The more spiritual, theological, and practical sense Jesus made when speaking, the more His detractors demanded physical manifestations (miracles) of His power and authority. They were in effect sticking their fingers in their ears while shouting “la, la, la, la, la” as He spoke. It’s almost funny. The more He unveiled the Divine Mind the more they demanded physical proof about Him; not what He was saying.
During one of those encounters (Matthew 12:33-42) Jesus responded to their desire to see Him perform a miracle by aligning Himself with the prophet Jonah.
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.
Now if you know anything about Jonah you have to scratch your head wondering why on earth Jesus aligned Himself with that crazy old prophet. Jonah freely admitted to being a bigot. He had nothing but disdain and contempt for the citizens of Nineveh. The Ninevites weren’t Jews. Why on earth did God ask a Hebrew prophet to go preach a message of repentance to a bunch of idol worshiping Gentiles who weren’t doing anything but exporting idolatry and proudly satiating their fleshly lusts?
I don’t know, maybe “God is love” is more than just some pious sounding platitude?
Not Jonah. Not only did he refuse to go on the 500 or so mile trip to the city, choosing rather to embark on a ship heading 2,500 miles in the opposite direction but he clearly said that the intent was to get “away from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3). Wait a minute. We have a prophet in the Bible who not only willfully disobeys his God but makes sure everyone knows the act of disobedience flowed from his desire to get away from His presence?
Do you see where this is going? God says, “I want you to go tell those people over there that I don’t appreciate their sinning” and Jonah not only says “No!” but “Hell no!” (don’t be offended…remember what Jesus said about the story?). And it gets even worse. Ultimately, Jonah does go and preach a rather snarky message to the Ninevites (Jonah 3:4) fully expecting them to reject it. Surprise. They don’t. And what is the response from that old mean hateful genocidal God of the Old Testament? “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (3:10).
Now what prophet or preacher doesn’t do a jig when sinners actually heed the message of repentance and receive forgiveness from God? Jonah, that’s who!
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster (4:1-2).
God’s mercy ticked the old prophet off “exceedingly.” Then he just came out and said what many today who feel the same way don’t have the intestinal fortitude to actually say. “I knew you’d do it. This is why I did everything I could to get away from You. I just knew you would up and forgive them!”
Let that sink in. Prophet. Bible. Bigot. He hated the Ninevites so much he tried everything he could to prevent their salvation. And when he failed he actually called on God to murder him (“O Lord, please take my life from me” 4:3).
All those VBS and Sunday School lessons about the smiling guy in the whale’s belly are nothing but tripe. Jonah was a mean old bigot who literally would rather die than see the people he hated get a reprieve from a merciful God. The book is only four chapters long. Read it for yourself.
That brings us back to the question…why did Jesus even mention Jonah when pressed to prove His value by performing a miracle? One of the worst case studies in the Bible where it concerns faithfulness, yieldedness, and obedience.
To say, “Just as Jonah…so will the Son of Man be…” is to align Himself with the old bigot. What gives?
“We wish to see a sign.” “No sign will be given…except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Jonah was an old bigot who hated people. Nevertheless, God used him anyway to save an entire city from destruction. It took putting the old man in a fish’s belly to get him to Ninevah but the result was 120,000 people averted physical and spiritual disaster. “You want a sign?” says Jesus. Jonah was responsible for one city averting disaster. Jesus was saying, “I will go willingly into the belly of the beast so that an entire world may avert disaster!”
If God could use an old bigot to save a city, what might He be able to do with a loving, obedient, and willing Son? Answer?
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
You want a sign?