The Holy Spirit has been speaking to me through Matthew 12:38-45 for a couple of months now. The writer in me says the theme is “Relationship over Rules.” But the Word of God always delivers so much more. I’ll be posting about this passage for the next few weeks.

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; Matthew 12:38,39a 

At first glance, Jesus’ response seems overly harsh. The Pharisees speak with respect, calling him “Teacher.” It seems like they’re just suffering a little bit of doubt-like we all do. But Jesus calls them “evil” and “adulterous.” Does this mean Jesus thinks asking for proof is evil?

When we examine scripture, we need to do more than take it in context. We need to compare the passage with the whole counsel of the Word. Looking at both the Old and New Testaments, we see a pattern of God dealing patiently and compassionately with doubt. (Examples listed at the end)

One chapter earlier in Matthew 11:2-6, we see an encounter with Jesus and John the Baptist’s disciples. John, who was in prison and awaiting execution, sent his followers to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah. John baptized Jesus; he saw the dove; he knew Jesus was the Messiah but, just then, John struggled. Jesus didn’t respond with anger. He told the disciples to report all they’d seen and heard about Jesus. In verse 5, Jesus references the prophecies of Isaiah about himself. He does this because he knows for John, a reverent student of the Word, a reminder of the scripture was all he needed. In John’s doubt, Jesus reassures him lovingly.

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So, if Jesus’ typical response is gentle, what’s up in these verses? Like John the Baptist, these men knew the Word of God. They’d studied the prophecies all their educational lives. They also knew all the reports of Jesus’ miracles. They shouldn’t have needed proof. Jesus’ identity as the Messiah should have been evident. Unlike John, these teachers of the law didn’t know the maker of the law. Jesus called them adulterous because they went through the motions of loving God, but their hearts were elsewhere. As Jesus says in John 8:19, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.”

God doesn’t mind when sincere hearts struggle. But he does object when those who don’t recognize him demand he prove himself.

Come back next Tuesday for verses 39-40.

Examples of God’s grace with doubt: Elijah-I Kings 19; Gideon-Judges 6; Father of boy with evil spirit-Mark 9; Thomas-John 20

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