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Sermons

No Sign Needed: Seeing the Greatness of Jesus Christ

October 4, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: The Gospel according to Luke

Passage: Luke 11:29–11:36

No Sign Needed: Seeing the Greatness of Jesus Christ

One of the many blessings of regularly reading the Gospels is that we’re reminded of how surprising Jesus’ ministry often was. Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus defies our expectations. And this is not coincidental. This is actually central to what Jesus has come to do. The kingdom of God, you may remember, is upside down from the ways of this world. According to Jesus, you die to live. You find greatness through service. You love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. It’s all upside down. People tend to assume they are very familiar with Jesus, but when we read the Gospels, we’re reminded that Jesus’ ministry defies expectations, often in surprising ways.

Our passage this morning is one such example. Here we find Jesus doing something no one would expect. The crowds, Luke tells us, are increasing. There seems to be momentum building around Jesus’ ministry. In most people’s minds, then, this is a time for Jesus to expand his platform, right? Now is the time for Jesus to capitalize on the moment – really see things take off. That’s what you would do if you were trying to win friends and influence people.

But surprisingly, that is not at all what Jesus does. In fact, Jesus purposefully does the opposite. Notice the first line, v29 – “When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation.’” That’s one way to handle the momentum. Instead of capitalizing on the crowd, Jesus indicts their hardness of heart. Rather than expand his platform, Jesus calls out the crowd’s spiritual blindness. I don’t know a lot about expanding your ministry, but this is probably not the textbook strategy. It’s surprising, and that’s what frames this entire passage. Like so many other instances in the Gospels, in Luke 11 Jesus defies expectations.

What is Jesus getting at? He certainly has a greater purpose than to simply be surprising, so what’s the point? The answer goes back to the start of last week’s passage. If you look back to v14, you’ll remember that Jesus encounters some controversy in response to his ministry. He casts out an unclean spirit, v14, and some people in the crowd respond with opposition. Some accuse Jesus of working through the power of the Devil, but others test Jesus by demanding a sign. Do you see that, v16? They want Jesus to perform a sign from heaven, and then they will believe. This week’s passage picks up at that point. Jesus has already answered the accusation about Beelzebul, and now, he will respond to this demand for a sign.

And that’s where the surprise comes in. Instead of coddling the crowd, Jesus confronts them. Jesus understands that what matters most in these situations is clarity. The crowd needs to be clear on who Jesus is, and the crowd needs to clearly understand what’s at stake in their response to Jesus. Now is not the time for Jesus to think about building a brand or increasing his market share. The crowds are increasing, and for Jesus, that means the clarity should increase too.

This is a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry and it is something that should mark our churches as well. When it comes to crowds and momentum, Jesus emphasizes clarity over capitalizing on the moment. That’s not to say Jesus is harsh or abrasive. It’s also not to say that smaller is always better in Jesus’ mind. But it is to say that what matters most in Jesus’ teaching is clarity. If the stakes are eternal – and they are – then Jesus would say we should be clear on the truth before we’re anything else.

That’s what we need to do this morning. We need to see the clear truths that Jesus lays out in response to the crowd’s demand for a sign. Jesus makes three points in particular, and each one helps us understand more clearly who Jesus is and what he has come to do. Let’s note these clarifying points together.

 

The Ministry of Jesus Confirms His Message

We begin in vv29-30, where we see that the Ministry of Jesus Confirms His Message. As we’ve already noted, Jesus, in v29, indicts the crowd as belonging to an evil generation. Now, Jesus is not saying that every single person in his generation is evil or wicked to the same degree. Rather, Jesus’ point is that as a whole, his contemporaries are opposed to what God is doing. In fact, the defining mark of Jesus’ generation is its refusal to submit to God’s truth. That’s the reasoning of v29. Why is this an evil generation, according to Jesus? Because they demand a sign when the truth has been plainly revealed. This is key. Here in Luke 11, Jesus defines evil as the unwillingness to submit to God’s word. The question of truth as revealed in the Scriptures is a moral question. How one responds to God’s Word reveals the state of his heart. When some in the crowd demand sign from Jesus, it reveals this is an evil generation. They are spiritually blind. They have the Truth standing in front of them, in flesh and blood, and they demand a sign. They see, but they don’t see. And therefore, Jesus will give them no sign.

But at the same time, we should also note that Jesus’ refusal to grant a sign is not absolute. At the end of v29, Jesus says there will be one sign given to this evil generation – the sign of Jonah. Here is one of the key questions of the passage. What is the sign of Jonah? Clearly, the sign of Jonah explains Jesus’ ministry. Notice v30 – “For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” There is some link between Jonah and Jesus, so what is it? What is this sign of Jonah?

It helps to remember the OT context of Jonah’s ministry. It’s one of the more well-known stories in the OT, so the big picture should be easy to recall. The Lord told the prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach a message of repentance. Jonah, however, went the other way. He ran from God, which is never a good idea. The Lord chased Jonah with a storm, he caught Jonah in the belly of a great fish, and God put Jonah back on track to deliver his word. And that is what Jonah did. Like a man brought back from the dead, Jonah came to Nineveh, preached God’s word, and the amazingly, the Ninevites repented. 

We could summarize Jonah’s ministry as follows: Jonah was the bearer of God’s Word whose ministry was confirmed by a mighty act of God. That’s how his ministry played out. When Jonah showed up in Nineveh, it confirmed for the pagan Ninevites that there was a Living God, and he was not silent. The Living God speaks, and his Word is so mighty, that he demands a response from everyone everywhere. That’s what Jonah represented to the Ninevites.

And in a similar way, that is what Jesus represents to this generation. There is a God who speaks, he has spoken in and through Jesus, and therefore, this generation ought to repent. The Ninevites of Jonah’s day repented; will the Israelites of Jesus’ day do the same? On one level, that’s the sign of Jonah. It’s the confirmation that God’s Word is among you, and through his Word, God demands your response.

But on another level, the sign of Jonah is about more than the presence of God’s Word. It’s also about the confirmation of that Word, and the vindication of the One who proclaims it. Remember our summary of Jonah’s ministry – he was a bearer of God’s Word whose ministry was confirmed by a mighty act of God. For Jonah, that confirmation was his deliverance from the belly of the great fish. For three days, Jonah sojourned in the heart of the sea, which to the ancient Israelites was a place of death and judgment. For three days, Jonah was as a good as dead. But then, by God’s power, Jonah was raised up again to the earth, and in the power of God’s deliverance, Jonah proclaimed the Word of God to Nineveh. God’s action confirmed Jonah as the bearer of God’s Word.

Brothers and Sisters, that same kind of divine confirmation is also at work in Jesus’ ministry, but in a much greater way. Jesus has come with a greater word than Jonah, and Jesus’ message will be confirmed by a much greater act of deliverance. Jesus will spend three days in the literal grave, and then by the power of God, Jesus will crush death and rise again to new life. And in that moment – in that revelation of resurrection power – all the world will know that this man Jesus is the Lord of all earth. All the world will know that this man Jesus is the Word Made Flesh, that his Word is God’s Word, and that his Word is final and true and authoritative.

That is the sign of Jonah that Jesus’ generation will receive. Or, to say it another way, it will be Jesus’ death and resurrection that finally and definitively confirm Jesus’ message. This is why Jesus says in v30 that the Son of Man himself will be the sign to this generation. Yes, Jesus’ preaching, like Jonah’s preaching, demonstrates the presence of God’s Word and demands a response. But it’s more than preaching that sets Jesus apart. The Son of Man himself – Jesus, in his flesh and blood body, resurrected from the dead – he will be the sign to this generation.

Brothers and sisters, we’re reminded here of the bedrock truth that upholds our lives and our hope. How do we know that we belong to the Truth, that we have believed God’s Word and are bound for eternal life? How do we know? Answer – because Jesus lived, died, and rose again. This is the Lord’s Day – the day we gather as the people defined by the resurrection of Christ.

In fact, if you are struggling with assurance this morning, or if your soul is plagued with doubts, I would encourage you to look where Jesus directs our attention – to his death and resurrection as the confirmation that his gospel is true. If you are trusting in Christ today, you have not built your life on a myth or a wish or a dream. You’re not following a fairy tale or a legend. No, brothers and sisters, our hope is much more solid than that. Our hope is a flesh and blood reality, a hope that has been sealed with the mightiest act of all – Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead. He calls us to hear his Word, and with unmistakable power, he has also confirmed his Word to us through the work he accomplished for us. The gospel is not simply the way you become a Christian. The gospel is also the truth that keeps you a Christian. It’s the anchor for your soul that holds you steady in the faith. Praise God, brothers and sisters, that the ministry of Jesus confirms his message.

 

The Glory of Jesus Confronts His Hearers

Now, even as we are encouraged by the truth of Jesus’ ministry, it’s also true that the crowd in Luke 11 does not recognize this sign of Jonah. This is an evil generation, remember – which means, they have not responded to Jesus’ word. In vv31-32 we find the second clarifying truth from Jesus, one that deals directly with those seeking a sign. Vv31-32 – the Glory of Jesus Confronts His Hearers. Once again, Jesus goes to the OT, and he cites two examples of people who did respond to the revelation of God’s truth. Both examples are surprising, and that is part of Jesus’ point. His aim is to alarm his listeners – to confront them with the reality that they are in a precarious position. Note how these OT examples work.

First of all, in v31, Jesus mentions the Queen of the South, or the Queen of Sheba as she is called in the OT. Look at v31 – “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon.” Jesus references 1 Kings 10, where Solomon’s reputation for wisdom is so widespread that the Queen of Sheba travels to hear from Israel’s king. It’s a brief but remarkable moment in the OT. The Queen of Sheba is obviously not an Israelite. She is a Gentile, a member of the nations, and yet, the wisdom possessed by this Son of David is so great, she is drawn in. And when the Queen meets Solomon, she declares that his greatness is even more than what she has heard. Think about that. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to see the significance – a king on David’s throne receives the praise of the nations.

But here in Luke 11, Jesus says the Queen of Sheba will rise up at the judgment and condemn this evil generation. What’s that about? Think of a courtroom. On the final day, when God brings the generation of Jesus’ day to account, the Queen of Sheba will serve as one of the witnesses. If she traveled far to hear Solomon, then this generation should have listened to Jesus. The Queen’s willingness to hear will convict this evil generation of their unwillingness to hear.

Jesus then makes the same argument in v32, but this time, the men of Nineveh replace the Queen of Sheba. The point, though, is the same. The men of Nineveh repented upon hearing Jonah’s preaching, and their response will convict Jesus’ generation. If the Ninevites heard and repented, then how much more should this evil generation? The answer is much more.

That is the thrust of Jesus’ argument, but there is something else we ought to note. Jesus’ point goes beyond these historical examples. Ultimately, what Jesus is doing here is making a claim about himself. Notice the final line, v31 – “Behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” And then again, the end of v32 – “Behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” This is the turning point. And the point is both simple and profound – Jesus possesses greater glory. He is greater than Solomon. His wisdom surpasses even the wisdom of Israel’s wisest kingdom. And Jesus is greater than Jonah. The word Jesus speaks is greater than anything any OT prophet ever declared. In fact, Jesus is the one to whom Solomon and Jonah pointed. Jesus is the greater Son of David, the very wisdom of God in human flesh, sent to establish God’s kingdom and reign over all the earth. Jesus will receive not only the praise of the one Gentile Queen; Jesus will receive the praise of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. And Jesus is not merely a prophet declaring God’s word. Jesus is the Word of God, made Flesh for us and for our salvation. He is the sum of OT revelation. He is the fulfillment of all that God promised, from Genesis through to Malachi. This Jesus possesses a far greater glory, even the glory of God himself.

And therefore, if previous generations responded to lesser persons like Solomon and Jonah, how much more should Jesus’ generation respond to Someone Greater? That’s the conviction. That’s the truth that confronts Jesus’ hearers. Even Gentiles like the Queen of Sheba and the men of Nineveh – even Gentiles will convict the Israelites of Jesus’ day who reject God’s word. That’s why its an evil generation. They’re demanding signs from heaven, and in doing so, they miss the One who has come down from heaven, Jesus the Son of God. 

It’s a call to repent. Instead of playing to the crowd’s demands or softening the message, Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter. If this generation does not repent, they will face the judgment of God for rejecting Jesus.

We’re separated from Luke 11 by centuries, but his same call comes down to us. You may be here this morning, and you may have heard the gospel many times, and still, you have not responded. You may even be familiar with God’s Word – perhaps your parents taught you or took you to church – but at the heart level, you’ve never turned from sin and trusted in Christ. You have never submitted to Jesus.

If that is you today, then you need to hear this clear word from Jesus Christ. There is a day of judgment coming, and on that final day, all who reject Christ’s gospel will find that their unbelief leads to condemnation. There will be no escape on that final day. Even the events of history will come together to demonstrate the foolishness of rejecting God’s Word. And therefore God is calling you this morning to repent and believe in Christ. This is the sum total of God’s Word. This is the grand, glorious message of all of Scripture – Jesus Christ is the Son of God who has come to save sinners from their condemnation. All have sinned – everyone one of us – and we all fall short of the glory of God. And yet God, in his great mercy, has sent his Son to fulfill what we could not. Jesus obeyed God at every step of his life. And God then put forth his Son to pay what we owe. Jesus shed his blood on the cross to satisfy the judgment of God against our sin.

And now, those who trust in Jesus Christ are saved from the wrath of God. That’s the message of Scripture. That is the greater glory of the gospel. What God promised in the past, he has now fulfilled in Jesus Christ. There is no one greater than Jesus. Trust him. That is the call of God’s Word this morning. Don’t be like the crowd in Jesus’ day. Don’t demand that God prove himself to you first, and then you’ll believe. No, look to Christ, the Crucified and Resurrected Son of God. His ministry confirms his message, and his glory confronts us and calls us to believe.

 

The Word of Jesus Changes His People

That brings us to the third and final clarifying truth from this passage. We’ve seen how the Ministry of Jesus confirms his message, and we’ve just considered how the Glory of Jesus confronts his hearers. Finally, in vv33-36, we see how the Word of Jesus Changes His People. To understand this final paragraph, it helps to remember what Jesus said back in v28 – “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” This is where life is found, Jesus says – in God’s Word. In v33, Jesus returns to that same call, but now he adds a bit more insight. Here Jesus reminds us that his word changes those who receive it. Notice how this works out.

Jesus begins by comparing his teaching to a lamp that illuminates a house, v33 – “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” Now, in the Bible, light is a frequent image for God’s Word. Jesus himself said something very similar back in chapter 8, and the point there was to urge people to listen to his teaching. That’s the point here as well. Jesus’ teaching – his word – is like a lamp. It is not hidden, but on display in the world, out in the open, giving light to those with eyes to see.

The key point, however, is not the nature of Jesus’ word, but the response of those who hear it. Notice v34 – “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” Now, the imagery gets a little hard to follow, but the main point concerns your response to the light of Jesus’ word. Jesus envisions your eye as the portal of your body. If your eye is healthy, then light streams in and fills your whole body. Your life, in other words, is shaped by the light – the truth – of Jesus’ word. But if your eye is bad, then the light does not come in, and your body – your life – remains dark and opposed to God.

Now, here is a fascinating connection. Notice that word bad in v34. That’s the same word that was translated evil back in v29. You should read those verses together. Why is this generation evil? Because with evil eyes, they refuse to see the Word of God in Jesus. That’s why they are full of darkness – evil eyes reject the light of Jesus’ word!

And that’s why Jesus exhorts the crowd in v35 to be careful what they see. V35 – “Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” It’s the same point we noted last week. There’s no neutrality in response to Jesus. The house of your heart is either full of the truth, or it is open to domination by spiritual darkness. Your eyes either see the light of Jesus’ word, or you remain in darkness. It’s what we’ve seen over and over – be careful how you respond. Be careful what you are taking in to your heart and mind. It’s either the light of Jesus’ word, or it is the darkness of this world. There’s no neutrality, so be careful how you see, Jesus says.

But there is one new piece to Jesus’ teaching, and it closes this passage on a positive note. Look at v36, and listen for what happens when we take in the light of Jesus’ word. V36 – “If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” That is a remarkably hopeful statement from Jesus! When God’s people receive his Word by faith, that same Word transforms us, so that our lives now radiate with light as well. It’s a picture of spiritual health, where we go from darkness to light – not the light of our inner selves, but the light of Jesus’ word in us, received by faith. What a hopeful picture! And what a clear reminder that the power of transformation does not begin in us. The power comes from outside of us, from God’s word that shines like a lamp in a dark room.

I don’t know about you, brothers and sisters, but I long for transformation in my life. There are so many rooms of my heart that are still far too dark. I want to change, and I’m sure many of you do as well. If so, then let’s listen to Jesus here in v36, and let’s go to his Word as the light that transforms the darkness of our hearts to shine with the light of his truth. God’s word is like a lamp, and when it is received by faith, his Word then shares the rays of its light with those who believe, so that we are transformed by the very truth we have received. What a hopeful picture. And if we want that hopeful picture to occur in our lives, then we must go to the Scriptures and believe what God has revealed in Christ.

It happens by faith, brothers and sisters. That’s what I want to emphasize as we close. Transformation in the Christian life happens by faith, as we believe that God’s Word, like light, dispels darkness. The final call of this passage is very simple. Take up and read, by faith, trusting that the Word of Christ has the power to change even the darkest places of the heart. Amen.

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