Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 14, 2014
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 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. 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. 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. 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.”
— Matthew 12:38-42, ESV
My youngest daughter, Courtney Grace, is an excellent singer. She started very young, and I can remember her first solo, offered in front of family and friends at home. I would like to say it was a great hymn, like Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” or John Newton’s “Amazing Grace,” or even a contemporary Christian song like Twila Paris’ “My Lips Will Praise You.” To her credit, she has offered some wonderful hymns and songs in public worship. But the first piece I remember her singing in its entirety was at the age of three when she belted out all the words to Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants.”
It behoves every boy, within the confines of Christian decency and biblical morality, to find out what a girls wants; and, vice versa. Husbands should know what wives want, children should know what parents want, students should know what teachers want, business should know what customers want. Knowing what other people want can be a great key to success.
But there is a greater question that bears a greater answer that offers something greater than any earthly success. What does God want? This is a question that should permeate every area of our lives. And while we should take the time to ask and apply the answers to this question at every level, I want to take the text before us and answer the question on a very basic level. First, I want to talk about what God decidedly does not want. Then, I want to suggest the most vital things that God does want, indeed demands, if we are to have a right relationship with Him.
What God Does Not Want
Two groups of people approached the Lord Jesus Christ on this occasion. They were scribes and Pharisees, principle religious rulers of the day and the spokesmen for their generation of Israelites. It is tempting to say that these are the things God does not want, scribes and Pharisees, but that would be a little judgmental and unfair. Some of them later came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
But these two groups did bring at least two things to Jesus that God does not want: disrespect and demands. To understand this you must understand that the scribes and Pharisees who came to Jesus were outlandish hypocrites, who said one thing but meant another. They called Jesus “Teacher” in outward respect, but their track record had already proven they had nothing but disrespect for the Lord. They asked or wished something from Jesus, but a closer examination of the precise words they used indicate they were making a demand.
Woe to those who disrespect the Lord, for God does not want disrespect. The scribes and Pharisees were the poster children for the disrespect of God, in spite of the fact that they tried to appear so respectable. They covered themselves in religious clothing, words, and services, feigning respect for God, but their hypocrisy was the height of disrespect. The people did not seem to know they disrespected God, but God knew. Jesus called them, and the others they represented, evil and adulterous, or sinful and spiritually unfaithful. By the way, as disrespectful as it is to come to worship and Bible studies with a hypocritical life, it is equally disrespectful to hold to not being a hypocrite then not to come to worship the Lord at all. God does not want disrespect, of any kind.
Woe to those who demand things from God, as if He was a butler, an errand boy, or a one-trick pony. God gives demands, He does not receive them. God’s will shall be done, in heaven and earth, not man’ will. But these men, the scribes and Pharisees, literally told Jesus it was their will that He perform some kind of a miracle, right then, right there, right in front of them, for their pleasure. The same thing Christ replied to their disrespect applies to their demand. It was evil and adulterous. God does not take it kindly when we make demands upon Him, as if we were the masters and He was our servant.
Let me point out, as respectfully and delicately as I can, that this is the inherent problem with the modern-day “word of faith” movement, a philosophy of religion that dominates televangelism and many churches. This is why I call out charlatans like Joel O’Steen, Benny Hinn, and their ilk. Rather than preach the gospel of God’s grace that grants faith as God’s gift to make Jesus Lord and you His follower, they preach a fake gospel of prosperity that makes faith your credit card that gives you power to make God do what you ask Him to do. Like the scribes and Pharisees of old, the prosperity preachers represent an evil and adulterous generation.
We want to know what God wants. But we need to understand first what He does not want. God does not want man’s disrespect. God does not cater to man’s demands. Such things show selfishness and unfaithfulness, two other things that God does not want. But there are at least two things, the opposites of selfishness and unfaithfulness, that He does want.
What God Wants
The opposite of selfishness is repentance. The opposite of unfaithfulness is faith and the ensuing faithfulness that true faith brings. These are things that God wants. As our Lord turns the tables on these religious poker players, He gives two beautiful biblical illustrations of repentance and faith. The first is the sign of Jonah. The second is the queen of Sheba.
Jonah was a historical person and an Old Testament prophet (ref. 2 Kings 14:25) who had a whale of a tale to tell about his mission trip to Assyria (ref. the book of Jonah). Most evangelical Christians take his incredible story literally, since our faith and trust are in an omnipotent God who can do anything He pleases. Other Christians claim it is a made up story, and Old Testament parable if you will, that teaches about the God of second chances who loves all people of all races and countries, even ones we consider to be enemies. Either way, Jesus’ first point in using the story is to draw a parallel to His own death, burial, and resurrection, which is the heart of the gospel. The seeming contraction between Jonah’s three day and three night experience verses the traditional understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion occurring on a Friday and the resurrection on Sunday can be easily explained in one of two ways. Jews reckoned any part of a day as a whole, so from crucifixion to resurrection touched three days from Friday to Sunday. Another view is that Christ died in the year AD 30, on which the Jewish Passover would have fallen on a Friday, which means His crucifixion would have been on Thursday, followed by the special Sabbath on Friday, the regular Sabbath on Saturday, then that glorious Sunday. The point here is not to pick at the story of Jonah, nor parse the amount of time between Christ’s death and resurrection, but to picture the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a picture the scribes and Pharisees just could not see.
But if you can see the gospel in this scenario, you can also see what God wants when the gospel is preached. He wants what the scribes and Pharisees would not give. He wants what the men of Nineveh did give. God wants repentance. Repentance is a change of the mind, heart, and will. Repentance is a blow to the ego of the mind, a turning from sin in the heart, and a surrender of our will to God’s will. It does not disrespect God, but turns to Him in worship and obedience. It does not demand things from God, but sweetly submits to the leadership of God’s Spirit and the commandments of God’s word. Repentance is what God wants.
And, faith is what God wants. Faith is hearing and believing. The queen of Sheba, or the queen of the South as Jesus refers to her here, is another historical character from the Old Testament (ref. 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles). She had heard of the wisdom of Solomon, so she made a trip to Israel to hear him for herself. After hearing, she believed he was the wisest man on earth. Jesus is infinitely wiser, and the scribes and Pharisees heard Him in person, yet would not believe. God does not want unbelief. Faith is what God wants.
Faith comes by hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ and believing in God and the gospel. You must believe that God is, that God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that God has given an authoritative and reliable record of Himself in the Bible, and by His grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, you must believe that He forgives you of all sin and grants you eternal life. Spending now and eternity with you is what God wants, and faith gets you there.
How would you feel if Jonah, covered in slim, were here right now calling on you to turn your life over to the one true and living God? How would you feel if the queen of Sheba rolled in with her entourage and testified that God’s wisdom is the greatest on all the earth. Well, they are not here. But, one greater is here. He is here in the bread and the wine. He is here in the midst of the gathering of saints. He is here in the center of the gospel and the word of God. He is Jesus. He is God. So let us give Him what He wants. God wants repentance and faith.