Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from you.…
All that was implied in our Lord's mode of working is here explicitly enounced. The miracles were only subordinately evidences of his Divine commission; primarily they were deeds of mercy. But to heal every one would have been to violate the constitution of man's nature, and upset the equilibrium required for the harmonious co-operation of God and man. Those only who had faith were healed, and this secured that their character was purified and aided, not debauched. The Pharisees had the shallowest idea of miracles. They would have approved the devil's suggestion that the convincing proof of Messiahship was to cast himself unhurt from a pinnacle of the temple, though why the possession of a mountain-sheep's capacity for jumping should prove any one the greatest spiritual blessing to mankind they probably did not inquire. They had lost the capacity of knowing excellence - could only measure him by their silly external tests, and scorned him for the very things that proved his greatness. A miracle wrought merely for the sake of convincing men, could not convince them, could only prove the possession of a certain unexplained power. But miracles wrought out of compassion for the wretched justly convinced men that God was nigh. We join the ranks of the Pharisees when we refuse to acknowledge Christ until he presents some more striking evidence. To us, as to them, it must be said - Ye can discern the face of the sky, but ye cannot read the signs of the times. You know the sequences of nature, but you have no eye for spiritual sequences; you do not see that a clever feat which makes men stare has no natural connection with salvation from sin, but that the entrance into the world of such love and holiness, and the identification of their possessor with all human interests, portends more good to humanity than any physical marvel could portend. Could you rightly read the signs of the times, you would understand that a Greater than Jonas, a Greater than all men, the Greatest and Holiest and most Sacrificing, could not be in the world without changing its course for ever. And each of us may read our own indi vidual future as here directed by our Lord, for it is impossible he should join himself to any one of us individually without bringing into our life an otherwise unattainable hope. Certain natural signs never deceive, because there is a rigid natural connection between the cause and the consequence. As rigid is the connection in the moral world; you cannot belong to Christ without receiving the utmost of human blessing. It means untold good to you; it is the spring of your life that promises endless harvest. All that is unworthy, weak, and wicked will be displaced, and you will be changed into his like ness. It is as certain as the shower that you see coming down the wind to the spot you stand on. But while our Lord refused any sign as a mere wonder proving his power, he assured them a sign should be given of the most astonishing kind. As if he said, "I will do no miracle of the kind you require; it would not convince you; you are not seeking conviction, but a plausible pretext against me. You think I am endangering the ship, and you will treat me as Jonah was treated; but as Jonah's mission was expedited by what seemed to terminate it, so shall my mission, by your final action against me, receive its most convincing authentication." This sign of the resurrection of Christ is that which seals the truth of all he asserted regarding himself, but especially does it give us assurance that our Lord is now alive. Only when we believe in this do we attain to faith in our own immortality. In the little parable with which this passage closes, our Lord points out that, though they had cast out the devil of idolatry, the heart not being filled with love of God and holiness, the empty apartment of their soul was straightway filled with self-conceit, contempt for gross sinners, hatred of any light that made them suspicious of their state. Probably he pointed specially to the deterioration of "this generation." There had been a revival of religion under John, but John himself warned them that he could not baptize with the Holy Spirit. He saw that merely to cast out one or two devils of misconduct, and to leave the heart empty, was to place men in a perilous position. To the individual this little parable is full of significance. There are diseases in which there are periods of relief from pain, followed by severe relapse. So in the case here spoken of, the downward career is not steadily progressive, but is checked for a while, only to be resumed with sevenfold violence. The principle pointed at is that wherever an evil thing is not expelled by the invasion of good that enters and dispossesses it, the expulsion is ineffectual. Nature dictates and observes this law. If you wish to clear a room of bad air, you do not get an air-pump and exhaust it, but by opening the window you let the rush of pure air drive out the impure; were you to exhaust the air, you might produce a suction which would burst your gas-pipes and draw up foul air from your sewers. So in the moral world evil is to be ejected by soul-possessing love of good. Christ is set before us that we may learn to love him, and so have no room for any unworthy affection. To use religion only as a repressive and expulsive influence is fatal. There are persons whose hearts are emptied rather than filled by religion. There is a death of their old bad life, but there is no strong impelling power, no new and abundant life. Is there anything in you that would make it a pleasure to you to take your place by the side of Christ in his humble ministering to the poor and wretched? How can you relish the prospect of eternal life, if you have in you no hearty love for the style of life that will then prevail? The result of using religion merely as an instrument for repression is that the soul becomes possessed of greater iniquities than ever. The new sins may be sins, as our Lord expresses it, that find their suitable dwelling in a house that is swept and garnished, yet they are worse than the original iniquity. These sins are vanity; contempt of men; hatred of persons differing from them in doctrine and outward forms of religion, though having more love to Christ than they; hypocrisy and coldness of feeling. These new tenants are prim, decorous, church-going devils, that adapt themselves to the ways of respectable society. But none the less will they one day overwhelm the house in disaster. The history of the man whose religious experience is here given is this - he has rid himself of some form of iniquity out of regard for self rather than for Christ; he plumes himself on the improvement instead of humbly thanking Christ, cultivates self rather than fellowship with Christ. Is your heart so filled and satisfied with the love of Christ that all that offends him is banished from it? - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.