Sermon: The Judgment of “This Generation” Matthew 12: 38-42

Truth Taught- The evil heart always finds a reason to reject Jesus

Introduction

So far in Chapter 12 of Matthew’s Gospel we have watch the Pharisees and their attempts to discredit Jesus in front of the people.  

-He is a Sabbath breaker

They tried to point out that Jesus’ disciples were also Sabbath breakers as they walked through the grain fields and ate some of the heads of grain.  The Pharisees said they are breaking the Sabbath.  Jesus answered by basically saying, have not read about David?

Then they went to the Synagogue and there was a man with a withered hand.  They tested Jesus in front of everyone by asking Him, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?  Jesus healed the man and taught them that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath and He said, I am Lord of the Sabbath.

– He is Satanic

Jesus cast out a demon that rendered his host mute and blind.  This was the type of demon they had no success with casting out.  Their smear was that Jesus is satanic and did this miracle by the power of Satan.  

Our Lord told them that their conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth.  He explained that they had crossed the line and would not find repentance or forgiveness.

Today is their final attempt in Chapter 12 to discredit and undermine Jesus’ authority and power.  

–  Show us a sign

They wanted some miracle no one had ever seen before.   Jesus, write Your name in the sky.  Move this giant cedar tree from here to there.  Turn the sea to blood.  Do some sign and then we will believe.  Do you think they really would have faith if Jesus just did one more miracle?

Matthew 12:38–45 (ESV) 

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 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. 40 For 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. 41 The 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. 42 The 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. 

1.  Their Request for a Sign

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 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. 40 For 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.

            A.  Their Question

The Pharisees confront Jesus and they are defeated at every turn.  They simply cannot take it.  Their entire livelihood revolves around their controlling the masses.  When the people start learning truth and are not simply puppets the control their system of tradition and manmade laws and rules will come crumbling down. 

When I read this passage, I’m reminded of Paul’s words about Judaism…
1 Corinthians 1:22–25 (ESV) 
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 

In Paul’s assessment, the Jews are always looking for a sign.  

According to these Jews, none of the thousands of healings were enough.  Jesus could point to the people in the crowd whom He healed from blindness, lameness, and demon possession.  He could say, see so and so over there?  You don’t remember when he was blind and mute?  There’s Jacob, he does not have the withered hand anymore.  Jesus even raised the dead.  He singlehandedly eradicated sickness from Jerusalem.  They still would not believe.  Miracles are not good enough, now they ask for a sign.

The sign they were asking for was a sign from Heaven.  It’s the same trap they set for Jesus in Matthew 16…

Matthew 16:1–4 (ESV) 

16 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heavenHe answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. 

Jesus, can you make the stars move?  Can you turn the moon red?  Can you write Your name in the clouds?  
Here’s the dynamic at work…the people thought the Scribes and Pharisees actually cared and actually knew what they were talking about.  So, if they think a further sign is needed then it must be true.  Jesus was not playing along, was He?

You know why they asked this question of Him? Because they believed He couldn’t do it, and they wanted to discredit Him in front of the people when He didn’t. That was their whole intent. See, if He was the Messiah, let Him do that. And the implication was that that’s what He was supposed to have done, although no such prophecy exists at all. They did it to embarrass Him. They did it to discredit Him. See, they not only don’t believe in Him, they not only blaspheme Him, they want to embarrass and discredit Him in front of everybody, so that nobody will believe Him. They have now not only personally rejected, personally blasphemed, but they now take on the ministry of getting everybody else to reject Him.  The Holy Spirit was at work in the ministry of Jesus and their ministry, if you will, is to discredit Jesus.  They hated Jesus with a vengeance.

Matthew 12:32 (ESV) 

32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 

Matthew 12:36–37 (ESV) 

36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

            B.  Jesus’ Answer

Jesus answers their question requesting a sign.  He refuses to show them a sign.  
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. 40 For 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.

There is going to be a sign.  It will be a far greater sign than anything they could imagine.  This sign is a marker of their own destruction.  Our Lord is making a comparison.  He states that Jonah was, in fact, buried, if you will, in the belly of the great fish or great sea monster.  He was in darkness and as the fish swam deep, he too was in the heart of the earth.  When Jonah was spit out up on the shore of Nineveh it was like a resurrection.  Jonah, here is what scholars call a type of Christ.  

Jesus uses the Jonah account to picture His resurrection.  Our Lord calls it the sign of Jonah.  

According to Jesus there is only one sign left and it is more powerful and more magnificent than any heavenly sign.  His resurrection would be the sign of all signs/miracle of all miracles.  The mighty event of Jesus’ resurrection should by means of its magnitude cause all people to repent.  Do people repent because of the sign of Jonah; the resurrection?  No!  Would these Pharisees and Scribes repent at the resurrection?  No!  

Beloved, no miracle or sign will change a lost hardened heart.  There is not enough visible miracles to give a stony heart life.  
I’m sure you’ve heard people say, If God would just do some miracle so I could see it then I would believe.  That’s not true.  Here, the religious leaders of Jerusalem saw thousands of Jesus’ miracles and they did not believe for one second.  After a miracle they said, Jesus show us one more then we will believe.  No more would be given.  Their fate is sealed.

If you are an unbeliever today what does God have to do in order for you to believe?  Are you waiting on some sign or miracle?  What are you waiting for?  Is not the sign of Jonah/the resurrection of Jesus enough?  What else will God need to do?

2.  The Judgment Rendered

41 The 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. 42 The 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.

            A.  Ninevites will condemn this generation

41 The 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.

What is Jesus telling us here?  Jonah was no miracle worker.  Jonah was a reluctant prophet at best.  He did not shed any tears for the Ninevites, in fact, the main reason he did not want to go preach to them was that he knew if he did, God would forgive them.

Jonah 3:4–9 (ESV) 

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 

The Jews did not have a reluctant prophet with a half-hearted message.  The Jews didn’t have a preacher who did not want them to repent.  The Jews had the very Son of God preaching the Kingdom of God, forgiveness of sin and repentance.  He came with signs and miracles.  His message was proven over and over again as He showed His authority over every realm.  

Surely, if the Ninevites repented those Jews hearing Jesus should have repented long before this day.  Yet, they did not.

So, our Lord declares that, in fact, the Ninevites will condemn this generation.  In some way God will hold them up as an example of belief and their example will serve as condemnation to the Jews.

        B.  The Queen of the south will condemn this generation
42 The 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. 

1 Kings 10:1–10 (ESV) 

10 Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her. 

And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” 10 Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, and a very great quantity of spices and precious stones. Never again came such an abundance of spices as these that the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. 

The Queen of the South, as Jesus calls her, traveled 1200 miles or more to speak with Solomon concerning the Lord.  She came to listen to Solomon’s teaching and wisdom.  She heard his wisdom and saw all God had done for him and she was amazed.  

The Jews had the Son of God, infinitely wise compared to Solomon.  Jesus’ healings and other miracles far exceeded anything the Queen saw as she visited Solomon.  She became a believer as Solomon spoke to her concerning the Lord.
The Jews had so much more than she did and they remained hardhearted and in unbelief.

42 The 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.

Her passion to learn about Solomon’s Lord and her belief will be held up as evidence against these unbelieving Jews who had everything.

Conclusion

At this point, we should pause and look inwardly.  It’s easy to point our fingers at the Pharisees and the Scribes and shake our heads in disgust.  They had such a wonderful opportunity to believe.  They had Jesus right there for 3 years teaching, preaching, and healing.  What a waste.

I’m always amazed at saving faith but here, I’m amazed at their spiritual blindness.  What more could Jesus do?  

This generation is no different.  Most people today remain unbelievers.  They act like the sinless Savior, His miracles and teaching, the cross and His resurrection are no big deal.  Jesus, what else you got?
Here lies a generation who is unconvinced, blind, and dead.
This text is not just a call for the lost to awaken to the truth but it is also a call for Christians to examine themselves as well.  Has Jesus become normal to you?  Has He become just something you can take or leave.  You fit Him in if you have time or if there is nothing better going on.  Have you become lukewarm in your Christian walk?

The Queen of the South had just heard a few bits and pieces about the God of Solomon and she traveled from the ends of the earth to hear more.  She was willing to make the very hard journey.  Many today have a hard time getting out of bed on Sunday mornings.  How important is Jesus to you?  How important is His Word?

What would God have you do as a result of hearing His Word today?

*Resources Used:

Matthew by D A Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary

A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles

A Gospel of Matthew by France

Matthew by Craig Bloomberg

Matthew by Doriani

Matthew by Charles Price

Matthew by Leon Morris

Blue Letter Bible

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