Looking for a Sign
“And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it. And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.”
Are you looking for a sign? Are you waiting for the Lord to show you a sign? We live in an age of such religious deception and perversity that men and women are taught from the pulpits to do so. Such a generation is described by the Son of God in this passage of Holy Scripture as a wicked, perverse and adulterous generation.
Any faith that is based upon a sign, the observation of a miracle, the proof of logic, a feeling of something spiritual, an experience, or anything else other than the revelation of God in Holy Scripture is a false faith. True, God-given, saving faith has for its foundation the Word of God alone.
That is the message of the text before us. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” May God give us grace to believe him, not our experiences! – Him, not our feelings! – Him, not our reason! – Him, not signs and wonders!
The Blessedness of Faith
The greatest blessing God can bestow upon anyone in this world is the gift of faith in Christ. — “And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (vv. 27-28).
The Lord Jesus had just cast out a devil, by the power of his omnipotent grace, causing a dumb man to speak. After performing this great miracle, he was accused by the “religious right,” the “moral majority”, of performing his work by the power of Satan, of being in league with the devil, maybe of even being the devil himself.
Then, the Son of God explained publicly who he is (the King of Glory), by what power he works (the Finger of God), the result of his work (Satan cast out) and, at the same time, exposed the hypocrisy of those whited sepulchers who were indeed the servants of Satan.
Hearing these things, observing the power of his grace, perhaps rejoicing in the embarrassment of the Pharisees, perhaps remembering what the Son of God had done for her by his grace, there was a woman in the crowd whose adoration of Christ, because of her remembrance of his mercy, caused her to break the rules of politeness. She cried out, — “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked!”
These words were not a pronouncement of praise and veneration of Mary. It is sad that such a statement as that must be made; but the Mariolatry of Rome is so profuse that often the mother of Jesus is elevated in the minds of people above other women to a position of kinship to divinity. It is utter idolatry to pray to Mary! Mary is not God; and she certainly is not, as the papists chant, “the mother of God!”
This was not a word of praise to Mary. Rather it was a figure of speech, by which this woman expressed adulation and praise for the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not use the same words, but we often praise someone in the same way. – “That child is an honor to his parents.” – “That child speaks well of his parents.” – “That child must make his parents very proud.”
Mary was indeed a blessed woman. Both the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, spoke of her blessedness (Luke 1:28, 42). I do not doubt for a moment that sister Mary was a woman of remarkable character, exemplary faith and behavior, and steadfast virtue. I am certain that she was such a woman.
However, Mary’s blessedness was the blessedness of a sinner saved by grace, nothing less, and nothing more. Her blessedness did not arise so much from the fact that the Son of God was in her womb, but from the fact that he was in her heart. Mary was highly favored of God as the object of his grace, chosen, redeemed, called, sanctified and accepted in Christ, just like us. She worshipped the baby in her belly as God her Savior in her heart. After she had given birth to the Lord Jesus, to our Savior’s humanity, she came to the temple with the sacrifice of the law, because of her uncleanness, because she was a sinner who needed the blood atonement of Christ just like us (Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:6-8).
When the Savior heard this woman’s praise, he immediately knew what horrid blasphemy would soon come to be attached to those words by the deceivers in Rome. So he immediately gives us a word of instruction, declaring, — “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”
True blessedness is the blessedness of grace bestowed upon all who are born of God. How great are the privileges of grace bestowed upon sinners in this world who hear the Word of God and keep it! It is a great privilege indeed to hear the Word of God faithfully preached. But our Savior is not talking about the mere outward hearing of the gospel. That will prove an everlasting curse, unless there is, with the hearing of the Word, the accompaniment of saving grace causing us to hear the Word and keep it, to hear it with faith and understanding, and to guard it, prize it and keep it as the Word of God. All to whom God grants the gift of faith in his Son are truly blessed of God.
The Demand of Unbelief
Unbelief always demands something more than the Word of God. — “And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet.” Matthew tells us that our Lord Jesus also declared, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign” (Matthew 12:39).
Without question, our Lord was speaking specifically of the generation in which he then walked in this world. It was a distinctly evil and adulterous generation, a generation much like our own. Like the day in which we live, those were days of indescribable, horrid evil. Philosophical, political, moral and spiritual evil was seen everywhere (Romans 1:18-32).
But the emphasis, both here and in Matthew’s account, appears to be upon the evil of those who seek after a sign as a basis for believing God. The people gathered in thick crowds to hear the Son of God preach. But they were a people who demanded a sign, something they could see, something they could feel, something they could understand, something they could prove, as the basis of faith. – They professed that they would believe God, if the Lord God would simply prove himself in the court of carnal reason and experience. – They wanted evidences for faith. But faith that is based upon evidence is not faith.
The God of glory will never bow to you and me. We must bow to him. He condescends in great grace to save sinners. But he will never stoop to be judged by us! If we would be saved, we must bow to him, believing him (1 Corinthians 1:17-31).
The Sign of Jonah
The only sign upon which faith can rest is the accomplishment of redemption proclaimed and revealed in the gospel. — “For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation” (v. 30). The sign of Jonah was both a declaration of grace and a prophecy of redemption accomplished. Jonah declared, “Salvation is of the Lord!” Jonah’s being raised to life again after three days in the belly of the whale was a prophetic picture of our redemption by Christ’s death and resurrection as our Substitute.
As Jonah was cast into the sea and swallowed by the whale to appease the storm of judgment, another man, the God-man, Christ Jesus, was swallowed up in the wrath of God. When wrath was turned away, that man, our Substitute, arose from the belly of hell, after three days in the heart of the earth. And as Jonah went and preached to the men of Nineveh, that risen man, Christ the Lord, proclaimed grace to sinners deserving the wrath of God.
The Judgment of God
Be sure you understand our Lord’s doctrine in verses 31-32. — Divine justice will make everything that should have been a means of blessedness and salvation here an instrument of torment in hell.
“The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here” (vv. 31-32).
The Queen of Sheba, when she heard report of Solomon’s riches, greatness, wisdom and glory, traveled many miles at great expense to meet that great man, on the basis of nothing but the word of men. And Solomon was only a sinful man. – “Behold, a greater than Solomon is here!” The men of Nineveh, when they heard the message of God by the lips of Jonah, a prophet who was at best less than desirable, repented. – “Behold, a greater than Jonah is here!” You have heard and read the Word of God, the gospel of his grace. Will that be to you a blessing, or a curse? If the Lord God gives you faith in his dear Son, the Word that you have heard and read will be an everlasting blessing of God’s grace to you. But if you refuse to trust Christ, that same word shall rise up in judgment against you and forever torment your soul in hell (2 Corinthians 2:14-16; 1 John 5:1-14).
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