The Sign of Jonah (Phil Johnson)

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32   |   Sunday, February 8, 2015   |   Code: 2015-02-08-PJ


More than a decade ago I did a series on Jonah here in

GraceLife, and the Grace to You ministry in India published

transcripts of those messages in booklet form. There's also an

album of CDs with those messages on the back table every

weekCand they are some of the oldest recordings back there.

Those were some of the earliest messages I ever gave in

GraceLife. And we've occasionally revisited incidents in

Jonah's life from time to time.

I don't want to go back to the Old Testament book of

Jonah this morning, but I do want to consider Jonah

againCthis time from the perspective of what Jesus said

about him in the New Testament.

Jesus mentioned Jonah on two crucial occasionsCboth

during major public conflicts with the Pharisees. The first

one is during a major conflict over the Pharisees' Sabbath

rules in Matthew 12. Then shortly afterward, in Matthew 16,

Jesus repeats what He said about Jonah in Matthew 12.

In both places, the Pharisees demanded that Jesus give

them a sign to prove His authority over them, and He Jesus

rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief. He told them they

would receive no sign from Him except for "the sign of

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 2

Jonah." The first of those two incidents is also recorded in

Luke 11. That describes the same event as Matthew 12. So

basically, you'll find three places in the gospels where Jesus

speaks of Jonah, and those three passages describe two

distinct incidents. In each case, Jesus spoke of "the sign of


Now, most of you will be vaguely familiar with those

references, and if I asked you what "the sign of Jonah" refers

to, I think most of you would say it's the resurrection of


On the surface, that likes like the right answer. After all,

Jesus said (Matthew 12:40): "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."

Jesus was clearly speaking of His resurrection; making a

comparison to Jonah's experience in the belly of the fish.

After three days and three nights, Jonah emerged alive. Jesus'

resurrection would be a similar, yet much greater, miracle,

and there is a true sense in which the resurrection would be a

sign to the Pharisees. The resurrection is the visible,

evidentiary proof the Pharisees demanded.

But for these religious leaders who had so misled the

Jewish nation and tyrannized people with their manmade

traditions, the resurrection of Jesus would be a sign of


The Sign of Jonah 3

And here's what I don't want you to miss: The resurrection

per se is only one narrow aspect of the sign Jesus is speaking

of here. The full significance of the sign of Jonah was much

deeper and more ominous than you might realize. This was

more than merely a prophecy about the resurrection; it was a

message of condemnation for the Pharisees and their system

of religion. Jonah had been used by God as an instrument of

blessing to a whole nation of pagan Gentiles. Through

Jonah's preaching, God brought revival to NinevehCa

display of sovereign grace that prefigured the work of the

gospel, reaching out to Gentiles, redeeming publicans and

sinner, but bypassing those who held to the self-righteous,

self-aggrandizing religion of the Pharisees. In the words of

Romans 9:18, "[God] has mercy on whomever he wills, and he

hardens whomever he wills." Furthermore, He "opposes the

proud, but gives grace to the humble." All of that is implicit in

the sign of Jonah. It's a sign of judgment against the


Jesus was pointing to Jonah as a type, or a symbol. The

Old Testament was full of typology, and all of it pointed to

Christ. A "type" (of course) is a divinely-inspired

foreshadowing of some greater truth. A type is a kind of

prophetic picture. And the Old Testament is full of typesCin

some cases, real-life people, and in other cases tangible,

visible items that foreshadowed Christ in some way.

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 4

The high priest, for example, was a typeCor a living

symbol of Christ, our great high Priest, according to

Hebrews 4:14. And the Tabernacle itself, and the priestly

worship were full of types and figures that symbolically

foreshadowed some aspect of Christ's character, or His

offices, or His atoning sacrifice. The high priest entered once

a year into the holy of holies with a sacrifice of blood. That

prefigured the work of Christ, who would enter into the very

presence of God once for all by His own blood, according to

Hebrews 10.

The entire Old Testament is peppered with types and

symbols that point to Christ. These are deliberate prophetic

symbols that tie the different parts of God's revelation

together and show us its inspiration. The sheer number of

foreshadowings and prophetic references to Christ are one of

the most vivid and graphic evidences that although Scripture

was written over several centuries' time, by multiple human

authors, and in dozens of disparate partsCnevertheless,

Scripture tells one story with one central theme. It is clearly

the work of a single divine mind.

And the New Testament unfolds the meaning of all those

types and prophecies in such a way that if you examine them

carefully with an open and unbiased mind, you'll have to

admit that it's remarkable, even irrefutable, evidence that the

Bible is a supernatural book and bears all the marks of divine


The Sign of Jonah 5

Anyway according to Jesus, Jonah was one of the most

important Old Testament types. Jonah, despite his rebellion

against God, was a living picture of our Lord, who went into

a deathlike darkness for three days and three nights and

emerged miraculously alive. Jonah is, in fact, the

predominant Old Testament picture of the Resurrection.

But here's my point this morning: the full meaning of the

sign of Jonah is deeper, more multi-faceted, and more

ominous than that. When Jesus referred to "the sign of

Jonah," the "sign" He had in mind involved much, much

more than just a simple picture of His resurrection. And its

significance was more negative than positiveClooking

beyond Resurrection Sunday to the day of the Lord and the

judgment yet to come.

So bear that in mind: This was a somber message of

warning to the unbelieving and rebellious Pharisees. And

they would have been intimately familiar with the story of

Jonah. They knew very well that Jonah was unique among all

the Old Testament prophets, because God sent Him on a

mission of grace and mercy to a Gentile nation, during a time

of great apostasy and rebellion in Israel.

That fact could not have escaped these particular

Pharisees who were challenging Jesus. His mention of Jonah

meant something very specific for them. And they must have

felt the sting of it, unless they were so totally dull spiritually

that they missed the point.

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 6

But just in case they did miss the point, He underscored it

for them when He said in Matthew 12:41, "The men of

Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and

condemn it."

Now, as I said, there are three places in the gospels where

Jesus refers to "the sign of the prophet Jonah." They are

Matthew 12:39-41; Matthew 16:4; and Luke 11:29-32. And

the one I want to concentrate on this morning is the Luke 11

passage, but let me give you the full context with a look at

the two Matthew passages. First, turn to Matthew 12:39.

While you are turning there, several things are significant

about this passage. First of all, notice that Jesus regards

Jonah as a historical person and He interprets the narrative of

Jonah as real history, not just an allegory or a symbolic tale.

This is significant, because for the past two and a half

centuries or so, the book of Jonah has been a favorite target

for Bible critics. Skeptics and scoffers of all kinds have

attacked the book of Jonah on rationalistic grounds. And

even some Bible commentators and preachers who claim to

believe the Bible is God's Word have suggested that maybe

the account of Jonah and the fish is an example of myth or

allegory after all. And the faith of lots of Christians have

been shaken by that kind of tinkering with the meaning of

the Bible.

But here is unshakable proof that the Old Testament

account of Jonah is historical narrative and not symbolism.

The Sign of Jonah 7

Here's how we know it is supposed to be taken literally:

Jesus Himself took it literally. Look at the passage, Matthew

12, starting in verse 38:

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him,

saying, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you."

39 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.

40 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.

41 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.

Notice that Jesus didn't do signs and wonders on demand. He

had already given the people plenty of signs that He was

their Messiah. They had seen him heal people, cast out

demons, and feed the multitudes. Now they were asking him

for was an even bigger miracleCa sort of cosmic sign. Could

He make the sun go dark? or cause stars to fall?Cor

something like that.

Skepticism was the thing motivated this challenge. It was

not a sincere inquiry. How do we know this? It is clear from

this passage, more than any other place in the gospels, that

these Scribes and Pharisees had already made up their minds

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 8

that they hated Him, no matter what He did. They were

already conspiring to put him to death. Verse 14 says so

explicitly. "The Pharisees went out and conspired against him,

how to destroy him" That was their aim. They would not have

affirmed Him no matter what sign He might have given


In fact, look at the immediate context here. And bear in

mind that this passage parallels the Luke 11 passage, which

is where we are headed this morning. Both passages describe

exactly the same incident. And here's what was happening:

Matthew is relating the far-reaching and spectacular success

of Jesus' healing ministry, and against that backdrop, he

highlights the hateful opposition that Jesus incurred from the


In this chapter Matthew recounts several significant

healings. There's the man with the withered hand in verses

10-13. You'll recall that that incident became controversial

because it occurred on the Sabbath, and it was a particular

embarrassment to the Pharisees, because by their reckoning,

it was a sin for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath. They were the

strictest kind of sabbatarians, and everyone knew their

position on this. But they had no valid argument against Him

when he asked if it's lawful to do good on the Sabbath, so he

healed the man in their presence just to make the point that

He is Lord of the Sabbath.

The Sign of Jonah 9

It is at precisely that point in the gospel of Matthew where

the religious leaders' hatred of Christ took a very sinister

turn. Verse 14: "The Pharisees went out and conspired against

him, how to destroy him." Christ was a threat to their power


John 11:47 describes the council they convened. It says,

"The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and

said, 'What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.'"

They had seen His power. They had all the supernatural signs

they needed. They had no reason to doubt Him or reject Him,

except that he posed a threat to their rulership. In verse 48 of

John 11, they go on to say this: "If we let him go on like this,

everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take

away both our place and our nation." See? They feared the

political ramifications if people accepted Him as Messiah.

They had a lot to lose if He upset the balance of the power

with the Roman government. So they rejected Him; their

rejection was deliberate and final; and they had already

publicly made themselves His enemy.

Jesus therefore took His healing ministry to more private

venues. Verse 15: "Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.

And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered

them not to make him known."

This is, by the way, an expression of the sheer goodness

of Jesus' grace and compassion. He was not healing merely

for show; in fact, He refused to do that. He was genuinely

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 10

concerned for people's needs. His healings reflected a real

love and tenderness, not merely a desire to demonstrate His

power in a public way. Matthew underscores Christ's tender

compassion with that quote from Isaiah in verses 18-21,

where he says He won't break the bruised reed or quench the

smoking flax. That's a way of saying He will restore that

which is blemished or useless, rather than discarding those

things. He is merciful beyond anything we can imagine, and

that mercy is an expression of the tender, compassionate

heart of Christ. It is real, not just for show.

So when it became too dangerous to perform healings in

public, He withdrew and healed people privately. How many

were healed we have no clue, but this passage says it was

"great multitudes," and the apostle John indicates that the

New Testament records only a tiny fraction of the miracles

Jesus did while on earth. John says in John 21:25, "There are

also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them

to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain

the books that would be written."

So this was a widespread, far-reaching ministry of healing

all who came to him. B. B. Warfield said this about Jesus'

healing ministry:

When our Lord came down to earth He drew heaven with

Him. The signs which accompanied His ministry were but

the trailing clouds of glory which He brought from

heaven, which is His home. The number of the miracles

The Sign of Jonah 11

which He wrought may easily be underrated. It has been

said that in effect He banished disease and death from [the

land of Israel] for the three years of His ministry. If this is

exaggeration it is pardonable exaggeration. Wherever He

went, He brought a blessing.

And even though nearly all those healings were done outside

the public arena, Jesus' reputation spread, and the Pharisees

became more and more antagonistic.

Then in verse 22, Matthew describes how Jesus healed a

demon-possessed man who was both blind and mute. That

was a remarkable miracleCa kind of triple miracle, because

the man's muteness was healed, his blindness was healed,

and he was freed from demonic control. Furthermore, this

healing took place in front of many witnesses, and verse 23

says "all the people were amazed, and" they began to apply

Messianic titles to Jesus "Can this be the Son of David?"

So this was a spectacular, public display of Jesus' divine

authority, and verse 24 says the Pharisees heard about it

almost immediately. From Luke's account, it appears that

some of the Pharisees were already in the crowd. Or perhaps

someone ran and got them immediately. And these religious

elitists conferred amongst themselves, having already

determined to destroy Jesus if they could (v. 14), and they

gave their verdict (v. 24): "When the Pharisees heard it, they

said, 'It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man

casts out demons.'"

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 12

And they deliberately attributed to Satan the works that

the Holy Spirit was doing through Jesus. They knew better,

but they wanted to deceive people. So this was a deliberate

blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

So this is that famous passage where Matthew recounts

Jesus' words about the unpardonable sin. That's a whole

'nother series of sermons, and you can listen to the

recordings of those messages if you like. But the bottom-line

lesson is this: The key factor that made their sin

unpardonable was their deliberate opposition to Christ in

spite of the fact that they believedCor had every reason to

believeCthat He was indeed the Messiah of God. Yet for

political and pragmatic reasons they opposed Him anyway.

And it was their deliberate opposition to Christ in the full

light of who He was that made their sin unforgivable.

So Jesus warns the people about unforgivable nature of

the Pharisees' sin. He uses the harshest kind of language to

address the Pharisees directly. in verse 34 he says to them,

"You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are

evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

And He informs them that they will face a harsh judgment

for their willful sin.

Now, it's at this point in the argument where the Pharisees

ask Him for a sign (v. 38): "Then some of the scribes and

Pharisees answered him, saying, 'Teacher, we wish to see a sign

from you.'"

The Sign of Jonah 13

It's a sneering, cynical request, full of contempt and

willful unbelief. Remember, He had just done a spectacular

triple miracle right before their eyes. He cast out a demon,

opened a man's eyes, and loosed his tongue. He had

performed multitudes of healings known and seen by many.

The masses at this point had no question about the

authenticity of Christ. It was only the Pharisees who

demanded more proof. The fact is, they had plenty of signs,

if they had only had eyes to see.

But what they were asking for here was something even

greater. In the parallel passage in Luke 11:16, Luke tells us

they were "seeking . . . a sign from heaven." What they

wanted was a sign of astronomical proportions, a sign in the

heavensCperhaps something along the lines of what was

prophesied by Joel (2:31), when "The sun shall be turned to

darkness, and the moon to blood." They wanted proof on their

own terms. Having rejected all the evidence before their very

eyes, they claimed to be willing to believe if He would

submit to their wills and produce the kind of evidence they


And this demand for a sign became a frequent taunt. Luke

uses a verb tense that emphasizes the relentless way they

hounded Him with this dare. Luke says they "kept seeking

from him a sign from heaven."

But that kind of attitude is the very essence of unbelief.

The Pharisees were already so determined in their opposition

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 14

that no amount of evidence whatsoever would have turned

their hearts from unbelief. That's why Jesus said their sin was


And He flatly refused to produce a heavenly sign on

demand, telling them (Matthew 12:39) "An evil and

adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given

to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah."

In other words, you'll have your sign, but on my terms and

in my time. I'm not going to do signs on demand for an evil

and adulterous generation. But keep your eyes open for the

sign of Jonah.

And here's a clue about the sign (v. 40): "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."

He's talking about His resurrection, of course. And here's

an interesting footnote: In the gospel of John, when Jesus

was challenged to produce a sign, he gave a similar response.

John 2:18-19: "The Jews said to him, 'What sign do you show

us for doing these things?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this

temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'" That, of course, is a

reference to the resurrection as well.

So the resurrection of Christ was a significant,

unparalleled sign. Here is a miracle that involves no human

agency. There is no explanation for it except divine power.

Healings can be attributed to psychological causes or natural

The Sign of Jonah 15

processes. Even signs in the heavens can be written off as

natural phenomena, eclipses, conjunctions of planets, and so

on. But a resurrection must be the work of God. And the

resurrection of Christ, foretold by Him repeatedly, proved

conclusively that He is everything He ever claimed to be. It

was the only sign God needed to give to affirm his Son,

because any other sign would be anticlimactic.

But, I said at the outset, "the sign of Jonah" is more

complex than the resurrection alone. This is a multifaceted

sign. The resurrection is at the heart of it, but there's more.

And for this, we turn to the passage that will consume the

remainder of our time this morning, the gospel of Luke,

chapter 11, beginning at verse 29.

Now this passage exactly parallels Matthew 12, the

passage we have been looking at. So you have the context

already. Here's the same event from Luke's account (vv.


29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say,

"This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign,

but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.

30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh,

so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment

with the men of this generation and condemn them, for

she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 16

Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is


32 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.

I want you to notice, first of all that in Luke's account, there

is no explicit mention of the Resurrection. Luke actually

bypasses (or perhaps assumes) the point about the

resurrection, and probes into some deeper aspects of the sign

of Jonah.

Now I've been saying this is a multifaceted sign. Luke

highlights three aspects of it. It involves a message. It

involves a miracle, and it involves a man. Let's examine

these one at a time.


Luke omits the part about the Son of man being three days

and three nights in the heart of the earth. Some commentators

see this as a discrepancy in the two accounts. Matthew

explains the sign of Jonah as a reference to the resurrection,

but Luke seems to draw his parallel between the ministry of

Jonah and the ministry of Christ. Verse 30: "For as Jonah

became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man

be to this generation."

The Sign of Jonah 17

And how was Jonah a sign to the Ninevites? He preached

repentance to them. Nineveh is 600 miles from the ocean

where Jonah was spit out from the fish. In all likelihood, no

one from Nineveh saw the fish regurgitate the prophet, and

there's no hint in the book of Jonah that the Ninevites even

knew about his ride in the belly of the fish. Jonah just

showed up one day in Nineveh and began preaching

repentance. And it was in that capacity that he was a sign to

the Ninevites.

Luke underscores this in verse 32: "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."

It's as if Jesus is saying, the Ninevites had no heavenly

signs. What they got was a simple, straightforward message

of repentance from a bedraggled prophet, and they repented

at that. They had no display of miracles, no signs and

wonders to stun them out of unbelief. Yet they repented at

Jonah's message.

The Pharisees had already seen an incomparably greater

display of miracles than anyone in Nineveh had ever seen.

As a matter of fact, in the history of the world, there had

never been a display of miracles like these. No one had ever

come to Jesus for healing whom He couldn't healCand yet

these Pharisees refused to believe in Him. Therefore, the

Ninevites, who repented when they heard the message of

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 18

repentance, would stand in judgment against the unbelieving

Pharisees of Jesus' generation.

So this was a deep rebuke with several layers, all

answering the Pharisees' demand for a sign. Their challenge

to Jesus to produce a sign was simply an excuse for their

unbelief, but it would not work as an excuse before the

throne of God, because the Ninevites, who repented without

a sign, would be there at the judgment seat to testify against

these unbelieving Pharisees, who rejected Christ in spite of a

plethora of proofs and evidences He had given them. This

was a very strong rebuke from the lips of our Lord.

By the way, some of the harshest rebukes in Scripture are

aimed at the kind of unbelief that justifies itself by

demanding a sign. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:22, "Jews

demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ

crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles."

Have you ever thought about what that verse is saying?

The Jews demand a sign; we give them a stumbling-block.

The Greeks want wisdom and profound philosophy; we give

them foolishness. The power of the gospel is in the message

itself. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, for

those who have ears to hear. Those who refuse to hear will

not be able to excuse their unbelief by hiding behind a

demand for signs and wonders.

The Sign of Jonah 19


But that does not exclude signs and wonders altogether.

Hebrews 2:3-4 says the gospel message "was declared at first

by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while

God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various

miracles . . . ."

So here's point two of my outline: The sign of Jonah

involved a Miracle. And there is an undeniable miraculous

element in the sign of Jonah the prophet. In Jonah, the type,

this involved his being preserved three days and three nights

in the belly of a great fish. In Christ, the antitype, it involved

His emergence from the heart of the earth, from whence He

came forth alive after three days in the grave.

Matthew made this meaning explicit. Luke's account

merely implies it, in verse 29, when Jesus says no sign will

be given except one. We noted in verse 16 that the Pharisees

were asking for a miracle of astronomical proportions. They

wanted one of those earth-shaking, vast, undeniable

miraclesCso great that no one could deny it. They would

have such a miracle, but only after their rebellious unbelief

had reached the point where they put their own Messiah to


And when the sign they asked for eventually came, many

of them were so hardened that they refused to heed. Christ

emerged from the belly of the earth after three days and three

nights. Multitudes in Jerusalem believed. On the day of

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 20

Pentecost alone, three thousand souls were added to the

church. But most of the Jewish leaders, the scribes and

Pharisees who opposed Jesus during His earthly life with

such stubborn unbelief, those men continued in their

unbelief, and they rejected the Resurrected Christ as well.

Remember that incident shortly after Pentecost when

Peter and John healed a lame man in the Temple? And Peter

preached a remarkable sermon in which he demonstrated that

all the prophets had pointed the way to Christ. Then Acts 4:1


1 as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the

captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them,

2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people

and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until

the next day, for it was already evening.

Even when they got the miraculous sign they demanded, they

refused to believe. They were imprisoned in their own

hard-hearted unbelief.

I said there is a third aspect to the sign of Jonah the

prophet. The first was the message. The second was the

miracle. Third is the man himself.

The Sign of Jonah 21


These Jewish leaders were in danger of hardening their

hearts to the point where they were impervious to any sign or

wonder, so Jesus pointed them back to the most rebellious

hard-hearted prophet of all, Jonah.

Jonah, the man, was the only sign God gave to the

Ninevites. The closest beach to Nineveh is more than 400

miles to the west. So the people of Nineveh didn't personally

witness Jonah's emergence from the fish. But they surely

knew what had happened to him, or they learned about it in

due time. Here was a man who, having been thrown off a

ship in the midst of a violent storm, should have died. He

came to them as one from the dead, a living token of God's

power. His very presence in their city signified the amazing

power of God.

Furthermore, he was a Jewish prophet, and the Jews were

the enemies of the Assyrians. So his presence in NinevehCa

Jewish prophet preaching repentanceCalso signified a

remarkable, superhuman boldness. His ministry in Nineveh

was a living display of the power of God.

Notice Luke's language in verse 30: "as Jonah became a

sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this

generation." There the stress is on Jonah, the man, as the sign

to Nineveh.

And the parallel is Christ, the man, as a sign to this

generation. He signifies the very embodiment of the power

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 22

of God, displayed graphically by His resurrection from the

dead. He is set before us as a sign of that resurrection power,

and each of us is faced with the same choice as the Ninevites:

Persist in unrepentant unbelief and be destroyed, or repent

and believe, and receive the mercy of God.

Christ Himself, crucified and risen from the dead, is the

sign of Jonah the prophet. His message of repentance and the

miracle of His resurrection are important aspects of that sign,

but it is the man Christ Jesus, the person of Christ Himself,

who embodies the sign of Jonah the Prophet. Christ Himself

is the signCas the Simeon prophesied at His birth (Luke

2:34), "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of

many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed."

Now, listen carefully. This sign is as crucial to you and

me as it was to the scribes and Pharisees in whose hearing

Jesus first spoke these words. I want you to notice how Jesus

expounds on the warning to the Scribes and Pharisees: He

cites two examples of Old Testament Gentiles who

responded with faith when they were given very little light.

Verse 31: "The queen of the South [who is that? The Queen

of Sheba in Solomon's time] will rise up at the judgment with

the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came

from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and

behold, something greater than Solomon is here."

Here's the point: The wisdom of Solomon was sufficient

to attract the Queen of Sheba from a long distance. She had

The Sign of Jonah 23

no sign from heaven. She had very little light. Yet her

response signified true faith. How much more accountable

are those who have had exposure to the infinitely greater

wisdom of Christ, accompanied by the sign of His

resurrection from the dead? The Queen of Sheba will stand

in judgment against all those who refuse a greater light. No

one will be able to plead that the light was not bright enough

or the sign was not convincing enough. The conversion of

the Queen of Sheba destroys that claim.

Verse 32: "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." Those people repented at the preaching of Jonah,

who merely escaped death, and who brought them a message

of condemnation. How much more accountable will those

people be who reject Jesus, risen from the dead, and refuse to

repent at His gospel of Grace?

We have been given superior light. The wisdom of the

gospel alone should be sufficient to awaken a response of

humble faith in us. Failing that, we have the testimony of a

risen Savior. To whom much is given, much shall be


We live in an age when skepticism is popular. I constantly

run into people who imagine that they are wiser than God.

You hear people who, like the Pharisees, say, "Convince me,

and I will believe." That is the most ignorant of all unbelief,

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 24

because the demand for proof destroys the possibility of

faith. Romans 8:24: "In . . . hope we were saved. Now hope

that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?"

There will come a time when our faith shall be swallowed up

in sight, but for now, we are to walk by faith, not by sight.

Yet, Scripture says, the things we lay hold of by faith are

more lasting than the things we can apprehend by sight.

Second Corinthians 4:18: "We look not to the things that are

seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are

seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

The demand for proof destroys the possibility of faith. It

is no valid excuse for unbelief. No one will stand in the

judgment and be able to justify unbelief by claiming

insufficient proof or inadequate evidenceCbecause

multitudes who have repented with far less light than we

have will testify against those who remain in unbelief before

the throne of God.

Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of things

hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." The quest for

confirming signs and wonders ends where real faith begins.

Signs and wonders have their place, but faith does not

require them. Jesus said to Thomas (John 20:29), "Have you

believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who

have not seen and yet have believed."

And a lack of confirming signs and wonders is no excuse

for unbelief.

The Sign of Jonah 25

We have the gospel of a risen Savior. That is a far brighter

light than the preaching of Jonah brought to the city of

Nineveh. Yet those people repented. God will hold us

accountable for what we do with the great light He has given


I'd be remiss in a message like this not to spell out clearly

what the gospel message is. This is the message in a nutshell:

Christ died as a sin-bearer. Though He himself was utterly

sinless, perfectly holy before God, God punished Him on the

cross with the full penalty of sin. That meant an outpouring

of divine wrath. God, in that eternal moment on the cross,

turned away from His Son, and the full penalty of our guilt

was laid on Christ, as the Old Testament had prophesied

(Isaiah 53:5-6): "He was wounded for our transgressions; he

was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement

that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we

like sheep have gone astray; we have turnedCevery oneCto his

own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

And just as He bore our sins, we who trust Him reap the

merit of His perfect righteousness. Scripture says in Romans

4:5, the one who believes on him who the ungodly,

righteousness is imputed to that person. And thus God

redeems all those who turn to Christ alone as savior, not

because of anything they do to merit God's favorCfor no

sinner could ever earn such merit. But God redeems them

because of what Christ has done on their behalf.

Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32 26

And so I urge you this morning to be like the Ninevites,

who laid hold of the dim light that was offered them, and

repented from their sin and unbelief, and stepped into the

bright light of divine grace by faith alone.