Matthew 12:38-42 – The Sign

Jonah in the belly

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.”

But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

“The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent. The queen of Sheba will also stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for she came from a distant land to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Now someone greater than Solomon is here—but you refuse to listen. (NLT)

We often must unlearn before we learn. We need to let go so that we can take on. Repentance is the key to transformation. To repent is to change; and, change involves the humility to admit when we are lost, ask for help, and go in a different direction. The greatest miracle, the best evidence of God’s work in the world, is a changed life – both personal and corporate transformation. Genuine change is not a minor tweak of habits; it is a wholesale reorientation of the heart. New life is not re-branding oneself but is akin to being born again.

For many folks, when it comes to change and transformation, the focus is on others changing – other people need to bend their lives and organizations to how I believe things need to be. As you can tell, this sounds an awful lot like pride and hubris. And, it is.

Repentance and new life is for everyone, not just a select few or others for whom we believe need to change.

Jesus made waves with lots of people by hobnobbing 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 themselves were not in the transformation business. So, healing miracles which created new life meant nothing for them. For them, Jesus was not flexing any real Messiah muscle and improving their designs to see Gentiles kicked out of Palestine. They even went so far as to ascribe the healing ministry as the work of the devil. They wanted a sign from heaven that would authenticate proper Messiah credentials.

Jonah sign

Jesus said there is already an existing sign: 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 mentioned 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 ought we to 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 would have changed a person both spiritually and physically – bleached completely white and an incredible sight to see!

The whole point of bringing up 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 renew and revolutionize us.

Jesus modeled this for us. He switched his address of heaven and moved into our neighborhood to bring us new life. As the Master of conversion, Jesus 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. So, 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.

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