Today was our very first Moms Bible Study Fellowship for the year 2015! I was more than excited to see everyone again because the last time we met was on 27 November 2014. We left off at Matthew 15:29-39, so today we began our study on Matthew 16:1-4.
Study Notes on Matthew 16:1-4
When Jesus came back to the Jewish people, instead of welcoming Him, they tested Him by asking for a sign from the heavens. Note that asking for a sign out of reverence and godly fear as an assurance of God’s promise (read accounts in Judges 6:17, 36-39; 2 Kings 20:8-11) is entirely different from the Pharisees and Sadducees here who were asking for a sign from Jesus to seek grounds to disbelieve.
Unanimous in their Opposition to Christ
There were 2 religious groups, namely the Pharisees and the Sadducees, mentioned in verse 1. How were they different?
- The Pharisees were the ruling class of Israel who relied heavily on traditions passed down by their ancestors (fathers). Vocal and influential, they connected with the people and ruled over them through religion. They were self-reliant to earn God’s blessings.
*Irony: the Pharisees yearned to please God by doing things, but unfortunately they became extremists (much like some of us). So much so that they couldn’t see Jesus as the Messiah.
- The Sadducees were wealthy aristocrats who held high positions in the society. The Sanhedrin (the ruling council) held only 70 positions and was mainly occupied by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Wealthy people like the Sadducees were generally concerned about politics, hence they tended to agree with the Romans. No riots, no war. They did not relate well to the commoners, who saw them as traitors. The commoners relied more on religion than politics, thus they tended to lean more toward the Pharisees. The Sadducees mainly depended on the written Word of God, the Old Testament. Being wealthy, they were self-sufficient and tended to forget God in their involvement of their lives. They do not believe in the resurrection. They also deny the spiritual world, demons, angels (read Acts 23:8). Due to their extreme beliefs and inpopularity, they were wiped out by AD70.
In this passage, even though they were at variance among themselves (as seen in Acts 23:7,8), the Pharisees and the Sadducees came together in unison to oppose against Jesus, whom they saw as their common enemy.
The Demand for a Sign, and Their Disbelief and Sinfulness
Matthew 16:4 is repeated in Matthew 12:38-40. Know that the recording of scriptures was so precise and not easy to do in the past, hence a repetition in the Bible means it is of importance that we don’t miss what Jesus is trying to teach us. The lapse of chapters from 12 to 16 in the gospel of Matthew meant that some time has passed, yet the Pharisees had not given up in trying to trip up Jesus. Like Satan had done earlier, they were there for one purpose: to try to get Him to stumble and fall by trying to make Jesus proclaim a false sign, so that they could stone Him to death according to Deuteronomy 18:20-22.
Jesus’ Response and Reproof
Here, Jesus refused to show them a sign, just as he had done before in Matthew 12. They were seeking for the signs of the kingdom of God, when it was already among them. The Lord was in this place, and they knew it not. They leaned on their own understanding in predicting the weather from the signs they saw around them, but were blind to the signs regarding Jesus’ Messianic credentials right before their eyes.
In verse 4, Jesus called them “adulterous” because the Pharisees were a generation pure in their own eyes, having the way of the adulterous woman, that thinks she has done no wickedness (Proverbs 30:20). *In current context, Jesus was also referring to the purity of our hearts. As mother and wife, I need to be careful not to worship my children, my husband. I shall remain faithful to God for He should always be my priority.
Many of us also look and ask for signs. We ought to guard ourselves from doing that with wrong motives in our hearts. The way we word our prayer, the way we pray shouldn’t be telling God to show us a sign, in the hope to ascertain our belief in Him. In the same way that Jesus refused to gratify their desire, He too will not show us any sign if we ask for the wrong thing or if we ask with wrong motives. “We ask, and receiveth not, because we ask amiss.” (James 4:3)
Note that God uses people with wisdom and prior experience to comfort us and guide us along the way. Even if we do not see outright and obvious signs, when we look back at our own lives, we can see miracles, big and small, that God has been working in our lives.
The True Sign
After His reproof, Jesus referred them to the sign of the prophet Jonah – A sign that has power to bring people to faith – His own resurrection from the dead.
Verse 4: The discourse broke off abruptly; “And He left them, and departed.” Christ will not tarry long with those that tempt Him, but justly withdraws from those who are disposed to quarrel with Him. He left them as irreclaimable; “Let them alone.” He left them to themselves, “to walk in their own counsels; so He gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust.” (Psalm 81:12) See it as a warning that God, who may be long suffering, merciful and gracious, test Him not such that we do not take for granted His goodness and compassion upon us.
O’ Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us why and how You turned away from senseless arguments. Your withdrawal is such a powerful message to me. Too often I want to defend myself and my point of view instead of just recognising that hardened hearts must first be softened, or be crushed, before they can be reached. May You grant me wisdom to know when to stay and defend, and when I should graciously excuse myself and move on. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Today Hazel gave Little E these adorable hand-made hair clips which she has created herself! How talented!