This morning, I read Matthew 12. However, I found myself focusing especially on VS. 38-50. My Bible has these verses broken down into three sections: “The Sign of Jonah” (VS. 38-42); “Return of an Unclean Spirit” (VS. 43-45); and “Jesus’ Mother and Brothers” (VS. 46-50). While these three sections may have differences, I think there’s a common thread holding them together.
In our first section (VS. 38-42), some of the religious leaders challenge Jesus to give them a sign. Jesus has already done this numerous times, only to be criticized by these same religious leaders. In the last instance, they even accused him of performing the sign by the power of Satan! (Matthew 12:22-32) It’s safe to say their request for a sign is less than genuine. Jesus refuses to give them some spectacular sign, instead alluding to his upcoming death and resurrection. He compares his death to Jonah’s time in the belly of a fish. Jonah came out of the fish’s belly, and likewise, Jesus will come out of the tomb.
But then Jesus gets confrontational. He tells the religious leaders that they will be judged by those notoriously wicked Gentiles from Nineveh – people so depraved that Jonah ran the other direction when God sent him there. It’s not exactly a compliment when Jesus says people like them will judge you. Jesus then brings in a second story from the Old Testament: the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon (1 Kings 10). Like those evil people of Nineveh, the Queen of Sheba will “rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it” (VS. 41, 42). The Queen of Sheba is also – gulp – a Gentile.
Next, we go to our second section (VS. 43-45). Jesus tells the story of an unclean spirit leaving a person, failing to find rest, and then returning. When the spirit returns, he finds his old hangout looking better than ever, and invites some demonic buddies to shack up as well. Jesus says the person within whom the evil spirits now reside is worse than they were before.
Finally, we have our third section (VS. 46-50). Jesus’s mother and brothers seek him out; we have no idea what they wanted to discuss with him. But Jesus disregards the request from his family, instead focusing on the larger family of God – everyone “who does the will of my Father in heaven” (VS. 50).
Three passages, all covering three seemingly unrelated teachings. However, here’s the thread that holds them all together: Jesus is giving us a glimpse of how to properly respond to him, using the religious leaders in these verses (“this generation”) as an example of how NOT to respond to him.
VS. 38-42 show us how the religious leaders have rejected Jesus’s proofs of his identity as God’s son. As a result, Jesus says they’ll be judged by Gentiles (hence his using the people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba in his illustration) who do accept Jesus’s proofs and identity. In other words, it’s better to be a Gentile who responds properly to Jesus than a Jew (and a religious leader, no less!) who rejects him. The people of Nineveh responded properly to Jonah’s preaching by repenting of their sin. The Queen of Sheba responded properly to Solomon’s wisdom by honoring him. Jesus is greater than Jonah, and greater than Solomon; and yet, the religious leaders have rejected him. The idea that Gentiles would respond properly to God, while Israelites would reject God would have been scandalous in Jesus’s day – but that’s exactly what’s already happening. VS. 46-50 drive the point home, showing us that belonging to the family of God isn’t a matter of bloodlines, ancestors, and family trees. Those who belong to the family of God respond properly to Jesus – in faith and obedience. God’s family is made up of those who repent of their sin, and believe in, worship, and obey his son.
So where do VS. 43-45 fit in? It’s a warning to the religious leaders about the danger of continual rejection and false repentance. The person who continually rejects Jesus – or even worse, continually practices false repentance – will only find themselves more hardened than they were before.
But here’s the big question: How have you responded to Jesus? Have you rejected him like the religious leaders in this passage – demanding one sign after another, even though Jesus has already given the ultimate sign of his death and resurrection? Have you assumed you’re a part of God’s family because your parents responded properly to Jesus, or have you actually responded to him yourself? Has your life been filled with some occasional, false repentance of sin when times get bad – or genuine faith and discipleship?
The beauty of the Gospel is that by God’s grace, and the power of the Holy Spirit, sinners can respond to Jesus properly. We can repent of our sin, believe, trust, and obey the Savior who died for us – and didn’t stay dead. So…how have you responded to Jesus?