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. 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. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here. (NIV)
I say at the outset:
The greatest miracle, the best evidence of God’s work in the world, is a changed life.
Yes, both personal and corporate transformation – not a rearranging or a tweeking of habits – but a wholesale change of heart. New life is new life, and not a reconstituted life.
For many folks, when it comes to any discussion of change and transformation, it is a focus on others changing. Other people need to see things rightly; others who must bend their lives and organizations to how I believe things need to be. As you can tell, putting it in writing and laying it bear sounds an awful lot like pride and hubris. And, it is.
The need for repentance is for everyone, not just a select few or others for whom we believe need to change.
Jesus made waves with many people by hob-nobbing with the least, the lost, and the lowly. Christ actively sought such people out, and healed many of them from sickness, disease, and sin so that they would be united with God and no longer remain on the fringes of society.
Some within the religious establishment of the day did not take the healing ministry of Jesus into consideration because they were not in the transformation business. So, healing miracles which created new life did nothing for them. Jesus was not flexing any real Messiah muscle for them and improving their designs to see Gentiles get beat up and kicked out of Palestine. They even went so far as to ascribe Jesus’ healings as the work of the devil. They wanted a sign from heaven that would authenticate proper Messiah credentials.
Jesus responded by essentially saying there is already a sign that exists, the sign of Jonah. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a whale, so Jesus would be in the earth for three days and nights. The death and resurrection of Jesus is needed, and when faced with this information, the only appropriate response is repentance, a complete U-turn, to a changed life. Jesus brought up the Queen of the South to make the same point: When the ancient Ninevites, who were a sinful people, encountered the person of Jonah, they repented; when the Queen encountered the person of Solomon, she changed.
Therefore, how much more should we change when encountering the person of Christ?
Jesus himself is the sign. Jonah was in the belly of a whale. He was all but dead. But God caused the whale to belch up Jonah, and he went out as a changed man. The experience of having stomach fluids work on a person for three days and nights, some scholars point out that Jonah would have been both spiritually and physically different – bleached completely white and an incredible sight to see!
The whole point of bringing up this sign of Jonah was to communicate the great need for repentance when faced with Jesus, his life, his teaching, his ministry. The appropriate response to Jesus is a changed life.
Jesus was looking for status quo malcontents, and a desire for transformation and new life.
The process of change is hardwired into all creation – from seasons of the year to the seasons of people’s lives – all are designed for a sustained process of time to revolutionize us.
Jesus modeled this for us. He switched his address of heaven and moved into our neighborhood in order to bring us new life. As the Master of conversion, Jesus always extends the invitation to change. All he asks is to let God do the work of change within us, be patient with the construction of the soul he is doing and persist with daily routines of faith individually and with one another.
It pleases Jesus and it is the heart of God to realize new life. Change for change’s sake is not the point. Change that reflects the values of God is the point. And in order to know that, we must hear the Scriptures, and we must pray to seek the mind and heart of God.
God Almighty, we desire to be transformed by you and allow the life of Jesus to be expressed through us. We desire to walk in the light of your spirit. Reveal to us those things in our life that need to be made anew. Allow us to discern between flesh and spirit so that we can choose a healthy holy path. Continue to give us spiritual awareness. Transform us into something new altogether. May our old life and way disappear, and our new life emerge for the blessing of the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Click I Will Rise by Chris Tomlin as we continue in this season of Eastertide with its focus on new life.