One time the conservatives and the liberals ganged up on Jesus. They came to Him and demanded a sign from the sky. Jesus responded to them by pointing out that they already knew how to read the sky.
This point is obscured in some translations which render the demand as being for a sign “from heaven.” This is followed by Jesus saying they know what to think about it when the “sky is red,” whether in the evening or in the morning. But the word for sky here is ouranos, the same word that they used in demanding a sign from ouranos.
“The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed” (Matt. 16:1-4).
You want a sign from the sky? You already have that, at least on the surface. Jesus says that they can discern the face of the sky, they can read the patterns on heaven’s skin. But that is as far as they can go — they do not know how to read the signs of the times. They are blind to what is going down all around them. The only sign they will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah back from the dead — and when that sign was given to them, because they did not know how to read the story they were in, they bribed the guards at Jesus’ tomb, and tried to hush the whole thing up.
And this was all because they did not know how to read the culture around them. Why did they miss the Messiah when He came? It was because they did not know how to read newspapers, or watch the evening news, or how to interpret what they read on Drudge. Because they did not know the sign of the times, which was because they did not know the state of their own hearts, they could not see past the superficial. When they looked toward Heaven, the most they could see was the weather.
So in what ways might this apply to us? We are beseiged with rampant folly, and believers in Jesus are routinely befuddled by it. What do we say when men want to marry men? What do we say when we are looked upon as phobia-ridden idiots for opposing it?
We have gotten into this cul de sac on the wrong side of Sodom for reasons that go back generations. We have failed to read the times. We misread Kant, we misread the First World War, we misread the rise of science, we misread Heidegger, we misread Picasso, we misread Whig centralization, we misread race relations, we misread economics, and we misread the collapse of the Berlin Wall. And the reason we misread these things, along with our own hearts, is not because we’re stupid. The reason we misread so easily is because it takes courage to read them rightly. The line between reading with confusion and reading rightly is a line that is heavily policed — armed guards, uncoiled miles of razor wire, and snarling dogs. Just try it, you racist punk. The memory hole is big enough for you to be stuffed down it head first.
The sign of Jonah was given to us two thousand years ago, and our problem is that we have tried to keep it contained in a leather-bound book with a clasp so that it might be mildly treasured in our faith community — instead of preaching it to the goddam nations. Did you stumble over that? Think about it. Was your objection that the g should have been upper case? Good point. The God-damned nations, waiting in darkness for someone with courage enough to bring in a light.
And in what does their damnation consist? The message is repent and believe. Repent of what? Believe what? Answering such questions honestly is how we get martyrs. And after we get them, and they have been dead a respectable amount of time, we build memorials to them, thus testifying that we are the heirs of their persecutors. And in the display exhibits we answer all the questions that they answered honestly . . . dishonestly. Otherwise, we might lose our job as the curator of this shiny, polished marble lie. And that would be quite a heavy cross to bear.
So at the center of everything is preaching the resurrection, the sign of Jonah. Because that takes courage too. If Jesus rose from the dead, then it becomes possible to see our own hearts for what they are — craven and cowardly, and to be given new hearts full of boldness. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the Peter who denied Him three times can — a few weeks later and just a few blocks away — preach a message that delivered defiance to the world and all its ways. If Jesus rose from the dead, in this world, then this world is already being transformed into a new world. Now, someone might warn us, this world doesn’t like that idea very much. And all God’s people shrugged and smiled. We didn’t think they would.