I have been waiting for this day for a very long time, and yet, it seems to have come sooner than I anticipated.
Today, will mark the beginning of our journey into the study and experience of what is known as the charismata, the word from which we get our English word – charismatic, and it refers to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Now, I know that to some of you, that sounds exciting, but to some of you, the word charismatic may leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Let me encourage you however, to cleave to God’s word and not to our bias.
How do we approach such a series? Do we do an academic study of all matters regarding the charisma? We could, but that hasn’t helped many I know, who need more help navigating the issue from a practical standpoint.
- Is Reformed Charismatic an oxymoron?
Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but only one word in that phrase is not found in the Bible. If we are reformed in conviction, then our allegiance to God’s word compels us to be charismatic.
Now, this is not a popular view among reformed theologians, and many of my dear friends in that camp would consider this series on the Spiritual gifts a mistake.
They would suggest that we be convicted charismatics, but functionally cessationist.
- Being convicted about the gifts but functionally not pursuing them, is sin. It is the same kind of disobedience that keeps many convicted of baptism from actually following through with their conviction.
- The word continuationism, intended to mean the opposite of cessationism, in that we believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit continue, and have not ceased, is also a word that theologians came up with to distance themselves from the quote-on-quote “charismatic Christians” of our time.
- Our aim in this study is sola scriptura. To obey scripture, to desire the fullness of joy in Christ Jesus, and to edify his church.
- It will not just be a season when we simply learn about the spiritual gifts, but a season where we pursue and desire for them.
- We are not here to please men, and we’ve never been here to please men. We’re here to hear God’s word and to obey him. This is the reason why we’ve always had that slot in our order of service called congregational ministry.
At first I thought we’d go into this series after Matthew chapter 12, take a break from our expository series, and do this topical study. But as it has amazingly turned out, the tail end of Matthew chapter 12 seems to me an excellent foundation as we go into that study, which is why I consider today as the beginning of our study rather than after chapter 12.
And so, we begin with our passage for today, Matthew 12:38-42, and I’ve titled today’s sermon as Sign Seekers
Matthew 12:38–42 NASB95
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”
39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet;
40 for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
41 “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
42 “The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
Matthew 12:38–39 ESV
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Why is it evil and adulterous to seek for a sign? Don’t we all at some point, seek after a sign? How many times have you prayed and asked the Lord, “Show me some sign as to what I’m supposed to do.”
In fact, doesn’t the bible have many examples of those who asked for signs like Abraham’s servant or Gideon, and God answered them. Weren’t the disciples in the upper room waiting for the promised sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit? Aren’t we instructed in 1 Corinthians 14 to earnestly desire the spiritual signs or the spiritual gifts?
No brothers and sisters, it is not evil to seek for a sign, but one can seek for a sign from an evil and adulterous heart. It is not the seeking that makes it evil, but the objective or motive behind the seeking.
Remember the context we’re in. The Pharisees have been going at it with Jesus, trying to discredit him (v24), and to conspire against him to destroy him (v14). They ridiculed his miracle working power, rejected his message of repentance and salvation, and now, they wish to see a sign?
Therefore, we must be well discerning about these sort of things. In fact, it isn’t as simple a distinction as saying that it is right for the Christian to seek God for a sign, and wrong for the unbeliever, because it is possible for the unbeliever to have righteous motives and the believer to have sinful motives.
Beloved, we serve a God who delights to show us visible signs of his power and his love for us. He does not wish for us to grope in the dark, to live desperate lives, but has promised us the we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37).
And so, here when the scribes and pharisees require of Christ a sign, they sin. They want more signs not to examine and believe, but to use as fodder for their criticism and to excuse their unbelief. Therefore, Jesus here is not saying that any who seek after a sign belongs to an evil and adulterous generation, but that those who are seeking a sign in this context are those who belong to an evil and adulterous generation. Evil, because they hate God, and adulterous, because they love the world. The sign they wanted was a sign that validated the identity of Christ, and given all that Jesus was doing right before their eyes, this is them wanting more
- “That’s not evidence enough, give us more evidence”.
Firstly, in the courtroom of signs and wonders, we do not stand as judges but as witnesses to the mighty works of God. God gives us signs that we might see and believe, not that we might determine what is and is not a sign. We must look to God and his word for that judgment.
Secondly, the context in which a sign is requested and the kind of sign that is sought after are vivid indicators of the heart of the man seeking after that sign. [Explain – great signs have happened in OT]
For such a generation therefore, there is no sign except the sign of Jonah. What then, is the sign of Jonah?
We all know, I suppose, the story of Jonah. God called Jonah to prophesy against the nation of Nineveh about all the judgment that would fall on them because of their sinful ways. But Jonah, fled from God because he knew that if he preached that messages, that the people at Nineveh would repent and he knew that God was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and that he would hear their cry and relent his wrath. And this, Jonah wanted to avoid for he wanted Nineveh to get what they deserved. So, as he fled by sea, the trials of a storm ends with Jonah being thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish for three days and three nights. Once the fish spit him out, he went to Nineveh and did what the Lord required of him.
And that story, is the sign to an evil and adulterous generation. How? Let’s read on.
Matthew 12:40 ESV
40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The sign of Jonah was significant because of what it pointed to, because the sign of Jonah was a precursor to the sign of the cross, to the resurrection of Christ.
There is so much here for us to see.
- I met a man once, part of one of the common denominations around us, and he used to teach and write for them, but he refused to believe that the great miracles of the OT like the splitting of the sea, and Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish were all symbolic or metaphoric. That nothing of that sort can physically actually happen. He argued that the science could not justify it. Yet, we have Jesus here, who in pointing to the literal experience of Jonah, verifies the validity of Jonah’s claim. If Jonah lied about it, then so did Jesus.
I love it when Jesus quotes the OT because he does not quote it like a reader but as one who was there when it happened. And Jesus intended at Jonah’s time that Jonah’s experience would typify his own death, burial and resurrection.
- But look at this, brothers and sisters, Jesus does not leave the evil and adulterous generation without a sign. He gives them a sign, but just not the sign they wanted. Instead, he gave them the sign they needed.
There is a sign given to the hart-hearted, to the god hating, world loving, evil and adulterous generation. A sign beyond all signs, a miracle beyond all miracles, a hope beyond all hopes. It is the only sign that can convict the wretched human heart, the only sign that can save mankind. We call this sign, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is like Jesus saying, “You want a sign? I’ll give you a sign, and if you believe it, you will never be the same again. But if you reject it, there is no other sign that can ever open your eyes.”
They wanted a great sign, and Jesus offered them a greater sign than they could comprehend.
Something greater is here.
Matthew 12:41 ESV
41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
The men of Nineveh will rise up? Why would the men of the ancient world rise up? Why? Because Jesus was going to rise up, because Jesus was going to break the curse of sin and death, and rise up from the grave. Our Saviour is a resurrected Saviour. He is one who has overcome death, and at the last judgment, he will defeat death entirely, and all those who rest in the heart of the earth, will rise.
There is day of reckoning beloved, when the dead will rise and the living be caught up with them at the final judgment.
On that day, the men of Nineveh would condemn the Pharisees and Scribes and every evil generation of men who did not repent at the preaching of the Gospel. Because the men of Nineveh repented upon hearing a message which was at best a shadow of things to come, but now the curtain is pulled back and the mystery revealed, the truth exposed for all to see. Now, there is no shadow, only light. For a greater preaching than Jonah has arrived, for something greater than Jonah is here.
They repented at the preaching of Jonah, but we repent at the preaching of Christ.
This is the second time Jesus uses the ‘greater’ comparison in this chapter.
Matthew 12:6 ESV
6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
The people of God flocked to the temple, to speak to God, to offer their sacrifices and to worship him. But something greater than the temple is here. When sinners entered the temple, especially the holier places, they were judged for profaning the sanctity of the temple. But from heaven came a temple into which sinners run, because this temple isn’t profaned by our sin but our sin is purged by this temple. Here, sinners are not destroyed, they are saved, but saved only if they run to him.
Something greater than the temple is here. Something greater than Jonah is here. And Jesus doesn’t stop there.
Matthew 12:42 ESV
42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
The Queen of the South, or the Queen of Sheba as we read in the accounts of 1 Kings 10:1-13, ruled 1,200 miles to the southeast of Israel, which a lot of people at that time considered the ends of the earth. And she, being a pagan, a woman, a gentile, an Arab, came across the Arabian desert, with her entourage, carrying gold and gifts for Solomon, in order that she might sit at his feet to glean the wisdom of his words.
And she will be there at the resurrection, and this pagan woman will condemn the Jewish men, for before them stood something much, much greater than Solomon, wisdom beyond knowledge, understanding beyond comprehension, and yet they turned him away. She travelled miles and crossed the Arabian desert to see Solomon, yet this greater Solomon crossed the chasm between heaven and earth to come to us.
- The righteous and evil pursuits of sign seeking, especially when seeking the signs of the charisma.
- The focus on something greater – the glory of God in the edification of the church.
- Because the Bible says so
- Understanding and encountering the miraculous