Jonah D: The Sign of Jonah - Matt. 12:38-41

If Jesus is who He says He is, then the scribes and Pharisees need to do what He says to do: repent and believe the gospel! And so they ask for a sign, not simply another miracle, but confirmation that Jesus works for God and not the devil. Unless we see this sign, they say, any repentance on our part would be premature.

But this is not wisdom or caution; this is hard-hearted spiritual blindness, and so Jesus responds very harshly: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” If you want to know whether Jesus was sent by God or Satan, ask Jonah.

So what is the sign of Jonah? Jonah wasn’t a miracle worker; he didn’t do any signs. Similarly, the sign that Jesus gives is not something that He is going to do, but something that will be done to and through Him. If Jonah-like things happen to and through Jesus, that’s the sign. In particular, Jesus specifies three aspects that connect Jonah’s ministry with His own: first, Jonah’s three-day journey; second, Jonah’s ministry of preaching to the nations; and third, the miraculous repentance of the Ninevites.

And of course, the life of Jesus fulfills the sign of Jonah. If any Pharisees called to mind the promised sign of Jonah after the events recorded in the gospels, this is what they would have to reckon with: Jesus spends three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, then His gospel is preached to the nations, and the result is a flood of conversions that results in mercy for the whole world.

And at every point, Jesus shows Himself to be something greater than Jonah: Jonah was swallowed by a whale and came right up to the point of death; Jesus is swallowed by Sheol itself, and He truly dies and rises again. Jonah preached to one foreign city; Jesus sends His gospel to the ends of the earth. Jonah grumpily saw God’s mercy extend to 120,000 Ninevites for one generation; God’s mercy in Jesus has saved billions of people for all eternity.

For Jesus, the book of Jonah is a preview of what God would accomplish through His ministry. Jonah was a sign, Jesus is what that sign signifies. What happened to Jonah the individual happened to Israel as a nation in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament we see a further fulfillment that involves the whole world.

When applying the sign of Jonah to you as an individual, you need to ask yourself what you think about Jesus: were His ministry and miracles divine or demonic? The sign of Jonah demands that you answer divine. And when you recognize that Jesus’ ministry was divine, then what you need to do in response becomes clear: repent, and put your faith in Jesus.

When applied more broadly, the fulfillment of this sign in the death and resurrection of Jesus is what results in the Great Commission, the book of Acts, and in the continued mission of the Church today: because of Jesus’ three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, in which He atoned for the sins of the world, and was raised to life to preach the good news of mercy to all who repent and believe, we His disciples share in Jonah’s sign. We’re saved by the one who is greater than Jonah, and we serve the one who is greater than Jonah. As disciples of Jesus, our mission is the same as that of Jonah: we are called by God to take a warning of judgment and a message of mercy to all the world.

But as followers of Jesus, we have a better example than Jonah, for Jesus never once wavered from God’s difficult call. He came to preach God’s message even though it would cost Him His life. So in this, we follow Jesus, not Jonah, as we take the gospel to our neighbors. And as those who live on this side of the cross, we have a greater sign than the sign of Jonah; we have the sign of Jesus.

So hear and believe the sign of Jesus: in the face of unbelief and rebellion, our Lord spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, dying for our sins and being raised to life for our justification, so that the good news might be preached to the whole world that God has mercy for all who repent of their sins and put their trust in Jesus for salvation. Thanks be to God for the testimony of Jonah, and thanks be to God that something greater than Jonah is here, and His name is Jesus.

Posted on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 by CJ Bowen