In the Gospel of Matthew, the teachers of the Law and religious leaders asked Jesus for a sign to prove that he was from God. Jesus retorts that people like them make great weathermen, but terrible current event analysts:
“He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away” (Matthew 16:2-4).
The sign of Jonah (Jonah was a runaway prophet who was in a whale’s belly for three days), refers to Jesus’ death and resurrection over three days, an event predicted in scripture for hundreds of years, and one that would change hearts and history. The very experts in scripture had failed to recognize that their Messiah stood before them. We can be blind to what is happening right in front of us, especially when things aren’t jibing with our assumptions and pre-conceived notions.
The reason Jonah ran away from God’s directive to warn the Ninevites to repent was because he hated those people and believed they did not deserve to be saved! When God does forgive the Ninevites, “To Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:1-2).
Chad Pecknold, a theologian, states that it seems the way Jesus reads the sign of Jonah is as a clarifying, transformative, directive and predictive sign. Where God is, there is always love and transformation occurring, even though we may not see the results right away.
The reason I write about Jonah is because I see God at work in the hearts and minds of His servants. Jonah’s heart needed to be changed--and yet he was God’s man of the hour! God is at work in the hearts of His people, because we have been called to love people so much that we would die for them, like Jesus did. To be transformed requires change, and change usually comes with a cost. Oswald Chambers once said, “You may often have to watch Jesus Christ wreck a life before He saves it." This "hard word" does not set well with us.
We see great pain, struggle, wars and rumors of wars all around us: failing marriages, struggles with addiction, adultery, church in-fighting, power struggles, racism, prejudice, hatred of women, disdain toward men--and these occur within the very people who claim to follow God.
Many of us point the finger at others to show how terrible things are in the world and proclaim that is how we know we are in the end times. That’s what Jonah did; that is what the Pharisees and Sadducees did. Next time we are tempted to do that, let’s step in front of a mirror. But then remember the sign of Jonah: God is in the business of transformation, redemption and hope--even in the belly of the whale.
Read the Book of Jonah here.
The image of Jonah is from a website that supports Ethiopian Jews.