The Sign of Jonah

Intro: Is faith blind? I have found that most people define faith as being the opposite of verifiable knowledge. When faith is so defined it is easily dismissed in our rationalistic society. But the scriptures indicate that God has never expected belief apart from verifiable evidence. God is understood and identified, not only by His words, but also by His “works”. Ps 66:5 – Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men. Ps 86:8Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord; Nor are there any works like Your works. Who can do what God does? God has acted both inside and outside of His natural laws to provide evidence of Himself, and to produce faith. Faith is not blind. There are good reasons to believe in God & the Bible.

Jesus rested His own credibility on what He called the “works” that He performed.

  • Jesus told the crowd …the very works that I do — bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. (John 5:36)
  • Later in John 10:25, Jesus said, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.” And then in that same discourse (John 10:37-38) He plainly challenged his audience, If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” Jesus was willing to rest His entire message on the authenticity of the miracles He performed.
  • The scriptures use the word “sign” if often used to describe these miracles. The word in the original language is semeion (say-MI’-on) means “a sign, mark, indication, or token,” Vines gives three uses: 1) as of that which distinguished a person or thing from others, 2) of a “sign” as a warning or admonition, 3) of miraculous acts …as tokens of divine authority and power (from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words) 

What does it take to convince the skeptic?

I. Matthew 12:38-4238 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

A. “We want to see a sign from you” – This may be one of the most incredulous requests that Jesus ever entertained. (Luke says a “sign from heaven” – one greater than the other prophets; or one that can be seen by everyone). Had they been paying attention at all? Matt. 8:16-17When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, 17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.” Matthew connects this enormous healing campaign with the words of Isa. 53 – pointing directly to the coming of the Messiah. There were signs everywhere! They were attempting to intimidate Jesus, and appear as real seekers examining the evidence. It was a façade. Matthew 16:1-4 seems to be another occasion of the same request. Jesus rebuked them as those who could read the signs of the weather in the sky, but not discern the signs of the times.

1. An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign”Do you think this is an “evil and adulterous generation”? There are many ways in which I believe it fits that description. There is a great deal of moral evil and sexual misconduct in our society. But Jesus is using this terminology to describe his own audience because of the character of their unbelief. They were evil in their demand for more evidence, when God had clearly presented sufficient proof. They were adulterous because they had abandoned their covenant relationship with God. We have many today who are waiting for a sign. They are looking for a special feeling or experience. They want something unique to happen to them to make them feel special, and then they will come to God. Jesus refuses the Pharisees’ request. He knows that another miracle will not produce belief in their stubborn hearts. But He does answer them. His answer is powerful and has implications for all who would struggle with their faith in Jesus. No sign Except…

II. The Sign of the Prophet Jonah: Jesus points these Jewish leaders back to the O.T. scriptures to a story they knew well. Jonah was a prophet sent by God to Nineveh. He refused to go, and while attempting to escape from God’s presence was swallowed by a great fish. He survived in the belly of the fish for three days, after which he was spewed back onto dry land, and eventually went and preached to Nineveh.

Note: Jesus’ use of this event indicates that He considered the story of Jonah and the great fish to be historically true. You do not use a myth to signify what you want everyone to view as true. If Jesus did use an exaggerated myth or fairly tale, the enemies of Jesus would have certainly pointed that out. They recognized the historical accuracy of the book of Jonah as well.

A. Jesus and Jonah: Jesus points to Jonah as a figure of Himself – (“as Jonah was… so will the Son of Man be”). Certainly we recognize that Jonah is not a type of Jesus in every detail of his story. Jonah was a rebellious prophet who ran from God’s orders, and pouted when God’s will was accomplished. Jesus never failed to do the will of God on earth, and rejoiced at the repentance of every sinner. Jesus actually died before being placed in the earth, but there is not clear evidence that Jonah died while in the belly of the fish (prayed from there). How does Jonah typify Jesus?

1. Death, Burial & Resurrection: Jesus says that Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish typified the burial of the Son of Man, for three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Implied as well is that as Jonah was delivered from his entombment after this time, so the Son of Man would also be delivered from His grave. This is the sign of Jonah: Jesus would be resurrected from the dead.

a. “3 days and 3 nights” – These words do not suggest that Jesus was in the grave for 72 hours (as we might count it), but are a Hebrew colloquialism indicating the whole or part of 3 days (Jesus was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday).

b. As we studied a few weeks ago, the significance of Jesus being raised on the third day may point to the Jewish understanding of the decay of the physical body. It was after 3 days that the body began to exhibit the signs of decomposition, and spirit was said to permanently abandon the body. It was after three days that the dead person’s body was viewed as experiencing the effects of the punishment for sin. This was important in connection with the prophecy of Psalm 16:10, as quoted by Peter in Acts 2… God would not “allow His Holy One to see corruption.”

c. But the third day was also appropriate because the third day was the day of salvation. Listen to the scriptures and notice how the third day is the day of salvation.

      • Hosea 6:1–2 – “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. (ESV)
      • After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. (Genesis 22:1–4 ESV)
      • Esther inquires before the king to deliver her people from execution, on the third day. (Est. 5:1).
      • God came down to Mount Sinai on the third day (Exodus 19:11, 16).
      • David was delivered from the hand of Saul on the third day (2 Samuel 1:2).
      • The Lord healed Hezekiah of his illness and raised up Hezekiah on the third day (2 Kings 20:5).
      •  The third day is the day of deliverance. The third day is a declaration by the Lord that God would deliver Him and us. Jesus’ prediction of resurrecting on the third day was a statement of deliverance.

2. Preaching of repentance: Luke’s account provides an additional look at the sign of Jonah. Luke 11:30 – For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. Notice that Luke specifically says Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites. How was Jonah himself a sign to Nineveh?

a. The book of Jonah does not indicate directly that Jonah told the people of Nineveh about his ordeal in the belly of the fish. But what would convince a city of wicked unbelievers to repent and turn to God? How would they know that this Jewish prophet was telling the truth? They needed a sign.

b. I am convinced that Jesus’ words in Luke 11 tell us that the testimony of Jonah’s deliverance from the fish became a sign to the people of Nineveh and lead to their repentance. Burton Coffman says… The implication of this is that Jonah’s delivery from death was the “word that came unto the king,” leading to the conversion of Nineveh. The reason that Jonah’s message was received in Nineveh and produced such remarkable results was that this “sign” of Jonah convinced them absolutely that God had indeed sent him. Jonah had been brought back to life… What more proof did they need?

c. Thus, what Jesus brings forward is not just the certainty of His resurrection as a sign of His authority, but the intended result of the sign itself. Just as Jonah was delivered for the sake of Nineveh, so Jesus was delivered from the grave for our sakes. The knowledge of His resurrection is a sign for us to respond to the message that is being delivered.

B. The Consequences of ignoring the Sign. Matthew 12:41-42 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. – Jesus extracts another crucial element of his message from the subsequent preaching of Jonah to Nineveh. If Jonah represents Jesus; then those to whom Jesus is preaching must be connected to the Ninevites of Jonah’s day. And so Jesus makes this connection for us.

Note: Jesus chose His illustrations carefully. He intended them to have full effect. Notice what the Ninevites and the Queen of the south have in common? (that is not Dolly Parton, but the Queen of Sheba who came to see Solomon’s wealth in 1 Kings 10)

1. They are both Gentiles. They both respond in a similar manner to the words of God (the preaching of Jonah, the wisdom of Solomon)

2. They are also similar in that they both “rise up in judgment” against the evil generation of Jesus’ day (representing the Pharisees and scribes who are requesting another sign from Jesus).

3. Notice Jesus’ picture of the Day of Judgment – 2 people standing together side by side: this Gentile queen and the Jewish rulers of his generation. The Jewish leaders are not condemning the Gentile woman, as they might anticipate, but the woman is condemning the religious leaders. Her case, when laid before the judge, serves as a condemnation of their unbelief. Why? Because she valued the wisdom of Solomon and did everything she could to soak it in. And one greater than Solomon is here. The people of Nineveh standing beside the same Jewish leaders and people of Jesus’ day. But it is the Ninevites who have the prerogative of judgment. Why? Because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. And one greater than Jonah is here. Heb 12:2525 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,

4. No other sign – You recall that Jesus told the Pharisees that “no sign will be given to them except the sign of Jonah”. Did this mean that Jesus was finished doing miracles. Not hardly. Even after Jesus ascension the apostles continued to work miracles to signify the truth of the message they were teaching. But in this statement Jesus identified His own resurrection as THE sign from heaven that trumped all others.

      • If you are not convinced by the empty tomb, what else can God do to convince you?

Conclusion: How important is the sign of Jonah to you? (Example from an excerpt from a book by Joseph Donders called Hearts on Fire, on this very question as he comments on Matt. 12; Jesus wanted people to pay attention to the signs of the times … “scientists in our day often have the same difficulty as Jesus. Economists tell us that the world will run out of resources if we continue to exploit the earth as we are currently doing. Biologists speak about the disastrous effects of our waste of energy, of the destruction of the rain forests, of the pollution of the atmosphere, of the dumping of radioactive waste, of using materials like plastics that are not biodegradable. Physicians warn us that we’re eating too much fatty stuff, that many drink too much, that we should drive our cars less and use our feet and bodies more. Sociologists warn that families are falling apart, that children are not well educated, and that there are too many homeless people in our streets. Too few listen. Those who don’t listen often say that they want clearer signs, more proof, stronger evidence, while all around us forests die, fish rot, air and water are polluted, and human beings suffer. “We don’t need more signs. We need changes. Of course, it would be impossible to change everything at the same time. But we all can begin and enter the process. Today you might change one of your consumer habits. Take a mug or cup with you to work instead of using paper or styrofoam cups.” (Taken from Hearts on Fire by Joseph G. Donders)

  • For apostles and the early Christians the sign of Jonah was everything. It validated everything they believed, and became the basis of every sermon, every lesson, every written word. It was the fabric of their lives, and they would give their last breath to defend it and teach to others. In the end, it was their only hope.
  • 1 Cor 15:14-19if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up — if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
  • There is no middle ground to claim here. Jesus either exited that tomb or He did not.
    •  If he did not then everything He claimed and taught was bogus, and we are under no obligation to listen to His Words. His life signifies nothing, because He said He would be raised on the third day.
    •  If He did resurrect, then everything He said is validated in that act. He is the Son of God, who speaks from heaven. Listen to the apostle Paul in Romans 1:3, 4. “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”

Read Luke 24:1-8 – v. 3 Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. …”Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but is risen! Jesus is risen from the dead – if you were waiting for a sign this is it.