By Michael E. Brooks
“Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing him asked that he would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red;” and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times'” (Matthew 16:1-3 NKJV).
A group of campaigners traveled to a national park in Nigeria for a break after several days of work, hoping to see some African animals. As we went through the park towards headquarters to register and get our rooms for the night, we stopped to see an area of old hand-dug dry wells.
The group scattered out looking into different wells. As we did so we heard an animal in the bush around us, but were not particularly concerned.
One man stopped at a well that had a pole sticking out of it, and without thinking much about it, he shook the pole. Suddenly a female baboon, which had been in the bottom of the well rushed up the pole, out of the well, almost in the man’s face.
As she fled, a large male baboon (apparently her mate) rushed to meet and protect her. Belatedly we realized that the situation could have been dangerous, but thankfully the animals left without incident.
More experienced visitors to the park would undoubtedly have recognized the sounds we heard as the warning calls of the baboon. None of us were able to identify them; therefore we did not properly interpret the signs of potential confrontation and danger.
Much trouble may be avoided if one is able to read signs correctly. This applies not only to danger from jungle animals, but to weather, political difficulties, crime, violence, and also to spiritual danger.
Jesus rebuked the religious leadership of his day for being more able to read the signs of weather, than those of the purpose and plans of God.
His criticism is particularly appropriate because Jesus’ coming was predicted in vivid detail by the prophets of the Old Testament period.
The Pharisees and Sadducees prided themselves on their knowledge of and obedience to the Scriptures, including the prophets. If anyone were able to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, sent by God, it should have been them. Yet they were the most adamant in denying his true identity.
Many Christians today are far more knowledgeable about physical matters pertaining to this world than their Bibles and the will of God. They discuss political personalities and events to minutest detail.
They know the ups and downs of the stock market. They can talk for hours about their favorite sports teams. But they may be completely blind to spiritual problems in their lives and relationships and have little concept of what God desires for them.
Psalm 1 praises the righteous man, described as blessed by God, stable and enduring as a tree planted by a stream of water (verse 3). His dominate characteristic is that “[h]is delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night” (verse 2).
Such a man has his priorities right. He is able to read the signs that really matter, those which will determine his ultimate destiny and success.
Frequently in his ministry Jesus taught that one must “watch” (Matthew 25:13), “watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41), and “be ready” (Matthew 24:44), because of temptations and also because of future events within God’s purposes.
That watchfulness and preparation included knowledge of God’s revealed word. “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet . . . then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16).
Not all of the signs revealed in the Bible refer to apocalyptic or eschatological events. Many pertain to our spiritual condition, and the needs and problems we face in this life.
Like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, too many modern believers take their knowledge of God for granted and do not polish their skills at reading signs — especially those signs that truly matter.
Tragically, events which they could be prepared for will ultimately surprise and destroy them. Let us watch and pray, being always ready for God’s will to be done.