More than a decade ago I did a series on Jonah here in
GraceLife, and the Grace to You ministry in India published
transcripts of those messages in booklet form. There's also an
album of CDs with those messages on the back table every
weekCand they are some of the oldest recordings back there.
Those were some of the earliest messages I ever gave in
GraceLife. And we've occasionally revisited incidents in
Jonah's life from time to time.
I don't want to go back to the Old Testament book of
Jonah this morning, but I do want to consider Jonah
againCthis time from the perspective of what Jesus said
about him in the New Testament.
Jesus mentioned Jonah on two crucial occasionsCboth
during major public conflicts with the Pharisees. The first
one is during a major conflict over the Pharisees' Sabbath
rules in Matthew 12. Then shortly afterward, in Matthew 16,
Jesus repeats what He said about Jonah in Matthew 12.
In both places, the Pharisees demanded that Jesus give
them a sign to prove His authority over them, and He Jesus
rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief. He told them they
would receive no sign from Him except for "the sign of
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 2
Jonah." The first of those two incidents is also recorded in
Luke 11. That describes the same event as Matthew 12. So
basically, you'll find three places in the gospels where Jesus
speaks of Jonah, and those three passages describe two
distinct incidents. In each case, Jesus spoke of "the sign of
Now, most of you will be vaguely familiar with those
references, and if I asked you what "the sign of Jonah" refers
to, I think most of you would say it's the resurrection of
On the surface, that likes like the right answer. After all,
Jesus said (Matthew 12:40): "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."
Jesus was clearly speaking of His resurrection; making a
comparison to Jonah's experience in the belly of the fish.
After three days and three nights, Jonah emerged alive. Jesus'
resurrection would be a similar, yet much greater, miracle,
and there is a true sense in which the resurrection would be a
sign to the Pharisees. The resurrection is the visible,
evidentiary proof the Pharisees demanded.
But for these religious leaders who had so misled the
Jewish nation and tyrannized people with their manmade
traditions, the resurrection of Jesus would be a sign of
The Sign of Jonah 3
And here's what I don't want you to miss: The resurrection
per se is only one narrow aspect of the sign Jesus is speaking
of here. The full significance of the sign of Jonah was much
deeper and more ominous than you might realize. This was
more than merely a prophecy about the resurrection; it was a
message of condemnation for the Pharisees and their system
of religion. Jonah had been used by God as an instrument of
blessing to a whole nation of pagan Gentiles. Through
Jonah's preaching, God brought revival to NinevehCa
display of sovereign grace that prefigured the work of the
gospel, reaching out to Gentiles, redeeming publicans and
sinner, but bypassing those who held to the self-righteous,
self-aggrandizing religion of the Pharisees. In the words of
Romans 9:18, "[God] has mercy on whomever he wills, and he
hardens whomever he wills." Furthermore, He "opposes the
proud, but gives grace to the humble." All of that is implicit in
the sign of Jonah. It's a sign of judgment against the
Jesus was pointing to Jonah as a type, or a symbol. The
Old Testament was full of typology, and all of it pointed to
Christ. A "type" (of course) is a divinely-inspired
foreshadowing of some greater truth. A type is a kind of
prophetic picture. And the Old Testament is full of typesCin
some cases, real-life people, and in other cases tangible,
visible items that foreshadowed Christ in some way.
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 4
The high priest, for example, was a typeCor a living
symbol of Christ, our great high Priest, according to
Hebrews 4:14. And the Tabernacle itself, and the priestly
worship were full of types and figures that symbolically
foreshadowed some aspect of Christ's character, or His
offices, or His atoning sacrifice. The high priest entered once
a year into the holy of holies with a sacrifice of blood. That
prefigured the work of Christ, who would enter into the very
presence of God once for all by His own blood, according to
The entire Old Testament is peppered with types and
symbols that point to Christ. These are deliberate prophetic
symbols that tie the different parts of God's revelation
together and show us its inspiration. The sheer number of
foreshadowings and prophetic references to Christ are one of
the most vivid and graphic evidences that although Scripture
was written over several centuries' time, by multiple human
authors, and in dozens of disparate partsCnevertheless,
Scripture tells one story with one central theme. It is clearly
the work of a single divine mind.
And the New Testament unfolds the meaning of all those
types and prophecies in such a way that if you examine them
carefully with an open and unbiased mind, you'll have to
admit that it's remarkable, even irrefutable, evidence that the
Bible is a supernatural book and bears all the marks of divine
The Sign of Jonah 5
Anyway according to Jesus, Jonah was one of the most
important Old Testament types. Jonah, despite his rebellion
against God, was a living picture of our Lord, who went into
a deathlike darkness for three days and three nights and
emerged miraculously alive. Jonah is, in fact, the
predominant Old Testament picture of the Resurrection.
But here's my point this morning: the full meaning of the
sign of Jonah is deeper, more multi-faceted, and more
ominous than that. When Jesus referred to "the sign of
Jonah," the "sign" He had in mind involved much, much
more than just a simple picture of His resurrection. And its
significance was more negative than positiveClooking
beyond Resurrection Sunday to the day of the Lord and the
judgment yet to come.
So bear that in mind: This was a somber message of
warning to the unbelieving and rebellious Pharisees. And
they would have been intimately familiar with the story of
Jonah. They knew very well that Jonah was unique among all
the Old Testament prophets, because God sent Him on a
mission of grace and mercy to a Gentile nation, during a time
of great apostasy and rebellion in Israel.
That fact could not have escaped these particular
Pharisees who were challenging Jesus. His mention of Jonah
meant something very specific for them. And they must have
felt the sting of it, unless they were so totally dull spiritually
that they missed the point.
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 6
But just in case they did miss the point, He underscored it
for them when He said in Matthew 12:41, "The men of
Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and
Now, as I said, there are three places in the gospels where
Jesus refers to "the sign of the prophet Jonah." They are
Matthew 12:39-41; Matthew 16:4; and Luke 11:29-32. And
the one I want to concentrate on this morning is the Luke 11
passage, but let me give you the full context with a look at
the two Matthew passages. First, turn to Matthew 12:39.
While you are turning there, several things are significant
about this passage. First of all, notice that Jesus regards
Jonah as a historical person and He interprets the narrative of
Jonah as real history, not just an allegory or a symbolic tale.
This is significant, because for the past two and a half
centuries or so, the book of Jonah has been a favorite target
for Bible critics. Skeptics and scoffers of all kinds have
attacked the book of Jonah on rationalistic grounds. And
even some Bible commentators and preachers who claim to
believe the Bible is God's Word have suggested that maybe
the account of Jonah and the fish is an example of myth or
allegory after all. And the faith of lots of Christians have
been shaken by that kind of tinkering with the meaning of
But here is unshakable proof that the Old Testament
account of Jonah is historical narrative and not symbolism.
The Sign of Jonah 7
Here's how we know it is supposed to be taken literally:
Jesus Himself took it literally. Look at the passage, Matthew
12, starting in verse 38:
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him,
saying, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you."
39 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.
40 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.
41 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.
Notice that Jesus didn't do signs and wonders on demand. He
had already given the people plenty of signs that He was
their Messiah. They had seen him heal people, cast out
demons, and feed the multitudes. Now they were asking him
for was an even bigger miracleCa sort of cosmic sign. Could
He make the sun go dark? or cause stars to fall?Cor
something like that.
Skepticism was the thing motivated this challenge. It was
not a sincere inquiry. How do we know this? It is clear from
this passage, more than any other place in the gospels, that
these Scribes and Pharisees had already made up their minds
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 8
that they hated Him, no matter what He did. They were
already conspiring to put him to death. Verse 14 says so
explicitly. "The Pharisees went out and conspired against him,
how to destroy him" That was their aim. They would not have
affirmed Him no matter what sign He might have given
In fact, look at the immediate context here. And bear in
mind that this passage parallels the Luke 11 passage, which
is where we are headed this morning. Both passages describe
exactly the same incident. And here's what was happening:
Matthew is relating the far-reaching and spectacular success
of Jesus' healing ministry, and against that backdrop, he
highlights the hateful opposition that Jesus incurred from the
In this chapter Matthew recounts several significant
healings. There's the man with the withered hand in verses
10-13. You'll recall that that incident became controversial
because it occurred on the Sabbath, and it was a particular
embarrassment to the Pharisees, because by their reckoning,
it was a sin for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath. They were the
strictest kind of sabbatarians, and everyone knew their
position on this. But they had no valid argument against Him
when he asked if it's lawful to do good on the Sabbath, so he
healed the man in their presence just to make the point that
He is Lord of the Sabbath.
The Sign of Jonah 9
It is at precisely that point in the gospel of Matthew where
the religious leaders' hatred of Christ took a very sinister
turn. Verse 14: "The Pharisees went out and conspired against
him, how to destroy him." Christ was a threat to their power
John 11:47 describes the council they convened. It says,
"The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and
said, 'What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.'"
They had seen His power. They had all the supernatural signs
they needed. They had no reason to doubt Him or reject Him,
except that he posed a threat to their rulership. In verse 48 of
John 11, they go on to say this: "If we let him go on like this,
everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take
away both our place and our nation." See? They feared the
political ramifications if people accepted Him as Messiah.
They had a lot to lose if He upset the balance of the power
with the Roman government. So they rejected Him; their
rejection was deliberate and final; and they had already
publicly made themselves His enemy.
Jesus therefore took His healing ministry to more private
venues. Verse 15: "Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.
And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered
them not to make him known."
This is, by the way, an expression of the sheer goodness
of Jesus' grace and compassion. He was not healing merely
for show; in fact, He refused to do that. He was genuinely
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 10
concerned for people's needs. His healings reflected a real
love and tenderness, not merely a desire to demonstrate His
power in a public way. Matthew underscores Christ's tender
compassion with that quote from Isaiah in verses 18-21,
where he says He won't break the bruised reed or quench the
smoking flax. That's a way of saying He will restore that
which is blemished or useless, rather than discarding those
things. He is merciful beyond anything we can imagine, and
that mercy is an expression of the tender, compassionate
heart of Christ. It is real, not just for show.
So when it became too dangerous to perform healings in
public, He withdrew and healed people privately. How many
were healed we have no clue, but this passage says it was
"great multitudes," and the apostle John indicates that the
New Testament records only a tiny fraction of the miracles
Jesus did while on earth. John says in John 21:25, "There are
also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them
to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain
the books that would be written."
So this was a widespread, far-reaching ministry of healing
all who came to him. B. B. Warfield said this about Jesus'
When our Lord came down to earth He drew heaven with
Him. The signs which accompanied His ministry were but
the trailing clouds of glory which He brought from
heaven, which is His home. The number of the miracles
The Sign of Jonah 11
which He wrought may easily be underrated. It has been
said that in effect He banished disease and death from [the
land of Israel] for the three years of His ministry. If this is
exaggeration it is pardonable exaggeration. Wherever He
went, He brought a blessing.
And even though nearly all those healings were done outside
the public arena, Jesus' reputation spread, and the Pharisees
became more and more antagonistic.
Then in verse 22, Matthew describes how Jesus healed a
demon-possessed man who was both blind and mute. That
was a remarkable miracleCa kind of triple miracle, because
the man's muteness was healed, his blindness was healed,
and he was freed from demonic control. Furthermore, this
healing took place in front of many witnesses, and verse 23
says "all the people were amazed, and" they began to apply
Messianic titles to Jesus "Can this be the Son of David?"
So this was a spectacular, public display of Jesus' divine
authority, and verse 24 says the Pharisees heard about it
almost immediately. From Luke's account, it appears that
some of the Pharisees were already in the crowd. Or perhaps
someone ran and got them immediately. And these religious
elitists conferred amongst themselves, having already
determined to destroy Jesus if they could (v. 14), and they
gave their verdict (v. 24): "When the Pharisees heard it, they
said, 'It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man
casts out demons.'"
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 12
And they deliberately attributed to Satan the works that
the Holy Spirit was doing through Jesus. They knew better,
but they wanted to deceive people. So this was a deliberate
blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
So this is that famous passage where Matthew recounts
Jesus' words about the unpardonable sin. That's a whole
'nother series of sermons, and you can listen to the
recordings of those messages if you like. But the bottom-line
lesson is this: The key factor that made their sin
unpardonable was their deliberate opposition to Christ in
spite of the fact that they believedCor had every reason to
believeCthat He was indeed the Messiah of God. Yet for
political and pragmatic reasons they opposed Him anyway.
And it was their deliberate opposition to Christ in the full
light of who He was that made their sin unforgivable.
So Jesus warns the people about unforgivable nature of
the Pharisees' sin. He uses the harshest kind of language to
address the Pharisees directly. in verse 34 he says to them,
"You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are
evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."
And He informs them that they will face a harsh judgment
for their willful sin.
Now, it's at this point in the argument where the Pharisees
ask Him for a sign (v. 38): "Then some of the scribes and
Pharisees answered him, saying, 'Teacher, we wish to see a sign
The Sign of Jonah 13
It's a sneering, cynical request, full of contempt and
willful unbelief. Remember, He had just done a spectacular
triple miracle right before their eyes. He cast out a demon,
opened a man's eyes, and loosed his tongue. He had
performed multitudes of healings known and seen by many.
The masses at this point had no question about the
authenticity of Christ. It was only the Pharisees who
demanded more proof. The fact is, they had plenty of signs,
if they had only had eyes to see.
But what they were asking for here was something even
greater. In the parallel passage in Luke 11:16, Luke tells us
they were "seeking . . . a sign from heaven." What they
wanted was a sign of astronomical proportions, a sign in the
heavensCperhaps something along the lines of what was
prophesied by Joel (2:31), when "The sun shall be turned to
darkness, and the moon to blood." They wanted proof on their
own terms. Having rejected all the evidence before their very
eyes, they claimed to be willing to believe if He would
submit to their wills and produce the kind of evidence they
And this demand for a sign became a frequent taunt. Luke
uses a verb tense that emphasizes the relentless way they
hounded Him with this dare. Luke says they "kept seeking
from him a sign from heaven."
But that kind of attitude is the very essence of unbelief.
The Pharisees were already so determined in their opposition
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 14
that no amount of evidence whatsoever would have turned
their hearts from unbelief. That's why Jesus said their sin was
And He flatly refused to produce a heavenly sign on
demand, telling them (Matthew 12:39) "An evil and
adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given
to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah."
In other words, you'll have your sign, but on my terms and
in my time. I'm not going to do signs on demand for an evil
and adulterous generation. But keep your eyes open for the
sign of Jonah.
And here's a clue about the sign (v. 40): "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
He's talking about His resurrection, of course. And here's
an interesting footnote: In the gospel of John, when Jesus
was challenged to produce a sign, he gave a similar response.
John 2:18-19: "The Jews said to him, 'What sign do you show
us for doing these things?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this
temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'" That, of course, is a
reference to the resurrection as well.
So the resurrection of Christ was a significant,
unparalleled sign. Here is a miracle that involves no human
agency. There is no explanation for it except divine power.
Healings can be attributed to psychological causes or natural
The Sign of Jonah 15
processes. Even signs in the heavens can be written off as
natural phenomena, eclipses, conjunctions of planets, and so
on. But a resurrection must be the work of God. And the
resurrection of Christ, foretold by Him repeatedly, proved
conclusively that He is everything He ever claimed to be. It
was the only sign God needed to give to affirm his Son,
because any other sign would be anticlimactic.
But, I said at the outset, "the sign of Jonah" is more
complex than the resurrection alone. This is a multifaceted
sign. The resurrection is at the heart of it, but there's more.
And for this, we turn to the passage that will consume the
remainder of our time this morning, the gospel of Luke,
chapter 11, beginning at verse 29.
Now this passage exactly parallels Matthew 12, the
passage we have been looking at. So you have the context
already. Here's the same event from Luke's account (vv.
29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say,
"This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign,
but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.
30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment
with the men of this generation and condemn them, for
she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 16
Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is
32 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.
I want you to notice, first of all that in Luke's account, there
is no explicit mention of the Resurrection. Luke actually
bypasses (or perhaps assumes) the point about the
resurrection, and probes into some deeper aspects of the sign
Now I've been saying this is a multifaceted sign. Luke
highlights three aspects of it. It involves a message. It
involves a miracle, and it involves a man. Let's examine
these one at a time.
1. THE MESSAGE
Luke omits the part about the Son of man being three days
and three nights in the heart of the earth. Some commentators
see this as a discrepancy in the two accounts. Matthew
explains the sign of Jonah as a reference to the resurrection,
but Luke seems to draw his parallel between the ministry of
Jonah and the ministry of Christ. Verse 30: "For as Jonah
became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man
be to this generation."
The Sign of Jonah 17
And how was Jonah a sign to the Ninevites? He preached
repentance to them. Nineveh is 600 miles from the ocean
where Jonah was spit out from the fish. In all likelihood, no
one from Nineveh saw the fish regurgitate the prophet, and
there's no hint in the book of Jonah that the Ninevites even
knew about his ride in the belly of the fish. Jonah just
showed up one day in Nineveh and began preaching
repentance. And it was in that capacity that he was a sign to
Luke underscores this in verse 32: "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."
It's as if Jesus is saying, the Ninevites had no heavenly
signs. What they got was a simple, straightforward message
of repentance from a bedraggled prophet, and they repented
at that. They had no display of miracles, no signs and
wonders to stun them out of unbelief. Yet they repented at
The Pharisees had already seen an incomparably greater
display of miracles than anyone in Nineveh had ever seen.
As a matter of fact, in the history of the world, there had
never been a display of miracles like these. No one had ever
come to Jesus for healing whom He couldn't healCand yet
these Pharisees refused to believe in Him. Therefore, the
Ninevites, who repented when they heard the message of
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 18
repentance, would stand in judgment against the unbelieving
Pharisees of Jesus' generation.
So this was a deep rebuke with several layers, all
answering the Pharisees' demand for a sign. Their challenge
to Jesus to produce a sign was simply an excuse for their
unbelief, but it would not work as an excuse before the
throne of God, because the Ninevites, who repented without
a sign, would be there at the judgment seat to testify against
these unbelieving Pharisees, who rejected Christ in spite of a
plethora of proofs and evidences He had given them. This
was a very strong rebuke from the lips of our Lord.
By the way, some of the harshest rebukes in Scripture are
aimed at the kind of unbelief that justifies itself by
demanding a sign. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:22, "Jews
demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ
crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles."
Have you ever thought about what that verse is saying?
The Jews demand a sign; we give them a stumbling-block.
The Greeks want wisdom and profound philosophy; we give
them foolishness. The power of the gospel is in the message
itself. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, for
those who have ears to hear. Those who refuse to hear will
not be able to excuse their unbelief by hiding behind a
demand for signs and wonders.
The Sign of Jonah 19
2. THE MIRACLE
But that does not exclude signs and wonders altogether.
Hebrews 2:3-4 says the gospel message "was declared at first
by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while
God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various
miracles . . . ."
So here's point two of my outline: The sign of Jonah
involved a Miracle. And there is an undeniable miraculous
element in the sign of Jonah the prophet. In Jonah, the type,
this involved his being preserved three days and three nights
in the belly of a great fish. In Christ, the antitype, it involved
His emergence from the heart of the earth, from whence He
came forth alive after three days in the grave.
Matthew made this meaning explicit. Luke's account
merely implies it, in verse 29, when Jesus says no sign will
be given except one. We noted in verse 16 that the Pharisees
were asking for a miracle of astronomical proportions. They
wanted one of those earth-shaking, vast, undeniable
miraclesCso great that no one could deny it. They would
have such a miracle, but only after their rebellious unbelief
had reached the point where they put their own Messiah to
And when the sign they asked for eventually came, many
of them were so hardened that they refused to heed. Christ
emerged from the belly of the earth after three days and three
nights. Multitudes in Jerusalem believed. On the day of
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 20
Pentecost alone, three thousand souls were added to the
church. But most of the Jewish leaders, the scribes and
Pharisees who opposed Jesus during His earthly life with
such stubborn unbelief, those men continued in their
unbelief, and they rejected the Resurrected Christ as well.
Remember that incident shortly after Pentecost when
Peter and John healed a lame man in the Temple? And Peter
preached a remarkable sermon in which he demonstrated that
all the prophets had pointed the way to Christ. Then Acts 4:1
1 as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the
captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them,
2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people
and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until
the next day, for it was already evening.
Even when they got the miraculous sign they demanded, they
refused to believe. They were imprisoned in their own
I said there is a third aspect to the sign of Jonah the
prophet. The first was the message. The second was the
miracle. Third is the man himself.
The Sign of Jonah 21
3. THE MAN
These Jewish leaders were in danger of hardening their
hearts to the point where they were impervious to any sign or
wonder, so Jesus pointed them back to the most rebellious
hard-hearted prophet of all, Jonah.
Jonah, the man, was the only sign God gave to the
Ninevites. The closest beach to Nineveh is more than 400
miles to the west. So the people of Nineveh didn't personally
witness Jonah's emergence from the fish. But they surely
knew what had happened to him, or they learned about it in
due time. Here was a man who, having been thrown off a
ship in the midst of a violent storm, should have died. He
came to them as one from the dead, a living token of God's
power. His very presence in their city signified the amazing
power of God.
Furthermore, he was a Jewish prophet, and the Jews were
the enemies of the Assyrians. So his presence in NinevehCa
Jewish prophet preaching repentanceCalso signified a
remarkable, superhuman boldness. His ministry in Nineveh
was a living display of the power of God.
Notice Luke's language in verse 30: "as Jonah became a
sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this
generation." There the stress is on Jonah, the man, as the sign
And the parallel is Christ, the man, as a sign to this
generation. He signifies the very embodiment of the power
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 22
of God, displayed graphically by His resurrection from the
dead. He is set before us as a sign of that resurrection power,
and each of us is faced with the same choice as the Ninevites:
Persist in unrepentant unbelief and be destroyed, or repent
and believe, and receive the mercy of God.
Christ Himself, crucified and risen from the dead, is the
sign of Jonah the prophet. His message of repentance and the
miracle of His resurrection are important aspects of that sign,
but it is the man Christ Jesus, the person of Christ Himself,
who embodies the sign of Jonah the Prophet. Christ Himself
is the signCas the Simeon prophesied at His birth (Luke
2:34), "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of
many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed."
Now, listen carefully. This sign is as crucial to you and
me as it was to the scribes and Pharisees in whose hearing
Jesus first spoke these words. I want you to notice how Jesus
expounds on the warning to the Scribes and Pharisees: He
cites two examples of Old Testament Gentiles who
responded with faith when they were given very little light.
Verse 31: "The queen of the South [who is that? The Queen
of Sheba in Solomon's time] will rise up at the judgment with
the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came
from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and
behold, something greater than Solomon is here."
Here's the point: The wisdom of Solomon was sufficient
to attract the Queen of Sheba from a long distance. She had
The Sign of Jonah 23
no sign from heaven. She had very little light. Yet her
response signified true faith. How much more accountable
are those who have had exposure to the infinitely greater
wisdom of Christ, accompanied by the sign of His
resurrection from the dead? The Queen of Sheba will stand
in judgment against all those who refuse a greater light. No
one will be able to plead that the light was not bright enough
or the sign was not convincing enough. The conversion of
the Queen of Sheba destroys that claim.
Verse 32: "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." Those people repented at the preaching of Jonah,
who merely escaped death, and who brought them a message
of condemnation. How much more accountable will those
people be who reject Jesus, risen from the dead, and refuse to
repent at His gospel of Grace?
We have been given superior light. The wisdom of the
gospel alone should be sufficient to awaken a response of
humble faith in us. Failing that, we have the testimony of a
risen Savior. To whom much is given, much shall be
We live in an age when skepticism is popular. I constantly
run into people who imagine that they are wiser than God.
You hear people who, like the Pharisees, say, "Convince me,
and I will believe." That is the most ignorant of all unbelief,
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 24
because the demand for proof destroys the possibility of
faith. Romans 8:24: "In . . . hope we were saved. Now hope
that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?"
There will come a time when our faith shall be swallowed up
in sight, but for now, we are to walk by faith, not by sight.
Yet, Scripture says, the things we lay hold of by faith are
more lasting than the things we can apprehend by sight.
Second Corinthians 4:18: "We look not to the things that are
seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are
seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
The demand for proof destroys the possibility of faith. It
is no valid excuse for unbelief. No one will stand in the
judgment and be able to justify unbelief by claiming
insufficient proof or inadequate evidenceCbecause
multitudes who have repented with far less light than we
have will testify against those who remain in unbelief before
the throne of God.
Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of things
hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." The quest for
confirming signs and wonders ends where real faith begins.
Signs and wonders have their place, but faith does not
require them. Jesus said to Thomas (John 20:29), "Have you
believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who
have not seen and yet have believed."
And a lack of confirming signs and wonders is no excuse
The Sign of Jonah 25
We have the gospel of a risen Savior. That is a far brighter
light than the preaching of Jonah brought to the city of
Nineveh. Yet those people repented. God will hold us
accountable for what we do with the great light He has given
I'd be remiss in a message like this not to spell out clearly
what the gospel message is. This is the message in a nutshell:
Christ died as a sin-bearer. Though He himself was utterly
sinless, perfectly holy before God, God punished Him on the
cross with the full penalty of sin. That meant an outpouring
of divine wrath. God, in that eternal moment on the cross,
turned away from His Son, and the full penalty of our guilt
was laid on Christ, as the Old Testament had prophesied
(Isaiah 53:5-6): "He was wounded for our transgressions; he
was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement
that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we
like sheep have gone astray; we have turnedCevery oneCto his
own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
And just as He bore our sins, we who trust Him reap the
merit of His perfect righteousness. Scripture says in Romans
4:5, the one who believes on him who the ungodly,
righteousness is imputed to that person. And thus God
redeems all those who turn to Christ alone as savior, not
because of anything they do to merit God's favorCfor no
sinner could ever earn such merit. But God redeems them
because of what Christ has done on their behalf.
Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 26
And so I urge you this morning to be like the Ninevites,
who laid hold of the dim light that was offered them, and
repented from their sin and unbelief, and stepped into the
bright light of divine grace by faith alone.