How About a Billboard?

Miracles? No, We Want a Sign

Matthew 12:38-42

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.'”

I honestly don’t know how Jesus did it. I also cannot understand how the world does not flock to him. Besides being wrongly accused and convicted, put to death as the only innocent man, he also had to endure the Pharisees. Jesus performed miracle after miracle after miracle before them, and they ask for a sign? They remind me of the devil in Matthew 4, “if you are the son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Do you know who else it reminds me of? Us, we often times want Jesus to perform on our terms, that’s at the heart of the “name it and claim it” movement. Nevertheless, no one is innocent in this regard, we’ve all sought signs, we all seek proof.

But what does Paul, the former Pharisee, say? “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

And Jesus states in John 8, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.” Jesus is the exact representation of the Father, if one knows the Father, they would have recognized Jesus with ease. The undeniable truth is that God wasn’t their father, their religion was; they weren’t looking for a messiah to save their sins, they could do that by works of the law, they wanted an earthly liberator. They were not looking for Jesus, they were looking for Barabbas (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder -Luke 23:19).  And it is often the same with us. Heaven is not our home, earth is. God is not our father, the earth is. Jesus is not our Lord, the earth is.

We remember back to John the Baptist’s question, “are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Which reminds us of the response of Jesus, “the dead are raised.” Jesus does not respond this way to the Pharisees though, does he? Jesus responded to the Pharisees with the following: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In literature we call this, “foreshadowing.” In the Bible, we call it prophecy. One must remember that the Bible is more than a sacred text, it is also literature. That may seem redundant but it is essential for the reader to read it as literature, noting the literary devices, and reading it as it was written. Consider the CAGED method and remember that the Bible does not read like an owner’s manual to a 2006 Toyota Corolla. 

Jesus is prophesying his death and resurrection and foreshadowing it in his statement concerning Jonah. Remember Matthew’s aspiration to his audience: Jesus as the true Israel and the long-awaited messiah. The vast majority of them have heard about the resurrection, probably all had heard about his death. Matthew includes these particular words of Jesus not as prophecy but as foreshadowing for the benefit of his readers. Matthew painstakingly paints the picture that Jesus knew what he had to do and how he would suffer. Yet in the meantime,  Jesus is still speaking, teaching, preaching and healing. By now, the first century reader should be enthusiastically enthralled–are we?

“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” The context is clear and trustworthy that the people of Nineveh repented, nevertheless we would be prudent to search the Scripture. Jonah 3, Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’ When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”

Nineveh was evil and violent, we see that in the context. So evil and violent were they that God was going to destroy them but they repented at the preaching of Jonah, don’t miss that. We tend to gloss over things that can be quite important. Jonah didn’t want them to repent, he didn’t even want to go. He tried to run but God had him swallowed up by a big aquatic creature (whale or fish is irrelevant to the story and I can’t stand the argument). Then, after Jonah somewhat came to his senses, he went to Nineveh to preach destruction, and that’s what he wanted to see, not repentance. Notice Jonah 4:1, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” But something greater than Jonah is here.

Unlike Jonah, Jesus wanted repentance but the Pharisees thought they had nothing from which to repent. In the parable of the prodigal son, which we will see in detail in the future, Jesus compares the Pharisees to the son that never left, but they don’t get it. This is a similar situation, Jesus tells them that they will see a sign, Jesus in the heart of the earth for three days, just like Jonah in the sea creature. That’s not a sign, that’s a billboard behind a blimp. Jesus says no sign will be given except the biggest sign man has ever seen, it happens and it seems that only Nicodemus repents, but we’ll get to that.

As I have recently compared Jesus to Solomon, Jesus also does the same in this passage. Notice, “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” Jesus compares himself with both Jonah and Solomon but explains that he is greater, the miracles should have proven that. But more than comparing himself to them, he is comparing their generation, I repeat, their generation, to that of Nineveh and the queen of the south. We must see what the Bible says–Jonah was barely a prophet and Solomon was wise but incredibly foolish. Therefore this speaks volumes against their generation because Jesus is using understatement to compare himself with both Jonah and Solomon. Greater than Solomon? Greater than Jonah? The miracles should speak for themselves. And then there is the sinless life, the true wisdom and the true prophecies. Once again, the Pharisees failed to fathom that which was right before their face. 

Therefore those generations stand in judgment of this generation. “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah.” “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon.” 

Think about it, Nineveh had the whiny, angry, ran from the situation, Jonah, saying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” And they repented in sackcloth and ashes. This generation of Jesus has the true Israel, the long-awaited Messiah, making many miracles and they seek to put him death and in fact, they do. And after 3 days, he like Jonah, is released from bondage. How’s that for a sign?

Application for today: Jesus said, an evil and adulterous generation looks for signs. Perhaps that’s only meant for their generation, perhaps not. Either way, let’s look at ourselves and compare our generation with theirs. Will the queen of the south or Nineveh rise to condemn us at the judgment, figuratively speaking?

 

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