Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:39b (Holman) “. . . but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Israel’s greatest prophets, including Moses and Elijah, had done miracles. The Pharisees expected Jesus to do the same. He did, but not to their liking.
Instead of a quick sign, Jesus gave them an enigma to puzzle over. He refused a miracle, yet promised one. He will not act in the present, but will give a huge sign in the future, a miracle very similar to one they were familiar with.
Jonah rose from a whale’s belly after being cast away by sailors. Jesus will come from a grave after being cast away by the religious leaders. His rising from death will be the ultimate sign, far greater than any other miracle ever performed.
The need for signs to confirm Jesus was adequately provided for. Christ’s whole existence was a miracle; His life, being, and every move were in and of themselves mighty wonders. His miraculous nature, Godhood combined with manhood, was proven as fact for all time when He rose from the dead.
The Pharisees, like all humans, wanted special treatment. This is part of our nature, but God won’t be partial. “God doesn’t show favoritism” (Acts 10:34b).
To be fair, salvation’s most convincing evidences must be open and general, available to all, not specific and hidden, as if given to only a privileged few.
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead serves as God’s ultimate sign to the whole world. Christ’s coming from death was verified by over 500 eyewitnesses who spread the news like wildfire throughout the Roman Empire.
Had Jesus done a miracle for the Pharisees, it would have neither impacted many nor proved God was the power behind it. A marvelous miracle could prove connection to a mighty power source, but could not prove God was its generator.
Satan told Jesus to prove Himself by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. The fact the Devil demanded Jesus give a stupendous miracle tells us something significant about the type of person who pressures God to flaunt Himself. Beware when tempted to demand from God. Remember who you would be imitating.
If Jesus had obliged Satan, and jumped from the temple pinnacle, would possessing a mountain goat’s skill prove Jesus was the best spiritual blessing ever given to Earth? No, it would prove Jesus had power, but not necessarily God’s.
To Jesus, miracles in and of themselves were not the point. He healed the sick and helped the helpless because He could and cared. Both reasons mattered.
His miracles were proof of both power and compassion. In His tsunami of signs and wonders, we saw proof the God of might and love had come near.
The Pharisees, legalistic and cold-hearted, disdained love and missed the point as to what God is about. Thus, they missed what Jesus was about.
God is love as well as power. This was Jesus’ message, and the Pharisees missed it. Let’s not follow their lead. Don’t crave power to the neglect of love.
Matthew 12:40 “For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”
Jesus’ ultimate sign will horrify the Pharisees, and be their worst nightmare. After their hatred has killed Christ, He will re-appear. He will return out of death.
Jonah the Prophet and Jesus were in many ways opposites. Jonah was reluctant to obey God; Jesus gladly submitted. The prophet ran from God; our Savior walked with steady gate to Calvary. Jonah grumbled when his enemies were saved; Jesus rejoiced over every repentant that had rebelled against Him.
The two were poles apart in most matters, but one detail forever linked them together. What the whale’s belly was to Jonah, the grave was to Jesus.
In a whale’s belly, Jonah was a ransom for lives lost in a storm; in a tomb, Jesus was a ransom for all lost lives. In a fish, Jonah was a prisoner for his own sins; in a grave, Jesus was a prisoner, a stone chained to hold Him in, for our sins.
In a whale’s belly, with seaweed wrapped around his head, Jonah did not lose faith, “I will look once more toward Your holy temple” (2:4b). Our Savior entered a sepulcher knowing His Father would not let Him see decay (Acts 2:27b).
Jonah was as one dead. Without a miracle he could not have lived in the fish one hour. Jesus was dead. Without a miracle He could not have lived again.
The whale got sick at his stomach, and couldn’t hold Jonah. The grave got sick at its stomach, and couldn’t hold Jesus.
When the whale belched Jonah, he hit the ground preaching salvation. When the grave coughed up Jesus, He also hit the ground preaching salvation.
Jonah came back, as did Jesus. A stupendous, show-stopping, sign is what the leaders wanted. Jesus gave them one, a miracle that would shut their mouths.
Matthew 12:41a “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation;. . .”
Many had been convinced of their error with far less evidence than the Pharisees had. They refused to believe in Jesus, God’s own incarnate, wonder-working Son, but the city of Nineveh was convinced by Jonah, and repented.
Those who believe with less evidence will witness against all who don’t believe with more proof, and will nullify any excuses the latter put forth.
Jesus was not afraid to rebuke cruel, self-righteous hypocrites. His example reminds us, our job is to rescue people from sin, not affirm them in it.
In the name of love or humility, we are not to ignore error. We must rather lovingly, humbly, and gently refute wrong, and speak truth in love.
It can be difficult and very unpopular to oppose wrongdoing. Yet we have not fully spoken truth until, with a tear in our eyes and a whisper in our voice, we have exposed the hurtful error that deludes and harms its possessors.
We are not in a popularity contest. Bible believers in the USA are being marginalized. This may not be all bad.
Christianity captured the Roman Empire, beginning at the margins. Maybe we need to follow our original roadmap, the one that led us to this first success.
We must not neglect the power brokers and people of influence–everyone needs to hear of Jesus–but maybe we should look around and find others who are marginalized–single moms, the poor, the disenfranchised–and talk with them more straightforwardly about lostness. Boldly tell them Jesus is the only answer to people’s troubles, the only hope, the only Savior, and the only way to Heaven.