“…You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times.”
I was home alone one day as a teenager when a tornado passed by my house. I looked out the front windows and could see huge oak trees bending in the wind as if they were saplings.
Across the road, at my great aunt and uncle’s house, I watched the wind peel off the 30-foot-long aluminum roof from their porch, pick it up in the air, twirl it around like a piece of paper, and then blow it directly at me. At the last moment, it switched directions and wrapped around a tree into a nice bow tie.
Today’s passage of scripture comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry—just before He predicts His death and then steadily marches toward the cross. In the preceding chapters, Jesus actively healed people and taught His followers.
Despite all that He’d accomplished, Matthew 16:1 relates how the Pharisees and Sadducees teamed up to lean on Jesus. They weren’t historically in allegiance, but they joined forces against Jesus and asked Him to show a sign proving He was authentic.
I read this story and I’m amazed they didn’t see what Jesus had done. Jesus spoke to them, somewhat sarcastically, that He found it incredible that they could look at the clouds and guess the weather but that they were unable to recognize what God was doing in their midst (vs. 3-4).
He suggested that what they really needed was a sign like Jonah. He’d used the Jonah illustration with them in a previous conversation (Matthew 12:38-42). The sign like Jonah would be His death. He hinted that they just might see God working then.
In the end, Jesus simply walked away from them without giving them a direct answer.
This text is a snapshot moment in Scripture. It lets us see the kind of perceptions and expectations Jesus dealt with on a regular basis. When we read it, we should realize that we’re also the Pharisees and Sadducees.
We often look for hints of what’s to come. We watch politics or society or the economy or any number of things and try to interpret what God is or isn’t doing.
We’d like to imagine God will work in ways comparable to the storm I experienced as a teenager. We expect God to work in big dramatic ways to prove to us who He is and what He’s doing. We need miracles or storms!
But at this point, we should hear Jesus saying, “Haven’t you been watching?”
It’s a great time for us to look around at all the things God’s doing in the life of this great church, our families, our nation, and the world. He’s at work! Don’t sell Him short. Look around to where the Spirit is moving. God doesn’t have to work like a huge storm to prove who He is. Watch and listen for the work of God in Jesus Christ.
- How does it change your reading of this Scripture if you imagine yourself to be the Pharisee or Sadducee? Can you hear Jesus more clearly?
- Do you feel we are guilty of expecting God to work in big, amazing ways? When we look for the “mighty acts of God” do we miss the small ways God is at work everyday?
- How would you help explain this to someone at work today? To your family? How would you encourage them to look differently for the ways God is at work in their lives, their community, and the world?