Friday, August 22, 2008

The Evil Generation

From Sunday's sermon, some thoughts on revelation.

For the past few weeks, we've been in Luke 11, discussing some of Jesus' sayings. This past week, one of the verses we studied was verse 29. "This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah." Our pastor pointed out that, as far as strict outward morality went, that generation was surely one of the better ones. Better than our own generation, for instance.

And certainly better than the generation Jesus references in Ninevah. This is a nation of moral Jews, yet Jesus calls them a "evil generation." So what is Jesus saying here?

His reasoning for this was not a lack of outward morality, but rather their refusal to accept the signs they had already witnessed, and the message they had already received. To understand what he's saying, it's important to consider the contrast Jesus sets up here. To do that, let's look at the book of Jonah.

In verse 2 of the first chapter, God tells Jonah to "Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted me" (HCSB). Of course, Jonah heads in the opposite direction, and personal disaster ensues. But once that is resolved, God tells him a second time "Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you" (Jonah 3:2, HCSB). And what was that message? "In 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown!" (3:4, HCSB). There's no kingdom, no grace, and no gospel; there's not even a command to repent, such as John the Baptist gave. There's just an announcement of judgment.

So the Ninevites respond to this coming judgment by repenting, from the king on down the chain of society. I would characterize this as godly repentance, by the way, because it is a response to the holy and righteous judgment of God. In fact, it is wholly apart from any expectation on the part of the penitent.

The king of Ninevah puts it this way: "Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish" (3:9, ESV). It's the kind of repentance born from the recognition of one's helpless destitution - exactly the kind of repentance a person needs to be saved.

The Jews, on the other hand, had every conceivable advantage over this pagan people, yet they always clamored for one more sign. In contrast, the Ninevites had a simple message - "your sins have found you out," and they repented. This is why Jesus called them the evil generation.

It's an old story, but one we still see. There are many who have been exposed to the Gospel again and again, but who insist on needing one more "proof" before they will believe. It perfectly describes most of the skeptics I've known. And if you ask what evidence would be sufficient, you still won't get an answer.

The "evil generation" Jesus refers to here is the one that never sees enough evidence. It was true during his time, and it is still true today.

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