Matthew 16:1
Coming into the borders of Magadan, after the miracles of the mountain in which he healed all manner of diseases, and miraculously feasted about eight thousand persons, Jesus encountered the Pharisees and Sadducees, who, sinking their sectarian differences for the time, agreed to tempt or test him by demanding a special sign of his Messiahship. Jesus declined to gratify them in this, appealing to the signs of the times which should be sufficient for them, and giving them himself a special sign. Let us consider, then -

I. THE SPECIAL SIGN WHICH THE PHARISEES SOUGHT.

1. They sought a sign from heaven.

(1) This was dearly the sign of the Prophet Daniel (see Daniel 7:9-14). The Pharisees then desired Jesus then and there to prove his Messiahship to them by appearing in the heavens as the Son of man in glory, and to establish a visible kingdom.

(2) This is a true sign of the Messiah. Not only is it a favourite sign with the Jews, but one also which Jesus acknowledged. He commonly spoke of himself, in manifest allusion to that very sign, as "the Son of man." But why, then, did he not gratify their expectations? The answer is:

2. They sought that sign too soon.

(1) It is a sign of a second advent of Messiah. A second advent there must needs be, for Messiah is described in prophecy in two distinct characters, which he could not fulfil at one and the same time. He is to come in the character of a Priest, to make atonement for sin, in humiliation, suffering, and death. He is also to come in the character of a King, in glory and immortality.

(2) In the first of these characters Jesus had then appeared. He must first suffer before he can enter into his glory, and therefore, also, before he can be revealed in his glory (cf. Genesis 3:15; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Psalm 16:8-10; Psalm 22.; Isaiah 50:5, 6; Isaiah 53; Daniel 9:24; Luke 24:26).

(3) In the second character he promises in due time to appear (cf. Matthew 24:29-35; Matthew 26:64-68; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 14:14). And in this character accordingly he is expected by his disciples (cf. Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

II. THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES TO WHICH JESUS APPEALED.

1. Those connected with his personal advent.

(1) At the period of his birth there was a general expectation. The weeks of Daniel were fast running out within which Messiah was to be cut off (see Daniel 9:23-27). He must be born a considerable time before the date of his Passion. Gentiles then shared in the expectation of the Jews.

(2) His birth was itself a miracle. He was born of a virgin, and m the house and lineage of David. This was according to the requirement of the first promise in Eden, that he should be the "Seed of the woman," and of that remarkable place in Isaiah where a virgin of the house of David was to bring forth a son, who was to be distinguished as Immannel (see Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).

(3) That birth was also attended by miracles. The annunciation to the Virgin by Gabriel corresponded to that made to Manoah's wife concerning the birth of Samson, who was a type of Christ (cf. Judges 13:2-5; Luke 1:26-35). The wonderful birth was then celebrated by angels, who appeared to the shepherds; and by a star seen by the Wise Men in the East (cf. Numbers 24:17; Matthew 2:2; Revelation 22:16; Luke 2:9-14).

2. Those connected with ills public ministry.

(1) Foremost amongst these was the miracle at his baptism, when he was about to enter upon that public ministry (Matthew 3:16, 17).

(2) This was followed up by the testimony of the Baptist. That testimony could not be impeached. The Baptist was authenticated as a prophet of God by the miracles connected with his birth (see Luke 1:5-22). In that character he was acknowledged by his nation. He announced himself, as the angel had designated him to be, the harbinger of Messiah. In that capacity he pointed out Jesus to his disciples as the "Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

(3) This wonderful character Jesus was able to sustain. He wrought the miracles which the prophets said Messiah was to work. He did everything and suffered everything which the prophets said Messiah was to do and suffer in his advent as a Priest.

(4) The very wickedness of the generation that "tempted him, and proved him, and saw his works," was a sign of the times (cf. Isaiah 6:9-12; Matthew 13:14, 15). And to all but themselves is their obstinacy in rejecting Jesus, together with their long continued sufferings, a proof that Jesus is the Christ; for these things he foretold (cf. Matthew 23:34-39; Luke 21:22-24).

III. THE SPECIAL SIGN WHICH JESUS GAVE.

1. He gave them a sign from the earth.

(1) They sought a sign from heaven. The sign they sought, as we have seen, was that of the Prophet Daniel. That he gave them was the sign of the Prophet Jonah (cf. Matthew 12:39).

(2) They sought the sign of the kingdom of glory. He gave them the sign of the priesthood and suffering. The burial presupposes the death, and the death the suffering, of Messiah. These things he afterwards plainly showed to his disciples (see ver. 21).

2. This sign best suited a wicked generation.

(1) It fulfilled the sacrifices of the Law. Those sacrifices were ostensibly to make atonement for sin. But in what sense? Ceremonially and typically. Morally they could not remove sin. To suppose so would be to outrage common sense. "It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." Their inability to do this was acknowledged, for it was necessary to repeat the sacrifices. In the light of the great sin sacrifice of Calvary, all is plain.

(2) It fulfilled the sacrifice of Isaac. In the daily prayers read in the synagogue we have this: "אנא מלד, O most merciful and gracious King! we beseech thee to remember and to look back on the covenant made between the divided offerings, and let the recollection of the sacrificial binding of the only son appear before thee, in favour of Israel." But what sense is there in this unless the "sacrificial binding" of Isaac be accepted as typical of the only Son of God, the Seed of Isaac, in whom all the families of the earth are blessed?

(3) The sign of a sufficient sacrifice for the expiation of sin is, of all others, to be desired by a wicked generation. But were the Lord to have answered their foolish prayer, and to have appeared without a sin sacrifice, as their King in judgment, they would be the first to be destroyed in the fires of his anger.

3. Jesus rested his claims upon this sign.

(1) He predicted that he "must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed." Within a year this was literally fulfilled.

(2) But now comes the testing point. He added, "and the third day be raised up" (see ver. 21). So about a year earlier he explained this sign of the Prophet Jonah to certain scribes and Pharisees. "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the seamonster; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (see Matthew 12:40).

(3) This also was fulfilled to the letter. No event of history is better authenticated than the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And if the evidence that Jesus is the Christ will not convince the Jews, they cannot be convinced by evidence; they can only be convinced by judgment. The sign from heaven will convince them. - J.A.M.







O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky.
The proper observing of these signs. They are heavenly, and therefore must be seen in a heart which is seeking those things which are spiritual.

1. The sign of the day. Another day is gone. The day of the Lord is nearer. Am I better prepared for it?

2. The sign of the cross of his Saviour. Has he crucified every evil affection?

3. The sign of the example of his Saviour.

4. The signs of the times in which he is living, and he considers how they are the harbingers of the last day, and how he must conduct himself accordingly.

5. And the question with the man of God is, what do these signs foreshadow? Do they prove that he has advanced in the Christian course? Then the heavens are red with joyful signs for the morrow.

6. The redness of the evening sky may deceive, as we all know; these signs never can.

7. Whatsoever the signs of the sky foreshadow, we cannot alter; but we may alter that which is threatened by the signs of the spiritual world.

8. The true Christian will observe the signs of the morning as he rises as it were from death unto life again, and he will prepare himself for the coming day. Is it red and lowering with the coming storms of trial and temptation; then he will prepare to meet it.

9. The Christian does not desire any more signs from heaven. The more watchful he is the more he finds that he has already, and the more evident and certain they are. The very last has been given, the Son of man has risen from the dead.

10. Scripture is full of exhortations to Christian watchfulness.

11. The rebuke which our Lord administered to these worldly-minded sign-seekers — "And He left them and departed."

(R. W. Evades, B. D.)

The things that happen to nations and men are, in the most proper sense of the word, "signs from heaven " of the Divine government and its counsel.

I. PERSONAL SIGNS for every man's instruction, teach every man, at his peril, not to despise prophesyings. We read in the diligence, the moral goodness of the boy, the nature and history of the coming man. We say, "It will be fair weather." These are signs from heaven. In familiar, when the evening glows the morning is fine; where there is affection and piety, we prognosticate " fine weather." You are a sign from heaven, if unforgiven, a sign of coming storm.

II. POPULAR SIGNS are always of number and force sufficient to give us an understanding of the character of the future. The life, the preaching of the Baptist. was a sign of approaching change. The character of our Lord was a sign of God's care of His children.

(B. Kent.)

It is a humiliating fact that thoughtful men deal with the great facts of religion after a fashion which, in any other department of human inquiry, would he recognized as illogical or absurd.

I. Take an example from RECORDED HISTORY, Men treat Jesus Christ with a scepticism they do not Napoleon Bonaparte.

II. Take SCIENCE. Christianity is a science as truly as chemistry. Its fundamental facts are determined by thousands of experiments. But how many accept the testimony of scientists and reject that of religionists. True religion has its difficulties, but has science any fewer?

III. As regards THE BIBLE. In temporal matters men investigate that which relates to their safety; but when eternal safety is at stake men do not give time to its consideration.

IV. As with God's Book, so with GOD'S WITNESSES. In a court of justice men accept evidence: but fight against it in religion. Men do not reject bank notes because some are forged; but they reject Christianity because of one false professor.

V. In nothing but pure mathematics do men insist upon mathematical certainty. THE WHOLE CONDUCT OF LIFE IS PREDICATED UPON A PREPONDERANCE OF PROBABILITES. Upon this principle they plough and plant, buy and build, work and wait. Is it probable that all the generous and noble fruits are based on superstition.

VI. WHEN OF TWO WAYS OF PROCEDURE ONE IS KNOWN TO BE ABSOLUTELY: SAFE AND THE OTHER FRAUGHT WITH PERILS, ALL MEN CHOOSE THE PATH OF SAFETY. It is safe to be a Christian; yet safety is rejected. Let a man be honest, do himself justice, and give Christianity fair play.

(P. S. Henson, D. D.)

This demand of the Jews was —

I. PROMPTED BY WRONG MOTIVES — "and tempting." This was a two-edged temptation.

1. Suppose He should not give the sign, either by refusal or failure. Then they hoped to destroy His influence and to impress the people that he was a false Messiah.

2. But if He worked a miracle He would have yielded to their low ideas of His Messiahship and of its evidence. The scribes and Pharisees were bitter enemies of each other, yet combined to overthrow Christ: and how large a part of modern religious investigation is due to the enmity and selfishness of human hearts. Discussion is frequently designed not to fix but to unsettle faith. There are men who talk plausibly and with seeming sincerity about these matters, who in their hearts would be pleased at the destruction of Christianity. Again, their are men who use gospel themes as the theatre upon which to display their intellectual power. They demand evidence neither possible or reasonable. This is different from the humble inquirer who, walking in darkness, asks the way of light and life.

II. This demand was PRESUMPTIOUS — "From heaven." They limited Christ as to the method in which He should display His divinity. There are people who determine in their own minds the way in which God shall reveal Himself; the truth must flow through channels they have dug, or they will reject it.

III. This demand was DUE TO THEIR BLIND UNBELIEF. They refused to recognize the force of the evidence already given them (Matthew 11:5). Men inveigh against the Bible who never read it. They cry out for water and refuse to draw from the abundant wells of salvation around them.

IV. THIS REQUEST LED TO THEIR DESERTION BY CHRIST. The spirit manifested by these .Jews showed that it was useless to remain longer with them.

1. He denied them further manifestation of His power — "There shall no sign be given."

2. Christ withdrew Himself from them. This He did

(1)Sadly;

(2)Promptly;

(3)Finally. This incident seems go have closed His ministry in Galilee.

(W. H. Williams.)

I. SOME OF THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Every age has its peculiar developments-signs. We live in an age that is replete with these moral indicators, and to sonic of them we call attention.

1. The almost universal diffusion of knowledge is one of the signs of the times.

2. The extent of its new discoveries and inventions.

3. The increasing power and commanding position of the Anglo-Saxon race.

4. The decay and approaching dissolution of heathen governments.

II. WHAT DO THESE SIGNS INDICATE? These signs clearly indicate the rapid progress of Messiah's kingdom.

III. WHAT IS OUR DUTY IN VIEW OF THESE SIGNS OF THE TIMES?

1. Rightly to discern them.

2. To seek an entrance into the kingdom of Christ without delay.

3. Labour and pray for its incoming in greater power and glory.

(P. M. Brett, D. D.)Too many signs of the times surround us on every side to make it either right, or wise, or safe, or happy to pass them by unnoticed.

I. LET US SEEK TO UNDERSTAND DISTINCTLY WHAT IS INTENDED BY A SIGN. May be miraculous or moral.

II. WHAT PARTICULARLY WERE THOSE SIGNS WHICH OUR LORD REBUKED THE PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES FOR NOT HAVING OBSERVED?

III. INQUIRE WHETHER THE ORDER OF THINGS IN PROPHECY COMPARED WITH THE ASPECT OF OUR OWN TIMES MAY NOT AFFORD US SOME INSTRUCTION. It is a Christian duty to discern the signs, to watch the moral aspect of the times in which we live. We shall thus learn more of the intentions and character of the Divine Being.

(J. P. Dunn.)

I. THE HUMAN. From earliest times men have demanded a "sign from heaven."

II. THE DIVINE IDEA OF A REVELATION.

1. The atheist says, "If there be a God let Him manifest Himself." How silently, but majestically, on earth and in sky is God revealing Himself.

2. The Jews demanded of .Jesus a sign. Yet He wrought " wonders and signs" amongst them.

3. God reveals Himself in the words of prophets and evangelists.

III. THE CONTRAST IN THE TWO IDEAS OF REVELATION.

1. Man's revelation must be addressed to his senses, to his imagination, and the marvellous — some fitful, awful display; God reveals Himself alone to what is spiritual, i.e., to what is deepest in man.

2. God's revelations come to men's experience.

(Dr. Chase.)

It is necessary to take into account the character of the mind to which it has to address itself as well as the nature of the truth which it has to speak. How rapid and widespread and radical the change during the last half-century! How far is this new spirit checking the progress of truth, and in what way can we deal with it?

I. SOME OF THE INTELLECTUAL TENDENCIES WORKING AGAINST FAITH. The science of the day. The restless spirit which it begets. Uncertainty respecting the great truths of Christianity is regarded as a justification for neutrality. The influence of this widespread tendency is distinctly hostile to the acceptance of the gospel and the culture of vital godliness. Scepticism is in the air, and there are those who must be in the fashion of the hour. Our congregations are honeycombed with this sentiment. God forbid that we should despair or even look doubtfully to the future! But it behoves us to take care that our work be wisely and well and truly done. The gospel has still a power which will assert itself.

II. SOME HINTS AS TO THE MODE IN WHICH CHRISTIANS SHOULD MEET THESE DIFFICULTIES.

1. Not for us to sit down and mourn over evils, as though they were irreparable.

2. A policy of suppression never has succeeded, least of all is it likely to succeed in an age thrilled with all the energy of life, and strong to vehemence in the assertion of its own independence and freedom. It ought not to succeed. Protestants, of all men, can have no satisfaction in the contemplation of what would be a mere make-belief for a living faith. Liberty must have its perfect work, and a true faith will have no fear as to the consequences.

3. The true mode of dealing with the sceptical mind of the time is to dwell on points of agreement rather than of difference. Science has not yet stilled the longing of the heart for God, and it has been unable to meet it.

(J. G. Rogers, B. S.)

The most striking peculiarities of the present age.

I. THE GREAT INCREASE OF MENTAL EXERTION. Some periods have been marked by intellectual inaction and even retrogression. Such was that period in which, after the decline of the Platonic philosophy, Aristotle reigned in all the schools and was idolized as " the secretary of nature who dipt his pen in intellect." Since that era the greatest advances have been made in every department of science, more especially during the last century, etc.

II. AN INCREASED ATTENTION TO THE INSTRUCTION OF THE LOWER CLASSES.

III. THE IMPROVED STATE OF PREACHING, AND THE MORE ABUNDANT SUPPLY OF THE PUBLIC MEANS OF GRACE. In our own and other countries.

IV. THE ADVANCEMENT OF THE BIBLE AS THE GREAT AND ONLY STANDARD OF CHRISTIAN FAITH AND PRACTICE.

V. THE INCREASING HARMONY WHICH PREVAILS AMONG THE GENUINE DISCIPLES OF JESUS CHRIST.

VI. THE EXTENSION OF CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY.

(Robert Hall, A. M.)

I. THE NATURE OF THESE SIGNS WHICH SHOULD BE REGARDED AS APPOINTED INDICATIONS OF THE FUTURE.

II. THE SIGNS PRESENTED BY THE PRESENT TIMES, WITH THE DUTIES THEY SUGGEST.

1. A spirit of inquiry.

2. A spirit of active enterprize.

3. Let us beware lest in the excitement of passing events our attention should be diverted from our own spiritual prosperity.

(J. West.)

I. THE DEMAND OF A SIGN.

1. Observe the efficients or causes of it — Pharisees and Sadducees.

2. The end for which they did desire it, and that was to tempt Him.

II. OUR SAVIOUR'S REJECTION OF THIS DEMAND.

1. The reproof He gives them and their persons.

2. The ground of His reproof of them, and that is a conviction of their readiness to believe more uncertain things upon less credible ground than they would believe Him to be the Messiah sent of God upon most certain and evident grounds.

(John Cotton.)

A Palestinian prognostication, which may or may not be applicable to other countries. The Saviour, in referring to it, does not intend to affix to it a seal of scientific approbation. It was enough for His purpose that the forecast was accepted by the weather-wise in Palestine. Doubtless it would, as a general rule at least, be a true forecast; for it indicated, we presume, that in the contiguous region of the atmosphere into which the sun on setting was descending, or had descended, there was no dense accumulation of clouds threatening a coming storm of rain. If there had been such clouds the sun's golden radiance would have been drunk up and intercepted, and thus there would have been no redness of the evening sky.

(J. Morison, D. D.)

The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light! To all things that concern their temporal interests how keenly are men alive! They will meditate, observe, infer, and act upon their inferences. The agriculturist notes carefully the approaching alterations in the weather; the politician watches the current of popular feeling and the moods of men; the scientific inquirer devotes all his energies to the observation of facts that will enable him to wrest from nature her secrets; the speculator is constantly on the outlook for the first symptoms of an alteration in prices. Yet how often do these very same men decline to take any interest in the highest of all subjects — the relationship of God to man — on the plea that it is too vague and too uncertain for practical consideration! They demand that this shall be put before them by some outward visible proof which it shall be impossible to dispute before they will acknowledge its claims upon them. They are blind to the signs which are ever around them and within them, and which demand at least as much interest and inquiry as do the signs in the outward world which engross their attention.

(V. W. Hutton, M. A.)

I. The difficulty of satisfying impracticable people.

II. The dangers of a half-educated sagacity.

III. The demand of Christianity to be judged by a wide induction of facts.

(Pulpit Germs.)

Why did my multitudinous trees throw off their leaves last autumn? Was their throwing them off a sign that they were dying? They did not throw off one single leaf until they had a baby leaf wrapped up and lying along the branch. They threw off the garments of last year, and to-day they are putting on the garments of this year. So, with respect to them, change was growth, and preparation for growth. Why does the kernel of wheat die? Should a modern sceptic, after the seed had been in the ground for a few warm days, go through the field seeking for it, raking it up, and finding it rotten in his hand, he would say, "Don't you perceive that agriculture is all a myth? The thing is dead." But it must die if it would live. The reason of its decay is that its sustenance may be sucked up into the root and stem, and give new life to them; and when a single kernel seems to die, it is but a pang of birth for a hundred kernels that come into life. Thus there are changes going on in the Church. There are many things in it that must decay, in order that other things may grow. The spirit of Christianity is not changing, but its surroundings will more or less change or be thrown off, in order that it may unfold. Christianity is like a lighthouse over whose glass the keeper has permitted spiders to spin their webs, or on which insects have gathered until the glass is so dim that the light, though it shines brightly on the inside, is scarcely seen on the outside. These obstructions must be scoured off, the rubbish must be taken out of the way, in order that the light may shine out. There are thousands of things in the interpretations of religion that are obscurations.

(H. W. Beecher.)

Expository Outlines.
I.A hypocritical request.

II.A withering rebuke.

III.An indignant denial.

(Expository Outlines.)

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