(Article in the Faith section of the Park Rapids Enterprise, Park Rapids, MN - February 18, 2017)
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. – Matthew 12:38-40
Jesus has no problem with signs. He is a miracle worker after all. He loves to do things that are absolutely extraordinary in order to speak to people of who He is and what He came to do. However, when we come to Christ and ask for a sign, what we expect or what we want tends to be obscured by what it is He wishes to bring to us.
Here the Scribes and Pharisees come to Jesus and ask for a sign. Never mind that He just finished exorcising a demon from a man, or that He healed a paralytic, raised a girl from the dead and healed a woman who suffered from perpetual bleeding. That is human nature, our sin nature, at work. We have eyes but never actually see what it is that is being done in Christ for us, because we look only for what it is we wish to see.
Jesus speaks plainly to this “evil and adulterous generation.” Seems harsh but the evil is that of needing to ask Jesus for something more than what He already gives, and adulterous because we are given Jesus and look to other things, allowing our faith to wane. A faith that we place in other things, like the signs we want.
Jesus being Jesus, He says that no sign they wanted, no sign that we want, shall be given to us except the sign he wishes to give – the sign of Jonah the prophet. We remember of Jonah the storm, the whale, the city of Nineveh, and a sermon calling for repentance. What sign might Jesus be referring to here?
Christ says it is the three days and three nights in the belly of the whale. He equates this to three days and nights in the earth, which the Son of God will suffer as this sign to come. In Hebrew, the three days and nights can be both literal and metaphorical. It could be an actual three days, but also mean dead. Just dead. After three days and nights, by that time he will be a little stinky, out of breath, out of life.
The sign Christ gives to the Pharisees, and also to you, is not a magic trick pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and not some magnificent miracle raining meatballs from the heavens, but a dead body buried in the earth. Yet, like Jonah it was only for a time. Once death had thought itself victorious over the Giver of life, He is raised from the dead as the victor. Using the resurrection as the opportunity to give the finger to death and sin.
As Jonah spent time in that whale, and then finally came to Nineveh to preach a sermon of repentance, so too does Jesus. Calling us out of death and sin to life in Him. Turning us away from evil and faithlessness and the signs we want, or the flashier parlour tricks we like, and He speaks to each of us as the source of forgiveness and mercy to be reconciled to God through the our risen Jesus.
Lord Christ, bid us turn and come to the mercies found in your death and resurrection that spread before us the grace we need, which is life in you. Amen