And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him.…
Christ knew at once what this meant. He "knew what was in man," and refused to commit himself to the pretended inquirers. We have a more difficult course to pursue.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE DEMAND DEPENDS UPON CIRCUMSTANCES. It may be made in an honest, inquiring spirit, or in order to injure religion. In the former case too much consideration can hardly be given to it, as it is the indispensable preliminary to rational conviction, and the gospel offers evidence for its claims. The spirit in which the inquiry is made may be determined by:
1. The character of those who inquire. Bad men may be genuine inquirers, but it is well to know their antecedents. Christ could read the underlying design of the Jews. It may reasonably be expected that inquirers should give some proof of their sincerity, especially if already furnished with many evidences.
2. The kind of sign asked for. Here it was "a sign from heaven," i.e. differing from the miracles and previous manifestations of Christ. This implied that they were insufficient, and indirectly pronounced judgment upon the previous words and works of Christ. A question may sometimes reveal a more thorough scepticism than a dogmatic denial. Whilst apparent liberty is given as to what particular sign might be produced, there is really a tone of dictation and unseemly assumption.
II. SUCH A DEMAND EXPOSES THE REPRESENTATIVES OF CHRISTIANITY TO STRONG TEMPTATION. They are invited to criticize God's methods of revelation, and to despise the "means of grace." A position full of unbelief and presumption may insensibly be assumed, such as that of Moses at the rock: "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" (Numbers 20:10). They may be induced to attempt to "force the hand" of God. The crime of such a proceeding could only be equalled by its folly. As if those who are insensible to the cross of Christ could be converted by a thunderbolt or a merely supernatural spectacle! It is for Christ's servants in times of popular excitement to preach the old truths, and to appeal to every man's God. The improbability of sensationalism producing belief is a growing one. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). So we may now add, "If they believe not One who has risen from the dead, neither will they believe, though he were to be manifested to them in heaven itself."
III. EVEN WERE IT DESIRED IT WOULD BE REFUSED. "This generation" represents all who ask in a similar spirit.
1. Because the. evidence for Christianity is spiritual, not carnal; moral, and not material.
2. Because the patent, outstanding facts of the gospel are sufficient:
(1) For the conversion of sinners; and
(2) for the confirmation and edifying of saints.
3. Because it is part of the punishment appointed to such inquirers that they shall ask and not receive, and seek and not find.
4. Because it may become a means of turning attention back to the evidence that has been despised or ignored. It is high time our philosophical inquirers began to inquire why their researches have produced no fruits in evidence or conviction as yet. Why is it that whilst the evidence for the gospel is at least equal to that for any other matters of history, it is yet disbelieved when they are accepted? Is not the reason a moral rather than an intellectual one? - M.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him.