Asking God to further confirm the person and message of Jesus by giving more evidence leaves you guilty before God and those who believed on lesser evidence; this makes you a person full of darkness rather than light, so believe the evidence God has given since it is more than sufficient to see Jesus.
Introduction & Background – I thought about calling this sermon “No Seat on the Fence, Part 2” because the scene and the major themes have not changed. Part 1 informs Part 2, and Part 2 is best understood in light of Part 1. But this is the way the gospels always work. I might as well call this sermon “Luke, Part 38!” But that is not very descriptive, so I’ll settle for asking the question, “Can you see Jesus?” Remember the previous account of the demon-possessed man? This passage immediately follows it and portrays Jesus as greater than all. These stories are connected by the theme that salvation is more than mere reformation of life. Salvation fundamentally entails revolution, coming out of darkness and into the light. The strong man must be overcome and overthrown, and the stronger man must have total victory and take complete possession of a person’s life in order for him to be a disciple. Who is this stronger and greater man? It’s Jesus! Do you see him?
Many are tempted to complain, “Wouldn’t it be great if God gave me more proof to remove all my doubts about Jesus? The Bible and its revelation of God is good, but I need more to be satisfied. If he wants my complete trust, he would give me that little extra something.” Such people fool themselves in thinking they are pursuing light when really they love darkness. Am I fooling myself the same way?
I. Where to Start Looking for Jesus
A. Don’t rely on your proximity to Jesus (v. 27)
Here we have a woman using a common figure of speech: a part stands for the whole. By pronouncing blessing on Jesus’ mother’s womb and nursing breasts, she is figuratively blessing his mother. It is interesting to note that the woman who feels compelled to loudly and publicly bless Jesus’ mother (Mary) is echoing blessings from earlier in Luke. Elizabeth had blessed Mary (Lk 1:42), and Mary responded how all generations will call her blessed because God has honored her to bear his Son Jesus (Lk 1:48). So the woman here is right that Mary is blessed to be Jesus’ mother, to be his most intimate relative, to be so close to Jesus. But is that all there is to say?
B. Hear and Obey God’s Word (v. 28)
In his response to the woman, Jesus places a check on her blessing, and also encourages her that she might experience greater blessing herself despite not being his mother. He redirects her toward those who hear and keep God’s word. In other words, a disciple is blessed if he obeys God. It is as if he is saying, “Yes, blessed in my mother. But let’s understand why my mother is blessed. Not so much because she bore me, but rather because she heard and obeyed God. Therefore it is better to say blessed are all those who hear and keep God’s word.” Blessing does come in relationship with Jesus, but not through the mother-son relation. The blessed relationship to Jesus is the person who relates to him in obedience—as a disciple. Mary is blessed for the same reason that all disciples are blessed: for hearing and obeying God’s word (Lk 1:38; Jn 2:5). That is why Mary is called blessed, because she exhibited the character of a true disciple: hearing and obeying (Acts 1:14). It seems Jesus had to give this kind of correction more than once (Lk 8:19-21), and we must also redirect singular blessing upon Mary today as blessing for all disciples.
Every once in a while I have this same kind of experience. Unlike most pastors, I have the privilege of preaching and ministering often with my parents around. Just last Sunday after preaching at the nursing home chapel service, a woman paid me a compliment when she realized that my dad was there with me, telling him, “I can tell your son is a good man, you must be proud!” Now, the proud sinner in me can respond to such flattery with an “aw shucks” and “yep, my folks raised me right.” But then God reminds me I’m a miserable sinner saved by his grace alone, and I realize that thought leads to the light shining on me or my parents, rather than on the Lord Jesus. Jesus must have heard this stuff all the time since he was perfect and never sinned. But he always redirected the focus toward glorifying God. Jesus doesn’t really get glory when you flatter him with lip service, boasting of how close you are to him. “Jesus is my copilot. Jesus is my bro. Jesus and I are thisclose.” This is relying on your proximity to Jesus. How does Jesus say he prefers compliments? By first listening to God’s word, and then without fanfare showing him love by obeying it. This is where to start looking for Jesus: listening and obeying.
This is an example of one of those things in the Bible that we say we believe, and we think we believe, but upon closer examination we often don’t really believe. You say, “What do you mean?” Let me show you. J.C. Ryle points us to this common notion held by many Christians: if I had just seen Jesus, heard him teach, witnessed a miraculous sign or two, lived near him, or even been a relative or close friend of him (in other words, if only I really knew him), then my faith would be strong. I’d bet most of us have entertained those thoughts before. I think this explains the recent phenomenon in the Christian publishing industry that is Sarah Young and her best-selling Jesus Calling books. Christians want so bad to hear a personalized message from Jesus that we are lured away from simply hearing and obeying God’s word in the Bible. Instead we look for Jesus by meditating on the private messages Jesus is supposedly giving someone else who “has a closer walk with God” than me. If this is the wrong place to look for Jesus, and hearing and obeying God’s Word is where to start, then what should I look for?
II. What Signs to Look For
A. Don’t ask for another sign (v. 29a)
In Luke 11:16, the unbelieving people asked Jesus for a sign from heaven to test him. Here in verse 29, Jesus bluntly calls their request evil. Why? Because he knew signs and wonders won’t bear repentance in the hard-hearted, and he rejected these requests motivated by an evil desire to test him (cf. Mt 12:38; Mk 8:11). Therefore Jesus won’t give his generation a sign except the mysterious “sign of Jonah.” Certainly he was able to command the sun to darken, and the moon to not give its light, to call the stars to fall from the sky, or to bring the clouds to earth to catch him up into the heavens. Perhaps the people lusted for such a heavenly sign, which just revealed their impudence. So why did Jesus refuse their request? Because they had already received miraculous signs in the healings and exorcisms. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus rejected this kind of testing, calling it a Satanic request (Lk 4:9-12) that would not help them to believe (Lk 16:31; cf. Jn 12:9-11). Jesus was about to describe just how wicked their indecision and hesitancy to believe in him really was. But before you dismiss that wicked generation as a bunch of faithless rubes, consider how we are alike.
“We are all naturally inclined to attach great importance to a religion of sight, and sense, and touch, and eye, and ear. We love a physical, tangible, material Christianity, far better than one of faith. And we need reminding that seeing is not always believing. Let us learn from our Lord’s words before us that the highest privileges our souls can desire are close at hand, and within our reach, if we only believe.” ~ J.C. Ryle
B. Look through the old signs (vv. 31-32)
1. The 10th century B.C. queen of the South was from a country in southwestern Arabia (modern day Yemen; 1 Kgs 10:1-3; 2 Chr 9:1-12). She visited King Solomon, bringing many costly gifts, and asked him many vexing questions to test his legendary wisdom. Awed by his grandeur and wisdom, and his kingdom, she rejoiced in the God of Israel. Jesus says that she will be there on Judgment Day to testify against his generation for its evil unbelief. She will testify that she came from far away on a difficult journey to rejoice in Solomon, who was not the Son of God. Of course she would have made even greater efforts to believe in Jesus, the one greater than Solomon. But Jesus’ generation will not do so, therefore they stand condemned. The “something” greater than Solomon that is here refers to Jesus and his wisdom, which is greater than Solomon and his legendary wisdom. Jesus is the ultimate wise man. Hear him!
2. The people of 8th century B.C. Nineveh, capital of Assyria (modern day Iraq), were famous for their cruelty and wickedness. But even they repented at the preaching of Jonah (Jon 3:6-10). In other words, the Ninevites were supremely wicked, and they repented when confronted with the signs and preaching of a lesser prophet than Jesus. Yet Jesus’ generation will not repent when confronted with the preaching of Jonah’s Lord (Lk 10:12-15)! The clear implication is how much more wicked and culpable is his generation. The men of Nineveh will also rise up on Judgment Day to give damning testimony of his generation. Jesus is not only the ultimate prophet, he is the Lord of the prophets. Obey him!
C. Look to the greatest sign (vv. 29b-30)
The sign of Jonah (Jon 1:17) probably had a two-fold meaning.
1. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish and subsequent release at the command of God are a sign of Jesus rising from the dead on the third day (cf. Mt 12:40). Note that Jonah only experienced a shadow of the reality that Jesus experienced. Jonah sank to the bottom of the sea, was swallowed by the fish, spit out onto land, and proclaimed God’s message to Nineveh. He never actually died, although his ordeal certainly should have killed him apart from God miraculously preserving his life. However, Jesus underwent a real death, burial and resurrection. Moreover, Jesus’ gospel was better than Jonah’s message in every way. William Hendriksen observes, “Rescued Jonah and Resurrected Jesus are signs.” The resurrection of Christ was the core of the gospel message preached by the apostles from the outset (Acts 1:22; 2:31; 3:15; 4:33; 5:30-32). Jonah illustrated and foreshadowed Jesus.
2. The need for true repentance. Just as the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, this signified the need for Jesus’ audience to repent in response to the gospel. So the sign of Jonah is also the call to repent. Putting the two-fold meaning together, the sign of Jonah is the preaching of the risen Jesus. No other sign is necessary to provide sufficient reason to repent and believe because Jesus is the greatest sign God will give.
The Ninevites and the queen of the South had far less than we have. Therefore we have no reason to disbelieve Jesus like his generation did. Think of our privileges today: (1) eyewitness accounts of the risen Jesus, (2) the Holy Spirit’s power poured upon the Church at Pentecost and still at work, (3) the complete Bible in our own language and easy access to it, (4) and knowledge of God’s continuous work the last 2000 years of church history. With these privileges available to us, our response to these signs ought to be wholehearted belief. Great privileges imply greater responsibility. What will the Ninevites and the queen of Sheba say about you on Judgment Day?
III. How to Believe What You See
A. Don’t hide away or cover over Jesus (v. 33)
Imagine a one-room house with a lamp inside. An uncovered lamp would illuminate the whole house. The lamp is a metaphor for Jesus and his gospel message. Jesus ministered and taught publicly for all the world to see and hear. His ministry wasn’t private, hidden, or covered up (Jn 18:20). He is the “light of the world” (cf. Jn 8:12; 9:5). When Jesus preached the gospel, he provided “light” for people to “see” and come into God’s kingdom through repentance and faith in him. But Jesus also calls your eye the lamp of your body. These images are related.
This language can be a little confusing. What does Jesus mean with this business of the eye as the body’s lamp? Imagine standing in a room illumined by one bright light. As long as your eyes are working properly and you keep them open, you’ll be able to see. Your feet will know where to step. Your hands will know what to grasp. You won’t bump into anything and hurt yourself. Now imagine that you close your eyes. In this state of blindness, your body parts over which you normally exercise control will now refuse to function properly. Your whole body is “in the dark” as to your situation, what to do, and oblivious to any imminent dangers. Jesus says this illustrates a spiritual truth.
B. Ask God to clear up your spiritual vision (vv. 34-36)
1. The people around Jesus were complaining about insufficient evidence. But Jesus turned the tables, blaming them for their own lack of spiritual sight. In essence Jesus is saying, “The light of the world is shining, but you are obstructing it with your wicked hearts in refusing to believe.” The problem is not with the light Jesus gives. The problem is with people’s eyes. They cannot see the light because they are full of darkness. It is a terrible thing to think you can see the light when actually you are blind and full of darkness. The next scene in Luke illustrates what a person looks like who thinks he sees Jesus but is actually full of darkness (Lk 11:37-41).
2. We do not need more light. We need to respond in faith to the sufficient light already given us. What Jesus has done in plain sight should be enough to satisfy. We need good eyes to see Jesus for who he is. When a person has good eyes, his whole body will be filled with light. He will shine brightly, unencumbered by the presence of darkness. Ask God for clear spiritual sight.
Conclusion – When you look at Jesus, are you drawn to him with good eyes and compelled to believe and obey? Or are you repelled, because his light is exposing your bad eyes, and you prefer darkness rather than light because sitting on the fence feels safer (Jn 3:19-20)? If you’ve got a problem with your body’s lamp (who doesn’t?), and you want to see the light of Jesus with good eyes, then pray, asking God to clear up your spiritual vision. Start by hearing and obeying what he says to you in the Bible. Resist the temptation to ask for more signs or more light. In faith, look through the old signs and look to the greatest sign— the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. If you follow these signs you’ll find your whole life filling with the light of Jesus. You will be able to see him like never before.