Not ’til you prove it

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Sometimes it’s helpful to hold out open hands, as a symbol of offering God your whole self.

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Bible passage: Matthew 12:38–50

The Sign of Jonah(A)(B)

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign(C) from you.”(D)

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.(E) 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish,(F) so the Son of Man(G) will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.(H) 41 The men of Nineveh(I) will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah,(J) and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came(K) from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.(L) That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers(M)

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother(N) and brothers(O) stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven(P) is my brother and sister and mother.”

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).


'Prove it, God!'
God, how do I know you are real? Prove it and then I’ll believe – how else do I know I can trust you with my life, my problems, my situation?

The Pharisees had similar thoughts (v 38) – although they had already made up their minds that Jesus was not the Messiah they wanted. They had just seen Jesus heal a demon-possessed man (v 22) but they wanted more proof.

Closer commitment
They got more than they bargained for – the rough edge of Jesus’ tongue (v 39)! All he would tell them was that signs would come all in good time – his time. And that they needed to repent and believe in him (vs 41b,42b). The seeking of signs seems to be symptomatic of something else being needed – a healing declutter (v 44).

The Messiah had come but he was not at all what they expected or hoped for, so they rejected him. Jesus exasperatedly uses the sudden arrival of his earthly family to show an enormous contrast of commitment (vs 49,50). To accept him wholeheartedly means a closer commitment of love and loyalty than even that of earthly family ties. Not quite the kind of sign that the religious leaders had in mind when they asked him for one.

Penelope Swithinbank


We’ve seen a Messiah who issues challenges and pushes boundaries, yet offers more than we could ever deserve or hope for. What has challenged you? What does Jesus offer you?

Deeper Bible study

The religious authorities’ attack on Jesus continued. This time, they asked him for a sign like those in the Old Testament to authenticate a leader appointed by God or a prophet’s message. It is not that Jesus had failed to perform any signs: he had performed them in abundance, so that the crowd who saw them responded by saying, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’ (Matt 9:33). Despite the many signs and wonders that Jesus did, the Pharisees wanted to kill him (v 14) and attributed his source of power to Satan (v 24). Now they were seeking more signs to authenticate Jesus’ ministry – or, more likely, they were looking for further reasons to get rid of him.

Jesus responded by indicating that those who continually questioned the work of God were part of a ‘wicked and adulterous generation’ (v 39), not unlike when Israel was portrayed as an adulterous wife (Hos 1–3) and labelled as a ‘warped and crooked generation’ (Deut 32:5) in the Old Testament. The religious leaders were no different from the generation wandering in the desert, who witnessed many signs and yet refused to believe. Jesus even said that the religious leaders would be condemned by the pagans of Nineveh who repented and by the queen of Sheba, who sought Solomon’s wisdom (vs 41,42). If they persisted in their rejection of Jesus, they were in danger of being excluded from the kingdom of God.

In contrast to the Pharisees, Jesus declared that those who obeyed his words and did the will of God were his true disciples, members of his new family (vs 48–50). This passage leaves us with a choice – will we reject Jesus or will we hear his words? Are we the true family of God or the enemies of God? Which part of the scale will you end up on?

Kar Yong Lim

Bible Background: Family matters


Mary and Joseph feature in the birth stories of Matthew and Luke, but we hear no more about Joseph. The normal assumption is that he was older than Mary and died before Jesus reached adulthood.

Jesus’ brothers are named in Mark 6:3 as James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. Sisters are also mentioned. They are known in Capernaum where Jesus has made his home (Matthew 4:13). At this stage they are opposed to Jesus (Mark 6:4; John 4:44) and try to stop his ministry (Mark 3:20,21).

At the cross Jesus entrusted Mary to the care of John which suggests that his brothers may still not have been supportive, but in Acts 1:14 they are among those praying with the eleven. Given Mary’s faith and obedience at the time of Jesus’ birth and her thoughtful reception of all that was said it is unlikely that she shared the unbelief of his brothers.


In Galatians 1:19 Paul describes James, Jesus’ brother, as an apostle (see Acts 15:13). Perhaps he came to believe after the risen Jesus appeared to him (1 Corinthians 15:7).

He is almost certainly the author of the letter of James. It is also highly likely that Jude was written by Jesus’ brother Judas.

Outstanding questions

The natural assumption is that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were the later children of Joseph and Mary. From fairly early times, however, some argued that Mary remained a virgin all her life and this has been the official teaching of some churches.

Jesus’ siblings are then seen either as step-siblings (children of Joseph by a previous marriage) or cousins (on the grounds that ancient language was less precise). In the absence of a clear statement in the New Testament this view must remain open to question.

John Grayston

Ministry to doubters

Looking in
‘Just give us a sign’ is a cry that we hear throughout the Old and New Testaments. From the Pharaoh in front of Moses (see Exodus 7:9) to Gideon the reluctant judge (see Judges 6:17), the Pharisees in Jerusalem (see Matthew 12:38) to the doubting disciple Thomas (see John 20:24–29).

We all want proof, we all need something to hang our faith on to. Whether we are changing career, considering a relationship, moving location or stepping out in faith, we all ask for a sign from God.

But what short memories we have. How quickly we forget his faithful care of us. How soon we ignore his guiding hand on our lives.

Looking back
Pause and think for a minute – where would you be if God hadn’t found you, hadn’t rescued you and hadn’t brought you to himself? You are here now because of his faithfulness.

Looking up
Thank God for all his faithful guidance in the past. Repent of this self-centred memory lapse. Dedicate yourself to his sovereign will for your life.

Looking on
Take a look at Caravaggio’s painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.

Reflect on the ultimate proof of God’s care for you in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you.

Steve Warner

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year.

Numbers 26,27

Acts 22


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The Cross has said it all – Matt Redman (from Ps 103)
Matt Redman & Martin Smith
Copyright © 1995 Thankyou Music

He is good
Kate Cooke
© 2009 Vineyard Records (UK/Eire)

  • Rachael Hampton | Friday, 09 March 2018

    Yes, there are times when we long for a touch from our God, a sign that He is with us and leading us. Which probably makes me as ridiculous and unbelieving as the Pharisees. Open my eyes Lord, to see the signs of Your presence and Your love for me. On the other hand, maybe Jesus looks for a sign from us. 1 John 3:14 assures us that we know we have passed from death to life if we love our fellow believers - which doesn’t mean we like all of them, all of the time! Yes Michael, GIlvin as usual sums it up beautifully: our failures don’t cause us to lose our salvation. 1John 3 has wonderful teachings on this. e.g. V20 If our conscience condemns us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. Thank you all for the great discussions and honest sharing. You bless me so much. Lynda, I carry with me now the image of being yoked with Jesus, my best Friend, and we so delight in each other’s company that the workload, or the sting of the whip, is barely noticed. I pray many blessings for you today. May your needs be met from the riches of His glory. And thanks Peter for asking after me.

  • Alan Pang | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    The Family of Jesus is an easier metaphor to embrace than the Kingdom of Heaven/God. Interestingly, Jesus referred to "brothers, sisters, mothers" only. God is our loving Heavenly Father in Jesus' family..

  • Richard Page | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Hello WL family, thanks for all your contributions over the years. May I ask for your prayers for my situation? I am undergoing investigation for difficulties in swallowing, now awaiting results of a biopsy which was taken yesterday. Please pray with me and my local friends that the outcome next week will not be bad news. With my thanks in Jesus' precious name.

  • Angela Munday | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    After Jonah is isolated in complete darkness in the whale's belly, the physical blindness of Paul and the loneliness of the tomb, there comes an emergence into perpetual light; a revelation and a new life. The reality of God is tangible and faith in a Messiah God just grows and grows!........"Now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!" (Ephesians 5:8)

  • Angela Munday | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    You are in my prayers, RICHARD. May your faith in our loving God give you peace as you wait and know of His care for you in every situation. Amen.

  • Oakley Bookworm | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    This mornings commentary immediately brought this SU anniversary hymn to mind.

  • Oakley Bookworm | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Can anyone shed light on the meaning or application of verses 43-45. Its meaning has puzzled me for many years and it is not addressed in today's commentary.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    RICHARD I am reminded of a verse in Isiaih which says "WHOSE REPORT WILL YOU BELIEVE" so I pray you will be drawn to healing Scriptures and verses in the bible that light up new truths in a fresh way to encourage you and your friends.

  • Linda Penrose | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Praying RICHARD

  • Ian Whyte | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Re John Grayston's outstanding questions, Mathew 1:24-25 states that she did not remain a virgin

  • Janet McIntyre | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Oakley: i remember some discussion which basically said that exorcism by itself is not enough: the person will be left clean and empty for a time, but if they do not positively fill the gap with something good - Jesus - the void will be filled by something else. That makes sense to me, and can be used in many parallel situations [if you give up binge drinking, but don't find an alternative way to socialise with friends, boredom might tempt you back to bad habits?]. It doesn't quite explain Jesus' picture of the spirit coming back with his mates, though.

  • Carol Stockman | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    I will be praying for you RICHARD. Waiting for results is so hard but I pray you will have a deep sense of peace at this time.

  • Roger Hall | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Oh Richard, what, in God's eternal plan may be good news or bad? I will pray that whatever the news, the Lord who will be present in the consulting room holding you in His Arms, will equip you with confidence in Him to look after your best interests. He will, believe me!

  • Iyabode Agbelusi | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Praying for you Richard, that the peace of God which is beyond all understanding may encapsulate your mind. May you know God's presence in a very real way.

  • Tim Berry | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Hi Oakley, I have always understood these verses much the same as Janet. If an evil spirit is cleared out, it is necessary to be filled with the Holy Spirit. If the space is left empty, with nothing occupying it we may well end up worse off than we were in the first place. May the Lord bless you RICHARD, and may you be fully aware of His loving presence in your life as you wait for the result of the tests.

  • Lynda Spencer | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Thank you, IAN. You wrote what I was going to say. RICHARD, I also am praying for you, that whatever the future holds you will know God's presence and His peace. OAKLEY, I was unsure about those verses too, so am grateful for the explanations of others. I also have found verse 40 confusing! The Lord Jesus wasn't dead for three days and nights. I remember as a child counting on my fingers to make sure I hadn't got it wrong, that Friday to Sunday morning wasn't three days and three nights! I suppose I ought to have sought out an explanation by now, but does anybody have one?

  • Pete White | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Richard, your WL family will be holding you in prayer. You'll NEVER walk alone

  • Oakley Bookworm | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Thank you for your comments and suggestions for verses 43-45. After some hardcore Googling, most of the mainline bible commentaries agree that the original statement was alluding to the spiritual state of Israel using understanding at the time of demon possession. There is also consensus of opinion that a modern interpretation/application is where a person hears the gospel and is, in part, convicted and responds by amending their behaviour and habits. The Evil One, then redoubles his efforts to regain ground in that person's life. The person not having received Christ's salvation fully, is susceptible to this attack and can end up worse that before. I would say that even those be of us who know ourselves to be saved by God's grace alone may take warning not to slip into Christianised self improvement. LYNDA, you now throw out another query that I would love to know the answer tom

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Oakley I have a note of the following "The people of Jesus’ day who rejected His message will be held more accountable at the Judgment than the people of Nineveh or the Queen of Sheba because Jesus’ witness and Person was so much greater than either Jonah or Solomon. Just as a person who receives miraculous deliverance from an evil spirit becomes more accountable and will end up in even worse condition when not walking in that accountability, even so the people of Jesus’ generation were accountable for more than any other generation had ever been. A person would be better off to keep just one evil spirit than to be set free but not filled with God and wind up with eight demonic spirits, seven of which are more wicked than the first. The scribes and Pharisees would have been better off to have never had Jesus bring the kingdom of God unto them than to reject such an offer." LYNDA, The reason the crucifixion was traditionally set on Friday was because of a misunderstanding of verses like Luke 23:54 that speak of the Sabbath as being the day after the crucifixion. However, as can be clearly seen in John 19:31, the Sabbath spoken of was a high (or special) Sabbath, specifically the feast of the Passover. These special feasts were called Sabbaths also, regardless of the day of the week on which they fell. So we can work it out as we know that in between the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus went into the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

  • Ian Whyte | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Lynda - an accepted convention in those days was to count the days inclusively. It's a bit like us saying "I was on holiday for a week" when you were not actually away for 7 days for a full 24 hours each day.

  • Eileen Smith | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    LYNDA— I’m not very good at explaining things & might have have it wrong anyway! Hasn’t it something to do with Friday starting on Thursday evening so Friday was the 1st day as Jesus died on Friday afternoon . Saturday starting on Friday evening - so Saturday was 2 nd day & Sunday begins on Friday evening- Sunday being Day 3. I’m happy to be corrected on this of course — probably somebody else can give a clearer explanation RICHARD— adding my prayers

  • Eileen Smith | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Sorry- Sunday begins on Saturday evening !

  • David Chipchase | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Richard, adding you to my prayers. When is your appointment with your specialist?

  • David Chipchase | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    Some trivia for you; Jonah is the only OT prophet Jesus is recorded as mentioning. Jonah came from a village only about five miles from Nazareth.

  • Deborah Lechmere | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    I know it is only a depiction of what happened, but I liked the way the other disciples were peering as Thomas put his hand in Jesus side. As if they too would like to have asked the question. We have had something similar here today as a couple of people have asked questions and others have said they have always wondered too. We have a lady in our house group who always prefaces a question with it is probably only me but what does this mean. I is often something we all learn from.

  • Barbara Sabin | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    RICHARD be assured of my prayers ,just keep trusting don't run in front. OAKLEY I understand that when a soul is saved evil is banished but cannot be totally destroyed here on earth and it is always looking for the chance to get back. So the cleansed soul has to keep clean by action by good works by helping neighbours by getting involved in Christian action. We used this principle with our children to keep them from bad company we had them trained to be musicians so they had homework and music practice and when they had free time we spent it with them we kept idleness away.. There is an old saying that The Devil makes work for idle hands. The Jewish faith is of the Law of thou shalt not and cannot be kept. EILEEN your explanation is correct, time was not measured as we measure it today with clocks in Jesus' day dusk was the beginning of a day and dawn the end of the day. So Thursday dusk was day 1 Friday dusk day 2 Saturday dusk day 3 remember the creation and was evening and there was morning - the first day. Jesus did not descend into hell for three days it was only 2 he rose on the 3rd day buried Friday evening rose on Easter Sunday morning. Jesus had to be taken down from the Cross as the Sabbath commenced at Dusk Friday and he rested on the Sabbath remember on the seventh day He rested from all His work. The Sabbath is Saturday for the Jews we do not have Sabbath as Christians we have Sunday the Day of Resurrection.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    I hit the wrong place after copying a text and my comment went on the 8 March page - 3 times. Sorry for those who wrote on that date. It was in response to your comment BARBARA tonight where you said Jesus spent two nights in hell when Jesus said, and I quote v40 again, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth"

  • Hannah Strachan | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    David C, I liked your comment about Jonah being from the same northern area as Jesus. However, I thought Jesus did mention other prophets: Elijah when talking about John the Baptist (eg Mark 9:12) & also Moses with the Law (eg Matt 19:8). Did you mean something else by your comment?

  • Barbara Sabin | Saturday, 10 March 2018

    GILVIN I was confused so I looked up William Barclays study he suggests that Matthew misunderstood the point Jesus said. They are not the words of Jesus they are Matthew's explanation. Luke reports this and does not make any mention of Jonah being in the belly of the whale. He says Jesus said For as Jonas was a sign to the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. Luke 11 v 30 He says Jesus is God's sign just as Jonah was God's message to the Ninevites and Solomon God's wisdom to the Queen of Sheba.

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