Sunday, November 6, 2011

What's In A Sign?

Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, "When it is evening you say, '[It will be] fair weather, for the sky is red'; "and in the morning, '[It will be] foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot [discern] the signs of the times. "A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." And He left them and departed.
Matthew 16:1-4 NKJV

I have always found this to be an interesting passage because it really gives us some insight into the person of Jesus and his thoughts about the religious leaders of that day. Now at first glance, you might wonder what was so bad about asking for a sign? I'm sure many believers today probably ask God for signs all the time for one reason or another, and the Bible has many examples of people doing the same thing. Yet in this instance Jesus was upset at the religious leaders for asking, and I think it is important for us to understand why, especially considering many believe we are right now in much the same circumstance.

The first thing Jesus does here is to explain to them just how easy it is to see the signs. He uses the example many of us have heard before as “red sky in the morning, sailors warning; red sky at night, sailors delight.” Obviously it has been around for a couple of thousand years or so because Jesus uses it too. Yet obviously it isn't too difficult to simply look up and observe the color of the sky in the morning and at night, and it would appear that Jesus was making the point to them that in order to see the signs of the times all they had to do was observe because the signs they wanted to see were all around them.

Next Jesus calls them “hypocrites” for their inability to recognize the signs that were right in front of them. The word for hypocrite that Jesus uses here means “pretender”, which makes one wonder what they were “pretending” to be? I believe the point Jesus is making by using this term is that they were not really believers at all, but just pretending to be. Consider the fact that anyone with a knowledge of the prophecies of Daniel would know that he prophesied that after the Jews were released from their captivity in Babylon and told to return to rebuild Jerusalem it would only be sixty two weeks of years, or 173,880 days before the Messiah would come. That time was now, yet those who were responsible for knowing were ignorant of that prophecy. It would seem that Jesus' point was that there wasn't a lot of difference between looking at the sky, and looking at the calendar. The religious leaders of that day should have known, and recognized the signs.

"Know therefore and understand, [That] from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, [There shall be] seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times. "And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it [shall be] with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined.
Daniel 9:25-26 NKJV

Not only were these two groups responsible to know what Daniel had prophesied, they were also responsible to teach the Jews about it, and to be sure they were ready for the Messiah's appearing. Because of their failure Jesus rebukes them by saying that there would be no more signs except for one, and that was His death and resurrection which would parallel the three days and nights that Jonah spent in the belly of the great fish. If we look closely at this passage I think we can see three things Jesus wanted from those leaders, and from us as well, and we will call them preparation, recognition, and action. Preparation can be described best as a knowledge of not only the Bible, but the prophecies of the future yet unfulfilled that we should be watching for. Recognition comes from watching intently and faithfully for things God has commanded us to watch for, then recognizing them when they appear. Finally action in the sense that we have a responsibility as watchers to sound the alarm about what we observe.

If it hasn't become evident by now if you follow this blog, I strongly believe we have all been called to be watchmen. It is the reason I do what I do, and why I encourage you to do the same. As we see the day approaching where we will be called home, the responsibility to shout out a warning of what is to come has never been greater. Consider these words as a source of encouragement, because as we all know it is so very easy to relax our guard, or become complacent as we wait impatiently for our Lord to return for His bride.

Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. [For the Son of man is] as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
Mark 13:33-37 KJV

Did you notice how many times we are told to watch? Did you also notice the last verse says we ALL are being commanded to watch? It would seem that the answer to our first question about when to watch is “always” because we haven't been told exactly “when” Jesus will return. Yet Jesus also makes it clear that although we have not been given a specific date, we will be given signs to help us know His return is near. When Jesus was telling His disciples about His future return, He also told them this;

"So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near--at the doors!
Mark 13:29 NKJV

Just like the illustration of the color of the sky, Jesus makes the point that if we are watching the world around us, we will recognize the time is near by the things which will be occurring. But we do have the responsibility to know what to watch for, and it is here where the problem may occur. It is no secret that within the body, many pastors avoid teaching prophecy, or the imminent return of our Lord for His church. They actually believe it is something to be ignored while focusing more on the “works” responsibilities of the body. Now I just wonder if unknowingly or even purposely they are committing the same mistake the Pharasees and Sadducees of Jesus' time did? By not studying and teaching others of prophecy, do they set themselves up to be considered “hypocrites” by Jesus in much the same way as what happened at His first appearing?

So why is watching such an important responsibility? Consider the following passage from the Old Testament concerning watchmen and what was expected from them.

Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take [any] person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
Ezekiel 33:2-6 KJV

It was the last verse in that passage that got my attention. If a person is appointed to be a watchman, and does not fulfill his responsibility to warn of what he sees, he will be held accountable for those who perish because of his failure. Talk about responsibility. I have no doubt that watchmen in the Old Testament took their job very, very seriously. So here is my question to you; since we are commanded to watch, have we as believers been appointed "watchmen" with the same responsibilities as those in the past? Are we required by God to not only watch, but to warn of what we see?

I believe God has the expectation for all who believe to be aware of what to watch for, look for the signs He has foretold would precede the rapture of His church, and shout out a warning as we see the day approaching. May we all have the courage to do as God expects from those who truly believe.

Keep watching.