“A Sign for our Times”
Easter Sermon, April 11, 2004
Big Idea: How are we to know that Jesus is the divine Son of God?
Purpose: Explore the sign of Jonah as it demonstrates His divinity.
Question: Did Jesus ascribe to the view of life after death? What’s your horizon?
Mat 12:39 But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; Mat 12:40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Mat 12:41 "The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Rom 1:3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, Rom 1:4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, Rom 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name's sake, Rom 1:6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
Easter is partly about the identity of Jesus Christ, about who He is and the benefits of knowing Him. He claims to be the second person of the trinity, the one seated by the right hand of God the Father. And He asserts that knowing Him is both salvation and eternal life It is essential to know whether these truth claims are accurate, that they all hang together. In answering a question, how can we know that Jesus is the divine Son of God, we cannot do better than following His own proofs. Pre-eminent among those proofs is the passage about “a sign for our times.”
Jesus said, (Matt 12:39) "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.” Herein lies the explanation for why this wonderful story of Jonah is bound in the bible; it contains the key for understanding Jesus’ identity as the Son of Man, the Messiah--it is a sign for the times, for our times even. The account of Jonah is there because it foretells the resurrection of the Messiah. Many wonderful sermons have been preached, and many engaging Sunday School lessons illustrate lessons from the book of Jonah. We have heard some of them no doubt. We’ve heard lessons about humility and anger. We’ve heard sermons about the inescapable will of God and about the amazing love of God which extended far beyond Jonah’s historical and racial prejudices--he hated the Ninevites because they were the avowed enemies of Israel.
But the Pharisees and Scribes that approached Jesus, according to Matthew 12 were not interested in the finer points of religion, history or character assessment. They, too, were enemies. Their struggle was with Jesus’ identity. They wanted to know who He was really because for them, as for us, identity and authority are very much connected. We tend to associate credentials with authority to this day. If you step back from the text shared this morning, you come quickly to the controversies of that hour: the charge against Jesus’ disciples for plucking grain to eat on the Sabbath. Further, the man with the withered hand was a plain set-up--their intention: to bring accusation against Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Only terribly diseased hearts would even imagine such a thing! In both instances Jesus so answered them as to expose their hatred and opposition to Him, and, beyond that, to what God was doing through Him--IF THEY WOULD ONLY REPENT, THE DOOR TO FORGIVENESS WAS WIDE OPEN. Jesus was then tested by a demon-possessed man who was both blind and mute. The man was probably selected by Jesus’ adversaries as a difficult if not impossible case. They, thinking they couldn’t lose, hoped either that Jesus couldn’t do anything to help the man--He was impotent--or, if He did, incredibly, heal him, they would resort to the charge that Jesus was actually of the devil. They would argue that His healing powers were demonically originated --which accusation they did make.
It is against this backdrop that we are to hear Jesus‘ answer: "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.” The evil consisted mainly in the laying traps for others. Jesus wasn’t exactly challenged by the needs of the demoniac. He answered handily the Pharisees’ flimsy accusations: "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons." Mat 12:25 And knowing their thoughts He said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand. Mat 12:26 "And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?” They departed filled with impotent rage and a wicked desire to murder him.
I hope that it is clear now how the opponents of Jesus had openly declared themselves to be closed to persuasion, and to plain demonstration of divine love, power or authority. Therefore "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign,” as it is written, and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. Why no sign but this sign? The nearest and most apparent reason is this: those who opposed Jesus’ authority did so on the basis of their adherence to Old Testament--including, of course, the prophet Jonah was an authority they recognized. Beyond this is the aptness of the prophecy. What they were about to learn, however, is that the prophecy of Jonah is a prophecy related to the resurrection of the Messiah (Remember Luke 24:44ff):
Luke 24:44 Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Luke 24:45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, Luke 24:46 and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day;
The book of Jonah was written about Christ Jesus as Messiah, and about His impending resurrection! And, while these thoughts are fresh in your minds, let me take you directly to Jesus’ own words making application of these claims:
Mat 12:40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Three days and three nights is a direct allusion to the resurrection of Jesus Christ after His death and burial--the events of which we celebrate as Easter today.
There are, of course, other prophetic truths expressed in the book of Jonah. There is the repentance from sin of foreigners--in response to preaching! This prophecy plainly foreshadows the Gentile mission. Then there is the extension of divine mercy to those whom Israelites viewed as their sworn enemies--namely the Ninevites who had conspired with the Assyrians in the destruction of Israel within living memory. This prophecy foretells the teaching of Jesus (“love your enemies”) as well as the open offer of salvation to all who will believe. And, thirdly, there is the pastoral matter of Jonah so resenting God’s kindness towards his “enemies” that he places the life of a shady gourd in higher consideration than the lives of many human souls. What humility occasioned the writing down of this part of Jonah’s experience as a under-shepherd with a God who is a true, chief shepherd!
So, we have established that Jesus presents His resurrection as a sign, a sign derived from the experience of Jonah, three days inside the sea monster. We have established that Jesus cites this prophecy to demonstrate His identity as the Son of Man, or as the Messiah. If He is who He says He is, He will certainly rise from the dead after three days. And He did.
Is that it? Well, not exactly. Because, while Jesus did produce the sign, His resurrection is taken to be more than a vindication of His identity as the Son of Man.. According to Paul, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a declaration of full divinity. By raising Jesus from the dead, God has declared Him to be His Son. That declaration is followed, accordingly, by exaltation, by exaltation as an endorsement of His Messiah-ship and approval of His redemptive work (obedient unto death).
By making this declaration God has established a new horizon in human history. The Greek word here is horizw; and it means literally “to set a boundary, or to put in place limits,” God has resolved, or decreed that resurrection life be that new horizon; it “proves” that there is life after death. It further establishes that there exists a day of judgment to which we are all invited. Again, the structure of thought is very tight in all our readings in Matthew, Luke and Romans. Beginning with Matthew 12:41: “The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” This thought follows hard upon assertion of Jesus’ resurrection. In Luke 24, we saw that the revelation of Christ in the prophets was right next door to the resurrection: Thus it is written, that the “Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day.” Again, this pulls together the truth that the Old Testament prophets foresaw the day of Christ in some detail and that resurrection after three days was a planned interval, not a chance event. And in Romans we read about Jesus (1:4): “who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord. “ The twin matters of Jesus’ identity and its connection to resurrection from the dead appear side by side.
Easter is about Jesus’ identity as Messiah, Son of Man and Son of God. We have followed His lead in working through the prophecy of Jonah--Jesus declared that the sign of Jonah, three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster/whale referred to His coming resurrection. We did this because Jesus informed us that this is what that prophecy is about. So, if He is the Christ, the One who offers salvation (forgiveness of sins in His name) and eternal life (through faith in Him), we would expect Easter to unfold just as we are told it did. The empty tomb is there because, as Jesus foretold, He is risen. We learn from Paul that the exaltation of Christ Jesus represents a divine seal of approval as well as of disclosure. Jesus is declared the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead--there can be little doubt that an afterlife exists and that a judgment will transpire in the life to come--if Jesus was right about the resurrection, then He is surely right about the other things that follow from it. He must also be right about life after death, the judgment, the forgiveness of sins and all His commandments related to kingdom living in the here and now.
So what? What does all this mean to a 21st century Christian and the living of our lives? It means that we know certain essential things, even if not everything, nor even some things perfectly, or fully. We know the following six conclusions which I have organized under the acronym PASTRY, as in a little pastry after the main course:
P--The prophetic books of the Old Testament (like Jonah) are trustworthy as spiritual guides for Christians today.
A--The authority, or right of Jesus to rule in our lives as Lord, King and Savior rests upon the established fact of the resurrection--it occurred and it occurred just as the prophets said it would occur.
S-- Salvation. The reality of our salvation rests upon the successful completion of Jesus’ mission.
T--Truth. The truthfulness of all His teachings rest upon the truth He taught about His own life events--His death and resurrection in particular.
R--The Resurrection miracle makes all other biblical miracles credible.
Y-- Your Forgiveness. The reality of your forgiveness of sins rests upon the death He died on the cross.
This means that we know Whom to obey and how to obey (by studying His word and mutual submission in discipleship). We know we are saved from the power of sin and death and that we have an eternal life to live. And, because we have been forgiven for our sins, we can walk through life guilt free, empowered by His indwelling presence