Greater than Jonah

From today’s reading of Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just 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. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. – Matthew 12:38-42 (ESV)

The Lord Jesus refused to do signs to gain position with the powers that be. He simply wouldn’t do it. The signs and wonders Jesus performed were for the good of those healed and set free, and for the glory of God. They were not for those well-integrated into the upper echelons of power and self-sufficiency, but for those who had come to the end of themselves and had no resources left but to call on the name of Jesus. While Jesus’ fame spread early in his ministry because of the signs, the signs weren’t the point; this is one reason why Jesus would often tell those healed and set free to not broadcast the event.

The signs weren’t the point. Jesus was, and is. That’s why in this passage he so fervently refuses the request of the scribes and Pharisees to do a carnival trick for them. They are only going to get one sign out of him: the sign of Jonah.

You probably are familiar with Jonah, that famously reluctant Old Testament prophet who sailed as far away from the Lord’s calling for him as was possible and still ended up fulfilling the mission of God after a three day come-to-Jesus meeting in the belly of a whale. Jesus here asserts that he is the greater, the better Jonah.

Here is the sign that the scribes and Pharisees will receive, the greatest sign in history: like Jonah, Jesus will spend three days in the heart of the earth, dead and buried.

But he will be there only three days! On the third day he will rise again, alive and glorified forever, our great Cornerstone, but the great rock of stumbling and offense to those who seek salvation in political power and their own righteousness. He will be exalted to the right hand of the Father and every knee will bow and tongue will confess that he is Lord!

How much greater is that sign than what they requested of him! It is the only sign an evil and adulterous generation will receive, and it is the only sign they really need. In Jesus death, burial and resurrection is everything needed to cleanse away the evil in our souls and replace it with Christ’s righteousness, and to take away the idolatry of our spiritually adulterous hearts and replace it with the faith, hope and love that are themselves gifts of the risen Savior.

It’s the greatest sign of the greatest and only Savior of the world!

As many of us often do, the scribes and Pharisees seriously undershot and under-asked when making their request of the Lord because they were seeking the thrill of a sign, rather than Jesus.

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