1One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus’ claims by asking him to show them a miraculous sign from heaven.
2He replied, “You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow, 3red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You are good at reading the weather signs in the sky, but you can’t read the obvious signs of the times! 4Only an evil, faithless generation would ask for a miraculous sign, but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Then Jesus left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
A few weeks ago, I was engaged in an online discussion with an atheist regarding the existence of God. It started off civil but at one point, even after I had presented several sound scientific and logical arguments for God’s existence, the atheist chirped back that I needed to present IRREFUTABLE evidence for God’s existence, otherwise, his assertion that all gods are imaginary would stand. (Yes, the word “irrefutable” was typed in all caps)
I’ve conversed and debated with a fair number of atheists over the years and it is not uncommon for them to demand evidence, even after evidence is presented.
One person with whom I was recently conversing told me I needed to provide “evidence” for God’s existence. I responded by asking, “what would constitute evidence to you?”
Their response was that the evidence they required was the kind I likely could not provide, as they rely on science for their evidence. It was a subtle back-handed jab that implied I must not be smart enough or scientific enough to provide the “real” kind of proof that educated people who have advanced beyond the childish fairy tale stage engage in.
I proceeded to lay out an argument for God’s existence that is based on the scientifically accepted fact of the Big Bang, which states that all matter, space, time and energy came into existence at a point around 13.7 billion years ago. Since the universe is not eternal, it must be created. Anything that is created must have a creator. That creator must be something that exists outside of space, time matter and energy. In other words, the creator must be immaterial and timeless. These qualities of this creative entity accurately describe God.
What was the person’s response to my argument, which included the kind of evidence they required? This person rejected my argument and asserted that the universe itself must be eternal.
What is the point of all this and how does this relate to the passage above?
The point is that when people demand evidence and resort to arguing, yelling, and name-calling while expecting unreasonable levels of proof in order to even consider your position to be reasonable, that is a clear sign that they actually require NO evidence because they have already made up their mind on the matter.
People like this are not actually looking for honest debate or civil discourse. They are more likely looking for an argument in which they can embarrass the other person or trap them in a faulty line of reasoning.
This was the situation Jesus was in with this group of Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 16. Their issue wasn’t belief in God but whether Jesus was the Messiah. They came to Jesus, asking him to show them some miraculous sign despite the fact that they had first hand knowledge of all of Jesus’ teachings and miraculous deeds up to that point.
Jesus often spoke of the stubbornness and hard-heartedness of the religious leaders and this was just another example. Their request is the same as the atheist who declares to his audience, “if God exists, he will appear right here and right now before us on this stage”, and then when it doesn’t happen, wryly concludes, “Well there you have it folks; God must not exist!”
How does Jesus respond to these hard-hearted leaders?
Jesus tells them that just as people have the tools that enable them to predict the weather for that day, so they have all the tools to make a determination concerning Jesus and His identity. After all, they are the religious leaders and they have the Law and the prophets which give them all the signs regarding when the Messiah would come, where He would be and what He would do.
Jesus rebukes these leaders for their faithlessness and capricious demands and he tells them that the only sign they will get from him is the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Now if you don’t know who Jonah is, Jesus’ words might be lost on you.
The short version of the story is that Jonah was an Old Testament prophet who ran away when God commanded him to go to the city of Nineveh and preach a message of judgment for their wickedness. In the course of fleeing God, Jonah got thrown off of the ship he was on which was going in the opposite direction. God caused a big fish to swallow Jonah, thus sparing his life and redirecting him to the mission God had called him to.
Jonah spent 3 nights in the belly of the fish. So when Jesus says he will give them the sign of Jonah, he is referring to his death and the 3 days he would spend lying in the ground before being resurrected on the third day.
Jesus wasn’t going to respond to their request as if he were a genie who just emerged from 1000 years in a lamp. If you want evidence, look around you, there’s plenty of evidence for you to examine. But if you require evidence on demand, well, sorry, there is no dog and pony show for you. You get the same evidence everyone else gets. Jesus’ death and resurrection should be enough evidence for anyone.
Sadly though many of the people of Jesus’ day rejected this evidence just as people today still do.
Notice what Jesus did next. He left them and went away. There is no point in engaging those whose only aim is to entrap you.
When a person has already decided what they think about an issue and it’s obvious from their tone and their rhetoric that their heart is not open for discussion, then there is no point in debating or trying to reason.
As Jonathan Swift once famously said, “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired.”
When is a time in your life when you were stubborn and proud and wouldn’t listen to reason? What were the circumstances? What caused your heart to change (assuming it did)?
What are some qualities or indicators that a person has a hard heart and is not really interested in honest, open discourse? (Tone, actions, words, etc)
What do you think is the reason some people demand evidence even when it is presented? What causes a person’s heart to become hard?
What do you think are some ways we can and should respond to people who are not open to reason and demand irrefutable evidence?
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash