There are experts at reading signs: economic signs; cultural signs; pandemic signs. They study, immersing themselves in learning to recognize and interpret. They gather data and make predictions. They warn of gathering storm clouds or they calm fears with informed predictions of a rebounding economy. Sometimes these sign readers are fear mongers. Sometimes they are selling a product. Sometimes they read signs to make a boat load of money. Sometimes they just want to sound as if they know what they are talking about. And sometimes these sign readers are very good at reading signs that speak of cultural shifts and changes or economic trends or spreading germs, but are woefully lacking the skill to read more important signs; signs that have eternal significance. It is Ralph Nickleby in Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby (or many other a Dickens character) who is very skilled at reading and taking advantage of the signs of economic development, but who is seriously lacking in seeing family signs. Instead of helping and developing a relationship with his brother’s family he ostracizes them. Not to mention the whole keeping his marriage and birth of a son secret so as to make sure he didn’t lose the wife’s inheritance. His son dies without him even knowing that he was still alive. Ralph was monetarily rich, but poor in what really mattered. He tested the wrong things.
Luke 12:54-56 is about testing. Jesus gives two signs that were easily recognizable in his day. If they saw a cloud rising up from the west, they could be relatively sure that rain was on its way. After all, that cloud is coming from the Mediterranean Sea, having gathered up moisture. Get your umbrella out boys and girls. It’s going to rain. And generally speaking, that is exactly what came about. Jesus emphasizes how easy this sign is to recognize by saying, “Immediately, you say . . .” You don’t have to take time to study it. You see a cloud. You see where it is coming from. And you know what comes next. Easy.
And when a south wind is blowing, that is also an easy sign. That wind is coming from the desert and it carries scorching heat with it. You feel the wind. You analyze that it is coming from the south. And you know. It is going to be a scorcher boys and girls. And generally speaking, that is exactly what happened. Any child can test these signs.
Then Jesus gets all rude on them and calls them hypocrites. The word hypocrite means actor. In the New Testament it can have the idea of contradictory. In this case the hypocrite is a person whose action contradict sense or reality or what is important. It seems likely that this is how Jesus meant it in our passage. It is not that the audience is duplicitous or putting on an act. That is not the form of hypocrisy being dealt with here. It is that their actions are a contradiction to reality. They know how to test the appearance of the earth and sky and adjust their actions accordingly. And Jesus’ rebuke is not that they are testing these things. There is nothing wrong in grabbing an umbrella when you see a cloud advancing from the Mediterranean Sea. There is nothing wrong in bracing yourself for a scorcher when there is a south wind blowing. The problem was that there were clear and obvious signs that were more important. They didn’t test these signs; they didn’t examine and approve them. Jesus’ whole life was a walking breathing sign of this time. The word time can refer to significant time; a decisive moment; an opportune time. The time that swirled around them was full of significance. It was a decisive moment. It was the merging of the kingdom of God and this world. Having grown up with Moses and the prophets, the Israelites should have read the signs just as easily as any child could feel a south wind and run to the Jordan River to cool off. The hypocrisy was a contradictory focus on the wrong things.
It is the textual critic who so easily sees variant manuscript evidence but misses the Messiah. It is the scientist who can map genomes but misses the Creator. It is the average Joe who dusts off his resume because he has tested the underlying current in the company he works for, but doesn’t test the power of prayer, seeking the surging current of the Holy Spirit. The problem was not that Jesus’ life didn’t add up to the Old Testament prophesies. The problem was a contradiction of focus; a refusal to see the clear and easy signs all around them; a missing of a decisive moment. Jesus is the Messiah! He is the Savior! Right now is the decisive moment. Are you willing to learn how to test the signs that truly matter? My life makes more sense with Jesus. Tested and approved. Taste and see that God is good my friends.