Discernment, Priorities, Knowing and Trusting Your Bible
Matthew Series #090
August 23, 2015
“Father, You have revealed Your Word to us that we might know who You are, who we are, and how we might come to be justified in Your presence and have eternal life. Once we receive that new life, the focus and objective for us should be to grow and mature in that life, to grow spiritually, to nourish ourselves upon milk and the meat of Your Word and to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Father, Your Word is not only inerrant and infallible, but it is sufficient. That means that You have in Your omniscience known of all the difficulties, all the challenges, the heartaches, the sufferings, the adversities we would face in this life, and You crafted Your Word and the way it was revealed in such a way to provide us with everything that we need to face any and all obstacles, difficulties, temptations, and testings in life.
Father, we pray now as we study in this next section in Matthew that we might be challenged in terms of our own understanding of Your Word, the priority we place upon the knowledge of Your Word and that we might truly be challenged to move to the next level in terms of our own focus upon Your Word.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Our passage this morning is in Matthew 16:10, and we’re going to look at some key themes that we find in this passage related to discernment, priorities, and knowing and trusting your Bible.
Now I make a distinction there because there are a lot of folks who may know their Bible, but they don’t really trust it very much. They may trust it theoretically, but they don’t trust it every day. They don’t trust it practically.
This is a great temptation and a common test we all face: do we really trust the Word exclusively or are we really just looking at the Word as a tool along with other tools to handle the circumstances, adversities, and difficulties in our life?
We come to this section in Matthew 16:1–12, actually where Jesus is giving another lesson to His disciples as well as to us. Remember in this section, since the beginning of Matthew 13, Jesus is primarily focused on training and equipping His disciples for their future ministry to come to understand what is going to happen in the intervening period between the present time, including the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, His ascension, and the birth of the church.
Now we haven’t had the church mentioned yet. That comes in the next section that we’ll get to in Matthew 16 with the first mention of the church, but He is preparing them for their future ministry.
One of the lessons they need to learn, as we all need to learn, is a lesson in terms of spiritual perception and understanding.
That pulls together the two episodes that take place here. They are connected between verses 1–4 and the confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees with the question they have related to a sign, and the conversation He has with His disciples in the boat as they head across the Sea of Galilee in preparation for their journey north to Caesarea Philippi.
The focus here is on the issue of spiritual discernment and perception. In these two examples:
- The first deals with the deception of the spiritual darkness of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
- The second relates to the lack of spiritual perception on the part of the disciples.
The difference is that the darkness of the Pharisees and Sadducees is deadly and destructive and diabolical. But the lack of understanding upon the part of the disciples we’ll see is gradually removed over the coming months and years as they grow spiritually.
Nevertheless they are warned that they can succumb to the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, which can have a destructive effect on their spiritual life.
It won’t cause them to lose their salvation, but it can severely damage their spiritual growth, hinder their spiritual growth, and damage their spiritual life because they get involved with false teaching and false doctrine.
So Jesus is warning them, and us, to beware of false teachings that would lead souls away from an exclusive and radical dependence upon God. That’s really the focus we see here.
In this section, as Christ teaches the disciples, we’re going to also see an interesting thread that goes back into Matthew 14.
Just to remind you what has happened here: they started off—let’s put the map up here on the screen—they started off in this area north of Bethsaida in the territory of Philip, now the territory of Herod Antipas, and this is where He feeds the 5,000.
There’s the focus on feeding, the focus of multiplying the loaves and the fishes, and the emphasis on the fact that Jesus is the One who supplies their needs. Jesus takes the loaves and the fishes and multiplies them miraculously, and the feeding of the 5,000 is mediated through the disciples.
What we see here is foreshadowing, teaching them that He will provide the nourishment, and it will be sufficient. But it is their responsibility to take that and use that to feed God’s people. So that’s the first miracle.
Then there’s the situation where they head back across the Sea of Galilee at night and encounter a storm. In the tempest and turbulence of the storm, Jesus is going to come to them walking on the water at night, demonstrating that when we face the tempest and turbulence of life, Jesus has the power to handle that if we have faith in Him and focus upon Him, which was the issue with Peter learning to walk on the water.
When he took his focus off the Lord, then he began to sink beneath the waves. So again, He is emphasizing the sufficiency of the power of God to handle all the problems that we face in life.
Then the Pharisees challenged Him as He came to the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Pharisees would be those who had come up now from Jerusalem. They challenged Him about His disciples not washing their hands.
Then Jesus taught that it wasn’t the externals, or the trappings of religion, that counted but the eternal reality of the heart. It was not lip service, but service that came from the soul—those who are completely devoted to God.
Then He left there, and we see that He headed north to the territory of Tyre and Sidon where He encountered this Gentile woman who was called by Matthew a Canaanite, bringing up the image of those that were the historic enemies of Israel and those who had brought paganism and the horrible idolatry of the fertility cults into Israel, their long-term enemy, and that she comes to Him demonstrating great doctrinal understanding.
And she says, “Yes, it’s right that you feed the children, that is Israel, but that we too have a right to the crumbs, just as the little dog in the house.”
She recognized the priority. She recognized Him as the Son of David, the Messiah, and she asked Him to heal her daughter who was demon possessed, which He did. She pled with Him on a very personal level, and so we have that example.
It’s the grace of God that is not restricted to one people, but goes out to all people, goes out to the Gentiles. And that was reinforced when Jesus returned.
Instead of going back into the territory of Herod Antipas, He went further to the east into the territory of the ten cities, the ten Greek cities, the Decapolis.
There He fed the 4,000. The feeding of the 4,000, as we saw at the end of the last message, is also related to teaching the sufficiency of God’s grace, not just to Israel, but also to the Gentiles.
And that there is an abundance left over, which means that God’s grace is more than enough. It’s not just barely enough—it is more than enough to satisfy the needs of our life, the hungerings of our soul so that we can face and handle any problem in life.
I showed you this picture last time. This is looking from the west side of Galilee, looking across the Sea of Galilee to the Golan Heights and to the area where Jesus would have ministered here. This is the same area He would have cast the demon out of the Gadarene demoniac.
So we noted last time the seven large baskets, these were the large, huge baskets that a human body could even fit into, demonstrating the sufficiency of Christ.
He had a crowd that was responsive, unlike the crowd in this cartoon. Someone sent me this for an amusing birthday card. This too often would probably be the response of many Christians even who want to put conditions upon God’s provision—that it has to be according to their ideas or others.
If you can’t read it, Jesus is holding out a loaf and a fish, and one person says, “I can’t eat that. I’m a vegan.” Another says, “Has that fish been tested for mercury?” And a third person say, “Is that bread gluten-free?”
The humor there is too often when God provides for us, we want to put conditions upon that.
He has now come down into the area of the Decapolis [shown in the green circle on the slide], and He moves back across the sea to the western shore where He is met by the Pharisees. And now He’s met with the Sadducees.
This is the area—New King James translates it Magdala, but we’re not really sure. That was their guess as to where the location was, but as I pointed out last time, they weren’t really sure.
In Matthew 16:1 the Pharisees and Sadducees come, we’re told, and they’re testing Him and asked that “He would show them a sign from heaven.”So a new group of those opposed to Him have appeared on the scene.
The last time we saw the Sadducees mentioned was back in Matthew 3 when they’re coming down to evaluate John the Baptist. They’ve been in the background. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the primary religious leaders in Israel at the time.
The Sadducees were the party of the priests. They were the party of the aristocrats. They were the party of the temple, and they predominately operated in Jerusalem. It was somewhat rare for them to be in Galilee.
The Pharisees operated in the area of Jerusalem as well as north in Galilee, and it’s primarily been the Pharisees that Matthew has focused on, but he actually mentions the Sadducees as opponents of Jesus more than any of the other gospels.
John doesn’t mention the Sadducees at all. Mark and Luke only mention the Sadducees in relation to the test that they bring to Jesus during that last week before He goes to the cross when they say, “Now if there was a woman who was married to a man, and he died.”
Then they go through the whole list of six or seven husbands die, and then they ask the question, “Well, whose husband would she be in the resurrection?”
Jesus really nailed them because they didn’t believe in the resurrection. So they’re asking a question simply for the sake of entrapping Him, and that’s basically what’s going on here in this particular situation.
But we need to note a few things about the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Both Sadducees and Pharisees operated together in the governing body of Judea, which was called the Sanhedrin, but they differed very greatly in their doctrine, in their understanding of Scripture.
It’s important to understand their understanding of Scripture and their view of the ultimate authority in religious matters in order to be able to understand what Jesus is talking about when He gets into verse 6 and talks about the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
Both sat on the Sanhedrin, but they were opposed to each other just about as much as Nancy Pelosi would be opposed to Ted Cruz. They were not going to get together on just any topic. They couldn’t agree on anything, and they were very much opposed to each other.
In terms of their doctrine, in terms of their theology, the Pharisees emphasized the whole of the Old Testament, but they added to it. Now that would be the key thing to think about when we think about the Pharisees and Sadducees—is that the Pharisees add to the Scripture, and the Sadducees take away from the Scripture.
So the Pharisees are a lot like a lot of religious legalists in that they are adding something to that which God has revealed, whereas the Sadducees are like a lot of religious liberals in that they don’t really trust all of the Scripture, and they take away a lot from the Scripture, and they pick and choose exactly what it is that they’re going to think as part of God’s Word.
So the Pharisees emphasized the whole of the Old Testament, but they added to it the Halakhah, the oral tradition, the oral law. And ultimately, whenever you add anything to Scripture, that takes authority over Scripture.
The oral law became the only authoritative way to interpret the Old Testament. So they add to the revelation of God.
In contrast, the Sadducees restricted the Old Testament to only the Pentateuch. They virtually ignored the former and the latter prophets and the writings. They focused mostly just upon the Pentateuch.
They also derived more of their authority from education and from reason. They were the rationalists. So they rejected certain things related to the supernatural. They rejected the existence of angels. They rejected the eternality of the soul and a future life after death in terms of resurrection.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in the eternal nature of the soul, as well as a future judgment and a resurrection and a destiny of Heaven or Hell.
The Pharisees would emphasize the sovereignty of God to the point of determinism and almost fatalism, whereas the Sadducees went to the other extreme and emphasized human autonomy and freedom of will to the exclusion of the authority of God. So they had radically different viewpoints.
The centerpiece was really this view of resurrection. Paul used that very wisely in Acts 23 when he is brought before the Sanhedrin to stand trial. He perceived this difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, so when it came time for him to talk, he announced that he was there, and was on trial for the resurrection of the dead.
That immediately got the two sides arguing with each other. They became so angry, and they became almost to the point of violence that the Roman troops had to come in, if you remember, and they had to pull Paul out of there and rescue him, lest he be done physical harm.
They had this exceptionally vitriolic relationship. They were extremely polarized. When these groups unite as we have here when we look at this phrase, the Pharisees and Sadducees, in the Greek are governed by one article, which can have many different significances, but here it indicates the close unity between these two groups.
They may be opposed to one another on many different points. They may disagree on 98% of what they believe, but they agree on one thing, and that is that this guy, Jesus of Nazareth, cannot possibly be the Messiah.
They are united in the fact, in the old saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” They are united to one another. And they come to test Jesus.
This is also an interesting word that we find here. They come to test Him, which means to examine Him, to try Him, to evaluate Him, and in some cases it even means to tempt—that’s not how it’s used here—but what’s interesting is this word has only been used one previous time in the Gospel of Matthew.
You’ll never imagine who was involved in that testing? Well it takes us right back to Matthew 4:1, 3. “Jesus was lead up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil,” to be tested by the Devil.
And in verse 3, “Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ ”
The only person who has previously tested the Lord is Satan. So there is subtext here that the Pharisees and Sadducees are doing the Devil’s work in terms of their opposition to Jesus as the Messiah.
They came to test Him, and they asked if He would show them a sign from Heaven. This could be understood a couple of different ways. The grammar here, the genitive, is a little bit ambiguous, and it’s been interpreted in one of two ways—and I’m just going to mention the two different options here:
One could be that they wanted a sign that would be IN the heavens, a sign in the heavens. This would be something like what we’d find in the Old Testament during the time of Joshua when the sun stood still or during the time of Hezekiah when the shadow reversed itself going up the stairs.
So they were looking, in this interpretation, they’d be looking for some sort of special event that would take place in the heavens, a meteorological event, or something of that nature.
On the other hand, they could be asking for a sign that would be coming from Heaven, that is from God, and they wanted incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was who He claimed to be. But actually in either case, it’s disingenuous. They’re just trying to trap Him.
So many signs have already been given to them that they’re just ignoring them. For example, if they’re talking about signs IN the heavens, something meteorological or astronomical, we have the star that appeared over the house where the Magi came to worship Jesus.
We also have heard, the public heard, the voice of God when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and out of the heavens came God’s voice saying, “This my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
On the other hand, there have been numerous miracles. There have been various healing miracles that previous to this, the rabbis had thought would be the unique distinguishing signs of the Messiah. He’s healed lepers. He’s healed the blind. He has healed those who were crippled and maimed. He has cast out demons, but they have rejected all of those things.
So basically they are not asking for another sign. They just want Him to do something so they can trap Him. If He doesn’t do anything, they’re going to say, “Well, He’s just a fraud and a fake.” If He does do something, then they’re going to accuse Him of performing magic or accuse Him of sorcery or something like that.
So Jesus, as He does so many times, is very sophisticated in the way He gets out of these little traps that they set for Him. He tells them as they come asking for a sign from Heaven, and He’s going to address that when we get down to verse 4. But He side-steps it a little bit.
We get a little interesting insight into how our Lord Jesus Christ is handling the opposition here when we look at Mark 8:12. We see that Jesus is getting a little exasperated with these opponents. Mark tells us that He sighed deeply in His spirit. Jesus is thinking, “Here we go again. One more time.”
So in Mark He says, “Why does this generation seek a sign?”
See, we get this idea that if only our witnessing could be confirmed by a miracle, if people that we love would just see something miraculous, that somehow this would have an impact upon their thinking. That is completely fallacious because there were many people in Israel who saw incredible miracles, but they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, because the issue isn’t related to evidence.
Evidence is important. Evidence confirms the veracity of Scripture. And in many cases the study of Christian evidence is important for believers, because it strengthens their faith.
But it is not ultimately that which convinces unbelievers, because the issue is more than a rational or empirical issue. The issue is volition. Volition is what lies behind their very actions and their very deeds.
We come to Matthew 16:2, and here Jesus responds in an extremely interesting manner. He refers to a proverbial understanding among the people.
They understand the meteorological events that take place around them so that they can have a somewhat rudimentary way of predicting the weather. In other words, they have become experts at understanding natural phenomena, but they are not experts.
These are the religious leaders of Israel, remember, but they are not only not experts, but they are ignorant of the signs of the times.
Now this phrase is used here at the end of verse 3, you notice. He says—I’ll just read the two verses:
“He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red;” ‘and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Hypocrites!’”(Jesus was not PC.) “Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.’ ”
It’s interesting that this phrase “the signs of the times” is one you hear bandied about so much today, “Well, we have to look at the signs of the times. Israel is back in the land. There are people who want to rebuild the temple. They’ve rebuilt all the furniture in the temple. We have to understand the signs of the times!”
It’s only used one time, and it’s related to the First Advent, not the Second Advent. Isn’t that interesting? Think about that.
“You don’t understand the signs of the times.” So He confronts them with the fact that they have not paid attention to Scripture.
Now the saying that He alludes to here is one that is common among sailors, and that is—we know the saying like this—“Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning; and red sky at night, sailors delight.”
What this indicates is that in the morning if you’re out on the sea, and in the morning if you see the sun rise at the dawn, and if it’s being filtered through the clouds, then it’s very likely that those clouds are going to come your way, and you may face inclement weather during the day.
But if the sun is setting, and the sun is setting in the west and is illuminating clouds in the heavens to the west, then it’s very likely that those clouds have already gone on, and they’re going in the other direction, and they are not going to come to bother you.
So He recognizes that they have come to study and to understand a lot of natural phenomena, and they have studied many details of life. They may be experts in these areas, but the area where they should be experts is in the Word of God.
He’s confronting them and says, “Well you don’t recognize the signs that the Messiah was coming and that God would send His Messiah at this particular time.”
He’s basically saying, “You don’t recognize the time table that Daniel laid out in Daniel 9:25–26, and so you don’t know that this is the right time.”
The subtext here would be even Simeon—remember old Simeon who shows up when Mary and Joseph were bringing Jesus into the temple for His dedication eight days after His birth—and Simeon knows that this is the time of the Messiah.
He has prayed that God would allow him to live long enough to see the Messiah. When Jesus is brought as an infant into the temple, he praises God because God has allowed him to see His Messiah.
Jesus is saying that they’re not as smart as Simeon. They don’t know the Word. He’s saying, “You don’t know in Malachi that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, and I was born in Bethlehem.”
He says, “You don’t understand Isaiah and all of the things Isaiah said would mark the ministry of the Messiah, and I have healed the lame and given sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, and yet you don’t recognize that.”
He says, “You haven’t recognized that the kingdom of God would be offered, and you don’t understand or perceive what God is doing right now on this earth. You are spiritually deaf and blind, and you are ignorant.”
The sad thing is that today we have a lot of Christians who aren’t much different from them. They are experts in areas of politics. They’re experts on the stock market and on economics, and maybe you know people who are experts on sports, and they can recite for you every sports statistic for the last 40 years. They know every player, every year, every standing, who won the World Series, who won the National Division Championships, they can tell you everything there is to know about that.
You know some other guys. I know some people like this that they can tell me what the ballistics are on every caliber bullet from a .22 up to a .44 magnum and beyond. They have probably forgotten more about fire arms than I will ever know. They are experts on that.
You run into other people who are experts in whatever area of hobby activity that they have. They know everything perhaps about entertainment. They can tell you who the stars were in certain television shows and certain movies, who won the Emmys, who won the Academy Awards, who was the best actor, the best actress, the best supporting actor or actress.
They know all of this detail, but the trouble is they don’t know the Word of God. They can’t tell you who the twelve tribes of Israel are, who the twelve disciples were.
They can’t tell you what the major events were structuring Old Testament history.
They can’t tell you the major events or the chronology of the life of Christ.
They can’t tell you about the three journeys of the Apostle Paul.
They can’t tell you an outline of future prophecy, and they are willfully ignorant of these things, because they are distracted by all of the details of life.
Yet the only thing we’re going to have to take into eternity is going to be our knowledge and understanding of the Word.
We all know people, I have several friends like this. They’ll get up in the morning around 4:30, and they will spend the first 2–3 hours of the day reading through the business section, analyzing the markets, reading the articles on Bloomberg.com.
Or they get up and read all of the articles on the Drudge Report, all of the articles on Breitbart, all of the articles from Politico, and they are very well informed on all of the things that are happening politically, but they find it very difficult to read through their Bible in a year. That only takes about nine or ten minutes a day.
Not only that they just don’t have an understanding of the framework or the structure of Scripture, and they get so busy with work, they don’t have time to get to Bible class. They don’t have time to make that their priority in their life, and yet we know that if we don’t spend time in the Word, then that is going to have disastrous consequences in our spiritual life.
We have our priorities wrong, and we need to take a close example from this and learn the details of the Scripture and make that a priority.
What did Jesus say to them? Now remember they’re unbelievers. He calls them a wicked and adulterous generation.
They’re evil, not because they’re not nice people, not because they’re not moral people. They are evil because they have replaced the worship of God with the worship of their idolatrous thought systems, whether it’s the religious idolatry of the Pharisees, or whether it’s the rationalistic idolatry of the Sadducees.
Remember: the Pharisees are adding to Scripture, and the Sadducees are taking away from Scripture. But the end result is basically the same. When you add to Scripture, it’s going to destroy your understanding of who Jesus is.
You think about the various cults that have developed over the years that have added to Scripture:
You have the Mormons who added the Book of Mormon to Scripture. They do lip service to the authority of the Bible, but ultimately the Bible has to be understood in light of the Book of Mormon.
You have Christian Scientists. You look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watch Tower. Their additional authoritative books supplant the authority of Scripture. They give lip service to the authority of Scripture, but the Bible is going to be interpreted on the basis of their religious books.
So whenever you add something, you are going to destroy the authority of the 66 Books of the Bible.
When you take away, of course you’re going to destroy the authority of Scripture, because you’re going to use your reason.
This is why Thomas Jefferson took out a little razor blade and cut out, and he did this physically—and they have a copy of this Bible where he did this at the Library of Congress—he literally took out every miracle, every supernatural event in the Bible, because according to his reason, the authority of his reason, it couldn’t really have happened that way. So he is taking away from Scripture.
Whether you’re taking away from Scripture, or adding to Scripture, the bottom line is when you come to Jesus of Nazareth, you won’t correctly identify Him as the Messiah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the Bible.
They’re called evil because when you take away the hope of eternal salvation from people, then it dooms them to eternal condemnation, and that is evil. Idolatry is evil.
They’re spiritual adulterers, because they have replaced the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Mosaic Law, Yahweh, the God of creation. They have replaced Him with something else. Every one of us does that at times.
Paul says that greed is idolatry. We create mental idols all the time where we idolize our work, we idolize the pursuit of money. We idolize entertainment, relaxation, family, children. We put all of these things before God. When we do that, we have created an idol of those details of life. When we do that, we have committed spiritual adultery.
Spiritual adultery doesn’t mean you’re listening to somebody other than your pastor teach you the Bible. That is just hogwash, and there are a lot of people who’ve been taught that. You need to just flush that out of your mind. That is not spiritual adultery. The Bible clearly defines it.
All throughout the Old Testament God would accuse Israel of being an adulterous people—not because they listened to another Bible teacher, but because they replaced Him as the ultimate focus in their lives. That’s what spiritual adultery is.
So what’s the solution to this?
1. Well, first of all we need to evaluate our priorities. We need to evaluate how we spend our time. We need to set aside time every day to really, truly, read the Bible, not just to skim it, not just to read the words with our eyes while our mind is thinking about something else, but maybe take out a pen and a piece of paper and jot down our thoughts as we are reading through the Bible, so the Bible can have an impact on our thinking.
2. Second we need to take time to study the Scripture under a pastor who truly understands the Word. A pastor who is, if they don’t know the original languages, then they are taking the time to study under somebody who does or to use many of the remarkable computer tools that we have today in order to delve into the original languages of Scripture. So we need to take the time.
That means more than just Sunday morning. The world is pressuring us 24/7 to conform to it, and the only way we can fight that is through the Word of God. If we’re spending 30 minutes or an hour or even three hours a week in the Word, it’s not enough. We’re not giving it enough. We’re letting the world dominate and conform us, and we’re barely giving God the opportunity to do anything.
This is why a lot of Christians think, “Well, the Bible really doesn’t work. I know it says it will, and there are some people that it’s had a transformative effect on, but the Bible really doesn’t seem to work in my life.”
That’s because you haven’t given it a chance! You think that Sunday morning once a week is enough. You think that reading a chapter a day, if you read that, is enough. No, you have to immerse yourself into Scripture.
3. That also means—#3, you need to memorize Scripture. David said, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” The solution to sin, part of the solution to sin, is hiding God’s Word in your life that God the Holy Spirit can use it.
4. Fourth, we need to take time to fellowship around the Word of God with other believers—coming together in corporate worship and in Bible study.
Now we come to Matthew 16:4. Jesus confronts them. He’s called them wicked because of their idolatry, their rejection of God’s Word. He’s called them adulterous because in their worship of something else. They are being spiritually unfaithful to God.
He says people like this seek after a sign. They just want to have their feelings stimulated, their emotion stimulated by seeing something exciting. Signs and wonders had a place as a confirmation of the authority of Jesus and the apostles, but they were not the primary convincing agent in understanding the truth of God’s Word.
So Jesus says, “ ‘You seek after a sign and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah’. And He left them and departed.”
This is the same thing He said earlier. In Matthew 12 after the Pharisees had accused Him of performing His miracles in the power of Satan and the power of Beelzebub, then they came to Him, the Scribes and the Pharisees, in verse 38 asking for a sign.
In verse 39 He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Jonah was the prophet in the Old Testament to whom God appeared and sent him to take the gospel to Nineveh, the capital of the arch enemy of Israel, the Assyrian Empire. They were immersed in paganism. They were the enemy just as the enemy of the United States is the Russian Empire and the Iranian Empire.
We don’t want to admit that anymore, but that’s like a lot of Christians. They just had détente with their sin nature, and so they don’t really admit that that’s their enemy, but this is a case where Jonah recognized that Nineveh and the Assyrians were his enemy, and he hated them with every ounce of his being.
When God said take the gospel to the Assyrians, he said, “Not a chance!” So he went down to Joppa in order to get on the first ship he could headed as far away from Nineveh as possible.
When they got out into the Mediterranean Sea, God prepared a special large fish—not a whale—and a storm came up and put the pressure on the sailors on the boat.
Finally Jonah had to admit that all of this was his fault and for them to throw him into the water, and then they would survive. So at least we see that he had a measure in integrity, recognizing that it was better for him to perish than all of the others.
They threw him in the water and this huge fish God had prepared swallowed him. It was as if he was dead. For three days and three nights he’s in the belly of the fish until he repented. That means he changed his mind, and yes, Lord, it’s better for me to go to Nineveh than to sit in this stinking, smelly belly. So the fish then gave him a one-way ticket to the nearest beach near the coast of Joppa and vomited him out on to the sands.
There have been instances in history where fishermen have been swallowed by various fish, various types of aquatic animals. After this has happened, when they have been rescued and they’ve survived, it’s been discovered that the stomach acids have whitened them. Their hair is white, their skin is white. They look like a ghost. They haven’t seen daylight for perhaps in a couple of days, but the acids have bleached them white.
So this would have really made Jonah stand out when he walked through the gates of Nineveh. He would have gained a lot of attention just from his presence, and he preached.
But the point of this is that Jonah was as if he was dead. After this time period in the belly of the fish, it was as if he was resurrected and came back to life.
So that’s the pattern, and it speaks of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Resurrection would be the ultimate evidence of the veracity of who Jesus Christ is as the eternal Son of God.
But resurrection is not necessarily going to convince everybody.
We’re told in Luke 16 about two men: about Lazarus, who’s a beggar, and a rich man. Lazarus is begging outside the gate of the rich man’s house. One day Lazarus dies, and Lazarus is a believer, and he goes to Abraham’s Bosom. But the rich man was not a believer, and when he died he went to Torments.
So he is in fiery torments, and he looks across the great gulf to see Lazarus on the other side, and he realizes that he had wasted his life in disobedience to God, and he had never trusted in the gospel to believe in God’s provision of salvation through the Messiah. Because of that, he was going to spend eternity in Torments, and he wanted to rescue his brothers.
So he pled with Abraham, and Abraham is there, and he says, “Abraham, please allow Lazarus to come back from the dead so that he can go and warn my brothers and my family.”
Abraham said one of the most significant things in Scripture. He said, “If your brothers don’t believe in Moses and the prophets, then they won’t believe somebody who comes back from the dead.”
Now that is phenomenal, because we often think if people would just see a miracle, then they’ll believe. But if they don’t believe the Scripture, that’s the power of God. It’s the Word of God that has power in transforming people and changing people’s lives.
What we learned from the episode with Lazarus and the rich man, is that it is the Word of God that is transformative. And the Word of God alone. That emphasizes the sufficiency of God’s grace.
What happens as a result of this is, as we see, we have two options:
The Bible PLUS, which are the Pharisees. They’re adding to the Bible. What we see today is people that add other revelation, but it’s not just other revelation. They add psychology, they add sociology, they add philosophy, they add other religious books or mystical claims.
And then the Sadducees represent the Bible MINUS crowd—those who hold to various forms of rationalism, or religious liberalism, skepticism. They subtract from the Bible. They reject inerrancy and infallibility and the sufficiency of God’s grace.
What we learn in Jesus’ response is this; at the end of verse 4 it says, “And He left them and departed.” They don’t want to know the truth. They’ve made their decision. They have rejected the truth.
Then we have a short little episode here with the disciples. We read, “Now when His disciples had comes to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.”
There’s not a logistician in their midst. There’s not a foodie in their midst. They’re not focused on their stomach until they get there and start getting hungry. Mark tells us that they had one loaf that they brought with them, but that’s not nearly enough to continue to feed these 12 men plus Jesus.
What we see that’s happened so far is that Jesus had gone up to Tyre and Sidon, and He came back to the area of the Decapolis. Then He crossed over and had the confrontation we just read about with the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Now what’s going to happen is they cross back over to this area, Bethsaida, and then they’re going to head north to Caesarea Philippi. That will be what we look at next time.
In Matthew 16:6,“Then Jesus said to them—just out of the blue, ‘Take heed—that means watch out, be careful, be alert—and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’ ”
He’s focusing on this, but they don’t understand it. Look at verse 7.
In Matthew 16:7 we see their response. Their response is, “Well, He’s talking about the fact that we don’t have any bread.”
You see, when you’re so focused on the details of life that you haven’t taken the time to understand the Word, then when you hear the Word being taught, it doesn’t make any sense to you because your focus in on the wrong things. Your focus is on something else, and your focus isn’t on the Word.
When He starts talking to them about spiritual truth, what happens is that they don’t know what He’s talking about, and they misunderstand Him. That’s so true in the life of so many believers.
Let’s understand the focus here. Leaven is yeast. Whenever you are baking bread, you can take your flour, your water, and a little bit of sugar and salt, and you make your dough, but the dough won’t rise unless you introduce a little bit of yeast into it.
As you knead that into the dough, it permeates the dough. This is an illustration about how evil, just a little bit of evil can permeate the whole group, because leaven in Scripture usually refers to evil, and here it is the doctrine of the Sadducees and the Pharisees and their view that Jesus really isn’t God. Jesus isn’t the Messiah, Jesus isn’t the Savior. Jesus is just a fraud and a fake, and He is just someone who is going to distract you from life.
So He warns them, and warns us, that we’re to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Now what’s that leaven?
It’s adding to or subtracting from Scripture. That’s the core issue of not trusting the sufficiency of God’s grace, which we see emphasized again and again through this section.
So they reasoned among themselves and say, “It’s because we have no bread.” Jesus says, “Oh you of little faith.” Pops them on the back of the head.
He says, “Why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?” That’s not the issue. “Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up?”
What was the lesson there? The sufficiency of God’s provision. He’s able to provide you with the spiritual nourishment you need to really have life.
And in verse 10 He says, “Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up?”
They haven’t caught the principle yet that God and God alone can supply their needs.
What we have here is the fact that they, because they don’t yet understand the Scripture, they don’t understand the sufficiency of God’s grace, and are vulnerable to the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees who seek to either take away from the Word of God or add to the Word of God, but in both scenarios they destroy the Word of God.
So in verse 11 Jesus says, “How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?” I’m not talking literally, I’m talking figuratively and using a metaphor here for you to understand. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
So they finally understand. We see that transition as we’re going, in Scripture finally. Slowly we accumulate an understanding of Scripture, and we develop our perspicacity and our discernment of the truth.
They realize that He’s warning them against the doctrine, that is the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
Now I want to end with two anecdotes this morning.
The first anecdote comes out of a book I read recently that’s a biography of the conversion of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. She’s the unlikely convert, and I’ve mentioned her book a couple of times.
She’s a woman who in her 20s became a committed lesbian. By the time she was 36 years of age, she was a tenured professor at Syracuse University, a committed Marxist, a radical feminist, writing and leading that movement. She was a practicing lesbian and a professor of literature and women’s studies, which is just a cloak for teaching liberalism, Marxism, and radical feminism.
She was vehemently hostile to Christianity and embarking upon a book that was going to rip Christianity apart, especially the Christian right. But at that time God had a different plan. He intervened in her life through a local pastor, who just began to ask her various questions.
He didn’t confront her. He didn’t try to give her the gospel right off the bat. He and his wife just spent time with her, and because she needed to understand the Bible to attack these right-wing Christians, she spent a lot of time reading the Bible and coming to understand.
Initially, she hated everything she read, but the more she read, the more she saw the unity of Scripture and how it fit together. And over those two years she came to understand the claims of the Bible and the claims of Christ, and she trusted in Jesus Christ as her Savior.
During that time and especially after that time, this woman immersed herself in the study of Scripture. She would spend more than five hours every day reading her Bible. How many of us have done that?
She gives the account of her conversion and her life. She deals very honestly with the issues of same-sex attraction and the LGBT community. She also mentions a number of secondary characters in her life who were Christians and involved in the LGBT community, but they couldn’t have victory over that sin in the way that she did.
She eventually removed from that whole community, and she’s now been married for probably 15 years to a pastor and has reared a number of adopted children. She’s gone from one end of the spectrum to the other end of the spectrum.
But when I read her life story, and I ask the question what made the difference between her and the others, it is that she immersed herself in the Word of God, and the Word of God immersed itself in her. That’s the transformative power.
It wasn’t five minutes a day or ten minutes a day or reading a little devotional book a page at a time. It was a full-bore immersion into the Word.
There was no room for compromise. She recognized she had to change completely from her previous worldview to a Biblical worldview.
That shows, and is a great testimony of the sufficiency of Scripture, the sufficiency of God’s grace and how it really demands a full-bore immersion into the Word.
Now I’m not prescribing that you need to go home and start reading your Bible five hours a day. Some of you don’t have the opportunity to do that, but I bet you can quadruple or quintuple the amount of time you’re reading the Word, and it still won’t make much of a dent. Some of you, five times zero is zero, so that’s not going to get you very far.
But we need to be people of the Book. It’s not just a matter of showing up in Bible class once or twice a week. The Word of God needs to get into our souls.
I’m going to give you another example. This is an example from my own life. I’m going to change up some of the details, because I don’t want anybody to know where this happened. But many years ago, many years ago, I’ve been involved in lots of different churches, and I was involved at a church for a short while. While I was at that church, one thing that perturbed me was the fact that the pastor had compromised with psychology.
This happens to almost every church I’ve ever been in. The pastor compromised with psychology, and he was influenced by the wife of one of the deacons in the church.
This deacon and a couple of other deacons influenced him, and over a while he changed his views, and he gave the congregation basically permission to get involved in psychology and counseling to work out the problems in their life.
Well, it so happened that one day not too long after this, I got the opportunity to have lunch with this deacon and his wife and the pastor, and a few other people, and over the course of the lunch, this deacon’s wife was asked how she came to become a counselor. She had a pretty flourishing counseling practice at that time.
She talked about the fact that though she had grown up in a Bible-believing church and been taught the Bible and had been taught a lot of doctrine, that she struggled with some emotional problems. She struggled with some issues related to diet and eating disorders, and she never could deal with any of this. It didn’t seem that doctrine really worked.
She didn’t put it that way, but that’s basically what she was saying. She went back to school to get her Master’s degree in social work at her neighborhood university, at which time she was exposed to psychology and counseling. After spending some time in counseling, lo and behold, she finally was able to deal with these problems in her life.
At which time I interrupted, and I said very nicely and very gently, “So let me understand what you’re basically saying. With all the years of doctrine that you had, it didn’t work. The only thing that gave you a solution to your problem was psychology.”
At this point the pastor immediately recognized the issue, brought the conversation to an end, never looked back, and changed his view back to what it had been originally.
The fall-out was that the leaven of that Bible-plus mentality had so permeated different people in that congregation that a lot of people ended up leaving the congregation and going in various different directions, because when you let the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees permeate your life, it is destructive to your spiritual life.
The Scripture’s clear: the Word of God is sufficient. The grace of God is sufficient. The Cross of Christ is sufficient. There’s no problem God didn’t know about in eternity past. There’s no problem He failed to address in the Scripture. There’s nothing He dropped out.
He is sufficient to solve the eternal problem of sin at the Cross by faith alone in Christ alone, and He’s sufficient to change you and me from whatever the problem is with our sin nature and to transform us, just like He did with Rosaria Butterfield and with thousands if not millions of other people who some people say have irreversible problems.
“They can’t really solve that problem, that’s a medical problem, That’s a this problem or a that problem.” But the grace of God is transformative.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to be reminded of your sufficient grace and that we need to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, taking away from the authority of Your Word or adding to the authority of Your Word.
Father, we pray that if there’s anyone here that has never faced the gospel, that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for their sins and that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.
Now Father, we pray again for Hunter. We pray that he will recover. We pray for strength for his mother and grandmother as they minister to him during this time and for us as a church as we minister to him.
Father, we thank You for the opportunity to serve You and to be a testimony and memorial to Your grace.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”