I’ve pulled a small part of what Jesus said from Matthew 12:38-42. I urge you to read all of that passage, because far from trying to nit-pick just a part of Jesus’ message to the scribes and Pharisees, I want you to see the full context of His message. The scribes and Pharisees were testing Jesus, asking Him to show them a sign that He is the Messiah, and He refused them.
Some of the scribes and Pharisees then spoke up, saying, “Teacher, we want to see you work some signs.” He answered, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign! No sign will be given it but that of the prophet Jonah. Just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man spend three days and three nights in the bowls of the earth. At the judgment, the citizens of Nineveh will rise with the present generation and be the ones to condemn it. At the preaching of Jonah they reformed their lives; but you have a greater than Jonah here.”
What I get from the reading wasn’t just that Jesus was rebuking the scribes and Pharisees. He was telling all of us that signs aren’t available on demand. That God doesn’t perform like a circus side show or at the will of those with an agenda. You don’t manipulate God for your own ends.
Even today, people try to use God to further their own agendas.
There’s a natural disaster, and people ascribe it to God using it as a sign that people have sinned, because it’s something those people don’t like. Not according to Jesus’ own words.
There are troubling times, and people ascribe it as a sign of the End of Times. Not according to Jesus. In fact, Jesus clearly says we will not know the day or the hour of the end times (Matthew 24:36).
When Jesus uses “signs,” it is of His own volition, and He uses them to heal people, not punish them.
You might say that in this line from Matthew, Jesus is speaking to the people of His time, that generation of scribes and Pharisees. But I would say there are those like the scribes and Pharisees in our own times. And so, Jesus addresses them as well.
When we seek to use God’s Word to show love and respect for others, to console and heal instead of to condemn and wound, we live true to Jesus’ words. Far better than if we try to manipulate God to further an agenda, an exercise in which He clearly says He won’t participate.