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 from Him.
During one of those encounters (Matthew 12:33-42), Jesus responded to their desire to see Him perform a miracle by referring to part of the story of 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 seemed to align 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?
Maybe “God is love” is more than just some pious sounding platitude?
Not only did Jonah 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 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 said, “I want you to go tell those people over there that if they continue sinning it will cost them dearly” and Jonah patently refused. It got even worse. Ultimately, Jonah went and preached a rather snarky message to the Ninevites (Jonah 3:4) fully expecting them to reject it. Surprise. They didn’t. And what was 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 celebrate 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 right out and said what many today are thinking but don’t have the courage to come out and say when the situation is similar.
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 (Jonah 4:2).
Another way to put it would be something like this:
“Lord, this is exactly why I ran from you and your command in the first place. I just knew you would forgive those who don’t deserve it!”
Then, just to make absolutely sure God knew just how disgusted he was with His mercy Jonah added,
Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live (Jonah 4:3).
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.
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 have died than see the people he hated get a reprieve from a merciful God. The book is only four chapters long. It is a short and easy read.
That brings us back to the question…why did Jesus even mention Jonah when pressed to prove His nature by performing a miracle? One of the worst case studies in the Bible where it concerns faithfulness, yieldedness, and obedience.
Look carefully. Jesus did not align Himself with Jonah. Rather, He aligned Himself with what Jonah went through that ultimately resulted in God’s forgiveness and mercy. Did you catch this phrase in Jonah’s petulant tirade to God:
[I]t is better for me to die than to live.
“We wish to see a sign.” “No sign will be given…except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” The focus is not on Jonah’s character but on the sign. A man whose life was swallowed up. Yet it was that act of being swallowed wholly (and the subsequent renewal when he was vomited out from his watery grave) that ultimately resulted in Nineveh’s pardon.
“You want a sign?” says Jesus. “I will go willingly into the belly of the beast so that an entire world may avert spiritual disaster!”
What Jonah did very ungraciously and unwillingly resulted in a temporary reprieve for a big city.
Imagine what a loving and merciful Son and Servant of God could accomplish by allowing His life to be swallowed up for others!
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
You want a sign?