Matthew 12丨C. H. Spurgeon

Matthew 12:38-39. Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:

The Pharisees change their manner, but they are in pursuit of the same object. How hopeless had the religionists of that age become! Nothing would convince them. They manifested their hate of the Lord Jesus, by ignoring all the wonders he had wrought. What further signs could they seek than those he had already given? Pretty enquirers these! They treat all the miracles of our Lord as if they had never occurred. Well might the Lord call them “evil and adulterous,” since they were so given to personal lasciviousness, and were spiritually so untrue to God. We have those among us now who are so uncandid as to treat all the achievements of evangelical doctrine as if they were nothing, and talk to us as if no result had followed the preaching of the gospel. There is need of great patience to deal wisely with such.

Matthew 12:40. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The great sign of our Lord’s mission is his resurrection, and his preparing a gospel of salvation for the heathen. His life-story is well symbolized by that of Jonah. They cast our Lord overboard, even as the sailors did the man of God. The sacrifice of Jonah calmed the sea for the mariners, our Lord’s death made peace for us. Our Lord was a while in the heart of the earth as Jonah was in the depth of the sea, but, he rose again, and his ministry was full of the power of his resurrection. As Jonah’s ministry was certified by his restoration from the sea, so is our Lord’s ministry attested by his rising from the dead. The man who had come back from death and burial in the sea commanded the attention of all Nineveh, and so does the risen Saviour demand and deserve the obedient faith of all to whom his message comes.

Matthew 12:41. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and behold a greater than Jonas is here.

The heathen of Nineveh were convinced by the sign of a prophet restored from burial in the sea; and moved by that convincement, they repented at his preaching. Without cavil or delay they put the whole city in mourning, and pleaded with God to turn from his anger. Jesus came with a clearer command of repentance, and a brighter promise of deliverance; but he spoke to obdurate hearts. Our Lord reminds the Pharisees of this, and as they were the most Jewish of Jews, they were touched to the quick by the fact that heathens perceived what Israel did not understand, and that Ninevites repented while Jews were hardened. All men will rise at the judgment: “The men of Nineveh shall rise.” The lives of penitents will condemn those who did not repent: the Ninevites will condemn the Jews, “because they repented at the preaching of Jonas,” and the Jews did not. Those who heard Jonah and repented will be swift witnesses against those who heard Jesus, and refused his testimony. The standing witness to our Lord is his resurrection from the dead. God grant that every one of us, believing that unquestionable fact, may be so assured of his mission, that we may repent and believe the gospel. RESURRECTION is one proof, in fact, it is THE SIGN although, as we shall see, it is supplemented by another. The two will convince us or condemn us.

Matthew 12:42. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

The second sign of our Lord’s mission is HIS KINGLY WISDOM. As the fame of Solomon brought the queen of the south from the uttermost parts of the earth, so does the doctrine of our Lord command attention from the utmost isles of the sea. If Israel perceives not his glorious wisdom, Ethiopia and Seba shall hear of it, and come bowing before him. The queen of Sheba will rise again, and will “rise up” as a witness against unbelieving Jews, for she journeyed far to hear Solomon, while they would not hear the Son of God himself who came into their midst. The superlative excellence of his wisdom stands for our Lord as a sign, which can never be effectually disputed. What other teaching meets all the wants of men? Who else has revealed such grace and truth? He is infinitely greater than Solomon, who from a moral point of view exhibited a sorrowful littleness. Who but the Son of God could have made known the Father as he has done?


Verses 38-45

Matthew 12:38-39. Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:

The queen of Sheba did not ask for a sign. She did not expect Solomon to work a miracle; but, sitting down in his presence, she proposed her hard questions, and meekly awaited his answers. So should these scribes and Pharisees have done with the Lord Jesus Christ. These were his signs: —

Matthew 12:40-41. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

Jonas was a servant: Jesus was the Master. Jonas preached only one sermon: Jesus preached many. That sermon was a short one: Jesus Christ laboured long after souls. Jonas was a man full of infirmities, and with an unloving heart: Jesus was tender and compassionate. Jonas did but hurry through the streets, crying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” — without a word of mercy: Jesus lived long among the people, giving them directions, and warnings, and invitations to seek and find salvation: “Behold, a greater than Jonas is here.”

Matthew 12:42. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

As I have so recently preached upon this verse, I need not say anything about it just now.

Matthew 12:43. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, —

Mark, not when he is turned out of him by superior force, but when he has gone out of his own accord, —

Matthew 12:43. He walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

The devil was in the Jews of old, but he went out of them at the time of the Babylonian captivity; that heavy punishment cured them of idolatry. But the devil could never find a resting-place, in Gentile hearts, so pleasant to himself as among God’s own people.

Matthew 12:44. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.

“I will go back to those Jews,” saith the devil; and, when he comes back, he finds them without any true love to God: “empty, swept, and garnished.” See how correctly the Pharisee is dressed, and note with what sanctimonious unction he repeats his hypocritical prayers. He fasts twice in the week, and pays tithes of his mint, and anise, and cummin. The devil finds the house “empty, swept, garnished ;” and as he does not care whether he lives in a foul heart or a clean one, so long as he can but live in it, he takes up his abode there again.

Matthew 12:45. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.

If idolatry did not come back to the Jews, the devil of pride, and self-conceit, and many more came, and fought against the Son of God, so that they became worse than they were before, and the first devil of the Jewish people was nothing compared with the seven devils which afterwards possessed them. We have seen some men of this kind. Under temporary conviction, they have given up certain outward sins, but, afterwards, they have been ten times worse than they were before. We have known a man to be a drunkard, and we have rejoiced to see him leave his cups; but, yet, when he has made a self-righteousness out of his temperance, and set himself up against God and his truth, we have verily believed that he has had within him seven devils worse than the first. A man may reform himself to blacker stains, and wash himself with the waters of his self-righteousness till he becomes more hard to cleanse than he would have been at the first. Oh, for the mighty hand of One, who is stronger than the prince of hell, to throw the devil out, and then he will never come back again; but if he goes out by mere human persuasion, or by our own wills and wishes, he will most certainly come back to us. If the Holy Ghost turns him out, he will never gain an entrance any more.

Matthew 12:45. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

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