Friday, May 30, 2008

The Sign of Jonah

“‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ So he left them and departed.”

- Matthew 16:4

In this passage we see two different groups with two sets of beliefs, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, coming to Jesus united in their goal of demeaning the Son of God. They demanded a sign from Him to prove that He was heaven sent. Their hearts were not ones that truly desired to seek God. Rather, they were seeking to disprove and disqualify Jesus. They were looking for a reason to not believe.

Jesus then retorts back with this comment calling them and evil and adulterous generation. He then says this line form the Old Testament, referring to Jonah. All of them would have known exactly what this passage was about. They most likely would have had it memorized word for word. Yet in their piety they had completely missed the point.

So what did Jesus mean when He said that the only sign will be the sign of Jonah? He could have referred to countless other examples from the Old Testament. But he specifically chose this one.

Now almost every single one of the kids at Ignite knows the story of Jonah. They have mental pictures of a whale swallowing him up and then spitting him back out on shore. But they have no idea what the story truly was about or how it applies to them today. This is the equivalent of the understanding of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Who although had eyes, were blind and ears, were still deaf.

So what is the sign of Jonah and how did apply to the Pharisees and Sadducees?

Earlier in Matthew we see what this “sign of Jonah” means. Chapter 12 verses 38-45 of Matthew show us 2 different aspects of this sign. The first is a parallel of Jonah’s time in the belly of the fish with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. The other aspect is the people of Nineveh standing up at the time of judgment condemning that generation. He says that these people repented by the mere words of Jonah and now here was one greater than Jonah. Jesus.

But they were truly blinded by their own piety. I have heard it said that all sin is rooted in pride and selfishness. Two things that the Pharisees and the Sadducees surely had.

However, the book of Jonah, besides being a foreshadow of God’s mercy upon those who fear Him and repent, mostly tells the story of a man who knew God intimately; a man who knew that God was a god of compassion. In fact, when God told him to go to Nineveh he ran away, not because he was scared to tell the message of God’s coming wrath but because he knew that God would relent and show compassion if they repented.

He didn’t want to be used as an instrument to bring those people to repentance. He felt that they deserved God’s wrath and he resented the fact that God would have mercy on them.

Even after the people of Nineveh repented, Jonah sat down next to Ninenveh to “see what would become of the city.” He couldn’t let it go.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, like Jonah, believed that they were the only ones worthy of God’s mercy. And when Jesus showed compassion on others, even Gentiles, they resented it.

This goes beyond talks of Arminianism vs. Calvinism or Limited atonement vs. General atonement. This was not a theological debate about the nature of God’s grace.

This speaks more to a selfish heart that makes the Gospel about man’s merit or “worthiness” to receive grace rather than being about God’s simple pleasure in showing grace to whom He chooses and loves. This negates the true of meaning of grace and becomes man-centered.

Applying this to ministry, sometimes we see people that we deem as “great sinners” in the church receiving compassion and blessings from the Lord. And too often we become indignant. We limit God’s grace to ourselves.

“Why is “so and so” allowed to serve?”
“Who let “so and so” in here?”

And instead of having a heart of love that seeks to reconcile that person we shun them out of the body. Yet it is God’s compassion for the people of Nineveh that prevailed when fear and repentance entered the picture.

As leaders, our primary objective should be to always seek to communicate the message of God’s grace and mercy through fear and repentance first. God is more glorified through wolves becoming sheep rather then when wolves are beat down by the shepherd’s staff.

Of course if that message is not received and sin continues to seek and destroy those of the flock then by all means protect your flock and come out swinging. All seasoned with little bit of grace of course.

Dear Jesus,
Help to know full and well the depravity of my own nature and where you have pulled me up from that I may never judge and act first without first fulfilling the call to preach your grace. I love you.

In Jesus name amen.