1 Timothy 4
“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.’ He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”’ —Matthew 12:38-39
To the Pharisees’ and teachers of the law’s request to see a sign, Jesus responded, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40). Jesus cloaked the gospel in the sign that they were given through the prophet Jonah, where He was referring to His death, burial and resurrection.
But why the sign of the prophet Jonah? It was no mistake that Jesus chose Jonah, who was a prophet amongst the northern tribes during a difficult and dark period of Israel’s history. The northern tribes were stubborn and obstinate people; dozens of prophets were sent with God’s instructions to bring them back to repentance, but they were hardhearted people and would not listen. Then, God decided to raise up Jonah and call him to the surrounding nations and he was to bring God’s Word to the people of Nineveh. Jonah despised God’s command and ran the opposite direction.
Jonah boarded a ship and sailed as far away as possible from Nineveh. A furious storm came upon the ship and Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed by a huge fish. After three days in the belly of the fish, Jonah cried out to God, demonstrating his humility, repentance and dependence on God. Finally, the fish barfed Jonah onto a beach. Jonah obeyed God’s command and walked through the city of Nineveh for three days preaching a sermon consisting of eight words, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). The Ninevites believed God’s Word, repented of their wickedness and clothed themselves with sackcloth and ashes, humbling themselves and praying to God that this would not happen.
We would imagine Jonah celebrating God’s activity amongst the Gentiles and how fruitful his ministry was in the city of Nineveh. But that is not how we encountered Jonah at the end of his book. Jonah was angry that God displayed compassion on the Ninevites. In fact, Jonah was more upset about God’s compassion than he was caring for the people of the world.
Through Jonah, what was Jesus saying to the Pharisees? Although Jesus’s activity was evident amongst them, they continued to harden their hearts. Even when the Gentiles responded to the work of the Messiah, the Pharisees became even
more obstinate. Like the Pharisees, we may demand Jesus to respond a certain way towards people, but may we surrender our agenda to His greater mission in this world.
Dear Jesus, forgive me for being stubborn and obstinate, being upset with Your mercy to others rather than rejoicing. Please give me a willing spirit, like the people of Nineveh, to humble myself to Your will. Thank You, Jesus.