Matthew 12(38–50)


In last week’s passage we read about the ordinary people who were wondering whether the Lord Jesus might possibly be the Son of David. That is, they were wondering whether he might be God’s Special Servant sent to save them. After all, surely only someone sent from God could do the things he was doing? They weren’t completely sure, but it seemed to them that he might be the one.

However, then there were the Pharisees who had made up their minds about the Lord Jesus. They were sure that he had come from Satan. They were sure he was only able to cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. And so, while the ordinary people were beginning to think that the Lord Jesus might have come from God, the Pharisees were sure he had come from Satan.

And we see their unbelief once again in today’s passage, because they came to the Lord Jesus demanding a sign from him.

Verses 38 to 42

And so, we read in verse 38 that the Pharisees along with the teachers of the law — who were the religious experts — said to the Lord Jesus, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’

Now, this question displays their unbelief, because the Lord had already performed many miraculous signs, which they knew about. Back in chapter 4 we read that he went throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. And news about him spread all over the region and the people brought to him all who were ill and who were demon-possessed and he healed them. And large crowds began to follow him. Those large crowds mean that lots of people had heard about him and about the things he had done. He was not acting in secret, but news of what he was doing was spread abroad.

And in chapter 8 we read about other occasions when he healed the sick and once again many who were ill came to him, because they had heard what he was able to do.

And in chapter 9 there’s the story of the paralysed man whose friends brought him to the Lord Jesus and lowered him down through the roof. And the Lord declared the man forgiven and he healed him. And the teachers of the law were right there, watching everything he did.

And then in chapter 9 we read about more healings. And right at the end of chapter 9 Matthew tells us that the Pharisees said he was driving out demons by the power of the prince of demons. And so, they knew what he has done. They knew he had performed miracles.

And in chapter 12, he healed the man with a withered hand. And the Pharisees saw it. And then later in chapter 12, some people brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. And the Lord healed him. And the Pharisees saw it.

The Lord healed many people. He drove out many demons. He had therefore performed many, many miraculous signs. And so, their demand for a miraculous sign displays their sinful unbelief, because he had already given them many signs. But instead of believing in him, they said he had come from Satan.

In another sermon I preached, I referred to a book I have at home (Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God) in which the author wrote an imaginary conversation between a believer and a unbeliever. The unbeliever challenges the believer to prove to him the existence of God. So, the believer asked the unbeliever what it would take to convince him. The unbeliever replied that he would believe if God showed himself to him. If God appeared to him in a bright light and surrounded by angels, then he would believe in God.

But would he believe? The author of the book suggests that if God appeared to him in a bright light and surrounded by angels, then the unbeliever would dismiss it as a dream or a hallucination. After all, isn’t that what people do whenever they hear about some strange event. Someone claims to have seen a UFO or the Loch Ness monster. If we don’t believe in such things, we write off what they saw as a dream or a hallucination. They must be mistaken, we think, because there’s no such thing as UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster. And so, if God appeared to someone who didn’t believe in God, then that person would write it off as a dream or hallucination. My eyes must be playing tricks on me, because I know that there’s no such thing as God.

When they’re confronted with the truth about God, unbelievers are sinfully inclined to suppress the truth and to disregard it, precisely because they don’t believe. They will find some explanation for why what they saw can’t be true. They will do what they can to suppress the truth. And that’s what the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were doing. They had already seen the Lord Jesus perform miraculous signs which made clear that he had come from God and that he was God. But, because they did not believe in him, they refused to acknowledge the truth and they explained away what they had seen by saying Jesus was from Satan. That’s what unbelievers do. That’s what we would do, if God hadn’t come, graciously and freely, into our lives by his Spirit to enable us to believe.

And so, the Lord responded to their demand by making clear that they belong to a wicked and spiritually-adulterous generation. And so, instead of being faithful to God, they were unfaithful. And he adds that the only sign they can expect to receive is the sign of Jonah. And he refers in particular to how Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and nights. And in the same way, he — the Son of Man — will be in the heart of the earth for three days and nights.

The sign he’s referring to is his own death and resurrection, which he compares to Jonah’s experience. Just as Jonah was raised from the belly of the fish on the third day, so he will be raised from the dead on the third day. That’s the sign God will give. He will bring the Lord Jesus back from the dead.

But, of course, we know that even then many of those who heard that he had been raised refused to believe in him. Even though he had been raised from the dead, and seen by witnesses, still many of them did not believe. And so, the men of Nineveh will stand up on the day of judgment and they will condemn the people of that generation, because the people of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching, while the people of that wicked and adulterous generation refused to repent at the Lord’s preaching. And he’s so much greater than Jonah, isn’t he?

And the Queen of the South, or the Queen of Sheba, will stand up on the day of judgment and condemn the people of that generation, because she travelled across the world to listen to King Solomon’s wisdom, while the people of that wicked and adulterous generation refused to listen to the Lord Jesus. And he’s so much greater than Solomon, isn’t he?

They will be condemned, because they refused to believe in the Saviour who is greater than Jonah and who is greater than Solomon.

Verses 43 to 45

And then the Lord went on to use the illustration of an evil spirit. An evil spirit came out of a man and went off across the arid desert, seeking a place to rest. However, when the evil spirit could not find any rest, it decided to return to the man, whom the spirit refers to as ‘his house’. And when the spirit arrives back at the man, he finds the house unoccupied, and swept clean and put in order. So, the man’s life, which was once in chaos because of the evil spirit, had returned to normal. And the spirit re-occupied that man’s life. In fact, he invited seven other evil spirits to join him so that the man’s final condition was worse than his first condition, because he was now inhabited by eight evil spirits when before he was possessed by only one.

That’s the illustration. And the Lord compares that wicked and adulterous generation who refused to believe in him with the man in his illustration. He’s not saying the people in that generation were all demon-possessed. But he means that their final condition will be even worse than it was presently unless they repent and believe in him, because he’s the only Saviour of the world.

Verses 46 to 50

And while the Lord was still talking, his mother and his half-brothers stood outside. They wanted to speak to him; and they sent someone to let him know that they were outside and wanted to see him.

We know from elsewhere in the gospels that, at that time, his brothers did not believe in him. And there was that occasion when his mother and brothers were worried that he had gone out of his mind and they wanted to take him away. So, during his earthly ministry, they did not believe in him. Later, after his resurrection, they believed. In fact, his half-brother James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. But during his earthly ministry, they did not believe.

And when the Lord heard that his mother and half-brothers were waiting to see him, he asked, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here they are. Here are my mother and my brothers.’ And he went on to explain that what he meant was that whoever does the will of his Father in heaven is his brother and sister and mother. This is, those who do the will of God the Father shows themselves to be members of his family.

The Lord, of course, is not saying that human families are unimportant. As one of the commentators (Morris) puts it, family ties are not unimportant; however, family ties are not all-important. Doing God’s will is all-important. That’s the most important thing.


And since the Lord Jesus was able to point to the disciples as those who were doing the will of his Father, then that tells us that despite the fact that so many people refused to believe in him, there were at least some who did believe in him.

Chapters 11 and 12 of Matthew’s gospel are about the mixed response to the Lord Jesus. There were many who weren’t sure about him. There was John the Baptist at the beginning of chapter 11 and there were the ordinary people in chapter 12 who wondered whether he might be the Son of David. Could he be the Messiah, God’s Special Servant sent to save us? They weren’t sure.

And then there were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, the religious leaders, the church leaders, who were sure he was from the Devil. They did not believe.

So, there were many who did not believe. But then there were some, like his disciples, who did believe.

And, as I said last week, all of us would have been among those who did not believe if it were not for the Lord God, who is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast, and who did not treat us as our sins deserve, but he graciously and freely sent his Spirit into our lives to replace our sinful, unbelieving heart with a new heart so that we were able to believe in the Saviour and trust in him for forgiveness and for the free gift of eternal life. And he added us to his family and allowed us to call him ‘Father’.

And, as we were learning on Sunday evening, he’s the one who equips us with everything good for doing his will. He’s the one who makes us willing and able to do his will here on earth. And so, once again we should be thankful for God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus, because he enabled us to believe, when we did not deserve it; and he added us to his family; and he helps us to do his will. By nature we were his enemies, but because of his grace to us, we who were once his enemies have become his children. And so, thanks be to God for his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.