But he replied to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves a sign. Yet no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”Matthew 12:30 (NIV)
When I was a kid my favorite Bible story was the story of Jonah and the whale.
I liked this story, I think, because it was simple, bold and a little bit humorous. Here’s a guy God calls to go out on a limb for Him and preach His truth, but Jonah refuses and runs away.
Everybody knows you can’t run from God, at least, that’s the lesson I took from the story. Silly Jonah. God sent a storm to follow Jonah and caused him to be thrown overboard where a whale swallowed him up. Three days later Jonah was spit up on the shore and went to do what God told him to in the first place. The End.
That was how I first heard the story and the lesson I took to heart was, do what God asks, or you might end up covered in whale vomit.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that the story doesn’t end there. It goes on to describe how the city of Nineveh responds to Jonah’s message, how God shows mercy on them and how Jonah throws a hissy fit. When I realized how much deeper the story of Jonah is than just being about a man who tried to run away, it stopped being funny.
Jesus said that the only sign he was going to give the pharisees was the sign of Jonah. This, like just about everything else Jesus ever said, pissed the pharisees off. Why? What would the pharisees have understood the sign of Jonah to be? Why was it that Jesus could have scandalized the pharisees with such a seemingly simple off-the-cuff statement?
Over the last few weeks I’ve re-read the story of Jonah several times. All of it this time. The pharisees were concerned with purity, keeping God’s chosen people separate and clean. To a pharisee, the most important thing was to follow the law. A gentile, for no other reason that an accident of birth, could never truly partake in the kingdom of God, the pharisees saw to that. To be a gentile was to be forever separated from the grace and mercy of God.
The sign of Jonah proves that God is more concerned with the condition of a person’s heart than their ethnicity, history or current practices. God’s grace and mercy is available to everyone all the time. The sign of Jonah is the message of the gospel. Law doesn’t matter, history doesn’t matter, ethnicity doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the condition of your heart and the grace of God.
The world today is standing at a crossroads. Many leaders, Christian and otherwise are asking for a sign. What kind of a world will we live in, who’s in, who’s out and what is the will of God? I am afraid no further signs will be given, except for the sign of Jonah. Will you heed it?