Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Sign of Jonah

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
Matthew 12:38-41

  The story of Jonah and the whale is one that many of us will remember from our youth.  The book of Jonah is only four short chapters, so it is fairly easy to summarize.  Jonah was called upon by God to go to the city of Nineveh to call them to repentance for their wickedness.  Jonah did not want to obey God in this matter so he got onto a ship to sail away in another direction.  But God sent a storm that threatened to sink the ship, which ultimately led to Jonah being cast overboard so that the crew might survive.

Then God sent a great fish to swallow Jonah, which, after he had cried out to God, delivered Jonah onto dry land so that he could fulfill his missionary journey to Nineveh. 

Today I would like to consider Jonah from the prospective of what Jesus had to say about him in the book of Matthew. 

First of all, let’s consider the context in which Jesus brings up Jonah’s trial at the hand (mouth?) of the whale.  Just before these scribes and Pharisees (leaders of the Jewish people) asked Jesus to show them a sign, he had healed a man with a withered hand.  That caused the Pharisees to hold a council on how they might do away with him.  Next Jesus went away and great multitudes followed him.  The Bible says that he healed them all.  Then Jesus cast out a devil from a person causing him to regain his speech and his eyesight. When the Pharisees heard of that, they concluded that Jesus had done this miracle by the power of Satan.  Now if all these other signs were not enough, Jesus "read their minds" and lectured them about what was wrong with what they had been thinking.  So is it any wonder that when they followed this up by asking for a sign, that he was a bit short with what could only be considered to be a insolent request?

I like what Matthew Henry says this about the passage: “Signs were granted to those who desired them for the confirmation of their faith, as to Abraham and Gideon; but were denied to those who demanded them for the excuse of their unbelief.”

The sign of the prophet Jonah;  as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  Now, not only is this statement a prophecy of what would soon happen to him,  Jesus makes it abundantly clear that Jonah being swallowed by a whale was a “type” or picture of the gospel.  The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was foreshadowed right there in the Old Testament. 

Jonah was cast into the sea to suffer the wrath of God so that others would not perish.  In Jonah’s case the others were the sailors who had been idolaters, but before the storm ceased were calling out to Jehovah.  In like manner, Jesus suffered the wrath of God on the cross to save sinners of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.

Jonah was “buried” in the belly of a whale for 3 days.  Jesus spent a corrsponding amount of time in the grave.  Jonah was spit out of the Whale’s mouth alive, resulting in the repentance and salvation of the city of Nineveh.  That picture was fulfilled when Jesus rose from the dead, resulting in countless numbers coming to salvation through repentance and faith.

Jesus said that what happened to Jonah was a sign.  Do you suppose Jonah may have told his story of deliverance from three days in the belly of a whale as part of his preaching to the people of Nineveh?   If they accepted his message, then certainly they must have understood that Jonah's deliverance from the whale was a sign of God’s mercy. 

The same is true of the preaching of the cross.  It is Christ's resurrection from the dead which is the ultimate sign that is given that we might believe!  It is the sign by which we may know that God the Father has accepted the sacrifice which Jesus made on the cross for our sins.  If you believe it, then surely you must understand that the resurrection is a sign of God’s mercy to you.

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