Do you ever get tired of trying to live the Christian life? Are you tired of trying to do the right thing all the time? If either of those are true, than it’s likely you are trying to live the Christian Life without Christ.
The Passage: Matthew 12:38-45
- In Matt 12:38 it seems the scribes and Pharisees felt Jesus hadn’t shown them enough signs. What had Jesus done already? (Matt 12:22; Matt 12:12-14; Matt 9:32-34; Matt 9:27-31)
- What did the two illustration (people of Nineveh and Queen of Sheba) have in common? (Matt 12:39-42) How does the “light” they were given compare to the “light” the scribes and Pharisees were given?
- How does Matthew 12:41-42, 45 clarify who Jesus was referring with the unpardonable sin in Matt 12:30-32?
- How does Jesus closing story about the demon apply to this generation? In this context, what was Jesus saying about the scribes and Pharisees, and “this generation?”
What was God doing? Why did He have this written down?
In the introduction to his book “The Indwelling Life of Christ,” Ian Thomas said this, “I know of nothing quite so boring as Christianity without Christ.. Countless people have stopped going to a place of worship simply because they are sick of going through the motions of a dead religion. They are tired of trying to start a car on an empty tank. What a pity that there are not more people around to show them that Jesus Christ is alive.”
The Pharisaical system was a life of bondage. Jesus had come to offer freedom. he had given them sign after sign. He had displayed the things they themselves had said that only the Messiah would do. The one they had promoted and told people to look for His coming for generations. And when He came, because He didn’t follow their empty traditions, they labeled Him as demon possessed. The religious leaders chose their empty system of bondage over Jesus. They were trying to live the “Christian Life” without Christ!
As I ask these questions of myself, I encourage you to ask them too.
- What can I learn from this? What is God saying to me and my life from this passage?
Even though I know these things, I still recognize that all too often, when I walk out the door in the morning, I am not going out in the power of Christ, I am going out with my own agenda, my own plans, under my own power. How do I know this is true? Because when the Lord gives me the opportunity to stop and visit with someone, instead of being in the moment and present with that person, I am thinking about all the things “I need to get done,” instead of being fully there.
- What do I need become more aware of?
When I get so wrapped up on my projects and my own agenda, I am missing out on the opportunity to be present with the people God has placed under my care. We tell our students that their time in culture and language acquisition (CLA) is a precious time of building relationships. During the 3-4 years of CLA they will have more concentrated time to be with the people and invest in relationships than any other time in their ministry. CLA will build the foundation of the relationships they will have for building the church. They will never have that time again. I was challenged that this time of orientation for me, with these families, is just like CLA for them. I will never have this time again. Therefore I need to take every opportunity I can to be with them.
- How does God want me to engage with this? What does He want me to do because of what He is saying here?
I need to intentionally put down what I am doing and go and visit with one of my students every day! Which means giving up my own agenda, and asking God what His agenda is, so I can be His instrument in their lives.
The Power; Implement and Integrate
The power to change is in the implementation and integration of what God is saying to us. We can talk all we want, make lots of plans, but until we do something about it, and develop habits that integrate those truths, we will never change. What is the one thing I need to do as a result of this study today?
- When I spend time in prayer for the day, I will pray through Phil 2:4-5 “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”
- I will ask God to help me be fully present when I interact with people in order that I may truly empathize and identify with them.
Ian Thomas went on in his introduction to contrast Christianity without Christ by saying, “I know of nothing so utterly exciting as being a Christian, sharing the very Life of Jesus Christ on earth right here and now, being caught up with Him into the relentless, invincible purposes of the almighty God, and having available to us all the limitless resources of Deity for accomplishing those purposes. Can you imagine anything more exciting than that?” This is what Jesus was offering!
Verse by verse insights:
Matt 12:38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
“After hearing Jesus’ words of rebuke and judgment, the Pharisees tried to retake the offensive by demanding yet another sign. In this context, the Pharisaic implication was that Jesus had not done enough to authenticate His messianic claims.” (Fruchenbuam) Crazy, after all Jesus had done, they still refused to see it. The people were seeing it, and some of them were beginning to believe Jesus, and question their leaders.
Matt 12:39-42 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. 40For 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. 41The 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. 42The 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.
Jesus responds to the scribes and Pharisees request with strong words. He continues His condemnation of this specific generation. Jesus uses 2 examples to illustrate how this generation, although He had revealed who He was and had given them much “light”, chose to reject the “light” they were given.
- The first example was the people of Nineveh and the prophet Jonah. This of course is the great story of God sending Jonah to Nineveh to proclaim coming judgement. But Jonah didn’t want to go. He got in a boat going the other direction. So, God sent a storm to cause his shipmates to throw him overboard, and a giant fish to swallow him and deliver him to the shores of Nineveh. He was in the belly of the fish for 3 days. (Jonah 1:1-17) There’s 2 points to this illustration.
- (v40) They asked for a sign. The only sign Jesus would give them is that of His resurrection (3 days in the belly of the fish).
- (v41) The people of Nineveh repented after hearing Jonah’s message. They were gentiles, with a lot less “light” than this generation of Jews. When the people of Nineveh were confronted with their sin, they repented. (Jonah 3:1-10) So Jesus declares that the people of Nineveh will actually stand in judgment of this particular Jewish generation.
- The second example is the queen of Sheba. The Queen of Sheba had heard about Solomon’s great wisdom and came to witness it. She believed based on the reports she had heard. (2 Chron 9:1-12) She, a gentile also, responded to a lot less “light” than this generation. They were shown the wisdom of God, over and over again through Jesus. Jesus is much greater than Solomon. So too, the Queen of Sheba will stand in judgment of this particular Jewish generation.
Matthew 12:43-45 43“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Three times in this short passage Jesus has referred to “this generation.”
- 41 The men of Nineveh will rise in judgment of “this generation.”
- 42 The queen of the south will rise up on judgment of “this generation.”
- 45 the state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with “this evil generation.”
Jesus has clearly singled this specific Jewish generation out. The condemnation of the unpardonable sin (Matt 12:30-32) was for this specific Jewish generation! Their state, Jesus says, “will be worse than before.”
The demon in Jesus illustration was not cast out. He left on his own accord. He roamed around looking for a better place to live. But after searching, he decided to go back to the person he had indwelt before. When he did, he found the person swept, cleaned up, everything put in order, but still empty. This is the testimony of this particular Jewish generation. They had tried to cleanup their lives. They had followed the religious system they had made. But they were empty! “When the demon returned and found it clean and empty, he invited 7 others to join him… The state of the person was much worse in the end.”
At the time when John started preaching, the Jews were under Roman domination and had to pay annual tribute to the emperor, but Rome still allowed them to retain their national identity. Jerusalem was standing, the Temple was functioning in all its Herodian glory, and the Jews had a semi-autonomous government in the Sanhedrin. However, forty years after Jesus spoke these words, the Roman legions invaded the land. After a four-year war and a two-year siege, they destroyed the city, tore down the Temple so that there was not one stone standing on top of the other, and the Jewish people were scattered and dispersed throughout the world. The last state of that generation was, indeed, worse than the first.
In the introduction to his book “The Indwelling Life of Christ,” Ian Thomas said this, “I know of nothing quite so boring as Christianity without Christ.. Countless people have stopped going to a place of worship simply because they are sick of going through the motions of a dead religion. They are tired of trying to start a car on an empty tank. What a pity that there are not more people around to show them that Jesus Christ is alive.
The Pharisaical system was a life of bondage. Jesus had come to offer freedom. But the religious leaders chose their empty system of bondage over Jesus.
In contrast, Thomas goes on to say, “ I know of nothing so utterly exciting as being a Christian, sharing the very Life of Jesus Christ on earth right here and now, being caught up with Him into the relentless, invincible purposes of the almighty God, and having available to us all the limitless resources of Deity for accomplishing those purposes.Can you imagine anything more exciting than that? This is what Jesus was offering!
On October 11 I read the following in Miles Stanford devotional “None But the Hungry Heart.”.I thought these comments were applicable also:
“If we can learn from the Lord Jesus what Mary and Martha learned, that the best feast for Jesus, is for us to receive and treasure up all we can from Him—to see, and hear, and be with Him. When we sit at His feet, we honor and please Him incomparably more than anything we think we can do for Him.
“We should ever remember that Christianity is not a set of opinions, a system of dogmas, or a number of views; it is pre-eminently a living reality—a personal, practical, powerful thing… an orthodox creed without communion with Him will prove to be a cold and barren thing.”