to know whether or not he is God, they will seek to meet him and understand him on his terms. The Pharisees acted as if they cared to know Jesus’ identity, but by virtue of only recognizing him by how he responded to their terms, they showed their hand. They didn’t care to know the truth. 


Why? Because, if the open assumption is that he may or may not be king, then you wouldn’t ask a close ended question. You wouldn’t say, “God, if you’re true, do what I tell you. Show me your face. Speak audibly to me. Make my coffee cup levitate right now.” You would instead say, “God, if you’re true, then any lack of proof is only my inability to perceive it. Help me to see it. I don’t care in what way you help me to see it. Just open my eyes in your time and in your way. Because there’s a part of me that knows deep to my bones that there must be a God. But there’s a skeptical side of me that keeps all of that under bondage.” 


Do you see the difference between those two approaches? The atheist often says, “If God is real, he will meet me on my terms,” rather than saying, “If God is real, I should meet him on his terms.” 


Well what are those terms of identifying God and Jesus? How do we come to know him and believe in him?


Coming to Faith is not an Intellectual Exercise


Well first let me tell you how we don’t come to know him. He answered, “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.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” 


What does Jesus mean to say? Faith is not procured by physical analysis, or by some intellectual exercise. In other words, a person isn’t going to be able to start the day as an atheist, then chart out some equation on paper that proves Jesus is the king of the universe. -B +- square root of B to the second minus 4AC, all over 2A. *Amazed look* “Jesus is Lord!”


Some of the most brilliant minds in all of history have failed to find God because the only grounds upon which they’ve searched for him are those which are observable to their eyes or their intellect in their current field of study. They want to see God and discern his being in the same way they see the skies and determine the weather. Physical analysis.


But God isn’t found through intellect! If he were, the few geniuses of the world would have an enormously unfair advantage over the rest of us. But as it is, the poor Canaanite woman recognizes Jesus before the Biblical scholar. The two blind men in Matthew 9 knew he was the Messiah, and they’d never seen a thing with their physical eyes! 


Listen to this word from the apostle Paul: 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom [And these demands are one in the same—both are a demand for proof! The Jew wants a proof from heaven, and the Gentile wants it to make sense to his intellectual faculties], 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of HIM! you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


The gospel, says Paul, is foolish, weak, low, despised, NOTHING by the standards of the world. The greatest victory in history was accomplished through submission. The grandest act of power was displayed in an act of murder. The gift of salvation has NOTHING to do with your merit, but has EVERYTHING to do with the perfection of the sacrifice given in your stead. 


The wise, the debaters, the scholars, the aristocrats, the wealthy—if they really truly desire to know truth—must make themselves to be fools in order to hear the word God has to say. The world calls us fools for believing these things, and that was due to God’s design of it all. You want a sign? I won’t give it. You want a world perfectly void of suffering? You won’t get it. You want to see my face? I won’t show it. You want to prove Christ by some scientific observation? You’ll never find him that way. You want the cross to make sense intellectually? Forget it. 


Why? Why does God do it that way? So that no human being might boast in the presence of God. His grace is not received by merit—if it was, then I earned it. His truth is not recognized by intellectualism. His presence is not perceived by meeting my personal demands.


We don’t come to know God that way. 


The Times Warrant Spiritual Investigation


But Jesus does say…You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. So, to the critic who says Jesus failed to prove himself, he says this word. [This message is primarily for critics, by the way. This was a conversation initiated by critics and spoken to critics.]


So while God may not prove Jesus in the way many would like him to, he has left a massive testimony. You cannot interpret the signs of the times. So God has given some indicators of his own choosing to show the way to Jesus. What are they? One of them is his teachings…


And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching — 7:28


and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? — 13:53


And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching — 22:33


32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him…45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” — John 7:32;45


There is within the Bible an other-worldly tone. There is a quality of the words spoken by Jesus that, if we listen to them on their own terms—apart from bias or predetermined conclusions—stand all on their own, such that we would say, “No mere human being said these things.” What human being says, “Turn the cheek when somebody slaps you…love your enemies…pray for the ones who persecute you and want to wipe your presence off the face of this planet…forsake all efforts for greatness and become a servant of all people…If you’re forced to walk with somebody a mile, go with them two miles…Give to anybody who’d like to borrow from you…you can’t follow me unless you first totally deny yourself and your personal ambitions…I lay down my life for my sheep?” Who talks like that!?


The thing is, one isn’t able to see the beauty of Jesus’ words until they stop looking for confirmation in some other manner. God gave “signs of the times,” and they are more than sufficient to lead us to truth. But a man on his high horse cannot see the value in a way of life that immediately presents no monetary gain, no capital gain, no personal gain, no social gain. As Paul said, For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — Philippians 3:8-9. 


The words of a man that made multitudes marvel are to be seen as a sign of the times.


Another sign of Jesus’ Lordship is seen in his works—his miracles: 2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. — Matthew 11:2-5 


So John was basically asking the same question as the Pharisees—are you the Messiah? And Jesus just relayed back a message that spoke to the things John had already personally seen. So, look around John! Don’t ask me a question that’s already been answered by what you’ve witnessed.


In 11:21ff, Jesus pronounces woes on  Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre, and Sidon, because the mighty works done in those regions didn’t bring them to believe in Jesus as the Christ. So when Jesus tells the Pharisees that they can’t interpret the signs of the times, he’s quite clearly speaking about the miracles he’d been doing—he had just fed 4,000 prior to this text! 


But the objection is always, “I never saw any of those things! So that’s not an evidence.” Well, first, even if you had seen them, many people who saw them firsthand still didn’t believe. So don’t think that’s the reason you remain in unbelief. But second, though we didn’t see them, there are 40 different witnesses to these things, who all wrote about them at different times, in different places over a 1500-year span. There’s no other book like this on the planet. There isn’t even a book that remotely compares. This book is full of stories, teachings, and lessons that all have a perfectly unified flow and coherency. So we didn’t see these things happen—but plenty of historical men died because they witnessed them firsthand and couldn’t deny them.




The evidence of Jesus is ample. There’s no greater witness to the truth of something in the world. This is why Jesus says, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” As if I’ve not made myself perfectly plain! My miracles were seen by thousands. My words pricked millions. The creation speaks to my eternal power and divine nature. If you don’t see me for who I am—the Christ—it is because you are evil and adulterous, not because I haven’t made myself clear. So you’re without excuse. There will be no viable excuse offered to me on judgment day if you think I didn’t show myself well enough.


As Paul said, let us become foolish that we might become wise. Don’t let a seed of doubt blind you from what is blatantly obvious to children. Jesus is Lord. And he will not give you any further validating sign. So give him your life!

© Finding Canaan. All rights reserved. "Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another" -- Jeremiah 23:30 

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