Mysterious Signs

Psalm 86:16-17 (Opening) 16  Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant. 17  Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. Introduction We’ve been working our way through Matthew’s Gospel, looking at the prophecy that Matthew points out as fulfilled by Jesus and the circumstances surrounding Him and His life. Some of the prophecy Matthew points out is in his narration of the events, but some of it comes from the mouth of people in the events; specifically, Jesus. After His resurrection, Jesus explains to His disciples all the prophecy in Scripture that points to Him. I would have loved to be sitting in that room when He explained it to them. A Sign One sabbath, Jesus and His disciples are walking through some grain fields, presumably on their way to a synagogue somewhere. His disciples got hungry and gleaned some wheat as they walked through, but the Pharisees that saw them chastised them for “working” on the sabbath. When they got to the synagogue, Jesus found a man with a withered hand and He healed him in front of everyone there, and He was chastised for working on the sabbath. After seeing this healing, and the healing of a demon possessed man, some of the scribes and Pharisees asked Him to prove Himself to them by giving them a sign. They wanted Him to perform some kind of miracle on command, so they could know who He was. Those things He had done on His own weren’t enough proof. Matthew 12:39-41 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. Jesus tells them they aren’t following God; He says they belong to an evil and adulterous generation. Adulterous here could be referring to following other Gods, the way God refers to Israel many times through the prophets. Jesus uses a comparison here in these verses to show who He is, instead of performing for them. He compares Himself with Jonah. He says the only sign they will get will be the sign of Jonah. Jonah was sent by God to preach repentance to the Ninevites. He didn’t want to go to the capital of Assyria, Israel’s biggest enemy at the time, so Jonah went as far as he could in the other direction. Or at least he tried to. The ship he got on to go to Tarshish was beaten by a horrible storm, so bad that the crew were afraid it would sink. Jonah finally admitted he was trying to run away from God and told them if they threw him overboard the ship would be saved. So, they did. The point of Jesus comparison is what happened after that. Jonah 1:17 17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jesus compares His time in the tomb with Jonah’s time in the fish. Not only that, but Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees that the people of Nineveh would condemn this generation of the Jews because of their unbelief. That was a harsh statement for them, because the Ninevites were Gentiles, and had been the enemy of Israel. For them to condemn the Israelites of that day would have been unthinkable for them. When Jesus explained to His disciples why He taught in parables, He said they were truly blessed because they got to see and hear Him. Matthew 13:17 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Jesus tells His disciples that those who many call the heroes of the Bible longed for the day of His arrival, just like we long for the day of His return. They knew about Him, they taught about Him, they lived for Him, but they would never live to see Him. They understood, at least partially, the prophecy God gave them to share with His children. They knew there would be one who would come to save His people. And they longed for it, but never saw it. Peter explained it like this. 1 Peter 1:10-12 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. There was a lot of anticipation for the arrival of Messiah, both among the people of Israel and among the heavenly beings. They knew part of the plan, but only God knew how the whole thing would eventually play out. Final Week Part of that plan was for Jesus to return to Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus knew He had to be in Jerusalem for the Passover, so He worked His way there during His last year. He left Galilee and headed south, and went all the way down to Jericho, where He ended up meeting with Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector there. Then He made the journey up to Jerusalem, through the town of Bethany, where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. On the first day of the week after arriving in Bethany, He went to Jerusalem, a short trip of less than two miles. Matthew 21:1-5 1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5  “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” Jesus knew the prophecy that needed to be fulfilled for Him to come into Jerusalem as the King. This prophecy emphasizes the humility of the first coming of the Messiah, the suffering servant Messiah. Matthew points to another prophet’s words and shows their fulfillment in Jesus’ actions. Jesus specifically sent His disciples to get the donkey and its colt. Scholars argue about which one He road on, the mother or the colt. Some even say He road on both, which makes no sense to me at all. But the prophecy being fulfilled is from Zechariah. Zechariah 9:9 9  Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. The way Zechariah words this prophecy, it seems to point to Messiah riding on the colt, not the mother. But the point is that Jesus was arriving in Jerusalem as the King, even though He would end the week as the sacrifice. Once Jesus had come in the gates of Jerusalem, He went to the Temple, where He would spend a lot of His time over the next few days. It was the Sunday before Passover, and there were a lot of people coming into the city for the celebration. Part of the celebration was to sacrifice and cook a yearling lamb for the meal, but if you were traveling any distance, it was difficult if not impossible to bring a lamb with you for the Passover. People had set up places where visitors could buy an appropriate animal to sacrifice on the Temple grounds. The problem with that was that the only currency you could use in the Temple was Temple currency. So if you were coming from somewhere else, you had to convert your money into Temple money before you could buy your animal. The money changers were charging exorbitant fees to exchange the currency, and those who were selling animals for the sacrifice were also overcharging. Matthew 21:12-13 12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Jesus quotes two scriptures here. The first one is from Isaiah, and it is a prophecy, but it’s also stating the fact that the Temple was supposed to be a place of reverence and honor to God, not a place of cheating, stealing, and commerce in general. Isaiah 56 is about how foreigners who were followers of Yahweh should be accepted into the Temple and not treated badly; how they can serve Yahweh the same as the children of Israel. Verse seven is where Jesus quotes from. Isaiah 56:7 7  these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” But the second half of what Jesus quotes is from Jeremiah. God tells Jeremiah to proclaim the sins of the people and warn them of the coming destruction. God says through Jeremiah that the people are doing whatever they want to do, sinning in many different ways, but coming into the Temple and praising God without repenting. Jeremiah 7:11 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. Jesus knew their attitudes and what they were doing. Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of the last kings of Judah, from Josiah until the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. Jesus is saying that things haven’t really changed; the attitudes were the same as when God punished them and sent them into exile. Jesus spend a lot of His time that week in the Temple teaching. Most of the teaching He did was through parables. The day after He cleared the money changers out of the Temple, He came back again and taught there. After He told the people a few parables, He turned to the chief priests and the elders who were listening to Him. Matthew 21:42-44 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” This was a major insult to the chief priests and the elders. They were the teachers who taught the Law and were supposed to know it the best of anyone. They considered themselves to be the “builders” of the people of Israel. What Jesus said to them could have been taken as a threat. “You’re losing your grip on the kingdom, and it will come to Me, and if you don’t follow me, you’ll be destroyed.” Jesus was quoting from Psalm 118. Psalm 118:22-23 22  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23  This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Matthew, Luke, Paul, and Peter all use this same scripture as prophecy pointing to Jesus as the cornerstone. The cornerstone is the first stone laid in a foundation, and the rest of the house is based on the trueness of the cornerstone. Betrayal After a few more days teaching in the Temple, Jesus brings His disciples together for a Passover meal. During those few days, Judas had met with the chief priests and made a deal to turn Jesus over to them, when he had the opportunity. That evening, they shared a Passover meal together, and Jesus used the bread and the wine from the meal as a parable to try to explain to them and prepare them for what was going to happen. Then, Judas left to betray Jesus. Matthew 26:30-32 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Jesus quotes from Zechariah here as a warning to His disciples that things were not going to go well, and they were going to be in physical and emotional turmoil for a few days. Zechariah prophesied after the return from Babylon. God spoke through him to convince the Israelites that had returned to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas not to fall back into the same sins their ancestors were involved in. God is warning the Israelites that the false prophets will be struck down. Zechariah 13:7 7  “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. This verse is connected with chapter 11 of Zechariah, which talks about a shepherd of doomed sheep. The shepherd is the one who is responsible for keeping the sheep safe and guiding the sheep to where they need to be pastured. Without the shepherd, the sheep tend to wander off and do whatever they want to do. They’re doomed. But Jesus said for His disciples to meet Him in Galilee after He is raised up. The final prophecy that Matthew points out in his Gospel isn’t specifically about Jesus, but about His betrayal. It picks up where Jesus’ quotation of Zechariah 13:7 leaves off. Matthew 27:3-10 3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” Jesus had been arrested. Judas was having second thoughts about his decision to betray Him. He goes back to the Temple to give back the thirty pieces of silver that the chief priests and the elders had paid him to get Jesus to them. Thirty pieces of silver isn’t a very large sum of money when you’re talking about a person’s value. In fact, according to the Law, which the priests should have been very familiar with, that was the value of a slave. Exodus 21:32 32 If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. If my ox kills a slave, I owe the owner of the slave 30 pieces of silver, and I have to kill my ox. Judas was paid the value of a slave in exchange for Jesus’ life. Well, the priests and elders wouldn’t take back the money, so Judas threw the money into the Temple, possibly into the area where only the priests were allowed to go, according to some of the commentaries. Judas leaves the Temple and hangs himself. If we combine Matthew’s account with what Luke writes in Acts chapter 1, Judas actually hangs himself in the Hinnom valley, where the potter’s field is located that the priests buy with the money Judas throws into the Temple. But here’s where it gets a little sticky. Matthew says this fulfills the prophecy as spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. But there’s no specific prophecy that completely covers this event in Jeremiah. There is a prophecy that fits better in Zechariah. But if we dig a little bit more, we find that chapter 19 in Jeremiah is about Jeremiah interacting with the priests and elders after buying a flask from the potter. He meets with them in the Hinnom valley, near the potter’s house. Jeremiah 19:1-3 1 Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, 2 and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you. 3 You shall say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. This may be part of what Matthew is talking about as the prophecy from Jeremiah. Also, the scroll of the minor prophets usually began with the book of Jeremiah, so it could be that even if Matthew is thinking of this verse from Zechariah, he refers to it as Jeremiah because that’s the first book in the scroll. Or he just refers to the first prophecy, and Zechariah just tags a long for the ride. Zechariah 11:13 13 Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. The “lordly price” of thirty pieces of silver is a bit of sarcasm by God, given that it’s the value of a slave. But the combination of these two prophecies points to the tragedy of Judas in the Potter’s Field, and the end result of what the chief priests and elders did with the blood money that Judas returned. Conclusion Matthew wrote his Gospel primarily to Jews and those who understood the Scripture, what we call the Old Testament. He pointed out several places where prophecy in scripture was fulfilled. He provided evidence to prove to these God-fearing people that Jesus was in fact the Son of God, and that He was a permanent sacrifice for sins. That sacrifice still stands for us today. Jesus is still interceding for us when we sin, if we are in Him. We can be in Him by being immersed to wash away our sins, if we have faith that He is in fact the Son of God, and that the shedding of His blood covers our sins. If you’re having problems that you need help with, or if you don’t think that you are living in Christ, come up and talk to me. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 (Closing) 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 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.
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