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Christ and the Sign of Jonah

April 16, 2017 Series: Jonah and the Rescue of Rebels

Topic: Resurrection Passage: Jonah 2:1–2:10, Matthew 12:38–12:42, 1 Kings 10:1–10:10

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So this is a special day, as you’ve likely realized from the ginormous bulletins.  It’s true, today is a very special day, and maybe today is the most special day of the year.  Today is the day we celebrate the life of Christ - the raised up, defeated death, forever life of Christ.  Last Sunday we remembered the crowds cheering “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” as Christ entered Jerusalem.  On Thursday we reflected on his last night, the evening he broke bread with his disciples, plead with God in the garden, and was betrayed.  On Good Friday we remembered that all we have and all our hope is set in Christ’s death, when he carried our shame and our debt and our record and he nailed it to the cross, dying the death of a criminal on our behalf.

 

But today is the best day, I think.

 

Today is the day that we remember that Christ could not be held by death.  Today is the day we  celebrate when Christ conquered the grave.  Because that victory means something.  It means that there’s no one like Jesus, who bore our sins and the wrath of God.  It means there’s no one like Jesus, who defeated death so that we may live forever.  It means there’s no one like Jesus, who will stand at the right hand of God to advocate for his people.  It means there’s no one like Jesus, who not only took away our death but secured our inheritance, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters.  He has won eternal life, and that life could be yours!  Could be.  You have been given an opportunity to enjoy the life of Christ forever and ever and ever.  And that opportunity, friends, is certainly your only hope.

 

How will you respond to the death and life of Christ?

 

That’s the question, isn’t it?  We talk every Easter (every week!) about Jesus, and the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.  But none of that means anything if it exists in your mind merely as an idea.  How you act upon the thing is what really matters.  What you do with it - how you respond to the death and life of Christ - that is certainly the most important decision you’ll ever make.

 

And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

 

So, sometimes the Bible just does all the work for you.  I mean, in some cases there are stories or poems or proverbs that you’ve gotta work really hard to understand, with really tough concepts to digest and a lot of abstract allusions to decipher.  Those passages require a lot of work to get.  They’re always worth the time, but it’s not always easy.  But sometimes there are passages that lay it all out there - make all the connections and confront you with all the tough questions - so that all you’ve got to do is follow the giant, neon, blinking red arrows to get where you’re supposed to go.  Those passages are my favorite passages to preach, because all the work’s already done.  We’re about to look at one of those passages.  And I think the text we’re about to read is super cool because Jesus himself did all the work.  This sermon is Jesus’ sermon.  We’re going to look back at a very cool moment in Jesus’ ministry, and we’re going to watch as he points back to two stories in the Old Testament in explicit terms and says, “those stories were about me, and they mean something for you.”  We’re going to read the words of Christ, and then we’re going to read those stories he’s referenced, and then we’ll try to answer the question that Jesus is raising.  So let’s take a look.  Open your bibles to Matthew 12:38.

 

Read with me.

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.

 

Very briefly, there’s just a few things you need to understand.  When Jesus was walking around Israel, preaching the gospel and healing and working miracles, people usually responded to him in one of two ways.  The bulk of people in Israel were dazzled.  They saw the things Jesus was doing and the people Jesus was healing and they were just amazed.  These folks followed Jesus everywhere, and they did it mostly to see the amazing things he was doing.  This is why Jesus had something like a rockstar status in Israel.  Everywhere he went, people followed him there.  Small rural communities were overrun with crowds when Jesus was walking through.  They just wanted to see him do amazing things.  And on the best day, one or two among the crowd would ask the right question.  “Is this the son of David?”  


But there were also others in Israel who didn’t respond so positively to Jesus.  This group is made up of mostly the religious elite.  They had been the prized and respected and revered religious authorities in Israel.  Had been.  But when Jesus came, his teaching turned everything upside down.  His emphasis on humility, on repentance, on heart-oriented obedience, and on the work of the Christ,  undermined everything they had been trying to do.  And they hated Jesus.  

 

Now this second group, when they saw Jesus doing something they didn’t like, or when they heard Jesus saying something that they didn’t like, they’d ask him to prove himself.  “If you’re going to do that, if you’re going to say that, you need to prove to us that you have that kind of authority, that kind of blessing from God.  Prove it.  Prove to us that you are who you say you are.”

 

And Jesus consistently responds by pointing to the resurrection.  You want to know who I am?  You want proof that I have this kind of authority?  Kill me and watch me rise again.  

 

There’s a great example of this in John 2.  You don’t need to turn there, just listen.

 

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

So 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.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

So Jesus wrecks the Temple vendors, and he drives out the oxen and the sheep and the pigeons with a whip.  He cleans up.  He sees what the Temple has become, and he won’t stand that type of blasphemy.  But this was big business, and the Jews are upset because Jesus disrupted big business, and they respond with a question.  “Prove to us you have the authority to do something like this.”  Jesus’ answer? “Kill me and watch me rise again.”  Not a miracle.  He doesn’t sit them down and materialize bread and fish from nothing.  He doesn’t calm the storm.  He doesn’t heal a crippled man.  No.  “Kill me and watch me rise again.”  That’s what he says, and then he walks away.

 

Now our passage is a lot like this passage.  Jesus had just said a few things that stirred up the anger of the religious elite.  And these guys are upset, and they demand that Jesus proves that he is who he says he is, and that he has the authority to do the things that he does.  But what does Jesus say?  Glance back at Matthew 12.

 

“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.

 

And so this isn’t unexpected, because that reaction is nearly the same as what we saw at the temple.  The crowd demands that Jesus prove himself.  Jesus says, “watch me rise from the dead.  That’s your proof.”  But I love this passage because this time Jesus doesn’t stop and walk away, like he does at the Temple.  Keep reading.

 

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.

 

So Jesus doesn’t just say, “You want proof?  Kill me and watch me rise again.”  He looks at this crowd of angry Pharisees and he says, “Look at Ninevah.  Look at the Queen of the South.  That’s how you should respond to me.  When you see who I am, and when you hear my words, and when you see the things that I do.  You should respond like those gentile responded.  You keep shaking your fist and demanding my death, they’re going to rise up against you at the judgment.

 

Now, that’s a powerful response on a couple of levels.  First, these men are the most jewish of jews, and they pride themselves on being better than the other nations because they are chosen by God.  So when Jesus sees their heart of pride that hates the work of God, he points to the example of gentiles who appropriately responded to the work of God.  And that is cutting right to the heart of the pride of the Pharisees.  

 

But that isn’t, I think, the best part.  This answer is, I think, a stunning display of mercy in the face of shaking fists and murderous intentions.  Jesus doesn’t walk away.  They deserved that.  I mean, this is the author of life, the fountain of all good things.  So when the Pharisees are meaning to murder him, and are actively trying to undermine his teaching, they deserve his wrath, and they certainly don’t deserve his words.  But he doesn’t walk away.  Instead, he teaches them.  He teaches them how they ought to respond.  He teaches them what an appropriate response looks like.

 

“You want proof that I am who I say I am?  When you kill me, I’ll rise again.  And when I rise again, this is how you should respond to me.  When I defeat death and rise from the grave, you’re going to see clearly that I am who I say I am, and that I have all authority.  And when you see these things, this is how you should respond.”


And he opens the scriptures and teaches them.

 

How much mercy in the son of God, to speak so kindly to murderous rebels.  This is a picture of the mercy of God in Christ toward you.  As you shake your fist at the Savior, he is teaching and saving and serving.  We are these men; all of us, at some point, are demanding proof from the Son of God, ignoring his work and his provision and his words.  And yet he serves and he teaches and he saves.

 

So this morning I want to look closely at his words, because we’re trying to answer that one central question: “How should I respond to the life and death of Jesus?”  And he himself says we should respond to his life and death in two ways:  Like the Ninevites responded to the warnings of Jonah, and like the Queen of the South responded to the wisdom of Solomon.  So let’s get to it.  Turn to Jonah 2.

 

Read with me.

 

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

For you cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away

from your sight;

yet I shall again look

upon your holy temple.’

The waters closed in over me to take my life;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped about my head

at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the pit,

O LORD my God.

When my life was fainting away,

I remembered the LORD,

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

Those who pay regard to vain idols

forsake their hope of steadfast love.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

 

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh,that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey.And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe,covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

 

So you remember the story, right?  Jonah’s running from God, literally as far as possible away from the people to whom he’s been called.  And his running away is a death sentence for the people of Nineveh, because he’s sent there to warn them of their destruction.  But God’s mercy is greater than Jonah’s hatred, and God won’t let him run away.  He sends the winds, and he sends the waves, and he ushers in a great and powerful storm.  Jonah’s sacrifice is the only way to calm the storms, and so he’s tossed into the sea.  

 

Now there are many pictures of Jesus in the scriptures, foreshadowing the cross, foreshadowing the work and mission and death and life of Christ.  But this one is unmistakable.  Read Jonah’s song, and see the portrait of Jesus laid out before our eyes.  

 

Jonah cried out to God in the belly of Sheol.  That means death.  Sheol is the term used in the scriptures for the grave, for the place dead people go to await the judgment.  Jonah was dead.  Now whether he was using this term in a poetic sense remains a question.  Did he actually die in the sea, with the seaweed wrapped around his head?  This is a question that biblical scholars discuss frequently.  Whether Jonah literally died, or whether he was close to death when God sent the fish.  It’s interesting, but I don’t think that’s the point of this song.  This is a picture of Jesus, and Jesus did die.  

 

Remember that Jonah is always playing two roles.  He is  a picture of us in our rebellion, and he is a picture of Christ in his mission.  He’s always rebel Israel, and he’s always the true Israel.  This poem is perhaps the clearest expression of this dynamic.  Because it’s a picture of the prophet of God, surrendering to death in order to calm the mighty storms, who spends three days and three nights in Sheol, and who rises again to rescue the people of God.

 

But we can’t forget that it’s also a picture of us.  Hopeless in our sin, we would pursue created things even to the point of our own destruction, and yet the mercy of God is always on display, and his grace is always working.

 

Notice the imagery.  Jonah’s sinking into the depths of the sea, wrapped and bound by the weeds, his body lay at the root of the mountain.  And look at how the poem turns.  ”yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”  Jonah turns to the LORD and prays for restoration, and he was raised from death.  This last bit is interesting, because not once does Jonah pray until this point in the story.  When the storm is brewing, when the winds are screaming, when the rains are falling, when the waves are crashing.  Not once does he seek the LORD.  Until he’s here, his body lifeless at the bottom of the sea, wrapped in weeds, his spirit crushed and defeated in Sheol, Jonah remembers the LORD, and he turns and prays for rescue.   And the point of this poem?  “Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

 

Let’s keep moving.  Jonah is rescued from death, and delivered to the shores of Nineveh.  And we know now that it only took a life-threatening storm, drowning in the sea, being consumed by a fish, and being vomited up on dry land for Jonah to realize that it’s probably a better idea to obey God.  And that’s what he does.  Half-heartedly.  He half-heartedly warns the people of Nineveh that destruction looms.  

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey.And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  Now we don’t know if that was the entirety of Jonah’s message, but it wouldn’t surprise me.  He walks one third of the way into the city and literally delivers the briefest warning possible.  Basically, “you’ve got forty days.”  But that’s all it took.  The prophet of God came and warned this people -- knee deep in sin, knee deep in idolatry, knee deep in adultery -- that their pursuit of satisfaction in created things was futile, that their rebellion against God was hopeless.  Eight words.  In forty days you’ll be destroyed.

 

“And the people of Nineveh believed God.”

 

Okay, that’s amazing.  Right?  That’s an amazing response to such a half-hearted sermon.  This gentile people knew only rumors of the work of God.  They knew only whispers and third-hand stories of the power of the God who created the heavens and the earth.  And yet they turned.  Immediately, when they heard that their sin had offended God, when they learned that their actions had earned the wrath of God, they turned.  Immediately.  And how did they turn?

 

They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe,covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

 

When the prophet of God rises from the dead, and you learn that your sin has offended God, stop what you’re doing.  Right now.  You stop eating food and drinking drink and you set aside your comforts.  Right now.  When the prophet of God rises from the dead and asks you to repent, you stop everything and repent and ask for mercy.  That’s the first answer to our question.  The people of Nineveh are an example of radical, world-changing, paradigm shifting repentance.  They stopped everything.  Literally everything.  Their economy shut down.  Their markets shut down.  No more money exchanged, no more food consumed.  They even made their cows fast.  And they set aside their comfortable clothes and wore sackcloth and ashes.  Why?  Because, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

 

So Jesus looks to these Pharisees and says, “You want proof that I am who I say I am, and that I have the authority to say and do what I say and do?  Kill me and watch me rise again.  And when you do, you need to repent.  Just like the people of Nineveh.”  When you see the sign of Jonah, the appropriate response is radical repentance.  Radical, life-changing, paradigm-shifting repentance.  The sign of Jonah should shut down how you used to spend your money, and how you used to spend your time, and how you used to view comforts.  Because “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” The hope of redemption is enough to justify losing everything.  That’s the first answer to our question.

 

For the second answer, we’ll have to turn to 1 Kings.  Look with me at 1 Kings 10.

Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. And when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her.And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants,their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the LORD, there was no more breath in her.

And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, and a very great quantity of spices and precious stones. Never again came such an abundance of spices as these that the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

 

Okay, so you don’t need to know a whole lot about Solomon, except that he put Israel on the map internationally.  Prior to Solomon, Israel was a relatively insignificant nation relative to other nations.  But Solomon, at least at first, loved the LORD, and at the outset of his reign the LORD appeared to Solomon and invited him to ask for something.  Now, Solomon could have asked for his enemies to be crushed, or for great riches.  But he doesn’t.  Solomon asked for wisdom to shepherd God’s people.  That made the LORD happy, and because he asked for wisdom, God gave him wisdom, and everything else too.  So Solomon had great wisdom, lasting peace, and great riches.  And when you’ve got all three of those things, the world starts paying attention.

 

Now if you look back at our passage, you’ll notice that the Queen of Sheba doesn’t come to Israel to praise Solomon.  She comes to test him.  She’d heard all the rumors, and she was curious.  She shows up with all her stuff and she asks him a lot of questions.

 

And then she listens, and she watches.

 

Now you’ve got to pay attention to this moment, because this, I think, is the point.  “When the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants,their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the LORD, there was no more breath in her.”

 

When the Queen heard of great wisdom, she sought it.  And when the Queen saw first-hand the great wisdom, the great riches, the great worship, the great house and kingdom of the great King, it took her breath away.  And then she adores him.  “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.”

 

Adore the great King and worship the great God.  That’s what the Queen did.  She saw the wisdom of the great King Solomon, and she saw the power of his throne, and the riches of his kingdom, and it took her breath away.  She adored Solomon, and she sang his praises, and she worshiped his God, and she gave him all of her stuff.  

 

And something greater than Solomon is here.

 

That’s the second answer to our question.  “How should you respond to the life and death of Jesus?”  How should you respond to the sign of Jonah?

 

Adoration.  You’ve heard of great King who died to save his people.  Be like the Queen of the South.  Leave your routine and seek him.  Take a journey and seek him and ask him tough questions.  And when you find him, and when you see his wisdom and his power and his riches and his kindness and his sacrificial love, adore him.  Adoration and praise.  His power and his wisdom and his kindness and his kingdom ought to take your breath away.  And when you’ve got no breath, gather yourself for a moment and worship the King.  Adoration and worship and glad gifts.   Journey to the throne, behold the wisdom and power and riches of the great King Jesus, and adore him.

 

So these are the only two appropriate responses to the resurrection of Jesus.  Paradigm-shifting, world-shattering repentance, seeking the God who saves with great sorrow over our sins, appealing for mercy to the God who is merciful.  And when that mercy is given, and when you take time to explore the wisdom of God in Christ, adoration.  Adore the King who rescued you.  Adore him for all of his great wisdom, and all of his powerful death-defeating, people-saving strength.  Adore him for his life-giving generosity.  And worship that King.  

 

Very briefly, let’s look at ground-level application.  How do you respond to the life and death of Jesus, right now in real life?  You’ve seen the sign of Jonah.  You’ve seen that Christ has died and risen from the dead.  How do you respond, right now in real life?

 

First, if you’re in sin, it’s time to treat that sin with Nineveh-level gravity.  Stop what you’re doing.  Shut down your routine.  Shut down your comforts.  Stop eating like nothing’s wrong, stop drinking like nothing’s wrong.  What characterized the people of Nineveh?  Within their season of repentance, nothing else mattered.  They stopped everything to rid themselves of sin.  Look, in the lightest terms possible - there’s no decision too radical in quest to defeat sin.  Jesus says, “If you’re right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”  So make radical decisions.  I’m not being hyperbolic here.  If you’re in sin and your job fosters that sin, find another job right now.  If you’re in sin and your phone allows you to be in sin, get a pager and a landline.  And I’m not just talking about marriage-compromising pornography.  I’m also talking about life-sucking devotion to Facebook.  There is no sin too small for radical repentance, and there is no repentance too radical for any sin.  Make world-shattering decisions about your sin.  Your efforts to kill your sin should force the people around you to ask if you’re okay.

 

Second, take a journey to visit the King you’ve been hearing so much about.  Set aside time from your routine to ask tough questions to the wise King Jesus.  Explore the scriptures to find him.  That takes time, not measured in minutes or hours, but in weeks and months.  The right response to the life and death of Jesus is to carve significant chunks out of your routine to seek him.  I don’t know how much time - that’s up to you to decide - but it should mean setting aside other worthwhile initiatives.  It should mean saying no when you’d usually say yes, and for no other reason than you’ve got to take a trip into the scriptures.  And as you seek and find King Jesus, adore him.  In real, tangible ways.  Take a journal with you to the scriptures, and write of the beauty of King Jesus.  Take a guitar or a piano or just your voice and compose songs about the worthy King Jesus.  Be like the Queen.  The wisdom, and power, and riches of Solomon took her breath away.  But as soon as she composed herself she began to adore him.  We’ve all been gifted by the Spirit to adore Christ.  Use your giftings to worship.  










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